From the JEC Blog

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Sarah Osborn’s Collected Writings

Catherine A. Brekus, ed., Sarah Osborn’s Collected Writings (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).

BrekusThis lightly annotated edition of selected Osborn manuscripts arrives as a companion to the highly-acclaimed monograph on Osborn Brekus published back in 2013, which we reviewed here.

Brekus, who teaches at Harvard, is a specialist in the religious lives of women in early America. And Osborn (1714-1796) is one of the few colonial American women–religious or otherwise–whose writings were preserved. More than 2,000 pages of her manuscripts survive (out of nearly 15,000 Osborn penned altogether), in addition to a book published anonymously by Osborn (with the help of a local clergyman) and material by Osborn published shortly after she died (by two of her admirers). Several other scholars have treated Osborn before, but only now is she receiving the attention she deserves, thanks in large part to Brekus.

Born in London to a Congregationalist tanner and his wife, Osborn moved to Newport, Rhode Island with her family in 1730. While still a young girl, she married a sailor, Samuel Wheaten, in 1731 (against the wishes of her parents) and had a son named Samuel in 1732 (who died young, at age 11, in 1744). Husband Samuel died at sea only two years after their marriage (1733), while Sarah was still a teen. She remarried several years later (1742), but this time to a widower with three boys of his own, Henry Osborn, a tailor, who was more than twice her age.

Sarah worked as a teacher, the mistress of a boarding school, and leader of Newport’s First Congregational Church. She led a large women’s prayer group. She founded several Bible studies. Most famously, perhaps, she led a ministry to slaves and free blacks in the region. (She owned a slave herself and was something of a racist, but had a passion for gospel ministry with Africans.) These efforts hit their peak during the mid-1760s when she supervised a startling revival from her home, speaking to hundreds every week in her crowded living room.

Even after this revival, Osborn’s ministry continued and exerted striking influence in Newport and beyond. Osborn’s women’s group, in fact, took the lead in the appointment of Edwards’ student, Samuel Hopkins, to the pastorate of their church in 1770. (This happened behind the scenes. Only men in the church could vote. But the ladies in Sarah’s charge persuaded their husbands of Hopkins’ merits over much initial skepticism.)

Hopkins and Osborn grew close. Hopkins assumed primary leadership of most of Osborn’s meetings. But as he did, he consulted her and other women for help (most significantly Susanna Anthony, a close friend of Osborn and supporter of Hopkins’ ministry). Hopkins persuaded many women to oppose the slave trade—no mean feat in a seaport town that found this trade extremely lucrative. He pushed Edwards’ “New Divinity,” divisively, in town. (Ezra Stiles served the Second Church till 1776, gently opposing Hopkins’ views.) And when Sarah and Susanna (known as “Susa”) passed away, he published their memoirs, canonizing them for later evangelicals.

The present volume includes the full text of Osborn’s memoir, more than 20 of her letters, and parts of her diary. Brekus has transcribed most of these manuscripts herself, but has also used material from two older works: Samuel Hopkins, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Sarah Osborn (1799), from which Brekus has taken extracts from Osborn’s diaries; and Elizabeth West Hopkins, ed., Familiar Letters, Written by Mrs. Sarah Osborn and Miss Susanna Anthony (1807), from which Brekus has taken correspondence.

Anyone interested in women in the history of Christianity, Edwards’ vast importance in the lives of lay people, or eighteenth-century history will cherish this collection.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement

Brandon James Crawford, Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement: Understanding the Legacy of America’s Greatest Theologian (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017).

JEandAtonementCrawford

We are pleased to offer the following booknote by former Edwards Center fellow, Dr. Daniel W. Cooley, who wrote his dissertation at Trinity on the topic of the booknote. See Daniel W. Cooley, “The New England Theology and the Atonement: Jonathan Edwards to Edwards Amasa Park” (Ph.D. diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2014); and Daniel W. Cooley and Douglas A. Sweeney, “The Novelty of the New Divinity,” in A New Divinity: Transatlantic Reformed Evangelical Debates During the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Mark Jones and Michael A. G. Haykin (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017).

This volume offers a study on the atonement in the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Crawford explains that this study aims to address the “lack of consensus” on the question of whether there is a genuine “trajectory” of thought between Edwards and the Edwardseans on the atonement (8–9). This problem has persisted because of the lack of literature on Edwards’ views of the atonement. The author concludes that the literature to date has maintained a predominantly historical interest in the subject rather than a theological emphasis. In fact, I would add that this is generally true across the academic study of Edwards. Crawford writes, “The present study aims to address this problem by offering a thorough presentation of Edwards’s doctrine of the atonement as revealed in his collected works” (10).

The author introduces his study with a brief narrative of Edwards’ “legacy under dispute” (1). He sketches out Edwards’ influence on his successors such as Joseph Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins as well as those who came after—such as John Smalley, Nathan Strong, Nathanael Emmons, Nathaniel William Taylor, and Edwards Amasa Park, who figures prominently in the story of the Edwardseans on the atonement.

Crawford asserts from the outset that he agrees with Mark Noll, who argues that Edwards left no intellectual or theological heirs. Jonathan Edwards “did not leave any clear intellectual successors behind” (1). Crawford agrees that the Edwardseans dominated theological discourse in New England for the hundred year period after Edwards’s death, ironically citing Doug Sweeney and Allen Guelzo who disagree with Crawford’s premise that Edwardseans took a clean break from Edwards. While they dominated the scene they were not quite like Edwards himself, though “their ministries did parallel his in many ways” (6). Crawford cites the Edwardseans’ defense of reformed theology as one of the key similarities in the face of an “enlightened” age. He makes clear that the sort of atonement that the Edwardseans taught was unlike that which Edwards taught.

Crawford continues his study with an overview of the development of the doctrine of the atonement in chapters 1, 2, and 3, from Clement of Rome in the first century to the medieval period and the Reformation era and the Post-Reformation era that saw the development of the moral example and governmental theories of the atonement and further developments of penal substitution.

These initial chapters provide a series of sketches of the varying contributions of select individuals on the doctrine of the atonement. The length of each treatment ranges from a couple of paragraphs to a few pages. Some of these figures include Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, William Ames, and John Owen. In addition, he mentions the influence of some other figures such as Socinus, Arminius, and Hugo Grotius.

The next four chapters discuss Edwards’ views of theology from a broad framework and then narrowing in on the atonement. Chapters four and five delve into the doctrines of God, Humanity, Sin, and Christ, showing the theological framework in which Edwards’ view of the atonement resides. Chapters six and seven describe the “vital content” of Edwards’ atonement and additional themes found in Edwards’ writing as they relate to the atonement where he draws upon material from many different “Miscellanies” as well as a handful of sermons and major works.

Crawford closes with a discussion of Edwards’ legacy on the atonement and concludes that Edwards falls within the bounds of reformed orthodoxy. The views of his followers, the New Divinity, diverged from Edwards’ views. Crawford explains that Edwards may not have been clear enough in his views, which led to misunderstandings among his followers. His conclusion fits with the regnant historiography concerning Edwards and the Edwardseans, though the proponents of this viewpoint that the followers of Edwards represented a decline from Edwards struggle to explain how this misunderstanding took place.

Readers looking for an introduction to Edwards on the atonement can find help in Crawford’s treatment. It is not overly technical, so informed laypeople, pastors, and students can benefit from it. Crawford has presented evidence that helps him in his argument that Edwards held to a recognizably reformed version of the doctrine of the atonement; however, he does not present evidence in regard to Edwards’ relationship with the Edwardseans—so readers will want to look elsewhere on that score.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Divine Will and Human Choice

Richard A. Muller, Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).

MullerThis learned monograph by the world’s leading authority on early modern Reformed scholastic theology adjudicates the debate between the Utrecht school’s view of Reformed thought on freedom (represented on this blog back in February by Philip Fisk) and Paul Helm’s longstanding criticism of it.

Inasmuch as this debate has been developed in a couple of the lectures we have hosted (listen to Muller’s lecture and Helm’s lecture), a notice of its most recent installment is in order. (N.B. This is pretty heady stuff, and will prove most interesting and intelligible to those with an interest in the defense of Reformed views of the sovereignty of God over history.)

In more than 300 pages of densely written review and analysis, Muller makes several claims regarding the issues at stake, contextualizing/correcting the excesses of some of those within the Utrecht camp and thus taking a middle position between Utrecht and Helm.

With the Utrecht school, Muller argues that his subjects “developed a robust doctrine of creaturely contingency and human freedom built on a series of traditional scholastic distinctions, including those associated with what has come to be called ‘synchronic contingency’” (p. 34). But with Helm and other critics of the Utrecht school, he reminds us that these theologians “did so for the sake of respecting the underlying premise of Reformed thought that God eternally and freely decrees the entire order of the universe, past, present, and future.” Further, Muller points out that “synchronic contingency,” the keystone of Utrecht’s approach to the issues, “is not by itself an ontology but rather serves as an explanatory language, used in conjunction with a series of related scholastic distinctions, that is supportive of the ontological assumptions belonging to the Reformed . . . doctrine of providence” (p. 34). It did not undermine early Reformed views of sovereignty, but enabled the Reformed to explain divine rule in a way that undergirded and supported human freedom.

Most importantly of all for historiographical purposes, Muller shows that late modern usages of terms such as “libertarianism,” “synchronic contingency,” and “compatibilism” do not fit the early modern theological sources and, thus, should usually be avoided in descriptions of their contents–which were shaped most profoundly by ancient Greek and medieval appropriations of Aristotle, especially by the Thomists, and not by a proto-modern Scotist view of freedom untethered from the mainstream classical tradition (as the least cautious writers in the Utrecht school suggest).

Muller’s treatment of these issues is, as usual, excellent. But his treatment of Edwards’ views and Edwards’ place in the tradition of Reformed thought on freedom leaves something to be desired. He depicts Edwards in passing (in several places, never at length) as the most important symbol of what he thinks went wrong with modern Protestant thought on freedom–as a much less nuanced (read less Aristotelian) and more deterministic Calvinist than those who went before. In short, Muller hints that Edwards worked “without a significant distinction of primary and secondary causality, without a clear understanding of divine concurrence, and without the assumption, intrinsic to the notion of an ontologically and causally two-tiered universe [maintained by the scholastics], that divine and human causality are, taken together, the necessary and sufficient conditions for free acts of the human will” (p. 324).

These suggestions are misleading. It is true that Edwards moved past many of the distinctions used by earlier scholastics. But as we said in our review of Philip Fisk’s recent book, he did so to defend Reformed theology from critics who deemed it too deterministic. By Edwards’ day, critics saw through what they claimed was the verbal smoke and mirrors of scholastic theologians, and thus Edwards felt obliged to adopt a new approach–one that was more transparent about Calvinist views of God’s sovereign rule over history, and more forthright in its argument for freedom of the will undergirded by the sovereignty of God (concurrence). He wound up teaching something very much like the older doctrine, in spite of his modern framework for interpreting the issues: that God has predestined all the things that matter most in the history of the world, but that humans also choose freely everything they do (except in cases of external compulsion, in which they are not morally culpable).

Edwards affirmed, that is to say, much of what Muller says he denied: the distinction between primary and secondary causes and a doctrine of concurrence in which divine and human effort function together as the necessary and sufficient conditions for free acts of the human will.

Sweeney’s Booknotes — Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts

Toby K. Easley, Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts (Fort Worth: Feder Ink Publishing, 2016).

EasleyThis privately published book will be of greatest interest to preachers and other students of homiletics.

Easley argues in its pages that Edwards proved to be a much better preacher over time than his reputation for reading dense manuscripts to congregations in monotone suggests.

In fact, the author proposes, Edwards matured as a preacher through “five distinct stages of communication development,” stages through which preachers would do well to pass today (p. i). Raised on auditory learning from the sermons preached by others in his family and beyond (stage one—Edwards was the son and grandson of preachers), he was taught as a boy to draft complete manuscripts (stage two—a form of quality control). As he gained confidence and grew by watching George Whitefield, an oratorical dynamo, he moved from full manuscripts to annotated outlines except on rare occasions (stage three), and then to sketchy, skeletal outlines (stage four) before adapting new methods for his sermons to Native Americans and students at Princeton College (stage five). He improved as a preacher, that is to say, throughout his life. He matured “beyond the manuscripts,” to quote from Easley’s title.

Despite the tendency of most today to assume that extemporaneous preaching is always best, Easley exhorts young preachers to learn a thing or two from Edwards, following his lead through this five-stage process. They have far greater access to auditory aids than Edwards had in the eighteenth century and should learn whenever possible from preachers on the web. They should work on sermon quality by drafting full manuscripts, but also follow Edwards into the outline form, learning to preach substantial messages from memory as they grow. And they should always stay sensitive to audience and context, adapting speaking styles to meet the needs of those before them.

Wise words from a seasoned preacher and student of Edwards’ sermons.