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Jonathan Edwards: Theologian of the Great Awakening

February 1, 2018

Pastor Jonathan Edwards preached a series of sermons on the Bible in early America that influenced revival and led to the Christian conversion of hundreds of colonists.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is considered by some historians to be the most important theologian of early America and the Great Awakening and the first major thinker in American history.  A Puritan Congregationalist and Calvinist minister in Massachusetts, Edwards attended Yale University and was president of Princeton University.  In Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1734, Edwards preached a series of sermons on man’s need for repentance and justification by faith alone.  Despite his plain preaching, hundreds of people converted and the whole town was affected.  The revival lasted till the early 1740s and spread to other areas by traveling ministers and word of mouth.  Edwards wrote many influential sermons and works during and in response to the Awakening, providing a theological foundation for the revival.  Edwards influenced traveling pastor George Whitefield and Methodism founder John Wesley, and he became known internationally for his writings.

Edwards played an important role in …

Edwards’s teachings, observe historians, became a doctrine of love and an equalizer for all people.  Edwards’s main message and appeal, says historian Paul Johnson in A History of the American People, “is that love is the essence of the religious experience.”  Christianity was a religion in which fallen humanity found God’s love and grace in Christ.  This Christianity was for all people who wished to live redeemed, fulfilling, purposeful lives.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Source:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty – Consent of the Governed
2. The Religious Landscape of the Thirteen Colonies in the Early 1700s
3.  Great Awakening Emerges in Early America – Impacting Religion, Society, Politics
4.  Jonathan Edwards:  Theologian of the Great Awakening
5.  George Whitefield:  Evangelist of the Great Awakening
6.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Dignity of the Human Being
7.  Great Awakening Principle:  All Men Equal Before God
8.  Great Awakening Principle:  “Born Again” Personal Spiritual Conversion
9.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
10.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Unalienable Right to Freedom of Belief
11.  Great Awakening Principle:  Happiness
12. Great Awakening Principle:  Purpose for Just Civil Government
13. Great Awakening Effects on American Religion:  A New Church Landscape
14. Great Awakening Effects on Society:  Education, Missions, Humanitarianism, Women, Gospel
15.  Great Awakening Effects on American Unity, Democracy, Freedom, & Revolution

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 5, Part 1, Activity 4:  Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, p. 179.  MS-HS.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God…

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn about theologian Jonathan Edwards and his well-known sermons, teachings, and writings on Christian belief, life, and doctrine regarding man’s sin, God’s judgment, and salvation through Jesus Christ, which played an important role in educating colonists about the Bible during the Great Awakening.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 5 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections Introduction and 5.1, 5.2, 5.6-5.10.
2)  Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sermon.
3)  Related blogs/videos (see above).

Close Reading Activity:
Students break into groups to analyze a selected passage from Edward’s sermon (see handout in course guide).  Each group will share with the class a summary of the passage, an analysis of its philosophical and religious concepts, and an evaluation of how such ideas played out in society during the Great Awakening.  The teacher will assess students’ grasp of Edwards’s message and its effects on the revival movement and society as a whole.  See the “Jonathan Edwards Excerpts:  Close Reading Activity” handout in the “Supporting Resources” section of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, p. 350.

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

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Published by: The Founding

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