From the JEC Blog

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology

Adriaan C. Neele, Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

BeforeJonathanEdwardsThe title of this book is a riff on the title of a book that Oliver Crisp and I published with the same press seven years ago, After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology. Its author, Adriaan Neele, is a long-time friend and colleague, one whose labors for the Edwards Center at Yale gave birth to the Edwards Center here (and the rest of the Edwards Centers outside New Haven).

Neele’s premise is a good one: we cannot understand the historical significance of the “courses” of Edwardsean theology after Edwards—at least not sufficiently—without understanding their “sources” in the “trajectories” of Reformed scholastic thought. Neele’s work, then, examines these Calvinist “trajectories,” their roots in older forms of scholastic theology, and their bearing on the work of the sage of Northampton.

Inasmuch as Edwards never wrote a comprehensive synthesis, Neele notes further, reading him “is like listening to an unfinished symphony.” But by reading him together “with the complete ‘symphonies’ of post-Reformation systematic theology . . . one may hear a more extended composition of European continental thought resonating in Edwards’ work” (pp. viii-ix).

The Edwards who emerges from this study of his forebears in Reformed Orthodoxy is, not surprisingly, more traditional and theological than the one usually featured by American historians. He is also more invested in early modern European intellectual endeavors—especially those performed in ecclesiastical Latin—in relation to which Edwards shows both strong continuities and largely underappreciated discontinuities.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

Preface

Introduction: Early New England and the Early Modern Era

Chapter 1: Jonathan Edwards and the Protestant Scholastics

Chapter 2: Sources of Christian Homiletics

Chapter 3: Sources of Biblical Exegesis: An Ecumenical Enterprise

Chapter 4: Sources for the Formulation of Doctrine: Continuity and Discontinuity?

Chapter 5: Sources of History as Theology

Conclusion and Prospects

And here is my endorsement on the book’s back cover:

“Neele’s encyclopedic treatment of one of the most important sources of Jonathan Edwards’ New England Theology is must reading for specialists in early modern Protestant thought. Building upon his earlier work on the Dutchman Peter van Mastricht, Neele has laid out and summarized the Latinate Reformed bibliography in Edwards’ world, demonstrated continuities and discontinuities between Edwards and the work of his Reformed antecedents, and thus underscored Edwards’ place in early modern Western Christian intellectual history. This will be an essential handbook for scholars like me for years to come.”

This book is not so much a demonstration of which sources we know that Edwards used and how he used them (though Neele offers some discussion of individual texts—by van Mastricht, William Perkins, Matthew Poole, and others—and their roles in Edwards’ work) as a portrait of its subject among the leading practitioners of Reformed scholasticism, a portrait that situates Edwards in a world more European, classical, and biblical-theological than the one taken for granted by most of his interpreters.

Neele’s prose will prove difficult for some readers to follow, but the gains are worth the effort. Highly recommended.

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards

Owen Strachan, Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).

Strachan_AlwaysInGodsHandsUnder normal circumstances, we do not post booknotes on devotional material. But in this case, the material comes largely from Edwards (in conjunction with the Bible). So we thought that our readers might want to hear about it, whether or not they share Edwards’ faith or keep daily devotions.

For every day of the year, Strachan offers here a single-page, spiritual reflection based on a passage from Edwards and appended with some Scripture (most often a single verse tied to that day’s theme).

This is not a scholarly resource. It is aimed at those for whom Edwards is a “home boy,” and who might wear the t-shirt. Put more seriously, it is aimed at Reformed evangelicals who use church history for spiritual edification.

Christmas present anyone?

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality

Gerald R. McDermott, Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018).

McDermott_EverydayGloryThis is not a book on Edwards. Nor does it offer original research into Edwards or his context. But it is written by one of the best Edwards scholars at work today, and offers fascinating reflections on the nature of reality from an Edwardsean perspective.

“Many years ago,” McDermott writes, he “happened upon a notebook” Edwards kept throughout his life. “He titled [it] ‘Images of Divine Things.’ In this notebook, now about eighty-five pages, Edwards jotted notes on the resemblances to the Triune God and his ways that he saw in the world around him.” McDermott “was immediately enthralled,” he confesses.

This notebook opened a whole new world to me. I began to see beauty and riches in the stars above and the world beneath and pointers to gospel truths in multiple dimensions of reality. Later when I started to explore the history of Christian thought, I discovered that this Edwardsean way of seeing the world was not uncommon in previous Christian theology. In fact, it was the norm (p. vii).

It has since been lost, though, at least to most moderns. Everyday Glory is an effort to recover it.

Here is a look at the table of contents, which provides a sure sense as to the scale of what McDermott calls his “typological” vision (taken from Edwards’ understanding of the “types”/pointers/emblems of divinity around us):

Chapter 1. Recovering a Lost Vision
Chapter 2. The Bible: A World of Types, Keys to Types in All the Worlds
Chapter 3. Nature: Sermons in Stones
Chapter 4. Science: The Wonder of the Universe
Chapter 5. Law: The Moral Argument
Chapter 6. History: Images of God in the Histories of Peoples
Chapter 7. Animals: The Zoological World Bursting with Signs
Chapter 8. Sex: The Language of the Body
Chapter 9. Sports: Its Agonies and Ecstasies
Chapter 10. World Religions: So Similar and Yet So Different
Chapter 11. A New World: Believing Is Seeing
Appendix: Theological Objections–Luther and Barth

Those not interested in theology may struggle with this book. It is written in a clear style, accessible to all. But its message is counterintuitive. As I wrote in an endorsement:

The ‘natural’ world McDermott describes is the world I want to inhabit—and sometimes do. Profound faith is required of those who want to live there constantly, far more faith than most moderns are able to muster every day. But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear its wondrous beauty, it is gleaming with an eternal weight of glory that exceeds our paltry efforts to reproduce, abstract, or counteract it. It enchants the bodily senses—and awakens the spiritual senses— with its still-too elusive satisfactions.

Taste and see.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Vanity Fair and the Celestial City

Isabel Rivers, Vanity Fair and the Celestial City: Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Isabel_RiversThose who judge books by their titles may have failed to appreciate that this one deals extensively with Edwards and his world. It explores the publications written, edited, abridged, and promoted by evangelicals in eighteenth-century England. And Edwards was an eighteenth-century Englishman, remember, a colonist who read and even wrote many publications treated in these pages.

A Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture at Queen Mary University of London, Isabel Rivers also directs the Dissenting Academies Project hosted by the Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English. She is one of the leading authorities on the literary culture that shaped the life and work of Edwards.

The title of her book is taken from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, whose pilgrims have to pass through Vanity Fair, a tourist trap full of commercial temptations, to reach their final destination, Celestial City, the heavenly New Jerusalem. Rivers uses Bunyan’s allegory to indicate a paradox that saturates her book. “On one hand, Pilgrim’s Progress, like so many books of its kind, advocates rejection of this world for the sake of the next, using the metaphor of trade. On the other hand, the phenomenal success of such books in the eighteenth century depended on a number of worldly factors, clearly interrelated, including the expansion of the book trade, the growth of the population, the increase of literacy, and better conditions for travel and commerce, both within the British Isles and Europe and also between Europe and North America” (p. 2). She is interested, of course, in her subjects’ spirituality, but focuses her story on the “worldly factors” instead, asking questions about their bearing on evangelical religion and the literary lives of early English evangelicals.

Her book has three parts. Part I, “Books and Their Readers” (pp. 9-117), treats the publishing, marketing, and reception of religious books in eighteenth-century England. Part II, “Sources” (pp. 121-209), deals with the re-publication of older works in this period. And Part III, “Literary Kinds” (pp. 213-389), catalogues the different genres most important to its book trade (Bibles, commentaries, sermons, devotional guides, exemplary lives, journals, hymns, poems, etc.). Rivers mentions over 200 writers altogether, offering detailed discussions of her subjects’ favorite books. Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, John Wesley, and John Newton were the most popular authors in eighteenth-century England. But Edwards and his mentee David Brainerd also proved to be consistent best sellers.

Edwards appears throughout the book, but mainly in chapter 7, “North American Connexions” (pp. 183-209), particularly in the section of that chapter devoted to him (pp. 186-93). Rivers writes of Edwards and Brainerd, “they were the source of considerable disagreement among their British readers, but they were of crucial importance in different ways to the religious and literary heritage of Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Scottish Presbyterians, and Church of England evangelicals” (pp. 185-86). They were even more important in the North American colonies.

Rivers does not interpret Edwards in relation to church history, English intellectual culture, or Protestant theology. But she does better than anyone at placing him in the context of the history of the book trade and the reading lives of Christians in eighteenth-century England. Vanity Fair and the Celestial City offers a masterful, England-centered complement to Jonathan Yeager’s Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture.