A bright new star in the digital Christian firmament at Faithlife Corp. was born just over 300 years ago.
Images of Jonathan Edwards generally portray him as a narrow-faced, unsmiling man wearing a “preaching tab” neck piece and with a white wig framing his high forehead.
His somber manner is decidedly out of fashion today, but his voluminous theological writings remain vital to people studying religion in the American colonies, especially the Great Awakening, an evangelical movement that started in the 1730s and 1740s.
Faithlife, the Bellingham company that makes Logos Bible Software, recently announced its partnership with Yale University Press and the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University to bring Edwards’ writing into the digital present.
Yale University Press has spent years compiling Edwards’ unreleased works into print books and scanned PDFs. Now, a 26-volume collection from Faithlife offers Edwards’ writings in a fully searchable digital format.
“Edwards is a significant and important project,” said Bob Pritchett, the CEO of Faithlife, formerly known as Logos Bible Software. “Historically, he’s definitely a star figure.”
Pritchett said the idea of offering Edwards’ writing electronically had been under discussion with Yale for several years. For its part, Faithlife brought to the table its software specially designed for searches, citations and background details for biblical research.
“We have a lot of expertise in the specialized search activity that you need,” Pritchett said.
And while Faithlife recently announced its new research software for the study of the humanities, it’s core offerings remain ancient and modern texts for studying the Bible, with a push to add important Christian preachers and commentators, including Edwards.
“He’s certainly one of the most prominent of American preachers,” Pritchett said.
Born in 1703, Edwards became pastor of an influential church west of Boston when he was just 23. The colonies were ablaze with religious fervor in the early 1700s, with an estimated 75 to 80 percent of people attending church.
Edwards, and such other well-known clergymen as George Whitefield, preached that people were sinners, that hell was near, and that people needed the personal, “new birth” experience of God’s grace. The Great Awakening brought more people to church, including poor whites, Indians, and blacks, both free and enslaved.
The movement laid the groundwork for the long-term rise of Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists among Protestant denominations. Meanwhile, established churches that opposed the Great Awakening or were split by it, including Anglicans, Quakers and Congregationalist, were left behind.
For people more interested in American history than in colonial theology, the Great Awakening, by fostering dissent in established churches, is credited with leading to greater toleration for religion, because, clearly, no one religion held sway.
And the Great Awakening’s democratic approach to religion — with ministers, who were often not ordained, bringing a message of free will and salvation to the lower class — helped feed the spirit of resistance that led to the American Revolution.
That, to be sure, is worth smiling about.
Jonathan Edwards at Logos Bible Software: logos.com (search for Jonathan Edwards)
Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University: edwards.yale.edu