Sweeney’s Booknotes: Théologie et Lumières

Roy Carpenter. Théologie et Lumières: Jonathan Edwards entre Raison et Réveil. Paris: Éditions Ampelos, 2015.

Carpenter-EdwardsThis is a fine introduction to Edwards’ life and mental labors for thoughtful, francophone readers.

Educated in Canada at the undergraduate level (McGill University), Carpenter finished his graduate study at the University of Versailles–St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, writing a doctoral dissertation with Bernard Cottret. This revision of that work, Theology and Enlightenment: Jonathan Edwards between Reason and Revival (English translation), tracks the ways in which Edwards reinvented Calvinist thought during the age of the Enlightenment, responding to his era’s most pressing epistemological and ethical concerns. Its author has written on Edwards before, treating Edwards’ views of divorce, “sexual politics,” and hell. (See here for his article on divorce and sexual politics, published in Jonathan Edwards Studies: http://jestudies.yale.edu/index.php/journal/article/view/47.) He serves as associate professor in the Faculty of Law of Jean Moulin University Lyon 3.

This is a hefty paperback, nearly 500 pages long. It is organized in three main parts and twelve chapters, along with a preface by Louis Schweitzer of the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at Vaux-sur-Sein (in Paris), an introduction by the author, and a conclusion in which Carpenter discusses Edwards’ death, posthumous image, and “hidden legacy” (héritage caché).

In Part One (pp. 23-186), “The Formulation of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (La formulation de l’hypothèse évangélique), Carpenter introduces the notion that Edwards’ evangelicalism was an experiment of sorts in the development of Reformed thought with scientific tools. He describes Edwards’ context in “the wake of Newton and Locke,” his intellectual formation at Yale College and beyond, and his pastoral ministry through the late 1730s. In Part Two (pp. 187-322), “The Testing of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (la mise à l’épreuve de l’hypothèse évangélique), Carpenter analyzes the ways in which the fires of revival tried Edwards’ evangelicalism. He treats the Great Awakening, Edwards’ view of the revivals, and their application in Edwards’ own millennial theology and work in Indian missions. In Part Three (pp. 323-454), “The Revision of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (La Remaniement de l’Hypothèse Évangélique), the author observes a purgation of impurities in Edwards’ evangelical Calvinism during the membership debate that rankled Edwards’ congregation, his ejection from Northampton, and his writings on free will, the end of creation, true virtue, and original sin. Throughout this final phase of his life, Edwards reevaluated his “evangelical hypothesis,” correcting for the spurious conversions and false piety inflated by the heat of the revivals.

Summing up his main point about Edwards’ new experiment in enlightened Calvinism “between reason and revival,” Carpenter claims that Edwards’ writings “constitute a single work whose aim is to reconcile religious practice with the latest advances of Western thought, while subjecting the modern theses to the same critical review that applies to scholastic Puritanism” (les écrits d’Edwards constituent bien une seule oeuvre dont le but serait de réconcilier la pratique religieuse avec les dernières avancées de la pensée occidentale, tout en soumettant les thèses modernes à la même analyse critique qu’il applique au puritanisme scholastique, p. 21.) His was a grand experiment in Reformed evangelicalism that fueled later evangelical movements powerfully, particularly in America. Benjamin Franklin is often portrayed as the prototypical American. But Edwards fits the bill much better, according to Carpenter. He might not represent what most Westerners today want America to be, Carpenter concludes from his perch in eastern France, but he represents more fully what it is (il représente, non pas ce que l’Amerique devrait être, mais ce qu’elle est, p. 469).

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