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Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Marsden)

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Yale University Press
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Winner of the Philip Schaff Prize sponsored by the American Society of Church History

A finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award in the biography category 

Winner of the 2001-2003 Annibel Jenkins Biography Prize sponsored by the Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

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.

Table of Contents:

Cotton Mather’s Map of New England

Chronology of Edwards’ Life and Times

1. A Time to Be Born

2. The Overwhelming Question

3. The Pilgrim’s Progress

4. The Harmony of All Knowledge

5. Anxieties

6. ‘‘A Low, Sunk Estate and Condition’’

7. On Solomon Stoddard’s Stage

8. And on a Wider Stage

9. The Mighty Works of God and of Satan

10. The Politics of the Kingdom

11. ‘‘A City Set on a Hill’’ 

12. God ‘‘Will Revive the Flame Again, Even in the Darkest Times’’

13. The Hands of God and the Hand of Christ

14. ‘‘He That Is Not with Us Is Against Us’’

15. ‘‘Heavenly Elysium”

16. Conservative Revolutionary

17. A House Divided

18. A Model Town No More

19. Colonial Wars

20. ‘Thy Will Be Done’

21. ‘‘I Am Born to Be a Man of Strife’’

22. The Crucible

23. The Mission

24. Frontier Struggles

25. Wartime

26. Against an ‘‘Almost Inconceivably Pernicious’’ Doctrine 

27. Original Sin ‘‘in This Happy Age of Light and Liberty’’

28. Challenging the Presumptions of the Age

29. The Unfinished Masterworks

30. The Transitory and the Enduring

Appendix A: Genealogical Table of Edwards’ Relatives

Appendix B: Edwards’ Sisters

Appendix C: Edwards’ Immediate Family, from His Family Bible 


“This is the finest biography of Edwards that I have read. It will be the standard benchmark for Edwards scholarship for generations to come.”—Harry S. Stout, Yale University

"I have been reading Edwards fairly intensively since 1965. There is no question that Professor Marsden’s biography is the best book ever written about America’s (and perhaps the world’s) greatest theologian. Marsden’s work is the best because, in his own words, it ‘tells a good story that illuminates not only the subject, but also the landscapes surrounding that person.’ Henceforth, I shall require Marsden whenever I teach Edwards."—Sam T. Logan, Jr., President and Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary

“The author thoroughly demolishes the stereotype of Edwards as the purveyor of sadistic religion that damns most people to hell. Setting him and his ideas in context like no other, Marsden handles Edwards’s complex ideas with brilliant clarity without oversimplifying them.”—Christianity Today

“Marsden’s biography is the best book ever written about America’s (and perhaps the world’s) greatest theologian.”—Samuel T. Logan, Jr., Westminster Theological Journal.


George M. Marsden is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He has written numerous books, including The Soul of the American University and The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship.