The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather
Cotton Mather (1663-1728) was America’s most famous pastor and scholar at the beginning of the eighteenth century. People today generally associate him with the infamous Salem witch trials, but in this new biography Rick Kennedy tells a bigger story: Mather, he says, was the very first American evangelical.
“Rick Kennedy has done a fine job in providing a sympathetic, engaging, and yet brief account of such a many-sided and influential personality.” —George M. Marsden
A fresh retelling of Cotton Mather’s life, this biography corrects misconceptions and focuses on how he sought to promote, socially and intellectually, a biblical lifestyle. As older Puritan hopes in New England were giving way to a broader and shallower Protestantism, Mather led a populist, Bible-oriented movement that embraced the new century—the beginning of a dynamic evangelical tradition that eventually became a major force in American culture.
Incorporating the latest scholarly research but written for a popular audience, The First American Evangelical brings Cotton Mather and his world to life in a way that helps readers understand both the Puritanism in which he grew up and the evangelicalism he pioneered.
Rick Kennedy is professor of history at Point Loma Nazarene University, secretary of the Conference on Faith and History, and author of various books and articles on the history of colonial New England. His previous books include Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic Excursion.
“An engaging and insightful introduction.”
Kenneth Minkema in The Catholic Historical Review
“Rick Kennedy’s lively take on Cotton Mather’s extraordinary life is very welcome. . . . Not your grandfather’s Mather.”
“Kennedy has written a sympathetic and insightful introduction to a generally unfairly maligned and undervalued figure in American history.”
Douglas A. Sweeney
— author of The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement
“Cotton Mather is widely seen as a moralistic hypocrite, a one-dimensional bad guy we moderns love to hate. But in this lively new biography, he takes on flesh and blood and, more importantly, a heart. . . . This courageous little book offers readers a better feel for Mather’s vibrant, quirky, learned, evangelical spirituality than anything before.”
— author of The Spiritual Practice of Remembering
“Few historical figures have been as misunderstood as Cotton Mather, roundly dismissed in our own time as the ultimate Puritan killjoy. Rick Kennedy’s richly textured account reminds us why Mather still matters — why we should care about, maybe even embrace, this complex man who made such an indelible impact on our religious world today.”
George M. Marsden
— author of A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards
“Mather’s life is one of the most fascinating in all of American history. Rick Kennedy has done a fine job in providing a sympathetic, engaging, and yet brief account of such a many-sided and influential personality.”
— general editor of Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana — America’s First Bible Commentary
“In this charming biography, Cotton Mather emerges as the grandfather of American evangelicalism, who valiantly guided his community through troubled times. Kennedy enables us to look into the heart and soul of this Puritan pastor who adapted New England’s old-time religion to the needs of a new age. This is a fresh and perceptive introduction to Mather’s complex life.”
“The author humbly avoids a judgmental tone toward Mather or the Puritans. He does not indulge in chronological snobbery and assume the tone of moral superiority typical of many other historians. Instead, Kennedy sets Mather in a historical context and highlights his strengths and weaknesses accordingly. . . . [He] tries to capture the evangelical heart of Mather, as a bridge builder from the Puritan era to the next wave of the Holy Spirit in the Great Awakening led by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.”