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Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is a towering figure in American history. A controversial theologian and the author of the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he ignited the momentous Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. In this definitive and long-awaited biography, Jonathan Edwards emerges as both a great American and a brilliant Christian. George Marsd Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is a towering figure in American history. A controversial theologian and the author of the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he ignited the momentous Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. In this definitive and long-awaited biography, Jonathan Edwards emerges as both a great American and a brilliant Christian. George Marsden evokes the world of colonial New England in which Edwards was reared—a frontier civilization at the center of a conflict between Native Americans, French Catholics, and English Protestants. Drawing on newly available sources, Marsden demonstrates how these cultural and religious battles shaped Edwards’s life and thought. Marsden reveals Edwards as a complex thinker and human being who struggled to reconcile his Puritan heritage with the secular, modern world emerging out of the Enlightenment. In this, Edwards’s life anticipated the deep contradictions of our American culture. Meticulously researched and beautifully composed, this biography offers a compelling portrait of an eminent American.


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Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is a towering figure in American history. A controversial theologian and the author of the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he ignited the momentous Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. In this definitive and long-awaited biography, Jonathan Edwards emerges as both a great American and a brilliant Christian. George Marsd Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is a towering figure in American history. A controversial theologian and the author of the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he ignited the momentous Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. In this definitive and long-awaited biography, Jonathan Edwards emerges as both a great American and a brilliant Christian. George Marsden evokes the world of colonial New England in which Edwards was reared—a frontier civilization at the center of a conflict between Native Americans, French Catholics, and English Protestants. Drawing on newly available sources, Marsden demonstrates how these cultural and religious battles shaped Edwards’s life and thought. Marsden reveals Edwards as a complex thinker and human being who struggled to reconcile his Puritan heritage with the secular, modern world emerging out of the Enlightenment. In this, Edwards’s life anticipated the deep contradictions of our American culture. Meticulously researched and beautifully composed, this biography offers a compelling portrait of an eminent American.

30 review for Jonathan Edwards

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ben Chapman

    “Jonathan Edwards: A Life” is a deeply rich account of one of the greatest, theological minds in American history. Arguably one of the greatest thinkers we have recorded to date. This book showed me many things about a man, who was not outside of the need for Christ, and not afraid to stand where he felt the truth might be compromised. Even if it cost him the church he had pastored for twenty-three years. Edwards’ life and teaching conveys well, the fierce and awesome power of God, compiled with “Jonathan Edwards: A Life” is a deeply rich account of one of the greatest, theological minds in American history. Arguably one of the greatest thinkers we have recorded to date. This book showed me many things about a man, who was not outside of the need for Christ, and not afraid to stand where he felt the truth might be compromised. Even if it cost him the church he had pastored for twenty-three years. Edwards’ life and teaching conveys well, the fierce and awesome power of God, compiled with the sweet and loving kindness of God. Something people often have a tough time reconciling. This book is very detailed and sometimes slow moving, but it is well worth the read. Marsden does a masterful job in his presentation of studies and research. And if nothing else, the book helped me find my favorite sentence of all time outside of the Bible, which is something Edwards wrote to his congregants around the time he preached his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The sentence is as follows: “In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness.” To that I say, Christ be praised. Amen.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    There is almost a glut of material on Jonathan Edwards. That can be both good and bad. It is good that men are wrestling with Edwards's life and thought. A study of Edwards can renew intellectual life within the church. Furthermore, Edwards is being fairly studied by scholars outside the conservative world. This, too, is good. But there is always the question when a new Edwards book comes out: is there anything left to say? George Marsden thinks so. And Marsden takes his point of departure from There is almost a glut of material on Jonathan Edwards. That can be both good and bad. It is good that men are wrestling with Edwards's life and thought. A study of Edwards can renew intellectual life within the church. Furthermore, Edwards is being fairly studied by scholars outside the conservative world. This, too, is good. But there is always the question when a new Edwards book comes out: is there anything left to say? George Marsden thinks so. And Marsden takes his point of departure from other Edwards scholars. For all of the work on Edwards, the standard biographies (Perry Miller and Iain Murray) leave holes in some places. Thesis: Jonathan Edwards lived in the crossroads of intellectual and social history. He is a perfect representative of both streams of both European and American thought: he was a traditionalist who stood for authority, order, and stable values. Ironically, he also planted the seeds of the individualism that would later haunt evangelicalism. Even more paradoxically, the very cure (e.g., the Great Awakening) to the problem (e.g., spiritual decay and social stagnation) would later become another problem for religious America. There are two illustrations of Marsden's thesis from Edwards' ministry: the Great Awakening and the communion controversy, the latter will be examined in light of his political views. In both cases we see Edwards the traditionalist clash with Edwards the innovator. Edwards' instrumental role in the Great Awakening conflicted with other pastors in the region. Unwillingly, or unwittingly, Edwards inspired other men to rise up and carry on the revival, a task that also meant criticizing the status quo ecclesiology. Another example is Edwards' view on church-state relations (160). Was Edwards going to be the traditional Constantinian Protestant and favor a state-protected church, or would he encourage his people to be a holy congregation, called-out and separated from the world? It appears he wanted both. On p. 196 Edwards advocates a strong Constantianism. This clashed with his view on presenting spiritual evidences to the Lord's Supper. It is obvious why. Solomon Stoddard, Edwards' grandfather and the previous pastor, sought a mediating position with the Puritans demand for evidence of conversion alongside the painful fact that many people did not have that evidence. If they did not have that evidence, they weren't really in the covenant. So they posited a "half-way" covenant. There was still the nagging problem of evidence. Therefore, the parishioners would give evidence of moral sincerity whereas Edwards' demanded evidence of godly piety (368). It was Edwards' downfall (or heroic hour, depending on your point of view) to overturn this compromise. Evaluation: This book faithfully carries on the Edwardsean tradition. It presents a pastor who sought Christ-exalting power in the pulpit. Yet it is one of the first sympathetic books on Edwards to illustrate tensions in his worldview--tensions the Evangelical world is feeling today. Does a longing for revival and fresh power from the Spirit undermine certain stati quo in Reformed orthodoxy? Marsden's thesis leaves the reader wrestling and thinking on this question. Another fine point is Marsden's emphasis on the healthy sexual morality and love found between Jonathan and Sarah, especially in light of current confusion on sexual mores. I heartily recommend this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    James

    It's probably the greatest biography that I have ever read. I actually cried when I read the final chapter. Jonathan Edwards was a wonderful pastor, and his legacy is amazing. I highly recommend this for Christians, pastors, and students of theology. Frankly, I think anyone with a mild interest in history would also enjoy this. It's probably the greatest biography that I have ever read. I actually cried when I read the final chapter. Jonathan Edwards was a wonderful pastor, and his legacy is amazing. I highly recommend this for Christians, pastors, and students of theology. Frankly, I think anyone with a mild interest in history would also enjoy this.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rafael Salazar

    "Lord, help me to live for you like this man of God did in his time." That's the tasteful prayer that I finished the book with. This is a masterpiece in terms of Marsden's scholarship and narration ability as well as an utterly fascinating life. This book very clearly challenges the assumption of us having lives merely under the sun, and literally forces one to grapple with the reality of God. A reality that grasped Edwards' whole being and drove him to both aspire and to do mighty things for Go "Lord, help me to live for you like this man of God did in his time." That's the tasteful prayer that I finished the book with. This is a masterpiece in terms of Marsden's scholarship and narration ability as well as an utterly fascinating life. This book very clearly challenges the assumption of us having lives merely under the sun, and literally forces one to grapple with the reality of God. A reality that grasped Edwards' whole being and drove him to both aspire and to do mighty things for God. This is probably the most inspirational biography I have ever read. Far from hagiography, Marsden presents the real historical Edwards, and that's exactly why it is so challenging and powerful. May God raise pious men such as this one and move once again upon our lands!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Forrest Martin

    If you're looking to read the most comprehensive and excellent Edwards biography, read this book. If, like me, you're looking to just get a taste for Edwards, don't start here. That was my mistake. While reading this book, I couldn't help getting extremely bored reading all the minutia of a man's life that I didn't yet esteem or admire especially. I'm sure for a person who regards Edwards highly as a theologian would be like a kid in a candy shop reading the nitty-gritty accounts of his life. Al If you're looking to read the most comprehensive and excellent Edwards biography, read this book. If, like me, you're looking to just get a taste for Edwards, don't start here. That was my mistake. While reading this book, I couldn't help getting extremely bored reading all the minutia of a man's life that I didn't yet esteem or admire especially. I'm sure for a person who regards Edwards highly as a theologian would be like a kid in a candy shop reading the nitty-gritty accounts of his life. All in all, a great biography. Highly recommended for any fan of Jonathan Edwards. I recommend that a newcomer start somewhere else.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

    Astounding. Easily, one of the top ten Christian biographies I’ve ever read. Marsden masterfully excels in both examining Jonathan Edwards’s theology and situating him in his eighteenth-century context, where he was both a “strict conservative” and “innovator.” Marsden’s biography is full of sympathy and understanding while devoid of the hagiography that often seeps into the genre.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jay Perkins

    This is probably my favorite biography!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    regardless of whether you share much of Marsden’s (and Edwards’) tradition of Reformed Christianity (which has undergone much change between JE and Marsden), this is an illuminating book. Marsden is in the top tier of cultural and religious historians of the last 40 years, so insights abound. but he never disrupts the narrative flow so much that non-Ivory Tower readers would find his prose overly cumbersome. this feat of lively and well-unified prose is even more impressive when you realize how regardless of whether you share much of Marsden’s (and Edwards’) tradition of Reformed Christianity (which has undergone much change between JE and Marsden), this is an illuminating book. Marsden is in the top tier of cultural and religious historians of the last 40 years, so insights abound. but he never disrupts the narrative flow so much that non-Ivory Tower readers would find his prose overly cumbersome. this feat of lively and well-unified prose is even more impressive when you realize how many thousands of pages of manuscripts, published works, letters, and other documents Marsden had to study to write this. If you do share Marsden’s Reformed outlook, as I do, this is also an encouraging work, and a sort of family history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    There is much to glean from reading the life of such a towering figure in the history of Christianity. I found my mind being stimulated and my heart being warmed by this rich account of Jonathan Edwards. Marsden presented a man who lived his life always enthralled with the holiness and glory of God, and saw the sweetness and loveliness of God in all things. This will probably prove to be very influential in my own spiritual life as I felt inspired and challenged in every chapter. Overall this wa There is much to glean from reading the life of such a towering figure in the history of Christianity. I found my mind being stimulated and my heart being warmed by this rich account of Jonathan Edwards. Marsden presented a man who lived his life always enthralled with the holiness and glory of God, and saw the sweetness and loveliness of God in all things. This will probably prove to be very influential in my own spiritual life as I felt inspired and challenged in every chapter. Overall this was an exciting and very edifying read for me--probably my favorite book of the last couple years. One thing I wish Marsden would have spent more time on was Edwards and slavery. I only remember about 5 pages being devoted to specifically navigating this issue, but for a man who is remembered as a saint according to the highest spiritual standards and yet owned at least one slave--maybe two or three--I think it deserves more attention than was given in this work.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adam T.

    Marsden deserves the accolades and praise surrounding this work. This book has made Edwards more accessible in almost every area without watering him down. I found myself reading it like it was good fiction at times. He frames the events of Edwards life in ways that shed valuable light into his works. He addresses his weaknesses in a way that causes the modern to be introspective. I cannot recommend a biography more highly. I look forward to diving into primary source material from Edwards with Marsden deserves the accolades and praise surrounding this work. This book has made Edwards more accessible in almost every area without watering him down. I found myself reading it like it was good fiction at times. He frames the events of Edwards life in ways that shed valuable light into his works. He addresses his weaknesses in a way that causes the modern to be introspective. I cannot recommend a biography more highly. I look forward to diving into primary source material from Edwards with far greater clarity. This is a must read on America's greatest theologian.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Parkison

    A masterpiece. Marsden accurately depicts Edwards, with his imperfections, and his breathtaking faithfulness. Truly inspiring.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David King

    It is only fitting that I should finish this biography of Jonathan Edwards on the day JECA celebrates his birthday. Marsden writes clearly and engagingly. This biography is strangely compelling even though Edwards' life was rather ordinary in many ways. Marsden masterfully places Edwards in his time, carefully explaining the differences of colonial thinking and our current age. This was especially helpful in understanding Edwards' owning slaves, as well as the tensions arising from the Seven Year It is only fitting that I should finish this biography of Jonathan Edwards on the day JECA celebrates his birthday. Marsden writes clearly and engagingly. This biography is strangely compelling even though Edwards' life was rather ordinary in many ways. Marsden masterfully places Edwards in his time, carefully explaining the differences of colonial thinking and our current age. This was especially helpful in understanding Edwards' owning slaves, as well as the tensions arising from the Seven Years War. The biography also summarizes Jonathan Edwards' most important written works, fitting them into the theological discussions that Edwards engaged.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rodrigo Sanchez

    Unbelievably good.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    A shockingly timely book on multiple levels. Edwards lived in one of the most important periods of theological history. Right when the best of the reformation was colliding with the modern world and, of course, early American history. Reading this book was deeply emotional for me, because reading it I saw so much overlap with my own past. Edwards spent many years in my fine home state of Connecticut, and he also had a lot of emotional/intellectual wrestling as a young man. (Though he also had som A shockingly timely book on multiple levels. Edwards lived in one of the most important periods of theological history. Right when the best of the reformation was colliding with the modern world and, of course, early American history. Reading this book was deeply emotional for me, because reading it I saw so much overlap with my own past. Edwards spent many years in my fine home state of Connecticut, and he also had a lot of emotional/intellectual wrestling as a young man. (Though he also had some crazy relatives, which I can't say I have. Marsden says, "Jonathan Edwards is sometimes criticized for having too dim a view of human nature, but it might be helpful to be reminded that his grandmother was an incorrigible profligate, his great-aunt committed infanticide, and his great-uncle was an axe murderer"). Edwards had a very, very tender conscience and went through many resolutions to be a better or more intensely spiritual person, and he was afflicted (as all humans are) by "backslidings." There is a grain of truth to the idea that Puritan culture would shame anybody who walked out of line (see even the rehabilitation in Worldly Saints) and Edwards felt the pressure and got much of his work ethic from it. He also struggled deeply with the idea of original sin, an idea I have wrestled with myself, and his key breakthrough was when he simply accepted the doctrine in faith. He was something of a mystic, believing very insistently that we should not love this world too much, especially if our emotional attachment is more than our attachment to God. If you are looking for the tar baby of churches making people unnecessarily wrestle with assurance of salvation, this is it; I feel like any discussion about assurance and so forth now has to walk on eggshells because of how badly our forefathers sometimes handled this. We all know the kinds of pious people who love Jesus, but get hung up on all sorts of stuff. Edwards, I am sorry to say, would not have been the best helpful preacher all the time. We are currently catapulting in the other direction, and I do think that I would rather have Edwards questioning my salvation than some sort of stupid liberal preacher telling me it's all good. The things that depressed Edwards about his "undevout" congregation were often things that we should be depressed about, and though we may be tempted to laugh at Edwards writing to his children, telling them in illness to be careful about their soul, I don't think that we have a good reason to laugh. Do we all pray for the salvation of the young people in our church? Let's do that before we make fun of Jonathan Edwards for his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. After all, it's all real, pace the liberals. Still, Edward's hellfire sermon was criticized even at the time it was preached by fellow revivalists. Edwards' program in New England was, I think, one of the reasons that liberalism succeeded so well there. Another fun feature of Edwards' life was the geekiness. Even as a teenager, he would be reading books all the time. At one time, his cousin was supposed to be his assistant and when his cousin refused to leave a game to get him a mug of cider or something along those lines; Jonathan even as a young man did not understand most boys, I think. (Though he had a very well-loved and well-educated family.) This obtuseness is one reason Jonathan Edwards eventually was dismissed from the very church that had the first "great awakening." Edwards had very high standards for how much people should love God and how much people should be serious in conversation. I think he was right about some issues in the town, but it seems his rigorism pushed out people who might have stayed in. Providence is providence, but God does work through means and I think Edwards pushed people away from Jesus sometimes. At any rate, Edwards got into all sorts of fights: at one time some young men got their hands on books about pregnancy and started having all sorts of lewd fun with it and Jonathan didn't want it (#metooers should cheer for Jonathan). So he made the mistake of announcing the issue at church and calling for certain families to stay afterwards! This and countless other disagreements with his extended family made things worse when Edwards tried to reverse the church's policy on membership and being accepted to the Lord's table: Edwards insisted that anyone who wanted to receive the Lord's Supper needed a credible profession of a religious experience. He was somewhat more moderate than others (he didn't require a laid-out program), but it did infuriate an already tense situation and he got the boot. Marsden's judgment is that Edwards, despite his graciousness and composure throughout the process, was too rigid, and that the townspeople were too petty; the rage with which they insist Edwards go is perhaps characteristic of all congregations. Pastors, take warning. Thereafter, Edwards had to pastor in a town made up of both English settlers and Indians, which eventually exploded in the conflicts that became the French and Indian War. On the one hand, SJW's should beware of tarring Edwards: he saw a lot of the greed and exploitation that animated his own side; it is not surprising his descendants came to oppose slavery. On the other hand, Edwards' postmillennialism did not help at all. Edwards tended to see the Reformation and America very much as the dawn of a new age and it is here that Edwards looks the most ridiculous. Granted, I really like the idea that more people will be saved by 17 to 1, but postmillennialism seems to have a bad habit of being wed to modernism. This led to Edwards being melodramatic about the awakenings in his town as though they were the harbingers of this new era; I think at one point someone observes that Isaiah said that salvation would come from the west and Edwards seized upon this as a prophecy of American revival. At any rate, this made me sad. Still, I was kind of gut-punched when I realized that he wanted to do something of an encyclopedia showing all the typology in the Old and New Testament. Looking at other times, it is easy to see how they refract their own times through their own concerns, and certainly Edwards did this. Nonetheless, I am increasingly aware that this is what we are doing, what with chiasms and all. One of the best things about the modern world is the ability to be interested in other contexts' interests. Let's cultivate that and be especially slow in our exegesis; somehow, it does not date very well. Edwards spent his last days as the president of Princeton; he hoped before his untimely death to publish some further works and this part of the book was, perhaps not surprisingly, my favorite. This brings me to what makes Edwards truly unique: Edwards has things that the Reformed don't have today, and he has things that Evangelicals don't have today. On the one hand, Edwards is definitely one of the first armchair theologians. He didn't get around much and he had very unrealistic expectations of how people would act (especially young men with sex drives). He also was a fierce intellect. He was reading Locke and Newton and saw well ahead of time that the scientific revolution could potentially lead in a materialist direction and endeavored to counter it by showing that more science means seeing more of God, a fascinating project, to say the least. He rightly predicted determinism and original sin would be absolutely vital battles (and we lost them) and attacked the smug nineteenth century fad of "virtue" that we all love to hate now. There is a LOT here that we need to read, and I think this seems like a genuine "road not tried" here. Still, he is also Evangelical in a big way. He was a bit charismatic or, in more theological terms, an enthusiast. Though personally reserved and possibly a monotone preacher, he had a lot of what we might call "mystic" experiences, but unlike most mystics nowadays, he wanted everyone to have them. Edwards is a father of much Evangelical pietism. He also cared about the Gospel and was big into missions, editing the famous biography of David Brainerd. He did try to soften the understanding of revival, arguing in Religious Affections that you need to distinguish between genuine awakening and demonic, headstrong enthusiasm, but there's no question he would make Reformed people nervous today. John Piper is actually quite a legitimate heir to Edwards in his Desiring God. Though I don't think Edwards would preach like Piper, I actually think Piper is Edwards moderated by Lewis. Edwards, in short, is the bee's knees, and we need to learn more about him both to avoid repeating his mistakes and to rethink the kinds of assumptions that have been made in our collective American past. It should also be clear that I think this biography is awesome; Marsden includes all sorts of fun anecdotes and is a true historian who looks at older times with sympathy but not as a hagiographer. I highly commend this book and all things related to this remarkable man.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julia Forrester

    “Timothy Edwards, following Puritan precedents, emphasized three principal steps toward true conversion. First was ‘conviction’ or ‘an awakening sense of a person’s sad estate with reference to eternity.’… …An ‘awakening’ was no guarantee of salvation….Normally, following the first enthusiasm of their awakening, they would experience a backsliding into sin that would lead them to realize the terribleness of their sins and that God would be entirely just in condemning them to hell. Sometimes thi “Timothy Edwards, following Puritan precedents, emphasized three principal steps toward true conversion. First was ‘conviction’ or ‘an awakening sense of a person’s sad estate with reference to eternity.’… …An ‘awakening’ was no guarantee of salvation….Normally, following the first enthusiasm of their awakening, they would experience a backsliding into sin that would lead them to realize the terribleness of their sins and that God would be entirely just in condemning them to hell. Sometimes this stage was described as involving a sense of ‘terror.’…Potential converts not only had to recognize their guilt deserving eternal flames, but be ‘truly humbled’ by a total sense of their unworthiness. Only then was one sufficiently prepared to reach the third step–if God graciously granted it–of receiving God’s regenerating ‘light,’ or a ‘new spirit created in them,’ so that they truly repented and sin would no longer reign in them, but rather they would be guided by the Holy Spirit ‘dwelling in them’ and they would receive the gift of faith in Christ alone as their hope of salvation and would experience a ‘glorious change’ to a life dedicated to serving God.” (p 26-28) In today’s evangelical culture where we are quick to accept everyone’s ‘profession of faith’ without question, I think it is good to look back to the Puritans and to gain some wisdom and perspective from them. 1 John and James talks about the need to see fruit in a believer’s life, that a believer should be characterized by certain things: “[3] By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. [4] The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; [5] but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: [6] the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6, NASB) The Puritans understood the need to see that fruit in a believer’s life; to look at a person’s life for the confirmation of their “profession of faith.” Marsden does a great job of writing the book in a very easy to understand and easy to read narrative that explains the landscape of the times that Edwards lived and the driving forces behind his life and faith. If for no other reason than the fact that Jonathan Edwards was and continues to have a large influence in our nation and in the Church in the United States, I highly recommend that everyone reads this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tyron

    **Wrote this review at 2 in the morning for a graduate history class, take it with a grain of salt** Marsden’s ‘Jonathan Edwards: A Life’ is a difficult book to grapple with. This is partially due to the nature of its subject matter – dare I say no book on an 18th century theologian is ever destined to be inherently accessible to a lay reader. That said, even to someone with no background in the topics it discussed, Marsden still provides much to mull over. Despite the large amount of work writte **Wrote this review at 2 in the morning for a graduate history class, take it with a grain of salt** Marsden’s ‘Jonathan Edwards: A Life’ is a difficult book to grapple with. This is partially due to the nature of its subject matter – dare I say no book on an 18th century theologian is ever destined to be inherently accessible to a lay reader. That said, even to someone with no background in the topics it discussed, Marsden still provides much to mull over. Despite the large amount of work written on Edwards, Marsden justifies his writing of this book on 2 grounds. Firstly, he highlights the need to integrate a large amount of new primary source material on Edwards, his previously near-illegible hand-written documents now digitised and dated. Secondly, he emphasises how no recent critical biography of Edwards exists, the last comprehensive one published in 1940. Given that this book was eminently readable, and that it has been cited over 600 times since it was published in 2003, clearly he was justified in taking that stance. That said, for me this still raises some questions. Even if there is new primary documents which can be utilised, would someone from a previous era well-versed in Edwards have their understanding of him meaningfully changed by this book? That can be read as a general observation on how historians seemingly no longer aim to produce epoch-defining works, but merely to further historiographical debate. But specifically to this book, one thing that struck me was how unilluminating these new primary sources actually were. Marsden entices us with the existence of Edward’s private spiritual diary that he used for several years in his early career – “almost the only sources from his entire career that provide a direct window into Edwards’ interior life” (50). But then his ‘Copernican’ revolution, in overcoming his years of Enlightenment-infused doubts about the core of Calvinist teachings, receives no actual explanation from Marsden or that diary, bar stating its existence. Likewise, his later 3 years of spiritual depression, is simply noted with no explanation. That isn’t necessarily to fault Marsden, if sources don’t exist there isn’t much you can do. But he could have potentially made lateral comparisons to other Calvinist thinkers at that time who had the same doubts and what they did to get over them. Or at least, don’t big up your new sources when they seem to offer very little. In addition, in the introduction Marsden states, “In writing a life of Edwards I am not attempting a theological work nor even an essentially intellectual biography…my focus is primarily on understanding Edwards as a person, a public figure, and a thinker in his own time and place” (6). But it is an open question whether he succeeds in doing so. The book feels woefully incomplete by some of its absences. To someone with no prior acquaintance with Edwards, the lack of greater detail on his intellectual work is disappointing. I know from the Wikipedia page that ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ is his most famous work, but from its treatment in Chapter 13 you’d be somewhat confused as to why, it being one of his sermons among many. Likewise, one gets a good impression of the international nature and strength of the Great Awakening, but not as much on Edward’s relative importance within it – when it was mentioned that Whitfield preached to an audience of 20,000 in Boston (the largest audience ever in the colonies at that time), I did wonder why this book wasn’t instead written about him, given he strikes me as a far more impressive figure. Similarly, the conclusion was fairly short for a 600+ page book, rather than being a distraction from his life story (as Marsden seems to think, and thus shies away from), a more explicit treatment of his legacy would have done much to actually illuminate details on his life and help the reader understand them. One strength of the book is how successfully Marsden is able to place Edwards and his work into its historical context. At the start of the book he states, "if there is an emphasis that appears difficult, or harsh, or overstated in Edwards, often the reader can better appreciate his perspective by asking the question: 'How would this issue look if it really were the case that bliss or punishment for a literal eternity was at stake?’'” (5). Likewise, he later on emphasises the unstable position of New England and the Protestant faith more generally in the geopolitical context of the time, and the ever-present threat of death in a high-mortality society. Or the memorable section in Chapter 9, where instead of explaining the revival in Northampton purely as a result of Edward’s preaching, Marsden illustrates how demographic changes (large families with no more free land to distribute, meant the young couldn’t leave home and delayed marriage, onset of a proto-capitalist economy) made it a fertile ground for religious renewal. That said, I am unconvinced by much of this contextualisation. These factors can’t be seen to explain Edward’s actions and beliefs, for they aren’t able to explain them for others. For example, if a constant fear of death and eternal hell made Edwards so devout, how come none of his peers liked him, and that “Yale had perennial problems with drinking and rowdiness” (102)? They were no less part of the Puritan elite than Edwards was. Likewise, stuff like where he says he feels so ‘‘much more sprightly and healthy, both in body and mind, for my self-denial in eating, drinking, and sleeping” (53) was clearly not normal even then, given how half the people he comes into contact with draw attention to how emaciated he looked. So in his conclusion Marsden warns that "there is a danger for us who are so shaped by historical consciousness to dismiss every authority from the past once we have understood the peculiarities of the historical, personal, or theoretical factors that shaped its outlook" (502), but that is exactly what he himself is doing! He uses excessive contextualisation to drive us away from the obvious conclusion – that Edwards was a tragic figure, with abusive parents, severe depression, who drove his congregants to suicide, and had his natural talents clearly hamstrung by his vain attempts to square Enlightenment beliefs with a rigid Calvinist theology that later generations rightfully discarded.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    A soaring and thorough biography of the greatest American theologian that walks the line between well-meaning hagiographies on one side, and chronologically snobbish critiques on the other side. Marsden was careful to not allow his sympathies toward Edwards to evaporate any critical and honest evaluations of weaknesses and mistakes. I really enjoyed reading this massive tome, though it is a difficult read not for the faint of heart. I labored for many months to make my way through it, but I feel A soaring and thorough biography of the greatest American theologian that walks the line between well-meaning hagiographies on one side, and chronologically snobbish critiques on the other side. Marsden was careful to not allow his sympathies toward Edwards to evaporate any critical and honest evaluations of weaknesses and mistakes. I really enjoyed reading this massive tome, though it is a difficult read not for the faint of heart. I labored for many months to make my way through it, but I feel like what I know about Edwards will stick. There is also much to learn from Edwards and his family. Their submission to the will of God is astounding, especially in the year surrounding Jonathan's death. Every pastor should read this book, as there is much to gain from Edwards' mistakes and triumphs.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brient Kittrell

    I really want to rate this book higher because of its great moments, but so much of the book is devoted to various religious squabbles that I lost interest at many points. Whenever Marsden focuses on Edward's philosophy and theology, the book is at its best. Part of the issue with this book is that Jonathan Edwards's life is fairly unremarkable. Other than playing a large part in two revivals, his life was pretty typical for a pastor. He suffered very little. Marsden puts forth a worthy effort h I really want to rate this book higher because of its great moments, but so much of the book is devoted to various religious squabbles that I lost interest at many points. Whenever Marsden focuses on Edward's philosophy and theology, the book is at its best. Part of the issue with this book is that Jonathan Edwards's life is fairly unremarkable. Other than playing a large part in two revivals, his life was pretty typical for a pastor. He suffered very little. Marsden puts forth a worthy effort here, but Edwards is remembered for his writing, not his life, and while the biography certainly provides helpful context for reading his works, I do not think this is a great book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    It's a shame that most peoples' knowledge of Edwards begins and ends with "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." To be sure, that is part of his story, and an important one, but there is so much more. This is a truly excellent biography that brings to life a colonial (yuck!) Puritan (bleh!) pastor (eww!) theologian (huh?) and paints a picture that is charitable and fair without being hagiographic or boring (not in the least!) One cannot read this book and not be impressed by the immense theolog It's a shame that most peoples' knowledge of Edwards begins and ends with "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." To be sure, that is part of his story, and an important one, but there is so much more. This is a truly excellent biography that brings to life a colonial (yuck!) Puritan (bleh!) pastor (eww!) theologian (huh?) and paints a picture that is charitable and fair without being hagiographic or boring (not in the least!) One cannot read this book and not be impressed by the immense theological vision of one of America's great minds and souls.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David

    Marsden is an incredible historian. There is sustained focus given to Edwards’ historical and social setting, without neglecting his complex and well-formed theology which shaped and drove him. I particularly appreciated Marsden’s attention to the controversies surrounding the Northampton revivals set within the larger context of revival in America and in Great Britain. There is much pastoral wisdom to be gleaned from these events.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Delightful biography. Scholarly, but literary. When you finish the book you will feel you know Jonathan Edwards well. Marsden admires Edwards, but does not venerate him, and very much sets him in the context of his own time rather than using him as a foil for much later debates about the role of the First Great Awakening in subsequent American and religious history.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Calvin Coulter

    A truly great biography: workmanlike, seemingly unbiased, and informative to a huge degree certainly for me who knew little of Edwards' life; yet so readable for a book of over 500 pages. A truly great biography: workmanlike, seemingly unbiased, and informative to a huge degree certainly for me who knew little of Edwards' life; yet so readable for a book of over 500 pages.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tim Michiemo

    4.3 Stars George Marsden’s “Jonathan Edwards: A Life” is an excellent book and great biography on one of America’s greatest Christian intellectuals. Jonathan Edwards was an incredible figure in early American history, primarily because of the depth and breadth of his philosophical and theological thought, and his involvement in the Great Awakening. As well Edwards held many different roles, as pastor, writer, philosopher, theologian, teacher, revivalist, and missionary, in which he always aimed t 4.3 Stars George Marsden’s “Jonathan Edwards: A Life” is an excellent book and great biography on one of America’s greatest Christian intellectuals. Jonathan Edwards was an incredible figure in early American history, primarily because of the depth and breadth of his philosophical and theological thought, and his involvement in the Great Awakening. As well Edwards held many different roles, as pastor, writer, philosopher, theologian, teacher, revivalist, and missionary, in which he always aimed to lived faithfully according to the will of God. First, I want to say that Jonathan Edwards lived a remarkable life and Marsden faithfully captures that. Edwards was self-disciplined and intensely intellectual but also affectionately devoted to God. Marsden shows us that Edwards was a man of order but also a man who was passionate to obey and love God. This can be seen most clearly in Edwards’ writings and preaching which stress true affections to God (Religious Affections) and love for others (Charity and its Fruits). Second, I want to emphasize that the strength of this book is Marsden’s treatment of Edwards’ theological and philosophical writings. Edwards lived a faithful life, but the events that occurred in his lifespan are not as interesting or compelling as the lives of Augustine, Luther, or Spurgeon. At times in reading this book I found that much of Edwards’ life was very boring; embroiled often in petty controversies. Yet, the impact of Edwards’ life is centrally found in his theological and philosophical thinking – and Marsden rightly centers his biographies on Edwards’ genius. This is a great biography because Marsden helps us understand the context of the writings of Edwards and lifts us to the glorious heights of knowledge that Edwards rose to. Functionally I think this book is a proper and fitting introduction to the writings of Edwards. Anyone seeking to read his sermons and writings should start first with this biography. The only fault I have with this book is that I longed to know a little more about the inner life of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was a man who spoke little of himself, but I hungered to know more of his struggles, his prayers, his longing, and his internal sufferings. This may be no fault of Marsden’s because of the limited amount of material available to search into the inner life of Edwards. Yet, I think more scholarly work should be done to understand the inner and spiritual life of Edwards. In sum, I cannot more highly recommend this book. Anyone interested in writings and sermons of Jonathan Edwards should start here, and then should plow into his works that extol the excellencies of God. This is a great biography on a great Christian thinker whose meditations on God and devotion to Him should inspire us all.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    I can't think of anyone more qualified to write a comprehensive biography of pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards than George Marsden. He has the scholarly qualifications, the sociological balance and the spiritual sensitivity to bring this Puritan into our day. Edwards is a fascinating man for a variety of reasons. He lived at the fault line between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. He considered himself a British citizen living in a colony heading toward independence. He saw clearly wha I can't think of anyone more qualified to write a comprehensive biography of pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards than George Marsden. He has the scholarly qualifications, the sociological balance and the spiritual sensitivity to bring this Puritan into our day. Edwards is a fascinating man for a variety of reasons. He lived at the fault line between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. He considered himself a British citizen living in a colony heading toward independence. He saw clearly what the assumptions of the modern experiment meant for European Reformed culture and was committed to combating them with the most reasoned philosophical rebuttals. What makes Marsden's book so valuable is that he is focuses on Edwards within his historical context. He shows us over and over again that much of what Edwards believed and wrote would have fit well in his time and place. His "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" was typical of sermons in that day differing only in that it had clearer imagery. His hierarchical view of both the church and the society was part of the 17th century mindset. His expectations of conversion was part of Reformed Puritan theology. But he also moved beyond his day, not in angst about whether the scriptures were true but in how he understood the challenge of modernity. His theology of religious affections, his commitment to revival, his deep personal piety connect him to later evangelicalism. But his authoritarian assumption, his view of the place of the church in society and his focus on evidence of conversation harken back to an earlier time. I learned so much about Edwards and pre-revolutionary America from this book. My only fear is that his work is so clear and comprehensive that it may de-mystify Edwards making him less interesting to future secular scholars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nate Bate

    The name "Jonathan Edwards" towers upon the American theological landscape, yet I have only had brief forays into his actual life. George Marsden's account of him is full-featured, nuanced, and deep. Marsden at the beginning of the book states his mission was to present Edwards, as much as possible, within the context of the time he lived and with a strong focus on him personally. These goals strikes at the heart of my passion and how I look at life, and reading this book was a rich feast. Georg The name "Jonathan Edwards" towers upon the American theological landscape, yet I have only had brief forays into his actual life. George Marsden's account of him is full-featured, nuanced, and deep. Marsden at the beginning of the book states his mission was to present Edwards, as much as possible, within the context of the time he lived and with a strong focus on him personally. These goals strikes at the heart of my passion and how I look at life, and reading this book was a rich feast. George Marsden strikes the balance between presenting Edward's great accomplishments and the realities of his struggles. I learned so much about the theological views of Edward's time as well is of the condition of the New England colonies as a whole through this book. It is easy to look back on these folks with criticism and disagreement, and I do not want to do that. Yet, because of Marsden's style, it makes it easier to muse on people, culture, governments, religion, and the bitter struggles of leadership. Thus, I find a greater ability to think critically (in a good way I hope) of folks during that time and our time today.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Horace

    I think George Marsden did a great job with this book and he deserves 5 stars. I gave it only 4 stars because it didn't bring me 5 star enjoyment. It reminded me of two other recent biographies I've read: Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh and Frederick Douglass by David Blight. I thought all three scholars, Marsden, Marsh and Blight did a fantastic job: thorough and fair-minded. However, I did not find Bonhoeffer and Edwards very relatable or, to be honest, very likable, and so it was more challenging I think George Marsden did a great job with this book and he deserves 5 stars. I gave it only 4 stars because it didn't bring me 5 star enjoyment. It reminded me of two other recent biographies I've read: Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh and Frederick Douglass by David Blight. I thought all three scholars, Marsden, Marsh and Blight did a fantastic job: thorough and fair-minded. However, I did not find Bonhoeffer and Edwards very relatable or, to be honest, very likable, and so it was more challenging for me to truly enjoy those two books. As for this Edwards bio, I do think it's a great choice for one who wants to know more about Edwards. And kudos to Edwards for his character and his desire to see the Gospel impact lives and his defense of and advocacy of the Great Awakening. But it's hard for me to relate to a man who spent most of every day in his study and I also found his millennial views unhelpful to his ministry and to those who followed him. I did really enjoy Marsden's description of the culture of New England during that period of American history- that was fascinating.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike E.

    Marsden does a great job of taking you back to Colonial America and the life of the greatest pastor-theologian to rise on our soil. Edwards has profoundly influenced my life. Yale University has spent decades and lots of money publishing his works. Can you imagine any leading university, in a few hundred years, publishing the works of any contemporary American theologian/pastor? This says a lot about the quality of Edwards and the lack of scholarship from the Christian community today. Here's a Marsden does a great job of taking you back to Colonial America and the life of the greatest pastor-theologian to rise on our soil. Edwards has profoundly influenced my life. Yale University has spent decades and lots of money publishing his works. Can you imagine any leading university, in a few hundred years, publishing the works of any contemporary American theologian/pastor? This says a lot about the quality of Edwards and the lack of scholarship from the Christian community today. Here's a foretaste, "God thus allowed their sin but did so only by withdrawing the supernatural gift and allowing humans to act according to their own dispositions. The setting of the sun might permit frost, but strictly speaking it did not cause it except in a negative sense. So God by withdrawing the higher spiritual gift permitted his creatures to choose evil." =============== Quotes: I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week, but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of reach of his enemies, and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good, overbalancing all imaginable ills of life, even to the astonishment of many, who could not be at rest without his dismission. (361) Ola Winslow, Diary of David Hall =========== Study Questions: Chapter 3 1. What was the turning point in Edwards life when his "sense of divine things gradually increased… and (he) had more of that inward sweetness?" What were some examples of his changed life experiences? Marsden notes, "without an appreciation of the intensity of these life-transforming experiences and their monumental implications for all else that he did, it is impossible to make sense of Edwards." 2. Later in life Edwards wrote the "Personal Narrative," confessing his shortcomings and otherwise commenting on his character during both his early and mature years. What elements of these writings that Marsden selected to include on page 45 are remarkable to you and why? 3. What was New York like in 1722? How did Jonathan view current world events and how did this influence his lifetime to follow? What was his continual and constant struggle at this point in his life? 4. Jonathan began a spiritual diary during this period of life. What was the theme of his initial entries? According to Marsden, what was the aim of Jonathan's "Resolutions?" 5. What do you think about Edwards' serious oscillations of spirit as a 19-year-old? What does Marsden credit with keeping Edwards' emotional swings under control? What did the mature Edwards remark about his youthful rigor? 6. What was the nature of the dispute between Jonathan and his parents in 1723? Does this seem incredulous to you? Why or why not? Do any scriptures come to mind? ========== Chapter 4 1. Is it true that JE's only ambition was to be a faithful pastor to his flock in Northampton? What is your life's ambition? (59) 2. To what degree did Edwards struggle to reconcile Scripture with science? (61) How about yourself? 3. How does Edwards understand a spider having pleasure? (65) When did JE observe and write about spiders? (66) 4. What is significant about JE's silence concerning witches? (69) 5. JE believed in creation "out of nothing." What is distinctive about JE's understanding of creation? (74) 6. What is typology and how important was it to JE? (77) 7. What is JE's understanding of beauty? (78) ================= CHAPTER 8 1. Edwards spent 13 hours a day working in his study! He writes, "I think Christ has recommended rising early in the morning, by his rising from the grave very early." (133) Is this good logic? Defend your answer. Why does it appear that Edwards in particular--and the puritans in general--were so disciplined? "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." (I Timothy 4:7c, NASB) What is the one area in which you need more discipline? Why is it important? 2. "I judge that it is best, when I am in a good frame for divine contemplation, or engaged in reading the Scriptures, or any study of divine subjects, that ordinarily, I will not be interrupted by going to dinner, but will forgo my dinner, rather than be broke off." (135) If you were an elder at JE's church, would you agree with this practice? Would you agree with his practice of not visiting congregants in their homes? 3. Was "fashionable appearance" a high priority for JE? If not, what humorous evidence does Marsden put forth? 4. Edwards understands deep theological themes to have been intentionally communicated through His works in creation: "Roses grow upon briers, which is to signify that all temporal sweets are mixed with bitter. But what seems more especially to be meant by it, is that true happiness, the crown of glory, is to be come at in no other way then by bearing Christ's cross by a life of mortification, self-denial and labor, and bearing all things for Christ." (137) One probably agrees with JE's conclusion. Do you agree that the Lord intentionally designed creation to communicate Christian, biblical theology? In other words, should others see in roses and briers what JE sees? If so, what theology do you see in creation? Be specific. 5. Why was changing the harmonies or melodies of singing psalms controversial? What do you make of the massive change in evangelical congregational singing since JE's day? What was Isaac Watts's innovation? (143-44) Why do arguments in one century like "We must only sing Scripture." disappear centuries later? Why do practices which are virtually non-existent in certain centuries, e.g., divorce, become commonplace in another?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Scott Guillory

    I really enjoyed this. I feel like I've gotten to know Edwards over these past few months and his devotion to God and his dedication to the work He has called him to is absolutely stunning. I hope to imitate some of these good qualities in my own life and dedication to the Lord. I really enjoyed this. I feel like I've gotten to know Edwards over these past few months and his devotion to God and his dedication to the work He has called him to is absolutely stunning. I hope to imitate some of these good qualities in my own life and dedication to the Lord.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    Listened to this on audible. A detailed account of the man, and his culture.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ross Harvey

    Outstanding biography. It's critical in the best sense of the word. The author has made a painstaking effort to understand his subject and represent him as he truly was. Formidable and inspiring. Outstanding biography. It's critical in the best sense of the word. The author has made a painstaking effort to understand his subject and represent him as he truly was. Formidable and inspiring.

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