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Jonathan Edwards’s Vision for the 21st Century

In some of our most tumultuous times, God gives us our greatest thinkers. Consider Augustine writing his City of God during the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. Consider C. S. Lewis writing in the middle of the Battle of Britain during the Second World War.

And consider Jonathan Edwards, writing in the early Enlightenment as colonial America erupted in revival and began to consolidate into what would a few decades later become the United States of America.

More than 20 years ago, George Marsden gave us the definitive biography Jonathan Edwards: A Life. The book released at a formative time for me, just as I was graduating college as a history major and headed to work at Christian History & Biography magazine. Almost every book I’ve written or edited since then has been inspired by Edwards and explicitly credits him. So I owe Marsden a great deal. You can see why I was excited about the publication of his new book, An Infinite Fountain of Light: Jonathan Edwards for the Twenty-First Century (IVP Academic).

Marsden, professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, says we need Edwards’s carefully balanced analysis as much today as any other time in nearly three centuries of what he calls “sometimes anarchical evangelicalism.” Edwards straddled the worlds of Puritan New England and the British Enlightenment. This combination produces theological richness with contemporary relevance.

Marsden summarizes Edwards in ways that capture his unique insight. He writes, “The primary purpose for which the mighty God has created this universe is so that creatures might live in the infinite pleasure of the joy of God’s love.” And then, “The greatest beauty that we can perceive is God’s redemptive love in Christ.”

Marsden joined me on Gospelbound to discuss changes in Edwards studies, Benjamin Franklin, secular moral judgments, and Edwards’s greatest sermon, among other subjects.


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