Holiday Reading: Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden

One nice feature of the holiday break is the opportunity to read. This week I have been reading Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden. I have had this volume on my shelf since its publication in 2003, but simply have not had time to read it. But my wife had read it, and continually (but always lovingly) encouraged me to read it.

At the time of writing this post, I am about 340 pages into it (of a total 500 some pages), and it is tremendous. Marsden writes clearly and engagingly, bringing Edwards to life in 3D vividness. I have always loved Edwards, and Marsden’s portrait has reminded me once again why Edwards is such an impressive figure. Yet Marsden does not gloss over Edwards’ own flaws and shortcomings, but mentions them from a sympathetic perspective. Also helpful is Marsden’s ability to place JE within his historical, cultural, and social context so that we may better appreciate Edwards.

I have been most struck by Edwards’ relentless infatuation with the beauty and glory of Christ as revealed int he gospel. This infatuation is all the more interesting in light of his own battles with “melancholy” (i.e., depression). What an encouragement to all of us who battle the occasional (or sometimes more than occasional) bouts of spiritual dryness and depression.

Have you read Marsden on Edwards? If so, what were your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Holiday Reading: Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden”

  1. Have youy read the Edwards biography by Iain Murray? I read Murray’s and it was very good so wondered what the comparison was and if there was signficant worth in reading both of them.

  2. Tony,

    I have read the Ian Murray biography. It is definitely worth reading, though Murray is so favorable towards Edwards that he is not always forthcoming about Edwards’s shortcomings. Marsden paints a more “realistic” picture of JE, but at times Murray may give deeper treatment to some of JE’s theology (though Marsden does not neglect this element either). If you can only read one, read Marsden, but both are worth the time.

  3. Matt: From one of your former Bibleworks seminar students at Fuller from last spring (the “older” one with all the NPP questions). I’ve read everything that Marsden’s done, including the Edwards bio when it first came out. I enjoyed it too and was especially struck by how much less impressed he was with the results of the 1st Great Awakening that most later historians were. E.g., ca. 1743, Edwards has to concede that virtually everyone who claimed rebirth ca. 1735 had fallen away. Thus Edwards became a good deal more wary about claims of conversion, and this no doubt played a role in his late confrontation with the congregation over communion which resulted in his ignominious termination. I’m also struck by the seeming inconsistency of his advocacy of election on the one hand, but he nevertheless feels the need to preach fire and brimstone, even to children, no doubt scaring them straight into claiming conversion, thus adding more dubious converts to his membership roles. Many more thoughts on JE but must get back to NPP et al per Dr. Hagner’s class! Congrats on your move to Grace, and good luck. Ed Franks

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