Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
RAR 12:3 (Summer 2003) p. 163
Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George M. Marsden, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003., 615 pages, cloth, $35.00
It appears that there have been four kinds of biographies on the life of Jonathan Edwards, each reflecting the sentiments of the age in which they were written. The first three biographers of Edwards were all Edwardsean pastors in the Christian ministry: Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803), Sereno Edwards Dwight (1786–1850), and Samuel Miller (Presbyterian pastor before becoming “Old” Princeton Seminary’s Church history professor). Miller’s mid-nineteenth century biography was largely an abridgement of Dwight’s 1829 “many years” of preparation to publish Life of President Edwards. This first kind of biography shared a similar appreciation for the Calvinism and the Great Awakening. By the end of the next century, however, a new kind of author emerged. Henry B. Parkes (1930), Arthur C. McGiffert (1932), and Ola E. Winslow (1940) authored biographies on Edwards in an age of “modem” scholars. “By the early decades of the twentieth century, however,” writes Marsden, “Puritan bashing had become widely acceptable as a way for progressive Americans to free themselves from Victorian moralism. Edwards was an easy target” (501).
Henry Bamford Parkes blamed Edwards by writing: “It is hardly a hyperbole to say that, if Edwards had never lived, there would be to-day no blue laws, no societies for the suppression of vice, no Volstead act,” and Calvinism is “an amazing travesty of ... Christianity” (501). McGiffert’s biography was more
RAR 12:3 (Summer 2003) p. 164
sympathetic. Ola Winslow’s biography replaced the previous two as the standard of modern biography because of her careful use of Edwards’ own unpublished manuscripts and other sources. Winslow, however, reflected the same “progressive tone” regarding his Calvinism that “needed to be demolished” (501). “Already by the time of Winslow’s writing, however,” writes Marsden, “the theological and cultural climate was changing and a new Edwards—best characterized as the neo-orthodox Edwards—was emerging” (501). Perry Miller’s biography represents the third kind on Edwards’ life.
Marsden shows great appreciation, although mixed, for Perry Miller because he “contributed immeasurably” with his publication of an “intellectual biography” in 1949. Marsden compares Miller’s “influential, brilliant, and often misleading” biography with Iain Murray’s “honorable but uncritical tradition of Edwards’ earlier admirers” (17). Miller is “eloquently” misleading as “the most influential historian of New England” (60); yet “Miller thereby created the possibility of ...
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