JONATHAN EDWARDS, PASTOR: Religion and Society in 18th Century Northampton by Patricia J. Tracy

JONATHAN EDWARDS, PASTOR: Religion and Society in 18th Century Northampton

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A sound, careful study that doesn't quite live up to its own high ambitions. This dry but clear blend of biography and social/intellectual history tries, not quite successfully, to explain the checkered course of Edwards' pastorate in Northampton (1729-50) in the light of broader contemporary developments. It's one thing to trace patterns of land tenure in 17th- and 18th-century Northampton, to note the disappearance of free acreage, and the ways in which this increased the pressures weighing on young middle-class men; but it's quite another, however, to show a direct connection between such rising tension and the emotional upheavals of the Great Awakening. Tracy suggests that these Calvinist ecstasies both manifested and relieved the strain accompanying social change--but she can't prove it. Again, she argue:; that Edwards was expelled from his pulpit because he tried to revive the patriarchal authority of his predecessor (and grandfather} Solomon Stoddard in a community grown more democratic, secular, and economically stratified. Though this is true, Tracy downplays two other factors in Edwards' failure (perhaps because they're less pertinent to her case for Northampton as a New England microcosm): Edwards lacked Stoddard's charisma, his instinctive gift for dealing with people (and disciplining them when necessary); and Edwards' decision to alter Stoddard's policy of open communion (i.e., his insistence on ""evidence of an experiential work of grace"") inevitably touched off a furor. Any congregation might have resisted such an intrusion by a minister into their private lives. Still, this is a question of emphases, and if Tracy has misplaced a few, her work has nonetheless some solid merit. Among other things, her documentation is deep and meticulous. Actually, this is one of those rare scholarly books that need to be expanded instead of cut. It has the makings, inchoately, of a major contribution to colonial history.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1980
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux