Monday, December 17, 2007

Jonathan Edwards: A life

From a helpful review of a great book. In the opening section of the review McClymond writes that Marsden's volume on Edwards is like Peter Brown's on Augustine. That must be correct. He concludes:

Jonathan Edwards offers correctives to some common images of Edwards. First, this book should banish forever Perry Miller's myth of the lonely American genius. It embeds Edwards so deeply in his familial, social, cultural, historical, literary, and religious context that it may be impossible ever to extricate him--and that is just as it should be. Second, by placing piety ahead of intellect, this book challenges any notion of Edwards as a thinker with philosophical ideas that can be detached from his theological beliefs. To attempt such a separation is to dismember Edwards's thought, which is held together by his concept of God. Third, Marsden problematizes the image of Edwards as a Calvinist saint. Though Marsden's Edwards is someone whom most thoughtful persons might enjoy speaking with at least once, he is not a person whom many would want to befriend. His uncompromising standards would likely make him attractive only to those who shared his total spiritual commitments (5-6).

What makes Marsden's Edwards seem approachable, though, is his very consciousness of tendencies to pride, self-righteousness, and judgmentalism, and his lifelong efforts to overcome them. Such self-awareness distinguishes this portrayal of Edwards from the serenely self-confident Calvinist that appears in both the admiring and disparaging biographies of the past. Marsden's Edwards--unlike earlier versions--is capable of self-doubt. This internal complexity makes Edwards appear human, and it may be an element in his extraordinary creativity. He is like a demanding piano instructor or symphony maestro who relentlessly drives himself and others to peak performance but secretly wonders if he has been too harsh and strident. Marsden's biography gives a clearer window into Edwards's soul than anything else we are ever likely to read.


George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Review By: McClymond, Michael J., Church History, 00096407, Mar2007, Vol. 76, Issue 1


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