Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards: A Life

Congratulations to me for finishing all 505 pages of George Marsden's award winning biography Jonathan Edwards: A Life. That's the text only, I'm not claiming to have read the appendices and 100 pages of footnotes that follow.

I've been reading this book for the last month. Well researched, well written and packed chock-full of both references to and explanations of Edwards' prolific theological writings, it is not light summer reading. I found that it was difficult to stay focused on more than one chapter at a sitting.

Last fall my son-in-law spent a lot of time researching our family history and discovered that my father's family lived in the New Haven, Connecticut area at the same time as Jonathan Edwards. Part of my reason for reading the book was to learn more about the world in which my ancestors lived. Another reason was because I just finished reading J.I. Packer's Knowing God, with a summer book study group, which referenced Edwards several times.

It is impossible to summarize the life of Edwards as Marsden described in this masterful work. Edwards was a brilliant, complex character and his influence on Reformed theological thought was powerful and pervasive in his time and continues to influence the conservative wing of the PCUSA and other related denominations in this country today.

Marsden emphasizes throughout the biography that Edwards viewed himself as an Englishman throughout his life, as did his contemporaries. Edwards died (after being vaccinated for smallpox) about 20 years before the American Revolution. He was significantly influenced by the thought of the Scottish Enlightenment.

In the "nothing new under the sun" department, I learned that Edwardswas involved in:
  • ordination controversies ("the unconverted clergy");
  • multicultural ministry (he spent 6 years at a frontier mission working to convert and educate the local indigenous people);
  • and church schism ("Old Light" vs. "New Light").
I recommend the book to those of you with an interest in American history or Reformed theology. Reading Jonathan Edwards: A Life is time well-spent.


Rev Dave said...

You had family in colonial era New Haven? I'm descended from one of the original founders of the colony of Connecticut, Thomas Spencer, who came from Massachusetts Bay with Thomas Hooker in the 1630's.

Maybe we're long lost cousins. Can you deal with a yankee or two in the family tree?

My brother lives down the street from the Edwards birthplace.

Quotidian Grace said...

I'm getting used to the Yankees in the family tree! My original ancestor was John Hall, a signatory to the Guilford Compact, and a founder of the town of Guilford in the New Haven colony.

Very cool that your brother lives near the Edwards birthplace!

Purechristianithink said...

Jonathan Edwards was once pastor of my Aunt's church in Massachusettes. They have a sort of bas-relief plaque dedicated to him on the wall of the church. Years ago I was once worshipping there when the pastor was giving the wimpiest,most passion-less sermon imaginable. I half feared/half hoped that Edwards would tear himself free of the plaque and start bashing heads together.

And I have colonial CT ancestors too.

Rev Dave said...

Having the family geneology done by my great-aunt came in handy last Advent. I read the Matthew geneology in total, then read the list of ancestors I have dating back to 1600 or so--using only first names and leaving my parent's names off the end of the list so as not to give it away.

Both only boring lists of names until you realize that both of these lists are _my_ people--_my_ ancestors, and the story doesn't end with the last name on the list, it's just continuing and still being written.

Didn't get a lot of comments on it, but I liked it, at least.