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Jonathan Edwards: A Life Hardcover – March 11, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although probably best known for his fire-and-brimstone sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards led a rich intellectual and spiritual life that took him far beyond the pulpit in his contributions to colonial America. In this first critical biography in over 60 years, Marsden, a professor of history at Notre Dame, places Edwards squarely within the context of his times. Drawing on newly available sources in the Yale edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, he elegantly traces the details of Edwards's life, from his precocious childhood of observing God's handiwork in the natural world and his adolescent struggles with his faith to his powerful preaching in the revivals that dominated the Connecticut Valley in the First Great Awakening to his later modestly successful mission to the Indians. From his childhood, Edwards struggled to understand the sovereignty of God, and as he later developed his theology he placed the "religious affections" at the center of his notions about God's sovereignty. Marsden reminds us that Edwards struggled with his faith as he labored to write his treatises on the freedom of the will, the religious affections and the nature of true virtue. Marsden's elegant prose and vivid, vivacious storytelling brings Edwards to life. This magisterial and definitive biography reveals the complexities of Edwards's life and provides new appreciation for his commitment to fostering religious sensibilities in the increasingly secular world of his time. This is a beautifully written book about one of America's most important thinkers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In the first full critical biography of Edwards in 60 years, a distinguished Notre Dame scholar humanizes America's greatest colonial clergyman, a man highly esteemed in his own time but since singled out for decades of abuse by Puritan-bashers. To be sure, Edwards' brimstone pulpit rhetoric (most famously deployed in his 1741 sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") offends modern sensibilities. But Marsden--drawing heavily on recent scholarship--restores Edwards to an eighteenth-century New England where most shared his doctrines, though few could rival him in the power with which he preached them. Exceptional insight shines through a felicitous style as Marsden recounts how Edwards acquired that power, the intellectual rigor of his Yale studies gradually lending force to his intense spiritual vision. His rare gifts enabled Edwards to kindle the Great Awakening, emblazoning his name on the pages of American history. But in narrating Edwards' luminous achievements, Marsden also scrutinizes the periods of deep personal depression and probes the dark drama of jealousy that cost him his position of ecclesiastical prominence. The man who emerges from this tangle of triumph and travail defies the easy stereotypes of the hellfire preacher: tender in his pastoral care, passionate in his conjugal loyalty, joyous in his celebration of divine love, unintentionally democratic in his New Light theology. Neither alabaster saint nor cardboard hypocrite, the Edwards Marsden delivers will fascinate serious students of American culture and history. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (March 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300096933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300096934
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 136 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Edwards was probably the most impressive American intellectual of the 18th century. Not the best known, which would be Benjamin Franklin, or the most influential, which would be James Madison, but the individual with most impressive intellect and purely intellectual achievements. Edwards' reputation today suffers because he was on the losing side, so to speak, of a pair of particularly important developments in American life. In the Great Awakening that inaugurated modern American religous life, Edwards was an outspoken proponent of revivalism, but the ultimate emergence of a more democratic and less organized form of Protestantism ran counter to his essentially conservative form of Calvinism. Edwards' conservative Calvinism led him also to oppose the rationalistic philosophy and theology of the Enlightenment that came to be such an important element of American life. One of the great virtues of this outstanding biography is that it gives readers a vivid and unanachronistic understanding of how this powerful intellect ended up reaffirming doctrines that were coming to be regarded as outmoded by so many of his contemporaries.
Marsden shows Edwards' development as the son and grandson of learned Puritan clergymen, his immersion in the complicated theology of his branch of Calvinism, and his encounters with new intellectual currents emanating from Europe. Marsden does a particularly good job of connecting Edwards' thought with the interesting circumstances of his social position. Edwards was a child of the Puritan establishment of Colonial New England.
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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
What's most surprising about Yale's latest attempt at an Edwards Biography is how thoroughly Christian it is. Having extensively studied the 18th century Puritan, I've long been baffled by just how many of his biographers have attempted to make Edwards, to quote G. Marsden, "over in their own images" (p.2). In so doing, some of these books have made his Orthodox Christianity, which was truly the centerpiece of his life and thought, strangely and eerily quiet. Some biographers have tried to separate Edwards' religious convictions from his genius. Marsden doesn't. Any biographer who wishes to write honestly about Edwards must necessarily write much on Edwards' faith and his God. Marsden does. These things were truly the centerpiece of his life and so therefore should be the centerpiece of any book about his life.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Tim Challies TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 3, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I came to realize not too long ago that, for a man of such importance, I knew shockingly little about Jonathan Edwards. I had some knowledge of the basic outline of his life and teachings, but knew little beyond that. Having heard so many positive reviews of George Marsden's recent biography of the man, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, I turned to this book to learn more about this giant of the faith. I was richly rewarded. And if ever I have felt inadequate to the task of summarizing a book in just a few short paragraphs, this is the time.

Whether we are aware of it or not, most contemporary Calvinists are deeply indebted to Edwards. His defense of Calvinism in works such as Freedom of the Will have made a deep and lasting impact on Reformed theology. It did not take me long to realize that much of what I believe, much of what I have taught to others and much of what has been passed down to me originated with Edwards. A lifelong student of the Bible, he wrestled with the great doctrines of the Scriptures and expounded them for countless generations of other Christians. Truly his impact can hardly be exaggerated.

I have sometimes found that biographies can become bogged down with examinations of the most minute details of a person's teaching. When I have been looking for the story of a person's life I have instead found a thorough examination of the person's thought and writing. I was pleased to see that, by and large, Marsden does a good job of incorporating Edwards' teaching into the story of his life, rather than examining them as separate entities. A possible exception to this is in three of the final four chapters where he focuses on Edwards' major theological treatises, but even here he summarizes them in a brief but satisfying way.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Brian G Hedges on December 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This excellent study on the greatest theologian/philosopher in American history is everything you would ever want in a good biography. George Marsden writes with an objective eye and at an even pace in this thoroughly researched, yet popularly written biography on Edwards. Much attention is given to the intellectual development of Edwards, and Marsden helps us see Edwards against the backdrop of the age in which he lived. There is also considerable focus on the Great Awakening, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. No one can understand Edwards without understanding something about the controversies in which he was enmeshed; and again, Marsden gives an objective account which is not unsympathetic to Edwards, but does not fail to recognize his feet of clay either. Towards the end of the book are several chapters introducing Edwards most important theological books, such as Freedom of the Will, Original Sin, History of Redemption, and The End for Which God Created the World. The book is carefully documented and indexed, but for all the detail it is an absolutely delightful read! I highly, highly recommend this book.
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