Jonathan Edwards

A Life

George M. Marsden

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2003 Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
"The finest biography of this towering figure. . . . Marsden guides readers through Edwards’s profoundly alien world with authority and fluidity."—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly

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.

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.

A selection of the History Book Club

"At last! A highly readable biography of Jonathan Edwards that takes account of the mountain of recent Edwards scholarship and is willing to acknowledge the agonies and ambiguities as well as the triumphs of Edwards life. A great companion to the Jonathan Edwards Reader and TheJonathan Edwards Sermons."—Amy Plantinga Pauw, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary

"Marsden has brought together in a magisterial synthesis the details of the man’s daily life and the range of ideas that challenged the assumptions of his time and ours."—Edmund S. Morgan

"In this biography, Marsden has produced a masterpiece. It is eloquent, reliable, and comprehensive. I found it insightful and inspiring throughout."—George S. Claghorn, West Chester University, editor of Letters and Personal Writings of Jonathan Edwards

"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

"There is no question that Marsden’s biography is the best book ever written about America’s (and perhaps the world’s) greatest theologian."—Sam T. Logan, Jr., Westminster Theological Seminary

"Whether the reader is an academic . . . or a nonprofessional, this imaginative[,] . . . sympathetic reading of Edwards's life is informative and enjoyable. . . ."—John P. Fitzgibbons, America

"Jonathan Edwards reads much like a novel, filled with local color and cultural context. . . . Whether the reader is an academic theologian, a cultural historian or a nonprofessional, this imaginative and sympathetic reading of Edwards’s life is informative and enjoyable. . . . The first full, critical biography of this giant of American intellectual history since 1940. . . . A fit companion piece to Yale University’s decades-long project on the writings of Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards. To evaluate critically the extraordinarily dedicated life of faith as well as the thought of this brilliant 18th-century theologian is no small task. Marsden succeeds superbly."—John P. Fitzgibbons, America

"It will endure as the standard account."—E. Brooks Holifield, American Historical Review

"This universally lauded biography portrays America’s greatest theologian, 300 years after his birth."—Richard N. Ostling, Associated Press

"This universally lauded biography portrays America's greatest theologian, 300 years after his birth."—Richard N. Ostling, Associated Press

"Marsden, the author of Fundamentalism and American Culture, one of the most significant works of cultural history in the past twenty-five years, has now crafted the finest biography of this towering figure. . . . Marsden guides readers through Edwards’s profoundly alien world with authority and fluidity. Such scholarly yet accessible books as this have made Yale the most important and exciting university-press publisher of humanities titles today."—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly

"This biography of one of the founding fathers of American religion is the first to appear in 60 years. The fact that it is an emotionally complex, almost novelistic account by one of the country’s foremost evangelical thinkers makes it an extraordinary read."—Paul Elie, (A Best Spiritual Book of the Year Finalist)

"The crowning achievement of Edwards studies during this tercentennial year is George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. . . . Better than anyone else before, Marsden enters Edwards’ world—physically, mentally, and spiritually—and helps us understand his significance as an 18th-century leader. . . . Marsden tells a wonderful story, enriching his narrative with a wealth of little-known gems from Edwards’ world."—Douglas Sweeney, Books & Culture

"The crowning achievement of Edwards studies during this tercentennial year. . . . [A] a wonderful story. . . ."—Douglas Sweeney, Books & Culture

"Marsden has succeeded in the daunting task of exploring the fullness of Edwards’s life and work while avoiding hagiography or demonization. Marsden’s style is clear and his research thorough, yielding an unapologetic account of one of America’s most amazing personalities. . . . A volume that will stand for generations. Recommended."—Choice

"Marsden has written a life of Edwards the way Edwards would have liked such a life to be written."—Allen C. Guelzo, Christian Century

"In this conscientious and eloquent biography, pious Jonathan Edwards comes to unruly life with all his unresolved complexity intact."—Thomas D’Evelyn, Christian Science Monitor

"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

". . . demolishes the stereotype of Edwards as the purveyor of sadistic religion . . . handles Edwards's complex ideas with brilliant clarity without oversimplifying."—Christianity Today

"It is one of the great merits of Marsden’s biography that he shows us the decidedly unheroic aspect of Edwards’ life (which is, of course, the stuff of every human life) while at the same time doing justice both to his towering intellectual achievements and to his incandescent faith, animated by a palpable sense of the sheer beauty and majesty of God. Neither debunking nor hagiographic, it is an almost supernaturally fair-minded portrait."—John Wilson, Christianity Today

"What non-specialists have needed for some time is an accessible biography that integrates his tumultuous ministerial career with his serenely logical mind. That need has at last been met, thanks to the magisterial synthesis of Edwards’s life and thought presented in George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards."—Christopher D. Levenick, Claremont Review of Books

"[This] accessible biography integrates [Edwards'] tumultuous ministerial career with his serenly logical mind . . . magisterial synthesis of Edward's life and thought."—Christopher D. Levenick, Claremont Review of Books

". . . .[N]ot only the definitive biography but also a narrative that reads like a novel. . . . [Marsden] lets Edwards' magnificence shine through."—Edward T. Oakes, Commonweal

"Both historians and the reading public have long needed a new critical biography of this quintessential American figure, and George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life fulfills this need magnificently. . . . [Marsden] writes with such verve that he has given us not only the definitive biography but also a narrative that reads like a novel—that most appropriate art form for examining the interior drama of the soul. . . . [Marsden’s] biography lets Edwards’s magnificence shine through, despite the tragedy—both personal and pastoral—of his ministry. . . . Not the least of George Marsden’s magnificent achievement is that he has shown Jonathan Edwards’s greatness to a culture nearly the opposite of the one he inhabited—and converted."—Edward T. Oakes, Commonweal

"Magnificent. . . . This is a book that tells us as much about the intellectual foundations of America as it does about Jonathan Edwards."—Damian Thompson, Daily Telegraph

"One of the grand features of this latest biography of Edwards is Marsden’s success in demonstrating that Edwards was far more than a mere intellect."—Scott A. Wenig, Denver Post

"In Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden provides a less tidy, which is to say, much more complete, account of Edwards’ life and work, bringing in a wealth of detail that forces us to qualify practically everything we had ever heard about Edwards. . . . By showing the complexity of the man and correcting many of the misunderstandings about him, Marsden has prepared the way for serious conversation with him."—George McKenna, First Things

"George M. Marsden is truly a Christian scholar who respects both the Faith and the canons of historical research. . . . In this finely presented biography, Edwards stands forth both as an historical being and a Christian. If one wants to understand him and his world, this biography is the starting point."—H-Net Book Review
"The scholarship and writing are first rate. . . . In this finely presented biography, Edwards stands forth both as an historical being and a Christian. If one wants to understand him and his world, this biography is the starting point."—Donald K. Pickens, H-Net Reviews

"Magisterial. . . . Definitive, and it will remain so for decades to come."—Avihu Zakai, Journal of American History
"George M. Marsden took upon himself an important mission of great proportions, something very few scholars would dare—writing Edwards’s life based upon the ‘revolution in Edwards studies’ of the last decades and the new findings and insights developed by modern studies. The outcome is very impressive indeed, both in the wide range of new sources and materials used by Marsden and in his great ability as a historian and biographer."—Avihu Zakai, Journal of American History
"By providing a magisterial synthesis of Edwards’s daily life and the development of his thought, Marsden’s biography is now definitive, and it will remain so for decades to come. Students of American history, cultural historians, and historians of religion will find this book essential to any possible understanding of the most important American philosopher and theologian to write before the era of the Civil War and of American provincial society before it was engulfed in the events leading to the American Revolution."—Avihu Zakai, Journal of American History

"George Marsden's study of Jonathan Edwards is a magnificent one. While admittedly sympathetic to Edwards's Augustinian and Calvinistic theology, Marsden examines the life of this greatest of American minds with a great deal of clear-sightedness."—Don M. Shipley, Jr., Journal of Church and State

"Splendid. . . . Scholarly, balanced, fair-minded, and highly readable. . . . Ministerial students would profit immeasurably by reading Marsden’s vivid account of Edwards’s shining integrity and glaring flaws as a pastor."—Joe E. Barnhart, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"A very readable biography."—William O. Paulsell, Lexington Theological Quarterly

"A comprehensive, compelling, and intensely human portrait of Edwards. . . . Marsden’s accessible style will appeal to laypeople and scholars alike. . . . This meticulously researched look at one of America’s most prominent thinkers and theologians is sure to set the standard for future studies of Jonathan Edwards’s life and work."—Pegge Bochynski, Magill’s Literary Annual

"This is the first full-scale critical biography of Edwards in 60 years. Marsden’s biography represents the re-awakening of great scholarship on the works, life, and influence of Jonathan Edwards. . . . The book is accessible to a general audience, but it does not surrender rigor for academic use. Marsden offers a balanced perspective on Edwards who was clearly a great figure in the history of early America and in the history of western philosophy."—Joseph W. Ulatowski, Metapsychology

"[An] excellent, fascinating biography. . . . Absorbing."—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"A biography by a historian of religion who sets his subject in the Reformation context, of the mighty American preacher, logician and theologian who lighted the fuse on the Great Awakening of the 18th century."—New York Times Book Review

"A biography. . . . of the mighty American preacher, logician and theologian who lighted the fuse on the [18th century] Great Awakening."—New York Times Book Review

"It may not stretch the evidence to call Jonathan Edwards the most important religious figure in American history. . . . [Edwards’] arguments [are] analyzed with great skill and sensitivity in Jonathan Edwards: A Life. . . . Marsden, himself an evangelical believer, puts Edwards back where he belongs, firmly in the theological world of the Reformation. . . . Marsden makes a convincing case for his greatness."—Garry Wills, New York Times Book Review

"Marsden’s elegant prose and vivid, vivacious storytelling brings Edwards to life. This magisterial and definitive biography reveals the complexities of Edwards’s life and provides new appreciation for his commitment to fostering religious sensibilities in the increasingly secular world of his time. This is a beautifully written book about one of America’s most important thinkers."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This is the new standard in the writing of Edwards’s biographies."—Religious Studies Review

"[A] definitive biography."—Dave Wood, River Falls (Wisc.) Journal

"Marsden’s thorough, dispassionate and enlightening book is the first to weave into a smooth, continuous narrative the events of Edward’s life and the development and content of his philosophy. . . . Outstanding."—Paul Johnson, Sunday Telegraph

"Jonathan Edwards: A Life alreadystands as the benchmark by which all biographical works on Edwards are to be measured. . . . Meticulously documented, truly captivating, occasionally speculative, and always instructive, Marsden’s eloquent biographical account of this towering figure of early American history, a figure whose imprint on America arguably may be greater than Benjamin Franklin’s, is nothing short of a triumph."—John J. Bombaro, The Catholic Historical Review

"This book surpasses all earlier biographies of Jonathan Edwards. It is simply superb in its monumental scope, in its research into every corner of Edwards's life and much of his world, and in its insights."—Robert Middlekauff, The Historian

"[A] learned, lucid biography."—Michael Kazin, The Nation

"A masterpiece. . . . Far more than a biography."—Christopher Viscardi, The Way

"Throughout his extraordinarily thorough account of Edwards’s life and thought, M[arsden] succeeds both in moving beyond facile assumptions or scholarly distortions and in challenging the assumptions of our own culture with the very different assumptions of an earlier culture. . . . M[arsden] succeeds admirably in offering a truly critical but sympathetic account of the Puritan world and Edwards’s place within that world."—Christopher J. Viscardi, Theological Studies

"A triumph of scholarship, but also of readability. . . . [A] richly satisfying and interesting portrait of the man and his time. . . ."—Robert E. Brown, Times Literary Supplement

"A triumph of scholarship, but also of readability. Marsden successfully straddles the diverse fields in which Edwards was formed and to which he contributed, to give a richly satisfying and interesting portrait of the man and his time, including insights from American studies, theology, philosophy and even the history of natural science."—Robert E. Brown, Times Literary Supplement

"This book will be a delight to lovers of religious biography and the history of revival. This may be the most comprehensive of the many biographies of Edwards. It also surpasses others by showing the human side of the great man better than most or all past biographies. There is some surprising material here that sheds light on key events of Edwards’ life. All Christians should be interested in Edwards. This book is an excellent way to get to know him."—Ken Horn, Today’s Pentecostal Evangel

"A delight to lovers of religious biography and the history of revival . . . most comprehensive . . . surpasses others . . . shows [his] human side."—Ken Horn, Today’s Pentecostal Evangel

"One way to make sense of contemporary evangelicalism is to consider how it has both hewed to and strayed from the path laid down by one of its most brilliant founding fathers. Thanks to Marsden’s authoritative new biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, that path is now more clear."—Jay Tolson, U.S. News & World Report

"[An] authoritative new biography. . . ."—Jay Tolson, U.S. News & World Report

"Magisterial."—Wall Street Journal

"A magisterial biography."—Wall Street Journal

"In his superb and engrossing new biography of Jonathan Edwards, George Marsden has given us the most comprehensive account we have of the man who, as much as Benjamin Franklin—in some ways more than Franklin—is the spiritual godfather of our nation. . . . What sets Marsden’s work apart, what makes it so accessible, is that he has committed the entire enterprise to narrative, to telling a story—the saga of Jonathan Edwards."—Robert D. Richardson, Washington Post Book World

"This mighty biography. . . . is a humble product of years of devoted labor and scholarship. . . . Edwards. . . . would appreciate Mr. Marsden's dedication. . . ."—Evan Haeflli, Washington Times

"Jonathan Edwards would be pleased with this most recent and authoritative study of his life and work. . . . This mighty biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, is a humble product of years of devoted labor and scholarship by a man committed to a Christian faith in a tradition that is a branch of the same Augustinian and Reformed tree. Edwards, who died leaving several monumental scholarly-theological works unfinished, would appreciate Mr. Marsden’s dedication as well as Mr. Marsden’s sense of priorities."—Evan Haeflli, Washington Times

"Marsden, one of the premier historians of American religion, has mastered the gargantuan sources, both secondary and primary. . . . More than any previous biographer, Marsden portrays a man with clay feet and inner demons."—Gerald McDermott, Weekly Standard

"More than any previous biographer, Marsden portrays a man with clay feet and inner demons."—Gerald McDermott, Weekly Standard

"Marsden's magnificent biography is a must read. Marsden not only gives us a vivid portrait of the life of Edwards, but an equally powerful analysis of the intellectual, religious, political, and social transformation of colonial society that ultimately led to the creation of the unique culture of the United States."—Lewis Galloway, The Presbyterian Outlook (Summer Reading List)

"A masterful work, covering the life's duration of America's greatest theologian and philosopher. . . . A biography that both informs and transforms its readers. It is easy to see why it has won such prestigious recognition as the 2004 Bancroft Prize in American History and as a finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award. . . . It is a pleasure to recommend it."—David W. McKinley, Evangelical Review of Theology

"George Marsden quite ably puts forth this critical biography of Jonathan Edwards. . . . Edwards's life is presented from birth to death in a manner fitting to the complexities of his person. . . . The real beauty of this work is Marsden's ability to take multiple pieces of fabric and weave them together into one complete multi-faceted story."—Harland Cason, Southwestern Journal of Theology

"[Marsden's] work has eclipsed standard biographies of Edwards, such as that of Ola Winslow, intellectual biographies such as Perry Miller's, and less-neutral works such as that of Iain Murray. Marsden's work is now unquestionably the gold standard so far as biographies of Edwards are concerned. There is indeed much to commend Marsden's work. By conducting substantial research and considering painstaking details, Marsden succeeds at producing a volume that has at once been embraced by the academic community, but also has gained acceptance at a more popular level. . . . It is objective, scholarly, and more, warm and personal, bringing out much of the texture of Edwards, his family, and his age."—Ted Rivera, Faith and Mission

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

ISBN: 9780300105964
Publication Date: July 11, 2004
640 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
30 b/w illus.