From the JEC Blog

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Edwards Amasa Park: The Last Edwardsean

Charles W. Phillips, Edwards Amasa Park: The Last Edwardsean, New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018).

Edwards Amasa ParkThis substantial revision of the author’s dissertation with David Bebbington at the University of Stirling in Scotland is the fourth installment in V & R’s series in Edwards studies. Phillips serves as the Executive Director of the Maclellan Family Foundations, a group of faith-based philanthropic bodies in Chattanooga. He is also a part-time church historian, however, with a special interest in Edwards and his legacies. The volume under review is not a biography of its subject, nor a comprehensive treatment of his theological views. It is a monograph on Park and his defense of Edwardsean Calvinism, which Phillips here interprets as a kinder, gentler extension of the New Divinity views of Samuel Hopkins and his network, especially Nathanael Emmons.

Edwards Amasa Park (1808-1900) did more than any other New Englander to synthesize the history of the Edwardsean tradition. Son of the Rev. Calvin Park (a student and friend of Emmons and a professor at Brown University), Edwards Park attended Brown, married Anna Maria Edwards (Jonathan Edwards’s great-granddaughter), graduated from Andover in 1831 and then engaged in pastoral ministry in Braintree, Massachusetts. Though heralded for his preaching, Park decided that academic work would better suit his gifts. So after a time of study with Nathaniel W. Taylor at Yale Divinity School (1834-35), he accepted a post at Amherst College in mental and moral philosophy.

In 1836, Park returned to Andover Seminary to teach as Bartlet Professor of Sacred Rhetoric. He remained there 45 years, retiring in 1881. In 1844, he assumed control with B. B. Edwards of the Bibliotheca Sacra, an Andover organ that he edited till 1884. In 1847, he succeeded Leonard Woods as Abbot Professor of Christian Theology, his school’s most influential teaching position. In 1853, he became the president of the faculty, a role he would play until 1868. In the 1850s and 60s, Park released a series studies on the New England Theology (i.e. the theology of the Edwardsean tradition in New England). He published memoirs of Hopkins (1852), Moses Stuart (1852), B. B. Edwards (1852-53), Emmons (1861), and Leonard Woods (1880). And in addition to numerous other pieces treating Edwardsean themes, he published a highly acclaimed anthology of Edwardsean views of atonement, The Atonement: Discourses and Treatises(1859).

Dubbed the last “consistent Calvinist,” Park was the final representative and first major historian of Edwards’ living legacy in New England. For many years he cared for a cache of Edwards’ personal manuscripts, planning but never executing a magnum opus on Edwards. He defended New England tirelessly, primarily against Princetonians staking a claim to Edwards’ legacy and opposed to New England’s recontextualization of his views (especially by the “Taylorites”). Even after his retirement, Park would champion Edwards’ views at Andover Seminary for years. In the face of his school’s marked transition to “Progressive Orthodoxy,” a more liberal Social Gospel, higher criticism and Darwinism, Park stood fast on the old-time gospel of Edwardsean evangelicals.

Phillips’s treatment of Park includes an introduction, five main chapters, and a conclusion. He does not provide readers with a great deal of new information on his subject. But he does offer a salutary interpretation of Park and his historical significance. Phillips argues that other scholars have for too-long associated Park with either the Taylorites or liberals like the Romantic Congregationalist Horace Bushnell, neglecting to pay him due respect as a leader in New England who kept the Edwardsean flame burning through the end of the nineteenth century (and whose students, Joseph Cook, Charles Joseph Hardy Ropes, Francis Edward Clark, Otis Cary, and many other worthies, carried that flame well into the twentieth century).

Phillips claims that Park agreed with the Taylorites only insofar as the Taylorites agreed with Hopkins and Emmons. “Park’s foundational identity lay in the New Divinity of Samuel Hopkins and Nathanael Emmons: at any point that Taylor contradicted this inherited line, Park did not hesitate to reject the New Haven departure” (p. 45). Exhibit A of this rejection is Park’s eschewal of Taylor’s strange doctrine of regeneration. Worried about the practical results of Hopkins’ teaching that unregenerated sinners—whose hearts had not been turned, and so were still governed by sin—only exacerbated their sinfulness when using means of grace without repenting on the spot, Taylor offered an “improvement” to the teaching he inherited (“improvements” were all the rage in the Edwardsean tradition). He agreed with the Hopkinsians that unconverted sinners always sinned when making choices (“a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,” etc., Matthew 7:18). But he claimed that during the regeneration of their hearts, God suspends their selfishness, enabling them to use the means of grace without sinning–which, in turn, enabled preachers to ask sinners to use the means without fear that this would exacerbate their sin. Park did not repeat the details of these Taylorite improvements and, thus, on Phillips’s account, should not be associated with them. He always stood with Hopkins over Taylor.

As for Park and the liberals, Phillips argues that Park’s famous speech of 1850, “The Theology of the Intellect and That of the Feelings,” which is usually interpreted as a romantic call to soften the sharp corners of Christian doctrine (even the doctrine of the Hopkinsians), was actually a conservative alternative to the patently liberal preaching of Bushnell. Park’s valorization of feeling, and distinction between the theologies of feeling and the intellect, were in fact rhetorical strategies that Park had honed for years to defend traditional Calvinism by teaching it in relation to the spirit of Romanticism. “It is clear,” Phillips claims, “that Park adopted those aspects of Romanticism that were complementary to presuppositions he already held” (p. 138). His famous speech of 1850 “was at the centre of a broad consensus among the orthodox that religious experience . . . had attained normative value for dogma” (p. 137). It was not a liberal speech, but “was a significant voice from the centre of orthodoxy that embodied and promoted an adjustment in the direction of the evangelical mainstream in response to challenges from Romantic conceptions of genuine spirituality” (p. 139).

Phillips is right to maintain that Park viewed himself as a stalwart of New England orthodoxy, as an Edwardsean responsive to the spirit of his age. But Park was never a repristinator of New Divinity doctrine. He “improved” upon his heritage, as he liked to say publicly, in the spirit of the best of the New England Theologians.

Park opposed Hopkins’ manner of treating “unregenerate doings.” He also steered students away from Emmons’ doctrine of unmediated divine efficiency (i.e. the teaching that God himself converts the hard of heart apart from means). He did not follow Taylor into the weeds of the suspension of a sinner’s selfishness, but he did tell sinners to employ the means of grace and, in the manner of the Taylorites, insisted that the means do not save unless and until the Holy Spirit changes the heart and its selfishness with truth. As he told every class of budding theologians at Andover, “it is very important” to help the wayward sinner understand “that, for aught he knows, his next effort to repent,” assisted by the means, “will be part of the complex act of repentance itself.” The Holy Spirit might be working to regenerate him now, using means to help him sense the truth and turn to God in faith. (This teaching is represented in most of the Andover student notebooks of Park’s lectures in theology. See, for example, those of George Park Fisher, 1850-51, Folder 159, Box 12, pp. 340-85, esp. p. 384, Park Family Papers, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University; and Gabriel H. DeBevoise, 1864, vol. 2, pp. 371-95, quotation from 2:393, Student Notebooks—E. A. Park, formerly in the Trask Library at Andover but now at Yale Divinity School.)

As he “improved” upon his heroes, Park also sidled closer to Romantic liberalism. Again, he remained evangelical, an orthodox defender of Edwardsean theology. But neither Hopkins nor Emmons–nor anyone in their circle–would have preached a sermon anything like “The Theology of the Intellect and That of the Feelings.” And few of Park’s conservative peers appreciated the way in which that sermon undermined the older Protestant confessions, discarding classically Protestant doctrines in a box with Catholic teachings labeled products of the “feelings” never intended for subscription. “In the Bible there are pleasing hints of many things,” he said, “which were never designed to be doctrines, such as the literal and proper necessity of the will, passive and physical sin, baptismal regeneration, clerical absolution, the literal imputation of guilt to the innocent, transubstantiation, eternal generation and procession.” In the leaves of holy writ, “these metaphors bloom as the flowers of the field; there they toil not neither do they spin.” Sadly, however, “the schoolman has transplanted them to the rude exposure of logic; here they are frozen up, their fragrance is gone, their juices evaporated, and their withered leaves are preserved as specimens of that which in its rightful place surpassed the glory of the wisest sage.” Charles Hodge was not the only one to balk at such preaching.

Phillips seems to think that associating Park with the teachings of his era’s best-known ecclesiastical writers is tantamount to rendering him a second-rate thinker, a protégé of other, less cautious theologians. But this is not what previous interpreters have suggested. Most have recognized Park for the conservative he was, but have also tried to understand the ways in which traditionalists working in New England recontextualized their faith to meet the challenges they faced. More than most other Christians in his nineteenth-century world, Park championed the right and responsibility of orthodox, Edwardsean evangelicals to adapt Reformed thought for apologetic and pastoral purposes.

Edwards Amasa Park is now the go-to book on its subject’s life and thought. Well-researched and well-written, it is the only book on Park to have been published after the renaissance of scholarship on Park’s beloved Edwardsean tradition and thus is far more current than anything else written about him. Phillips is right to suggest that Park excelled in his own right as a preacher and theologian, not merely by association with Taylor and Bushnell. He is also right to note that Park drew deeply from the wells of pre-railroad men such as Hopkins and Emmons. But Park lived through a revolution in American intellectual and technological history, the fruit of which the likes of Hopkins and Emmons never dreamed. In the future, perhaps, Phillips will spend more time on the ways in which Park felt the force of this transition, updating the Edwardsean tradition as a consequence—not merely by using current trends to reinforce doctrines it had crafted long ago, but also by changing in relation to those trends to meet New England’s, and the world’s, new realities.

Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale: Call for Support

The Jonathan Edwards Center offices can be found on the Quad of Yale Divinity School, but its primary mission of supporting inquiry into the life and legacy of Jonathan Edwards is realized via the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online. The Center operates the digital platform free of charge to anyone interested in the critical appraisal of Edwards’ historical importance and contemporary relevance. Since its launch in 2006, Edwards’s popularity has grown to global proportions thanks to the open-access availability of his writings at edwards.yale.edu. The availability of additional information, better transcriptions and new technology features have skyrocketed in the years since the website’s inception, so that website is at risk of losing its ability to serve the expectations of users.

New Platform Features

A total of $40,000 is required for platform design and development, plus content migration. New website features will offer the most current scholarly and technical standards including:

  • streamlined searchability
  • multiple viewing panes that allow the user to compare manuscript and transcription side-by-side
  • high-resolution manuscript scans and links
  • community-sourcing project portals
  • in-house capacity for upload of new content and revision
  • regular back-up and storage

The Works of Jonathan Edwards by the Numbers

  • 250,000 annual average attendance
  • 100 countries represented by users of the site
  • 75 volumes in the on-line archive, including born-digital material
  • 100,000 pages of material
  • 12 years old (ancient by modern technology standards)
  • $40,000 cost to launch a new digital platform

The Case for Giving

The Jonathan Edwards Center has become a model for digital humanities projects, earning endorsements from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For centuries, scholars and readers of Edwards had to rely on inaccurate and partial versions of his writings. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, the critical edition of Edwards’s writings, was created at Yale University in 1953 to overcome these obstacles and are now free and online.

The quality and amount of online resources has created an international network with affiliate centers in ten countries that enable teaching, graduate advising and research, conferencing, and other activities to drive scholarship and dialogue on Edwards and related topics. This renaissance has made Edwards one of the most consulted and referenced figures in religion today. In order to sustain and expand these growing communities, the Edwards Center must update its technology.

Your financial support is a crucial component to ongoing success.

Please Give Today > divinity.yale.edu/giving

Journal Issue #4 Fall 2018

Enjoy this year’s issue of Edwardseana. The fourth edition features the Book of the Year, The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia, a feature article about the new Jonathan Edwards Center, and more. Learn more in this fourth installment.

Read past issues or download this year’s volume on the Edwardseana webpage.

2019 Graduate Student Paper Competition

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity (jecteds.org) is pleased to announce this year’s annual paper competition for graduate students. Papers must focus on Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), his contexts, or his legacies, and must be written mainly in English. They may be submitted, however, by graduate students from anywhere, working in any major academic discipline. Each year’s winner will receive a cash prize of $1,000 (U.S.) and guaranteed publication in Jonathan Edwards Studies. Submissions are due by May 15. The winners will be announced by August 1.

Further details may be found below. Please share this announcement with your colleagues. Queries and submissions should be directed to Professor Douglas A. Sweeney (dsweeney@tiu.edu).

Happy writing, and good luck!

Eligibility

  • All full- and part-time graduate students from anywhere in the world are eligible to participate.
  • Papers must focus on Jonathan Edwards, his contexts, or his legacies.
  • Papers must be original, and not pledged elsewhere.

Guidelines

  • Papers should be of superior, publishable quality, and should follow the Author Guidelines published in Jonathan Edwards Studies, available at: jestudies.yale.edu.
  • Papers must be written in English.
  • Papers must be readable in Microsoft Word.
  • Papers must be received no later than May 15.

Awards

  • Cash prize of $1,000 (U.S.)
  • Guaranteed publication in Jonathan Edwards Studies.
  • The winner will be announced on August 1.

Papers will be assessed by a committee led by Professor Douglas A. Sweeney, Director, Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS, and including the other global Jonathan Edwards Center directors.

Please direct queries and submissions to Doug Sweeney (dsweeney@tiu.edu).