Theology in America


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Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War

E. Brooks Holifield

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A magisterial work of American theological history—authoritative, insightful, and unparalleled in scope

This book, the most comprehensive survey of early American Christian theology ever written, encompasses scores of American theological traditions, schools of thought, and thinkers. E. Brooks Holifield examines mainstream Protestant and Catholic traditions as well as those of more marginal groups. He looks closely at the intricacies of American theology from 1636 to 1865 and considers the social and institutional settings for religious thought during this period. The book explores a range of themes, including the strand of Christian thought that sought to demonstrate the reasonableness of Christianity, the place of American theology within the larger European setting, the social location of theology in early America, and the special importance of the Calvinist traditions in the development of American theology. Broad in scope and deep in its insights, this magisterial book acquaints us with the full chorus of voices that contributed to theological conversation in America’s early years.

E. Brooks Holifield is Charles Howard Candler Professor of American Church History, Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He is former president of the American Society for Church History and the author of several books on American religious history including Era of Persuasion: American Thought and Culture, 1521–1680.

An alternate selection of the History Book Club

“An astonishing book that elevates its subject to new levels of accuracy and insight. No one else has understood so clearly the dynamics of theological practice in early America, and no one else has come close to being this authoritative.”—David D. Hall, Harvard University

“The good news is that Brooks Holifield’s massively researched and elegantly crafted book proves that the history of religious ideas in America is thriving as never before. The bad news is that Holifield establishes a standard of excellence that most of the rest of us can only envy, that an elite few might rival, but that none is likely to surpass, at least not in this lifetime.”—Grant Wacker, Duke University

“’Magisterial’ is the only word fit to describe E. Brooks Holifield’s magnificent survey of Christian thinkers, their thought, and the contexts in which they did their work. This will be a definitive history for a very long time.”—Mark A. Noll, author of America’s God, from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

Theology in America is a stunning achievement: massive in scope, insightful in organization, and judicious in analysis. Holifield offers fresh and thoughtful evaluations of the famous and well-known theological figures of the past while incorporating into his narrative voices of those too often ignored in the story of American theology. This is a magisterial work and will be the standard for decades.”—Robert Bruce Mullin, The General Theological Seminary

"This book is now the definitive history of early American theology. the discusses the works of no fewer than 282 theological writers representing more than 25 movements, and he does so with a mastery that is unparalleled."— Doug Sweeney, Chair, Department of Church History and the History of Christian Thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and author of Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards
"In magisterial fashion Holifield reminds readers about the centrality of theological discourse in early American Christian history. This volume is a testament to the power of religious thought in the variety of Christian traditions in early America."— Stephen Stein, Indiana University

“Brooks Holifield provides an extraordinarily lucid history of both the ‘populist’ and formally trained theologians whose vigorous—sometimes fractious—conversation wove the diverse traditions of Christian theology into the beginnings of American thought.”—W. Clark Gilpin, The University of Chicago Divinity School

“A detailed, carefully researched history of American Christian thought from the colonial period until 1865. . . . This book is a masterpiece. Despite the vast research into antibellum religious thought over the last century, no other work has the same comprehension and rich attention to detail.”—Glenn T. Miller, American Historical Review

"E. Brooks Holifield . . . is one of the most distinguished historians of American religion.  At the apex of his career, he has written a magisterial book demonstrating the vitality of theology. . . . Holifield's scope is remarkably broad. . . . Intellectual history at its best."—Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Anglican and Episcopal History

"With Holifield’s magisterial survey of American theology from the 1630s to the 1860s we finally have an authoritative study of this central preoccupation. . . . This will remain for at least a generation the definitive chronicle of an essential aspect of American religious and intellectual history. Holifield’s work caps an annus mirabilis for books on the history of Christianity in America."—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly

“The writing is elegant. The treatment is comprehensive, authoritative, and judicious. And the analysis is fair-minded and impartial. Holifield aims at encyclopedic coverage, and lucidly describes the high religious thinking of what he counts as twenty-five theological movements.”—Bruce Kuklick, Books and Culture

“This is without doubt the best survey of antebellum American theology in print. While making an outstanding contribution to historical studies in theology, Holifield has enriched the broader study of American intellectual history. . . . A very important work for all academic libraries, this is an essential addition for theological libraries. Highly recommended.”—Choice

"Holifield challenges us to examine tthe central role played by Christian theological ideas in our nation’s early religious history. . . . Holifield takes the enterprise to new heights. His book will become a standard reference work for students in seminaries and religious studies programs, as well as for religious professionals. Christian laypeople who seek insight into their own denominations and traditions also will find the book invaluable. . . . Theology in America is a book that can be read either in its entirety, with all elements of the argument falling into place, or chapter by chapter in pursuit of an understanding of particular figures, traditions or denominations. . . . The many years of research invested by Holifield in this project have paid huge dividends. We have come to expect the highest quality scholarship from him, and he does not disappoint us."—Stephen J. Stein, Christian Century

“A monumental contribution to our understanding of religion in America from 1636 to 1865. . . . Theology in America is an indispensable resource for scholars of the field, and should be regarded as a standard work for this generation.”—John Howard Smith, Common-Place

"E. Brooks Holifield . . . has penned a magnum opus, the culmination of many years invested in his subject.  The work is breathtaking in both its breadth and consicion, as Holifield manages to synthesize the thoughts of over 280 Christian thinkers into a narrative extending just over five hundred pages." —Michael DeBusk, Faith and Mission

“It is not often that one is asked to review a book to which the appellation 'standard work in the field' can be given; this is such a book. E. Brooks Holifield provides his readers with a work unmatched in scope and depth. . . . The writing is lucid and succinct. . . . It is a work that will be broadly useful to professional scholars and students and a learned popular audience alike.”—Robert E. Brown, Journal of American History

"Holifield is a master of his material and brings to it a rare depth of unbiased understanding. . . . Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"[A] magnificent survey of Christian theological reflection in America." —Walter Sundberg, Lutheran Quarterly

"Monumental. . . . [Theology in America] lays out in clear and comprehensive detail the doctrines of every major American religious movement, drawing on the writing of nearly 300 theologians over more than two centuries. . . . [Holifield] offers a map to a whole lost continent of American intellectual history. . . . American theology remains a valuable legacy, and there could be no better introduction to it than Theology in America."—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

"In this majestic achievement, Holifield provides a first-rate, richly evocative and unrivaled history of theology in America. . . . [A] marvelous study. . . . This masterfully narrated, splendid book will become the definitive study of the development of American theology."—Publishers Weekly

"I cannot recommend this text highly enough. . . . [A] magisterial interpretation. . . . In almost 30 years of teaching the history of theology in the U.S.A., I have not come across a more comprehensive and judicious interpretive survey of the theology of the period. . . . [The book] treats the great diversity of theological traditions in the period with an objectivity and accuracy that many will find insightful and penetrating. . . . Most will agree that the comprehensive interpretation is a tour de force. . . . [Holifield] has been accurate and fair in examining the dizzying diversity of theological traditions. . . . As a historian, H. demonstrates effective classroom teaching skills. His text is well written and easily accessible to a wide variety of readers, undergraduates as well as graduates. It should be widely distributed in college, university, and public libraries. The seminarian, pastor, and the general reader as well as professional historians and theologians will find much benefit in reading this history."—Patrick W. Carey, Theological Studies

“A long-needed volume, Theology in America will have an important role to play as a text in course offerings at seminaries and universities. It should also enjoy wide use as a reference volume for anyone seeking to understand more fully our nation’s history, religious and intellectual. With this meticulously crafted and carefully balanced study, Brooks Holifield has placed us all in debt.”—John F. Wilson, Theology Today

“[A] monumental account of ante-bellum theology. . . . Magisterial. . . . A brilliant exercise in historical theology. His chosen method of exploring theological movements through the writings of almost 300 people results in beautifully crafted theological portraits of the most important contributors to America’s great tradition. . . . A comprehensive survey of the most distinguished kind.”—David Hempton, Times Literary Supplement

“Holifield has . . . succeeded brilliantly in this comprehensive treatment. . . . A well-wrought book. . . . A model of good writing and academic endeavor. . . . The book will lend itself to use as a textbook for seminary or graduate school courses. . . . A superlative work.”—Sean Michael Lucas, Westminster Theological Journal

"A comprehensive, chronologically ordered survey of the central beliefs of pastors, divines, and other through the Civil War. . . . The breadth of Holifield's reading and the reliability of his accounts of individual thinkers and their schools have merited the dust-jacket commendations: magisterial, stunning, astonishing, and definitive. As intellectual history Holifield's tome deserves encomiums."—Mark Valeri, William and Mary Quarterly

"[A] triumph. . . . Nothing like this has ever been done before. Holifield takes denominations and the churches in them very seriously, a rare occurrence among mainstream historians. . . . To American intellectual historians, a book like this is a godsend."—Alan D. Strange, Mid-America Journal of Theology

"No one can deny that his work is unmatched in scope and elegantly written, making it both an indispensable resource and a joy to read."—Scott D. Seay, Journal of Church and State

"This masterpiece of theological history shows that twin concerns for practical virtue and evidentiary truth dominated Christian thought in America for two and a half centuries. Professor Holifield supports his argument at every point with meticulous research and lucid prose. His well-balanced, well-paced narrative leaves no stone carelessly placed. It will last as a standard reference and compelling interpretation of early modern American religious thought."—Amanda Porterfield, Professor of Religion, Florida State University

Chosen as an "Outstanding" title in the 2003 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries
ISBN: 9780300107654
Publication Date: March 11, 2005
640 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4