The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards (Cambridge Companions to Religion)
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Numerous gatherings and professional meetings focused on that anniversary. Scholarly conferencestook place at such diverse locations as Princeton Theological Seminary, Calvin College, and the Library of Congress. Publications on Edwards abounded in that year. Notre Dame historian George M. Edwards rose to prominence in his own day for more than just his theological accomplishments. Family was another reason that he gained attention and public acclaim.
His mother, Esther, was the daughter of Solomon Stoddard, a prominent and powerful minister in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was also related to the Williams clan that included several prominent ministers in the Connecticut River Valley. These family connections virtually guaranteed Edwards a measure of visibility and vocational opportunities that situated him well for rising professional and personal prominence.
Ultimately, he succeeded his grandfather Stoddard and took over the pulpit in Northampton. From that noteworthy location, for more than two decades he exercised an expanding sphere of influence. Edwards was himself a successful preacher and revivalist. His congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, and other congregations throughout New England were at times deeply moved by his preaching.
The revival that Edwards led in his congregation in —5, for example, assumed a kind of definitive quality for the larger American evangelical movement. His subsequent defense of the widespread awakenings in later years confirmed his pivotal role in the emerging evangelical movement. Edwards enjoyed a regional reputation as a successful preacher. That reputation grew with the publication of a few of his sermons during his lifetime and then even more with the later appearance of collected editions of his writings. Some of his sermons were deeply theological, almost metaphysical; others were graphically and emotionally disturbing.
Sometimes his sermons formed the core of subsequent major publications. The medium of the spoken word was one of the most obvious ways that Edwards achieved high reputation during his lifetime and in subsequent generations. His most famous or infamous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God , has achieved a degree of notoriety in the field of American literature almost without precedent for a piece of religious literature. The image of an offended God holding the sinner over the open fiery pit of hell, as one might hold a spider by a thin thread, suggests the rhetorical power of Edwards the preacher and, even more, his willingness to employ rhetoric for religious ends.
The image of Edwards as a terror-evoking preacher contrasts sharply with another element of his reputation that emerged, especially during the last decade of his life.
Theological and philosophical insight and precision came to mark the major treatises published during his lifetime and posthumously. An Humble Attempt employed an apocalyptic argument in support of an international proposal for united prayer on behalf of the advancement of the kingdom of God. Freedom of the Will engaged and contributed to contemporary philosophical discourse centering on the analysis of volition, causation, determinism, and moral necessity. At times Edwards held up notable Christian examples and models for others to emulate.
Phebe Bartlett was a four-year-old in the congregation whose devotional activities and spirit of charity were a remarkable example for the members of her family and others in Northampton.
She embodied, par excellence, the virtuous Christian life. He also irritated and alienated members of that Northampton community by his heavy-handed pastoral style and insensitive communication with his parishioners. The conflict with his congregation, which reached a crisis stage in the late s, ultimately resulted in his dismissal and, after some time, a move with his family to western Massachusetts where he assumed responsibility for a mission to the Mahican Indians centered at Stockbridge. On one level, therefore, as a pastor he was strikingly unsuccessful and defeated, turned out by the members of his own congregation.
His defeat and rejection in Northampton were a massive personal and professional blow.
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They also have placed an enduring stamp upon his public image and led to a vastly different pastoral reputation from that which he had enjoyed during the height of the revivals in Northampton. Attention to Detail with Every Ride.
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Cambridge Companions to Religion: The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards
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