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Book Review – Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohicans: His Mission and Sermons

Book Review by Brandon Crawford

Roy M. Paul, Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohicans: His Mission and Sermons. H & E Publishing, 2020. 194 pp. $22.99

This book offers a brief account of the Stockbridge Mohican Indians from pre-European contact to the present, with special reference to their experiences under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. Their story is told in five chapters, with a final section offering a summary and conclusion.

Chapter 1 is entitled “A Brief History of the Mohican Tribe.” In the span of just thirty-nine pages it attempts to survey the whole history of the Mohican people from pre-contact to the present day. The chapter focuses particularly on the eighteenth-century Mohican sachem Konkapot, his desire to receive a Christian missionary, and the growing English desire to evangelize the Indians. Unfortunately, the chapter lacks both the nuance and the explanatory paragraphs expected in a work of historical scholarship. For example, the author gives little attention to the broader social, political, and economic forces at work in colonial America, and he rarely ventures to answer the question, “why?” Why, after decades of resistance, were the Mohicans suddenly interested in receiving a Christian missionary in the mid-1700s? Why did English interest in evangelizing the Indians experience a surge at the same time, after decades of neglect?

Chapter 2, just twelve pages long, offers a sweeping survey of Mohican spirituality from pre-contact to the present day, with particular emphasis on the present state of the Christian churches on their Wisconsin reservation. Chapter 3 then tells the story of the “Stockbridge Bible,” which was gifted to the Mohicans in 1746, lost for many years, but finally recovered in the 1990s and moved to the Wisconsin reservation.

Chapter 4 is the longest at sixty pages. It offers a brief biography of Jonathan Edwards, from his birth, to his conversion, to his ministry in Northampton. The author devotes a significant amount of time to the “Bad Book” controversy, which contributed to Edwards’s downfall as the pastor of Northampton’s church. He then offers a brief account of Edwards’s ministry in Stockbridge, with special mention of his efforts to curtail English land-grabs. The chapter also includes a section on Edwards’s spirituality that provides brief treatments of his “Resolutions,” Humble Attempt, and a full fourteen pages on his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The most notable feature of this chapter is its heavy reliance on secondary sources, particularly the works of Marsden and Haykin. Even direct quotations of Edwards are often pulled from secondary literature.

Chapter 5 offers transcriptions of seven sermons that Edwards preached to the Stockbridge Indians along with a brief commentary on each sermon. The selections reveal Edwards’s Stockbridge sermons to be occasional documents, crafted to answer the pressing needs of the Mohicans at each moment. For example, when the French and Indian War broke out, Edwards preached a sermon on the sovereignty of God over human affairs, and another about overcoming the fear of death. The transcriptions also reveal that Edwards’s Indian sermons employed less complex vocabulary and relied more on narrative and illustrations drawn from nature than the sermons he preached to his English audiences. The final section of the book presents the author’s summary and conclusions. He concludes that Edwards genuinely cared for the Stockbridge Mohicans, tried to preach in a style that would be meaningful to them, and left a spiritual legacy that still impacts the Mohicans today.

It cannot be said that this book has broken new ground, as it is almost entirely a survey of older scholarship. What this book does represent is the growing interest in Stockbridge within the field of Edwards studies. It is also an example of the growing desire to include Mohican perspectives in the Stockbridge story. For too long, accounts of Native-Colonist interactions have been one-sided. Perhaps this book will encourage a new generation of scholars to repair that imbalance.