Kyle is publishing an updated edition of Jonathan Edwards’s “Charity and Its Fruits”, a meditation on 1 Corinthians 13, which should be released sometime over the summer (Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love). I want to give Kyle a chance to talk about the project because I know he is excited about the book’s potential to make one of Edwards’ more important works on the Christian life accessible for a new generation of readers.
Kent: What is it about Charity and Its Fruits that made you want to re-release it in a new, more accessible version?
Kyle: First, there are already a lot of editions of Charity and Its Fruits floating around, but they all use Edwards’s great, great grandson’s text that is highly edited. This is one of the reasons I wanted to provide a new edition. Mine will be the first edition of Charity in its own volume that goes back to Edwards’s original. The only other time Edwards’s original is published is in the Yale critical edition which costs $150 and has two other works bound up with it. Second, Charity is an important work to understand Edwards and yet it is often forgotten behind his Religious Affections. Charity is less tied to the polemical environment of the revivals, and so it is a bit more purely Edwards’s theologizing. Edwards never wrote or spoke without polemical partners in mind, but this is as close as you get. Third, I tend to think that if you want to start reading Edwards, you should start with Charity. I like to call is Edwards’s spiritual theology, because you really see spirituality and theology come together for him here.
Kent: What can Jonathan Edwards teach us about the Christian life?
Kyle: Edwards can teach us to be theological concerning the Christian life. Evangelicals have notoriously left theology aside when they talk about the Christian life, either turning to common-sensical notions of life that are more American than Christian or simply using the spiritual tradition as their own personal buffet-line. Edwards provides us with a great example of what it used to mean to be a theologian. A theologian was never abstracted away from the life of the church, but would write and speak directly into her circumstances. Here, just as in Religious Affections, we see Edwards doing that. Furthermore, Edwards is a fascinating example of someone who adopted and adapted virtue ethics and wove it into a robustly theological vision of life. There is a lot to learn here about doing that well.
Kent: How will Edwards’ surprise us in this book?
Kyle: When Tyron Edwards, Edwards’s great, great grandson, edited the original text, a lot of his edits had to do with Edwards sounding “too catholic.” Edwards often uses the term “infusion” to talk about the Spirit and grace being present in the life of a believer. This is interesting. It is noteworthy that this isn’t just Edwards, but was standard among the Reformed High Orthodox. So that will be surprising to many. I think this book will be particularly surprising to those who think of Edwards as the “sinners in the hands of an angry God guy.” Edwards’s sermon, “Heaven is a World of Love” closes out Charity, and while he still talks about Hell, it should be clear that Edwards’s imagination was obsessed with Heaven. Ultimately though, I think those who don’t know much about Edwards will be shocked at how he talks about God and our relationship to him. In Edwards we find a Reformed account of theosis, and participation, communion, and union form his soteriology. Whenever Edwards gets the chance, he waxes poetic about this reality.
Kent: Can you tell us a bit about the format of the book?
Kyle: Well, the format was really my main addition to the volume. First, I include a substantial introduction to introduce readers to some of Edwards’s theology. My hope is that this background will help them read Edwards a bit better. Second, I add textboxes throughout the whole book, that explain difficult concepts, or rephrase Edwards’s arcane and difficult prose. Sometimes this is just quoting something else Edwards said that was just more clear. Third, I define arcane and obscure terminology. And last, I end with a conclusion that broadly answers the question: What now? My goal here is to help people think about Edwards’s vision of spiritual formation and what it might mean to take that seriously.