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Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War Hardcover – September 1, 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this majestic achievement, Holifield (Emory University) provides a first-rate, richly evocative and unrivaled history of theology in America. With graceful prose and measured historical analysis, he traces the development of American theology from the 17th century to 1865, examining the major themes that emerged during these crucial years. He examines early American theology's grounding in Calvinism, emphasis on practicality and ethics, denominational setting, ongoing conversation with European theology, and division between academic and populist strands. Holifield contends that the defining mark of theologians in early America was their shared interest in the reasonableness of Christianity. Carefully attentive to the theological movements of these times, he observes the ways that the interest in a rational theology derived from a variety of sources, including English natural philosophy, deism and Scottish Common Sense Realism. In particular, Holifield sketches the disposition toward rational theology from the Puritans through the various denominational movements of the 18th century and on to the resistance to reasonableness in 19th-century theologians such as Orestes Brownson. Throughout this marvelous study, Holifield provides accounts of major and minor theologians, ranging from Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards to the Quaker Elias Hicks and the African-American preacher Jupiter Hammon. The sketches of Edwards and Horace Bushnell are alone worth the price of the book. This masterfully narrated, splendid book will become the definitive study of the development of American theology.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

. . . . [A] marvelous study. . . . This masterfully narrated, splendid book will become the definitive study of the development of American theology. -- Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition, edition (September 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300095740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300095746
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #593,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. B. Vick on November 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This text is monumental for many reasons. First, it is the most comprehensive text of its kind. 'Of its kind' merely means that there is no other text-at least that I am aware of-that covers, in as much detail the theological trends, movements, and groups, and individual thinkers/theologians in American historical theology. Second, the text is very well written, well documented, researched, and structured. This makes it easy for the reader to glean information and facts from its content.
Another excellent feature of this text is its examination of not only Protestant movements, groups, and thinkers, but Catholic movements, groups and thinkers as well.
Holifield begins his work with Calvinistic origins (focusing on Jonathan Edwards, and then moves into other groups such as Unitarians, Diests, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopal, and even Black theology. From here, Holifield discusses Lutherans, Catholics, Transcendentalists, several individual thinkers such as Horace Bushnell, and Isaac Hecker (transcendental Catholics).
Scattered throughout the text, Holifield describes how certain thinkers such as Kant and Hume, for example, had an impact on certain other thinkers and religious movements or groups. These 'tid bits' of extra history are very helpful for the reader to gain a better grasp of what was going on historically during certain movements, etc. As an added bonus, Holifield devotes an entire chapter to the affects of slavery in American religious history.
Overall, this is a great text for the person who wishes to gain greater insight into historical theology, Church history, and/or theological movements.
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Format: Paperback
Holifield's book is simply outstanding. Granted, you do need some basic grounding in theology, philosophy and church history to really get into the text. But Holifield's theme of American Christian thinkers seeking to understand the relationship between reason and faith is extremely helpful. The dawning of America is intricately tied into the rise of the Enlightenment. As American Christianity develops, the leading theologians of the church must contend with challenges raised by modern rationalist thought. From the philosophical footwork of John Locke and Thomas Reid to the limitations of Baconian reasoning in dealing with the subject of slavery in biblical interpretation, Holifield weaves a very full and engaging intellectual historical narrative. Some of Holifield's subjects, such Jonathan Edwards, are fully involved in the Enlightenment struggle, whereas others retreat from the intellectual challenges of the modern era. Nevertheless, God's Kingdom marches on in all of its amazing (and, frankly, discouraging at times) diversity in the life of the church. Holifield's history is very thought provoking, and it really gives you a hunger to learn more. It deserves another read in the future, for sure!As an observation, I find it really incredible to realize that most modern Americans have very little exposure to the thoughts that are expressed in this book. For example, Thomas Reid is a central figure but most modern historical reflections on philosophy regard him as a point on the conservative fringe. With the exception of today's conservative Reformed Calvinists, you hardly find any mention of Jonathan Edwards, except for his "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon in our public education (and even Christian private education). Many thanks go to Holifield for setting the historical record straight.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
E. Brooks Holifield, though I have never met him, has been a writer-mentor ever since I read his early work, "A History of Pastoral Care in America." Holifield brings his same passionate precision to his latest book, "Theology in America." His humble title belies the depth of the book, yet at the same time communicates clearly the comprehensive task that he has undertaken. His subtitle says it all, "Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War."

Holifield writes in a magesterial style, fitting for his topic. As Grant Wacker notes, it is "massively researched and elegantly crafted." The author leaves none of the proverbial stones unturned, as his control of his subject ranges from high church to low, from free white to enslaved black.

As with his study of American pastoral care, so here Holifield ably sees and shares themes and threads that others often miss. In particular, Holifield highlights the ever-existing tension between theological truth and practical relevance evident in the American theological pursuit. Thus the reader receives the big picture as well as the summary, the forest and the trees.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," and of "Soul Physicians" and "Spiritual Friends."
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By A Customer on November 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This work will be the standard text in the history of theology in America. Other books may attract attention through daring theses or unsubstantiated claims. Holifield's thorough examination of all relevant sources and his measured claims lift his text above the rest. Though some will find its intellectual angle parochial, the author makes no unwarranted arguments from theological text to social situation.
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