Item description for America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark A. Noll...
Overview Historical Society's 2004 Eugene Genovese Best Book in American History Prize Description Religious life in early America is often equated with the fire-and-brimstone Puritanism best embodied by the theology of Cotton Mather. Yet, by the nineteenth century, American theology had shifted dramatically away from the severe European traditions directly descended from the Protestant Reformation, of which Puritanism was in the United States the most influential. In its place arose a singularly American set of beliefs. In America's God , Mark Noll has written a biography of this new American ethos. In the 125 years preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, theology played an extraordinarily important role in American public and private life. Its evolution had a profound impact on America's self-definition. The changes taking place in American theology during this period were marked by heightened spiritual inwardness, a new confidence in individual reason, and an attentiveness to the economic and market realities of Western life. Vividly set in the social and political events of the age, America's God is replete with the figures who made up the early American intellectual landscape, from theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, Nathaniel W. Taylor, William Ellery Channing, and Charles Hodge and religiously inspired writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catherine Stowe to dominant political leaders of the day like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The contributions of these thinkers combined with the religious revival of the 1740s, colonial warfare with France, the consuming struggle for independence, and the rise of evangelical Protestantism to form a common intellectual coinage based on a rising republicanism and commonsense principles. As this Christian republicanism affirmed itself, it imbued in dedicated Christians a conviction that the Bible supported their beliefs over those of all others. Tragically, this sense of religious purpose set the stage for the Civil War, as the conviction of Christians both North and South that God was on their side served to deepen a schism that would soon rend the young nation asunder. Mark Noll has given us the definitive history of Christian theology in America from the time of Jonathan Edwards to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. It is a story of a flexible and creative theological energy that over time forged a guiding national ideology the legacies of which remain with us to this day.
Publishers Description Religious life in early America is often equated with the fire-and-brimstone Puritanism best embodied by the theology of Cotton Mather. Yet, by the nineteenth century, American theology had shifted dramatically away from the severe European traditions directly descended from the Protestant Reformation, of which Puritanism was in the United States the most influential. In its place arose a singularly American set of beliefs. In America's God, Mark Noll has written a biography of this new American ethos. In the 125 years preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, theology played an extraordinarily important role in American public and private life. Its evolution had a profound impact on America's self-definition. The changes taking place in American theology during this period were marked by heightened spiritual inwardness, a new confidence in individual reason, and an attentiveness to the economic and market realities of Western life. Vividly set in the social and political events of the age, America's God is replete with the figures who made up the early American intellectual landscape, from theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, Nathaniel W. Taylor, William Ellery Channing, and Charles Hodge and religiously inspired writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catherine Stowe to dominant political leaders of the day like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The contributions of these thinkers combined with the religious revival of the 1740s, colonial warfare with France, the consuming struggle for independence, and the rise of evangelical Protestantism to form a common intellectual coinage based on a rising republicanism and commonsense principles. As this Christian republicanism affirmed itself, it imbued in dedicated Christians a conviction that the Bible supported their beliefs over those of all others. Tragically, this sense of religious purpose set the stage for the Civil War, as the conviction of Christians both North and South that God was on their side served to deepen a schism that would soon rend the young nation asunder. Mark Noll has given us the definitive history of Christian theology in America from the time of Jonathan Edwards to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. It is a story of a flexible and creative theological energy that over time forged a guiding national ideology the legacies of which remain with us to this day.
Citations And Professional Reviews America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark A. Noll has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Books & Culture - 01/01/2003 page 17
Publishers Weekly - 10/21/2002 page 71
Library Journal - 11/01/2002 page 96
Atlantic Monthly - 12/01/2000 page 126
Christian Century - 12/04/2002 page 40
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Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.6" Width: 6.18" Height: 1.73" Weight: 2.31 lbs.
Release Date Oct 3, 2002
Publisher Oxford University Press
ISBN 0195151119 ISBN13 9780195151114
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More About Mark A. Noll
Mark A. Noll (born 1946) is a historian specializing in the history of Christianity in the United States. He holds the position of Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. Noll himself is a Reformed evangelical Christian, and in 2005 was named by Time Magazine as one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in America.
Noll is a graduate of Wheaton College, Illinois (B.A, English), the University of Iowa (M.A., English), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A., Church History and Theology), and Vanderbilt University (Ph.D, History of Christianity). Before coming to Notre Dame he was on the faculty at Wheaton College, Illinois for twenty-seven years, where he taught in the departments of History and Theology as McManis Professor of Christian Thought. While at Wheaton, Noll also co-founded (with Nathan Hatch) and directed the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.
Noll is a prolific author and many of his books have earned considerable acclaim within the academic community. In particular, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, a book about anti-intellectual tendencies within the American evangelical movement, was widely covered in both religious and secular publications. He was awarded a National Humanities Medal in the Oval Office by President George W. Bush in 2006.
Noll, along with other historians such as George Marsden, Nathan O. Hatch, and David Bebbington, has greatly contributed to the world's understanding of evangelical convictions and attitudes, past and present. He has caused many scholars and lay people to realize more deeply the complications inherent in the question, "Is America a Christian nation?"
In 1994, he co-signed Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an ecumenical document that expressed the need for greater cooperation between Evangelical and Catholic leaders in the United States.
Since the Fall of 2006, Noll has been a faculty member in Department of History at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. He replaced the retiring George Marsden as Notre Dame's Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History.Noll stated that the move to Notre Dame has allowed him to concentrate on fewer subjects than his duties at Wheaton had allowed.
Mark A. Noll currently resides in the state of Illinois. Mark A. Noll was born in 1946.
Mark A. Noll has published or released items in the following series...
Library of Religious Biography
Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era
Reviews - What do customers think about America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln?
Great value for such a wonderfully informative piece of scholarship Sep 18, 2007
I knew what I wanted in this book and that was primarily as a reference.It is not bedtime reading but with charts and tables of the relevant historical events it is ideal to turn to in order to fill in the blanks in my knowledge and understanding. I was a bit disappointed that my copy arrived without the dustcover shown in the display.However well worth the $11.00. Noll is a trusted historian.Any chance of a dust cover?
Excellent Mar 25, 2007
This very ambitious and enlightening book is an effort to write a "social history of theology" for American religion between the mid-18th century and the Civil War. Noll chose this starting point and this terminus quite logically. The mid-18th century sees the work of the last and greatest of Puritan theologians, the tremendous Jonathan Edwards, while the Civil War was caused by and ushered in forces that produced a real discontinuity in American life. This book is primarily an effort at synthesis. While Noll has read deeply and productively in a large range of primary sources, it draws even more on a large and impressive array of secondary work in American political, social, intellectual, and religious history. Indeed, some of the pleasures of this book are the excellent footnotes and superb bibliography. Noll's goal is to set the development of American theology in the broad context of the development of American society in this period. This is far from intelleuctual history construed narrowly. Noll argues convincingly that this historical study of theology will be broadly informative about the ways Americans thought about religion and American life in general. He begins with a nice summary of Puritan thought and other aspects of American Protestant theology, particularly the work of Edwards, as a the background to a century of enormous change. The discussion of Edwards himself is enlightening, particularly as Noll shows the ways in which this essentially backward looking intellectual unexpectedly opened routes to major changes in American theology and religious practice. Noll then moves on the Revolutionary period and its aftermath. The intellectual and social forces causing and unleashed by the Revolution produce a major change in the nature of American Protestant theology. In contrast to the hierarchial and integralist Reformed thinking dominated by ideas of human sinfullness, American theologians incorporate ideas of republicanism, the Whig dissenting tradition, increased valuation of human moral capacity, and emerging democratic values inspired by the success of the American Revolution. Many, if not all of these ideas come from outside the Reformed tradition, primarily from the dissident Republican tradition of English Whiggery and the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly the writings of the 'Commonsense' school of Scottish thought. By the early Republican period, what emerges is a new and distinctively American theological approach that stresses attachment to republicanism, increased faith in human moral capacity, emphasis on individual experience of holiness, intense emphasis on literal (and 'commonsense') interpretations of scripture, and a sense of Americans as being involved in a new religious and moral experiment. While the intellectual traffic Noll describes is largely one-way, he is careful not to describe American theologians and religious leaders as passive recipients of new ideas. Quite the opposite, Noll argues very well that during the initial decades of the 19th century, the emergence of a distinctly American form of theology and religious practices played a very large role in the development of a common American identity. For Noll, and this is a very convincing argument, this style of religion was crucial for the development of an American nation. As he points out, the first half of the 19th century was the apogee of American piety and this was accompanied by a strong sense of America as a uniquely religious society, as American institutions as divinely inspired, and Americans as a chosen people. Noll concludes with an examination of how this consensus faced the great problem of slavery and sectional conflict in the decades prior to the Civil War. Not very successfully is Noll's answer. The emphasis on Biblical literalism in particular confronted many with a choice between condoning slavery or rejecting biblicism as a source of ultimate values. A few radicals, like the abolitionist Garrison, were willing to reject biblicism, but it appears that many more were driven into defense of slavery (particularly Southern theologians) and others (mainly Northern theologians) seem to have suffered a form of intellectual paralysis. Noll asserts as well that the 'commonsense' epistemology that was part of the religious consensus prevented a critical examination the pervasive racism that underlay the debates on slavery and the status of African-Americans. In Noll's view, the 19th century religious consensus did not equip American theologians with the intellectual tools to make sense of the problem. At the same time, the identification of America with the Christian mission and the insistence of both sides that their positions were based on divine sanction increased the intransigence of both sides. Noll also argues that the early 19th century concensus prepared American theologians poorly to confront the religious and moral implications of the Civil War and by implication, prepared them equally poorly for the intellectual (the impact of Darwin, for example) and social challenges (urbanization, non-Protestant immigrants) that would come with and after the war. Noll describes this accurately as a "theological tragedy."
Good survey of Christian Theological Development in the USA Jul 19, 2006
Mark Noll wrote this book with the goal of describing how Christian theology gradually became more comfortable using the catchwords and ideas of the American political scene (liberty, freedom, virtue, rights, common sense, reason). Noll shows that even though Calvinist and Arminian and Wesleyan thought may not have radically changed because of American republicanism, the way they were packaged and presented were.
In this book, we begin with the traditional Reformed ideas of Jonathan Edwards. We see how Calvinists in America were quick to side with the colonies in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. We see how even George Whitefield was somewhat sympathetic toward the colonial cause, though he tended to shy away from preaching politics.
We read of John Wesley's opposition to the American form of government, as he reveals that he has not met one republican who was a good Christian.
We see how Thomas Paine's writings were very influential in promoting reason and common sense, and how this influenced preachers of the faith, such as Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale, who rumor has it spend six months in 1795 challenging his students to a debate on whether or not the Bible was the Word of God.
We see how Charles Finney incorporated populist American jargon into his revival sermons. We also see his ardent opposition to the American slavery system.
Speaking of slavery, the last 100 pages of the book deals with how people of differings theological persuasions dealt with this divisive issue. Noll seems sorry to report that the pro slavery people did a better job of supporting their view from scripture than the abolitionists did.
Noll also seems ready to blame the Reformed Literal Method of interpreting scripture for influencing people to support the institution of slavery.
There is also an interesting discussion about the theological reflections of Abraham Lincoln. Noll notes that the 16th President of the United States was no evangelical and that he wasn't an active member of any organized church.
In fact, Noll contends that none of the notable founding fathers of the United States were evangelicals.
I recommend this book to history students and those who are interested in the history of Christianity in America. This book is a nice complement to Noll's earlier "History of Christianity in the US and Canada."
But the reason why I give this book 4 stars instead of five is that most of the time, it makes for tedious reading. The sections on the development of Holiness theology after Asbury was engaging, and the section about slavery held my attention as well.
But the bulk of the book is tough, academic reading. You may want to read instead Noll's more accessible book "The Rise of Evangelicalism."
Rev. Marc Axelrod
Sophisticated But Flawed Argument for Reformed Theology Feb 8, 2005
Noll argues that American Protestantism developed a unique religious perspective due to the combining of three historical idea forces: 1) the theology of the Protestant Reformation, 2) the philosophy of republicanism that arose from and was animated by the American revolution, and 3) the thought of the Scottish common-sense Enlightenment.
Protestantism's ability or willingness to speak the language of these three strands of thought made it the religion of choice and influence in the early republic, as its apologetic and evangelistic discourse echoed contemporary political assumptions and commitments.
But, Noll argues, there was a down-side to this success. The theology of Protestantism was itself changed by the use of this republican and common-sense language. These changes led to a literalistic, individualistic Biblical hermeneutic that made American Protestantism unable to speak definitively on the issue of slavery. North and South used the American Protestant hermeneutic to come to radically different conclusions on the morality of slavery.
This intractability ended in the civil war, which was not just a political crisis, but a theological one as well. The failure of the American Protestant synthesis to resolve the great moral issue of slavery, Noll argues, caused it to lose its social force, and opened the way for the modern era.
Noll's argument is almost overwhelming. He lays an exhaustive groundwork of 18th century religious/philosophical/political thought, moves into early 19th century theological evolution of Calvinism and Methodism, and then builds to a civil-war-era climax of heated, yet impotent, theological dispute. Each section is so rich and deep that challenging Noll on his intermediate conclusions is a daunting task. Yet, Noll's ultimate conclusion is so breathtaking in its implications for non-Calvinist theologies, that a closer look is warranted. A few key observations can be made.
Noll has a tendency to so broadly define his key terms that their essential meaning becomes vague, obscure and highly malleable. The most obvious example of this is his use of the word "republicanism," which Noll uses to cover concepts such as virtu (common good), anti-aristocracy, rule of law, proper use of power, separation of powers, representative government, and most largely, the belief in the reciprocity of personal morality and social-well being. (55-57).
He later adds to this mélange of meaning by distinguishing between civic-humanism republicanism, which was concerned with the public good and order, and liberal republicanism, which emphasized individual self-determination and, according to Noll, economic rights. (210-211). Noll himself acknowledges that "republicanism" was a "multivalent, plastic and often extraordinarily imprecise term." (447) Yet he frequently cites historical writers and speakers in support of his "republicanism" thesis, without attempting to determine which particular meaning of republicanism the historical thinker had in mind.
Noll is also guilty of this in dealing with the "common-sense" Enlightenment. Every reference to human reason, intuition, insight or other source of knowledge other than scripture becomes an example of common sense philosophy, whether the reference is before or after Hutcheson and Reid. The great flexibility of terms is significant, as it gives Noll enormous latitude in his argument to sweep in or out thinkers, ideas and theologies, depending on how they relate to his main thesis. Perhaps the single most important argument against Noll's larger thesis is Methodism. Pre-revolutionary Methodism had the literalistic, individualistic hermeneutic, along with the "reasonable" view of God, sinners and salvation that Calvinism only moved towards as it was tempered by post-revolution republicanism and common-sense philosophy. (333-334).
To his credit, Noll himself acknowledges the "sting" of the Methodist argument, agreeing that Methodism contained the elements of "American Protestantism" before it actually came to America. (334, 340-41).
But acknowledging the sting is one thing; removing it is another. Noll does not do this, nor really try to. Methodism does seem to raise an unanswered challenge to the charge that it was the "corruptions" of republicanism and common-sense thought that caused Protestant America to turn literalistic, individualistic, and arminian, and to be unable to cope with slavery. Methodism was all these things without republican and common-sense reasoning, and it was, at least initially, forcefully anti-slavery.
Thus, an alternate interpretation to Noll's is that: Biblical protestant Christianity contained the seeds of individuality, freedom and common-sense echoed in republicanism and common-sense thinking, that the intractable nature of the slavery dispute had to do with flawed constitutional rather than theological compromises, and that Southern religious' views were shaped more by the commercial impulses of their founding than by faithfulness to a Biblically-derived hermeneutic. This view is supported, at least in part, by Noll's tracing of the process of theological development: the insights of general revelation (general human experience) interact with, clarify, and even modify, understandings of special revelation (Biblical interpretation), and vice versa.
But further discussion of this would lengthen an already over-long review. Suffice it to say that the majority of American Christian's today would claim allegiance not to Edward's God, or Lincoln's God, or Noll's God-but to the Bible's God, as they read about and understand Him in the Bible for themselves. Which is not a bad legacy for a "permanently damaged" theology. (445).
Noll's comprehensive, even magisterial work, is clearly going to be required reading for everyone on both sides of almost any discussion of religion in the early republic.
cultural and political confluence with religious thinking Jan 3, 2004
I came to the book at a result of reading _Jonathan Edwards: A life_ by Marsden. M.Noll like G.Marsden has made my short list of i-must-read-them authors. This is perhaps my 5th book by him i've run across and looked at during my year's study of the issues in the creation-evolution-design(CED) debate. It is, to me, a rather important book for it puts together several issues i have been thinking about but had not related, in particular slavery and evolution being, in the conservative Christian community, similiar issues revolving around the interpretation of Scripture, i intend to follow up this idea. Furthermore, the very systematic way he goes about building a case for the influences of republican ideals on Reformed theology interests me as a very concrete example of the way the cultural matrix determines religious thought. Noll doesn't use the term "American captivity of the Christian Church" but the critical ideas are presented to make such a case.
It's a rather long (450pages) book, with a complex structure and at times detailed arguments, so i find myself wondering to whom to recommend it. Because of it's historical nature and subject material, simply reading the chapters that most interest you is not as good an option as it would be in reading a collection of essays. So if you simply want to get a taste of the book i would read the first 20 or so pages which are the introduction to both the book, how Noll approaches his subject and what he intends to show with this scholarly research. I found chapters 18 and 19 the most interesting: chapter 18 "The 'Bible Alone' and a Reformed, Literal Hermeneutic", and chapter 19 "The Bible and Slavery", i have several long quotes from these chapters on my extended review at: www.livejournal.com/users/rmwilliamsjr/84610.html . I think if someone is adequately motivated that the book is accessible to anyone with an interest in history but if your knowledge of the time period or of the theologies discussed is inadequate you will wonder what the fuss is all about, perhaps many secular people will wonder that in any case.
The theme of the book is not hard to summarize. It is that forces of the political life of the US, in particular, republicanism, Whiggery, the demand for equality, had a very important influence on the evolution of each American Christian theology. So too did several cultural influences in the philosophic sphere: common sense moral reasoning via the Scottish enlightenment, an anti-authoritarianism that reached out to all authorities-kings, priests, intellectuals, elites, these too influenced the evolving theology. But the influence was not just a one-way street, but rather in the search for converts the churches became a dominant influence in the culture, not just themselves but the myriad voluntary organizations they gave rise to. So by the Civil War we have a voluntary church, disestablished where those in Europe were not, filled with republicans, certain that their common sense will rightly interpret the Bible, and their morality derived thusly will support a glorious city-on-the-hill that they envisioned for the US. But the devil is in the details, and this is where the book gets really interesting. How do these forces relate? How does theology evolve, why and who is doing what thinking and writing? All done with a scholarly professor's mind, tying together the years of research with a joy and exuberance that is catching. Thanks M. Noll for another most excellent read.......