The Life and Theology of Jonathan Edwards

An Accessible Introduction to the Work, Life, and Mind of the Leading Pastor-theologian of the American Tradition

Curated by Owen Strachan

Course Introduction

About the Course

Jonathan Edwards is a figure of titanic significance in the Christian church. He is the greatest theologian and philosopher America has ever produced, and his sermon “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God” is the most famous extra-biblical sermon in history. Even today, nearly 300 years after his death, Edwards is read, studied, and resourced by a wide range of scholars, preachers, students, and Christian laypeople.

Begin a journey of discovery that covers the breadth of this influential theologian’s life and ministry. Dive deep into key works of Jonathan Edwards, and examine nuances of his unique personality and platform as a preacher, revivalist, husband, father, philosopher, and theologian. Lastly, the course will consider the legacy of Edwards and his impact on evangelicals today. It is not inappropriate to conclude that the influence of Jonathan Edwards in the American context is the major factor that has shaped American evangelicalism and grounded it in sound doctrine, God-centered preaching, and passionate evangelism of the lost.

Jonathan Edwards is a cavernous theologian, but this course makes him accessible and understandable. Total video viewing time for this course is just over an hour, and parallel reading assignments are provided. Learners are encouraged to purchase the course textbooks and follow along at their own pace.

About Dr. Owen Strachan

This course is curated by Dr. Owen Strachan, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Strachan has published numerous books, journal articles, and book reviews on Jonathan Edwards. Of seven total books on Jonathan Edwards, Strachan’s most recent text is Always in God’s Hands (Tyndale House), a daily devotional featuring the insights and meditations of Edwards. With Edwards expert Douglas Sweeney of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Strachan has published the one-volume overview of Edwards’s life and thought, The Essential Jonathan Edwards (Moody). Learners are encouraged to purchase and engage each of these books to better understand Edwards.

At MBTS, he teaches an MDiv elective on the life and theology of Edwards. Strachan also leads the Center for Public Theology at MBTS and is Director of the Residency, the seminary’s residential PhD program. A husband and father of three children, Strachan earned an AB from Bowdoin College, an MDiv from Southern Seminary, and a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. At TEDS, Strachan was the founding Associate Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center. He partnered with the media team at Midwestern Seminary to produce the videos for this course.

About Midwestern Seminary

Midwestern Seminary is a seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Its mission is to train ministers and ministry workers for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the last five years, Midwestern’s study body has tripled under the leadership of President Jason Allen. Faculty members at MBTS include Provost Jason Duesing, Andreas Köstenberger, Matthew Barrett, Todd Chipman, and John Mark Yeats. Midwestern offers a fully-accredited BA at Spurgeon College, an 81-hour MDiv, flexible modular PhD programs in every concentration, opportunities for study and internship through the Spurgeon Center (featuring the library and personal effects of the Baptist preacher), the Residency PhD (residential doctoral mentoring with Dr. Owen Strachan), and cost-effective education.

The school features gospel-driven For the Church programming and content through the vision of Charles Smith and the oversight of Jared Wilson. The campus is large and pastoral and now features a $13-million student center with brand-new gymnasium, coffee shop, cafeteria, and bookstore. Check out the vibrant life of MBTS on Instagram, and schedule a campus visit in Kansas City.

Early Life (1703–1729)

This section traces the first twenty-six years of Edwards’s life, from his birth in East Windsor, Connecticut, his education at Yale, his ordination at Northampton, and his marriage to Sarah Pierpont. We see that Edwards faced what we all do: struggles and successes, encouragement and discouragement, opportunity and trial alike.

Reading Assignment

Ministry in Northampton (1730–1751)

This section overviews Edwards’s 21 years of significant gospel ministry in Northampton, his early revival sermons, his sinful slaveholding, and his disagreement with the Half-Way Covenant. It is in this second major phase of Edwards’s life that he becomes the leading pastor-theologian in the American colonies.

Reading Assignment
Recommended Video

Later Ministry (1751–1758)

This final biographical section interacts with Edwards’s ministry in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, his missions work to the Housatonic Indians, his brief work at the College of New Jersey (Princeton), and his death. It is remarkable to observe that the most famous man in New England was fired from his church—a sobering lesson for every pastor and pastor-in-training.

Reading Assignment

Edwards’s Great Works: Religious Affections

A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections is a lengthy and significant work that deals with the nature of true Christian religion versus alternative and common assumptions that were driven by emotion. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece of spiritual discernment regarding the signs of true conversion. The following video will introduce the work in more detail.

Recommended Video

Edwards’s Great Works: Freedom of the Will

Are we free or is God sovereign? It’s one of the key questions that Reformed theologians and pastors have answered in various ways over the past centuries. Edwards offered his analysis in his work Freedom of the Will. His answer is brilliant: we are free when we do what we most wish to do. In this sense, we understand that the Christian is truly free—free to be holy, conformed to the very character of Christ.

Reading Assignment

Edwards’s Great Works: Original Sin

Edwards turned his attention to the topic of depravity in his work on Original Sin. This section introduces and provides helpful context for this important theological masterpiece. A dense philosophical work, Original Sin showed that there must be a first cause behind the evildoing of human people. It helps us make sense of our Adamic nature.

Reading Assignment

Edwards’s Great Works: Life and Diary of David Brainerd

Edwards saw the value in highlighting the ministry of a man whose life was short but made a massive eternal impact for the Kingdom. This section provides an introduction to this powerful memoir, Edwards’s best-selling book. It has never gone out of print. The fact that God has used an often-melancholy journal of an often-frustrated missionary who died young reminds us of the mysterious and powerful providence of God.

Edwards’s Great Works: Divine and Supernatural Light

How does the work of God regenerate fallen man? How can the depraved sinner of Original Sin be saved by a sovereign God? These are questions that this section on Edwards’s work Divine and Supernatural Light will answer. The crucial takeaway: gospel Christianity is not made to be discussed. It is made to be lived, and experienced, and affectionally received.

Reading Assignment

Edwards’s Great Works: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is Edwards’s most well-known and oft-cited work. This section provides helpful introduction and detailed interaction with the sermon, the most famous homily in both American and extra-biblical history. We see that though a 21st-century context shies away from preaching divine judgment, this doctrine was (and will be) used powerfully to “awaken” sinners to their great need for Christ.

Edwards’s Great Works: The End for Which God Created the World

It’s probably one of the most profound and significant questions of humanity: why did God make us and all that exists? Edwards provides a thought-provoking and significant commentary on this question in The End for Which God Created the World. We are not made to glorify ourselves, in short; we are made to “remanate” the over-spilling excellence of the Lord of heaven and earth.

Reading Assignment

Edwards the Preacher

This section begins a series of examinations of key themes in the life of Edwards. More than any other endeavor, Edwards loved to preach. He devoted most of his working hours throughout his life to crafting sermons that were like diamonds, multi-faceted and dripping with the glory of God. Though his method differs some from modern exposition, Edwards summons contemporary preachers to exegete the text, unearth its doctrine, and apply it as if life—and eternity—depended on it.

Reading Assignment
Recommended Video

Edwards the Revivalist

With George Whitefield—who influenced him profoundly—Edwards played the major role in spurring on the First Great Awakening. As we see, his engagement with the theology and practice of revival has shaped American history and catalyzed the global church. If Edwards is sometimes pigeonholed as an ivory-tower thinker, we see here that all his theologizing and intellectual work bore down on the great ends of saving and remaking souls.

Reading Assignment
Recommended Video

Edwards the Family Man

Though we might now know it, Edwards was a loving husband and a doting father. In this section we consider the marriage of Jonathan Edwards and his wife, Sarah, and examine how Edwards trained his children to know the Lord. We see that Edwards’s first ministry was to his home, and he took his spiritual headship very seriously, setting a model for godly men.

Edwards the Philosopher and Theologian

Whatever worldview we hold, we cannot overlook Edwards’s magisterial contributions to the world of philosophy and theology. Here we see in overall form that Edwards cannot be relegated to a footnote in the pages of history as a preacher of damnation. Instead, Edwards is one of the most eminent thinkers of any tradition, and deserves fresh engagement in our time for his cavernous body of thought. Though we might not reach his heights (and few will), we can find inspiration to think deeply about the Lord and all of life as believers.

Reading Assignment

Legacy and Significance of Edwards Today

In more ways than we know, we’re living in Edwards’s world. In this final section, we consider Edwards’s impact on modern evangelical theology and practice. We also show that though the man was no perfect figure, he is worthy of study and appreciation today.

Recommended Video