Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love
A fresh look at one of America’s greatest theologians
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.
"The picture of Edwards presented here is as an ‘improver,’ a reformer, a prophet, even a harbinger of the social gospel. What Story has done is to show how postmodern liberal Christians can ‘claim’ and use Edwards as well as their evangelical co-religionists in a constructive manner. That is quite an achievement."—Kenneth P. Minkema, executive editor of The Works of Jonathan Edwards
"What a gem of a book! Ron Story has resurrected Jonathan Edwards! There is an intimate quality to his writing and his narrative voice is good company for the reader. Story is reclaiming Jonathan Edwards from the conservative evangelicals who have held him captive and is reintroducing him to liberal Christians who could use some cheering up. He also makes 18th century theology, philosophy and politics comprehensible! No easy feat."—Kerry W. Buckley, editor of A Place Called Paradise: Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts
"I read this book with fascination. Story's thoughtful analysis of Jonathan Edwards's sermons makes it clear that although Edwards was a scold, he also heartily preached the Gospel of Love for individuals and communities. I'm sure readers will love it."—Paul R. Boller Jr. , author of They Never Said That: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions
"I recommend this book to . . . students everywhere who know of Edwards only as the 'fiery Puritan' of yesteryear."—Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
"Deftly written and superbly presented, enhanced with a list of abbreviations, notations, an index of Edwards's writings, and a comprehensive general index, Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love is a seminal work of outstanding scholarship and a highly recommended addition to seminary, church, and academic library Christian Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists."—The Midwest Book Review
"Who could have thought it possible to transform our understanding of the most studied of all Puritan divines? In this beautifully crafted, thoroughly compelling, consistently surprising re-examination of the preacher most Americans know as the most notorious scold in early New England, Ronald Story shows us a Jonathan Edwards barely glimpsed in previous scholarship. Enraptured by the sweetness and power of divine love, inspired by the beloved community of Heaven, this Edwards preached as fiercely and eloquently on the necessity of public charity and the virtues of Christian community as he did on the sins of pride, selfishness, avarice, and covetousness. After Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love, we can no longer think of Edwards mainly as the thundering, backwards-looking judge of human depravity; instead, we must also see him as a sensitive, forward-looking prophet pleading with all of us to embrace the beauty, justice, and harmony promised by God’s love."—Warren Goldstein, author of William Sloane Coffin, Jr.: A Holy Impatience
"When understanding the theology of Jonathan Edwards, it makes a difference where you start. If you start with the sermon: ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,’ as most do, your commanding view of Edwards is the preacher of ‘hell, fire and brimstone.’ But if you start with ‘Heaven is a World of Love,’ you start with the fountain of God’s love overflowing into the world. Hell is the result of letting go of God’s love in our lives. This book starts with ‘The Gospel of Love.’ It marks a very new understanding of Edwards. Like Marcus Borg’s book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Ron Story helps us meet Jonathan Edwards for the first time."—Rev. Dr. Peter B. Ives, retired minister of The First Churches of Northampton
"I recommend this study for its exceptional approach of highlighting aspects of Edwards's thought that will appeal to readers on both the 'left' and 'right' of the theological and social spectra."—Jonathan Huggins, University of Stellenbosch