George M. Marsden
Reviewed by: Barry Waugh
Date posted: 10/25/2009
A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, by George M. Marsden. Published by Eerdmans, 2008. Paperback, 152 pages, list price $15.00. Reviewed by PCA minister Barry Waugh.
Jonathan Edwards is the subject of dozens of books, dissertations, and articles every year. So what can be said about this New England divine that has not already been said before? And how can the man who wrote the book on Jonathan Edwards (Jonathan Edwards, A Life) add another book on the man? George Marsden says his "hope is that this brief biography will make Jonathan Edwards accessible to a wide variety of readers. Edwards is, by all accounts, one of the most remarkable figures in American history" (p. ix). The author is emphatic that this book "is not an abridgement" of his earlier scholarly volume, but includes "what is most essential and most engaging" (p. x) and adds a few new perspectives.
Marsden covers the key events of Edwards's life in a concise and flowing narrative that includes his historical context, birth, struggles with the conviction of sin, salvation, Northampton ministry and revivals, views on the Great Awakening, sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," major books, view of slavery, eschatology, work with the Stockbridge Indians, struggles with the "half-way covenant," wife, children, and death from a smallpox vaccination.
One of Marsden's new themes is a comparison of Edwards with another eighteenth-century intellectual giant, Benjamin Franklin. Both were products of the Calvinist culture of New England, but their lives and views differed greatly. For example, Franklin had little regard for the institution of marriage, while Edwards fought an uphill battle against those who thought like Franklin and lived promiscuously. Franklin was a proponent of natural law and held to Deism's view of God as the great watchmaker who wound up the universe and lets it run without intervening in it. But Edwards saw the universe as created by God, governed by his general and special providence, and restrained by his inspired Word. Unlike Franklin, Edwards "was driven by an overarching and passionate concern about a right relationship to God. Without it, eternity was a dark and terrifying prospect. With it, everything was as bright as day" (p. 142).
This book provides a fine, straightforward, and clear introduction to Jonathan Edwards's life and the key points of his ministry and thought within his historical context. Anyone who has studied and read about Edwards would do well to give this book to their friends as an encouragement to learn more about the phenomenal New Englander's life and thought, while Edwards aficionados will find it an enjoyable review with some thought-provoking perspectives.