- Edwards, Jonathan
- (1703-1758)American Congregational theologian and preacherJonathan Edwards was the greatest American theologian of his day. He is remembered for his theological writings and for his participation in and observations about the period of religious excitement known as the Great Awakening.Edwards was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. He entered Yale University at age 13; at 17 he moved to New York City to pastor a Presbyterian church. He came back to Yale in 1724 as a tutor, but illness forced his resignation. In 1729, Edwards became the pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, which his grandfather Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729) had led for many years.In his preaching at Northampton, Edwards defended traditional Calvinist affirmations against growing dissent within the Congregational fellowship. He argued that faith implied a conversion of the heart away from sin; it was a total response of the heart to God, an experience of the divine that he likened in one of his most famous sermons, "A Divine and Supernatural Light," to the tongue's tasting honey.Edwards's preaching was a catalyst for an outbreak of religious enthusiasm in the mid-1730s, which Edwards promoted, defended, and analyzed in his book A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737). The book helped prepare the way for the Evangelical Awakening that had come to America with George White-field. Edwards continuing to write about the Great Awakening, which now spread to the whole of the American colonies, in three books: The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival (1743), and his classic study, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746).In 1750, Edwards moved his family to Stock-bridge, Massachusetts, and for the next seven years worked to evangelize the Native Americans in the area. In 1758, he was invited to head the new Presbyterian school at Princeton, but he died of smallpox a few months later, on March 22, 1758.Edwards holds a unique position in American religious history. He stands at the beginning of the great tradition of Calvinist theological work that would flow from the Congregational and Presbyterian schools. He also represents the beginning of revivalism, which became so much a part of the American Methodist and Baptist traditions. He has therefore been honored by both major branches of American Protestantism, those who followed Calvinism and those who adhered to Arminianism. Edwards's studies continue to thrive among American religious scholars.See also postmillennialism.Further reading:■ Leon Chai, Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)■ Robert W. Jenson, America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988)■ The Life and Character of the Late Reverend Mr. Jonathan Edwards, President of the College at New Jersey. Together with a number of his sermons on various important subjects (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1765)■ Gerald R. McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000)■ Michael J. McClymond, Encounters with God: An Approach to the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.