It is a strange country indeed whose first philosopher is a man who preached a sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". And it is a strange blog post that begins a piece on Terrence Malick's new film with mention of Jonathan Edwards. To the Wonder is released today, though I won't see it until Tuesday.
But reading this passage on Jonathan Edwards made me think immediately of Terrence Malick, who, one could argue, is an American philosopher from the Edwardsian school. The proofs for that argument might make for an interesting dissertation, but for now I'll let the passage speak for itself:
In Edwards' view God's sovereignty was not an abstraction, but a description of God's active love. In his Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World, for instance, he described how God's creation was an ongoing communication of his beauty and his love. Throughout Edwards's works he reiterated how rebellious humans, loving themselves, have refused to see this love. Conversion, then, is being given by the Holy Spirit new eyes to see; but the seeing is not just an intellectual apprehension. Rather it was an experiencing of the overwhelming beauty of the love of God, manifested in its most immediately transforming aspects in the sacrificial redemptive work of Christ. To recognize the beauty of this love is to have one's heart drawn to it. The transforming work is all God's doing, but it is not against anyone's will, since we are drawn to beauty voluntarily, even if we cannot help being so compelled by it. Edwards explicates such an understanding of freedom of the will, as being free to do what one wants, even though we cannot ultimately control our most essential dispositions.
I am unfamiliar with the theology of Jonathan Edwards, but if this is an accurate description of it then I'm beginning to see why he is not only America's first philosopher, but also widely considered its greatest theologian.