If you ever listen to audiobooks, you need to pay attention to Christianaudio.com’s free book of the month. (In January 2014, the free book is an ESV audio bible.) I almost always pick up the free book and more than several times I have been really surprised by a book that I would not have picked up any other way.
A couple months ago George Marsden’s A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards was the free book of the month. I picked it up, but was a bit skeptical because I read 3/4 of Marsden’s large academic biography of Edwards, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. I put down the large biography as I moved to Georgia nearly 8 years ago, and for some reason never picked it back up to finish and then ended up giving it away.
But as Marsden says in the introduction, this is not an abridgement of the larger biography, but a completely new book that was written intentionally as a popular level short biography. This book is only about a quarter of the length of the longer one, but is surprisingly comprehensive given its short length.
Marsden uses Benjamin Franklin and George Whitfield as comparison figures to Jonathan Edwards. This is an interesting method. It does not detract from from the biography and does a good job of giving context to Edwards. Edwards is a fascinating character. He was brilliant, he had a strong and able wife that was able to pick up in areas that Edwards was not gifted. But Edwards had some real weaknesses as well. He was not great at understanding people. His biggest mistakes seemed to be underestimating people’s willingness to change (usually meaning coming to Edward’s view of things.)
But one of his gifts was his own willingness to change, or at least follow where he thought God was leading. Edwards was a conservative at heart. He did not want things to change. But when he saw God’s hand, he was willing to allow movements to happen in a way that many other conservatives were uncomfortable with.
And as different as I am from Edwards theologically, culturally and in time, you cannot help but be moved by his devotion to Christ. Everything was about trying to bring people to Christ and to help them follow him better. He made some mistakes, but his legacy as one of the foremost American Theologians is well deserved.
If you do not know much about Edwards, this is a good introduction. If you read long biographies, I would suggest the longer Jonathan Edwards: A Life, instead of this. But if you just want a shorter introduction, this book is worth reading.