Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1703-1758) American Congregationalist minister and theologian.

After graduating from Yale College (1720), Edwards joined his grandfather Solomon Stoddard in Northampton, Massachusetts (1727). Alarmed at the moral laxity and emotional poverty of the town's religious life, Edwards stressed an experiential religion that still acknowledged God's autonomous grace. He reformulated puritanism's predestination doctrine to accommodate personal conversion and missionary outreach. Edwards's intellectual leadership and George Whitefield's preaching are credited with the "Great Awakening" of the 1740s (also known as the "First Great Awakening"). However, Edwards did not endorse the Arminian tendencies of the awakening. He remained convinced that only a combination of head and heart brought authentic faith.

Edwards was a quintessentially American religious figure. He reformulated Calvinism, pushing it away from formalistic academic theology toward experiential faith and more inclusive membership. The combination of rational philosophy and intuitive faith created an "evangelical liberalism." Edwards was committed to the institution of the church and its traditions, yet his reforms set the stage for a thorough democratization of American Protestantism—both spiritually and institutionally.

Rhys H. Williams


N. Fiering, Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought and Its British Context (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981)

N. O. Hatch and H. S. Stout (eds.), Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988)

P. Miller, Jonathan Edwards (New York: Meridian, 1959)

D. B. Shea, "Jonathan Edwards," Journal of American Studies 14(1980): 181-197

D. Weber, "The Figure of Jonathan Edwards," American Quarterly 35 (1983):556-564.

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