The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

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Harry S. Stout
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , November
     700 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


It is safe to say that Jonathan Edwards can be placed next to giants of the caliber of Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and many others. This is why the depth and length of Edwards’s thought has produced a large amount of secondary literature. In spite of this, a reliable and extended reference work was still needed. Harry S. Stout (general editor), Kenneth P. Minkema, and Adriaan C. Neele (associate editors) have finally provided it. The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia is the combined effort of three of the main heirs to the revival of Jonathan Edwards studies started by Perry Miller. These three scholars have collected the contributions of 169 scholars (according to my calculation of the long list of contributors) in order to offer brief essays (each accompanied by a short but helpful bibliography) about all of the main historical, biographical, theological, and philosophical topics pertaining to the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards.

Historian George Marsden, author of the masterful biography of Jonathan Edwards, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004), introduces the volume. The foreword is followed by the editors’ introductions in which they give a brief overview of the pre-existent reference tools for the studies of Edwards. After the list of contributors, the list of Edwards’s works, and the list of entries (whose usefulness should not be underestimated), the book contains three small but useful maps aimed at situating facts and events in Edwards’s life. After these initial sections and tools, the reader can begin his study of Edwards’s life, work, and thought thanks to the almost four hundred short essays in the Encyclopedia

The entries of the Encyclopedia have been written by a large number of scholars. Therefore, it is rather unsurprising if the reader, especially the reader knowledgeable of Edwardsean secondary bibliography, will notice in the Encyclopedia a variety of voices and interpretations. However, this is not necessarily a flaw. From a theoretical point of view, it is an almost unavoidable symptom of the genius of Jonathan Edwards and of the richness of the interpretative keys that his brilliant works have produced. From a more practical point of view, the entries are generally well balanced, thus offering the reader the basic tools for further studying Edwards by himself on each debatable or less debatable issue. 

The “Further Reading” section at the end of every entry contains a brief and useful list of some of the main works in Edwardsean secondary bibliography. However, in several instances I would have expected to see additional works in the lists (though here, different focuses and interpretative approaches might influence the individual judgment). Furthermore, the “Further Reading” sections contain references to Edwardsean primary sources only on very few occasions. This might be an editorial decision—which I am sure is based on good reasons. Moreover, the Edwardsean texts relevant to each entry are typically quoted, referenced, and expounded upon in the main text of the entry itself. Nevertheless, I wonder whether the inclusion of the main primary sources in the “Further Reading” sections would have made the entries more comprehensive, especially for the beginner student of Jonathan Edwards.

On a similar note, the reader already familiar with Edwards’s works and world will perhaps wonder why one or more entries are absent. For instance, it seems that the topic of the divine image in mankind plays a significant role in Jonathan Edwards’s psychology and theological anthropology, both in the more speculative works (e.g., Freedom of the Will) and in the more practical ones (e.g., Religious Affections). To be fair, God's image in man is explored in the entry "Psychological Thought" and elsewhere, but perhaps it deserved a separate entry. Nevertheless, the editors themselves say that the volume “is not, and cannot be, comprehensive” (x). Additionally, the editors state that they “welcome hearing from readers about entries that are lacking” (x) as they are planning to produce an online edition of the Encyclopedia, a tool that will greatly benefit every student of Edwards. Edwardsean scholars should perhaps keep this project in mind.

In spite of these few considerations, the Encyclopedia is a remarkable volume. The great number of contributors and the variety of interpretations do not damage the final result, but rather they create a scholarly banquet where the reader can feast on theology, philosophy, and history. The Encyclopedia is an ambitious and successful enterprise, a very helpful resource not only for academics and non-academics specifically interested in Edwards, but for those who are interested in American religious history as well.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Marco Barone is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at Queen's University Belfast.

Date of Review: 
October 4, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Harry S. Stout is the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale University and general editor of the Works of Jonathan Edwards and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center.


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