Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, by Robert E. Brown

Robert Brown's splendid book may disillusion theological admirers of Jonathan Edwards. Those who prize Edwards's exultant expressions of the beauty of God's holiness may well find Brown's portrait of him as a polemicist preoccupied with the factual reliability of the scriptures unpalatable. Brown, a visiting professor of American religion at Franklin and Marshall College, makes a persuasive, well-documented case for the increasing impact that critical historical thought had on Edwards's understanding of scripture. By the end of his life, Brown argues, Edwards was convinced that establishing the religious authenticity of biblical narratives required more than typological interpretations: "These stories had to be explained historically as well, and justified according to critical notions of authentic history."

In Edwards's day there was significant agreement across the theological spectrum, from radical biblical critics to conservative defenders of the faith, about what constituted authentic history. They differed in their conclusions about scripture, not their historical criteria. Brown's Edwards is always on the defensive, employing historical-critical arguments to wage desperate rearguard actions for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and other traditional positions.

Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, the 1999 winner of the Brewer Prize in American church history, provides fresh support for emerging themes in recent scholarship on Edwards, such as the importance of deist interlocutors for his later theological directions, his theological convergences with moderate Anglican apologists, and the significance of his unpublished writings for a full estimation of his thought. Brown's book also recasts our perceptions of the impact of biblical criticism in North America. Whereas previously this impact had been seen as a largely post-Revolution phenomenon, Brown demonstrates the "deep penetration of critical thought into the colonial consciousness."