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Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love

Ronald Story

Publication Year: 2012

Jonathan Edwards has long epitomized the Puritan preacher as fiery scold, fixated on the inner struggle of the soul and the eternal flames of hell. In this book, Ronald Story offers a fundamentally different view of Edwards, revealing a profoundly social minister who preached a gospel of charity and community bound by love. The first chapters trace Edwards’s life and impact, examine his reputation as an intellectual, Calvinist, and revivalist, and highlight the importance for him of the gentler, more compassionate concepts of light, harmony, beauty, and sweetness. Story then explains what Edwards means by the “Gospel of Love”—a Christian faith that is less individual than interpersonal, and whose central feature is the practice of charity to the poor and the quest for loving community in this world, the chief signs of true salvation. As Edwards preached in his sermon “Heaven Is a World of Love,” the afterlife itself is social in nature because love is social. Drawing on Edwards’s own sermons and notebooks, Story reveals the minister’s belief that divine love expressed in the human family should take us beyond tribalism, sectarianism, provincialism, and nationality. Edwards offers hope, in the manner of Walter Rauschenbusch, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King Jr., and other great “improvers,” for the coming of a world without want and war. Gracefully and compellingly written, this book represents a new departure in Edwards studies, revising the long-standing yet misleading stereotype of a man whose lessons of charity, community, and love we need now more than ever.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xiv

This book is the latest chapter in a lengthy personal effort to discover the real Jonathan Edwards. I first encountered Edwards as an undergraduate at the University of Texas in the late 1950s, where we read, or were at least exposed to, his sermon...

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1. Life

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pp. 1-6

Jonathan Edwards is by now the most illustrious resident in the history of the town of Northampton, no small achievement for a little community that has harbored Calvin Coolidge, Sylvia Plath, Sojourner Truth, Sylvester Graham, and George Bancroft...

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2. Personae

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pp. 7-26

“Jonathan Edwards divided men in his lifetime,” says biographer Iain Murray, “and to no less degree he continues to divide his biographers. . . . The nature of his greatness, the significance of his life and thought, an assessment of his character and writings...

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3. Tropes

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pp. 27-50

Intellectual, Calvinist, revivalist, and scold are identities suggestive of a stern and judgmental individual, which Jonathan Edwards clearly could be when duty demanded, as it so often did given all that was at stake. Words such as “intense,” “tactless...

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4. Charity

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pp. 51-74

To understand the centrality of charity in Edwards’s thought and ministry requires a few words more about Puritanism and “works,” of which charity was one of the most important. Puritans adhered to a doctrine of free unearned grace: God, omnipotent...

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5. Community

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pp. 75-97

Jonathan Edwards was a towering minister of the gospel of charity, but he was equally a towering minister of the gospel of community. The notion of togetherness—social peace, amiableness, unity, harmony, collective worship, conversation, friendship, neighborliness...

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6. Love

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pp. 98-121

Love pervades Jonathan Edwards’s ministry and writings, a point often overlooked given his lingering reputation as a preacher of damnation. In fact, Edwards, though understanding, as we have seen, that fear had its utility in the pulpit, was overwhelmingly a minister...

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pp. 122-134

The positioning of Edwards as pre-eminently a minister of a gospel of love represents a significant modification of his age-old reputation as a hellfire revivalist, a pessimistic prophet of eternal damnation...


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pp. 135-136


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pp. 137-158

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pp. 159-160

The inspiration and encouragement of Kerry Buckley, Herbert Richardson, and Peter Ives were crucial in the initial stages of this project, as I have indicated in the preface. Dr. Buckley also reviewed portions of the manuscript for possible errors and made valuable comments...

General Index

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pp. 161-164

Index of Edwards’s Writings

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pp. 165-166

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 167-170

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762240
E-ISBN-10: 1613762240
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499829
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499822

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2012