Most people know of Jonathan Edwards as the colonial American preacher of hell-fire and brimstone. I remember reading the mandatory “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in high school and thinking that this guy had an unhealthy, morbid fascination with damnation. This narrow view of Edwards I had for years is a real tragedy, as this unfairly diminishes the extraordinary intellectual and spiritual contribution of perhaps America’s greatest philosopher.
Perry Miller, an influential Harvard historian and prominent atheist of the mid-20th century, practically rescued Jonathan Edwards from the dustbin of American cultural history. In an age when colonial American Puritans like Edwards were treated with “fundamentalist” disdain, Miller saw in Edwards perhaps one of the most perceptive and wide ranging thinkers America has ever produced. What was it about the 18th century Edwards the Christian that fascinated Miller the atheist?