The only thing I really knew about Jonathan Edwards was that he was the preacher that wrote/preached ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ – which I read in 10th grade English class. As a minister during the Great Awakening, Edwards was highly visible and influential. He comes up in multiple books and biographies of people that came after him, so I thought it was high time I read Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden.
Know before you read
Jonathan Edwards is more or less one of the most influential theological thinkers in American history. Also, obviously, there’s A LOT about theology and religion in this book. Marsden does not try to separate Edwards’ Christianity from his intellectualism. Even if you are not religious yourself, learning about some of the history of Christianity in America can still be enlightening.
Also, fun fact: Jonathan Edwards was an ancestor of Aaron Burr, First Lady Edith Roosevelt and O. Henry among other big names and prominent figures.
In all his works, Marsden studies the connection and border between American culture and Christianity – and this book examines that interaction in the life of theologian Jonathan Edwards. As the son and grandson of ministers, Edwards “grew up in a world where many of the ways of seventeenth-century New England Puritanism were preserved pretty much in tact” (7). He was an intellectual and theologian at a time of transition to our more modern understanding of Christianity.
Marsden creates a portrait of a man who cared about his flock, who cared about his God and doing God’s work during his time on earth. But beyond a standard biography of Edwards’ life, Marsden goes deep into Edwards’ thinking, teaching and theology.
Even if you don’t agree with his theology, by the end of this book you will like and respect the man himself.
If you’re looking to learn about early American society and religion, Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden is a must-read.
Note: for more on the history of religious thought and theology in America, check out The Puritan Dilemma