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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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4. Spirit of Nationalism   

4. Spirit of Nationalism

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Jonathan Edwards - Teaching Tips

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  • Students have different responses to the vivid imagery Edwards employs in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God": some may find it surprising, others frightening, and still others are amused. Sometimes students will associate the "fire and brimstone" nature of the text with contemporary televangelism or TV talk shows and believe that Edwards was something of a religious huckster. You should stress to them that Edwards distrusted extreme enthusiasm and reportedly delivered his sermons in a sober monotone rather than ranting or shouting. Most of Edwards's sermons are characterized by a desire to make salvation emotionally and aesthetically appealing to his listeners, and the sternness and anger in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is somewhat anomalous for him. It is also important that students realize that Edwards actually managed to live in accordance with his strict beliefs: his devotion to his family, rigorous dedication to study, and lifelong focus on God testify to the conviction that underlay his rhetoric.

  • Ask students to outline the structure and argument of one of Edwards's sermons ("A Divine and Supernatural Light" or "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" would work well). Have them pay attention to the way Edwards begins with a quotation from Scripture, elucidates the doctrine it contains, and elaborates on its applications in the lives of his listeners. Ask them to analyze the kinds of arguments and appeals Edwards relies upon to make his sermon meaningful and potent to his listeners. A careful analysis of Edwards's systematic, logically organized arguments should help students appreciate the way his intellect worked and the power his sermons had over his listeners.

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