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Archive for March, 2013

Dissertation Note: “Rhetoric of the Revival: A Pragma-Rhetorical Analysis of the Language of the Great Awakening Preachers”

Michał Choiński’s dissertation “Rhetoric of the Revival: A Pragma-Rhetorical Analysis of the Language of the Great Awakening Preachers”, completed at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, aims to analyze the “rhetoric of revival” in ten New England revival sermons from 1739 to 1745. Using the academic methodology of rhetoric, the author unpacks the “mechanisms of rhetoric and the persuasive use of language” employed by several well known preachers of the First Great Awakening including George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennant, Jonathan Parsons, and Andrew Croswell.

The study is organized into three parts: methodology, cultural and historical background, and sermon analysis. In first chapter, Choiński defines the scope of rhetoric, he selectively reviews the history of rhetoric including the classic taxonomy or the “canon of rhetoric”: inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and pronunciatio. Combined with traditional rhetorical analysis, he utilizes the relatively new approach to rhetoric called the pragmatic approach defined as the “relations of signs to interpreters.”

Chapter two delivers an admirable historical and cultural overview of New England as it relates to the Great Awakening and to the subjects of his study. The author walks the reader through preaching practices in Puritan New England from 1620 to the dawn of the Awakening. He also considers the phenomenon of the Great Awakening from an historical standpoint and surveys some of the key historical interpretations. The author strikes a cautious but sympathetic tone in his treatment of his controversial topic. In the end, the author agrees that there was a general spiritual awakening in New England in the 1740s rather than a constructed or invented phenomenon on the basis of a few pockets of revival.

Chapter three, the bulk of the dissertation, is devoted to the analysis of ten sermons which the author selected to demonstrate the rhetorical range of material that was produced in the Great Awakening. His work here is largely composed of rhetorical commentary upon each of the sermons. The selections are Whitefield’s What Think Ye of Christ?, Abraham’s Offering Up His Son Isaac, The Lord Our Righteousness, The Conversion of Zaccheus, Jonathan Edwards’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable, and The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Gilbert Tennent’s The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry, Jonathan Parsons’s A Needful Caution in a Critical Day, and Andrew Croswell’s The Apostle’s Advice to the Jaylor Improved. A brief conclusion summarizes the findings concerning each of preachers. Concerning Edwards in particular, He observed “intricate rhetorical mechanisms” and “highly elaborate imagery and structured argumentation” as well as extended metaphors.

This dissertation will be useful for specialists who interested in the construction and delivery of revival sermons, especially concerning the preaching of the Great Awakening. The author’s expertise is in rhetoric, so his main contributions lie in that domain. A second group who may be helped by this dissertation are pastors who have formal training in rhetoric. These pastors could find sermon inspiration in this analysis of the “rhetoric of revival.” To be sure, this study’s aim is to describe the main rhetorical features of the selected sermons. While Choiński does pay close attention to the primary source materials in his study, he does not marshal any significant argument concerning the “rhetoric of revival.”

— Daniel Cooley, Senior Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Edwards on Prayer

bookBrian G. Najapfour, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer (Caledonia, MI: Biblical Spirituality Press, 2013).

This booklet featuring Edwards’ best-known statements on Christian prayer will surely be cherished by many Reformed evangelicals. It is published by the author’s own ministry in Michigan. A Philippino native, Najapfour came to the United States in 2006 for graduate work at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He is currently the pastor of United Reformed Church in Caledonia, MI, an avid blogger (biblicalspirituality.wordpress.com) and spiritual writer.

This work has five brief chapters on Edwards’ view and practice of prayer; an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources on Edwards and prayer; an appendix of excerpts from Edwards’ correspondence on prayer (which also includes a snippet on prayer from Edwards’ eulogy for the short-lived missionary, David Brainerd); another appendix on the prayerful friendship of Edwards’ daughter Esther Edwards Burr and Sarah Prince; and a concluding prayer by Trevin Wax (another avid blogger and spiritual writer) adapted from many of Edwards’ famous “Resolutions.”

Those who want a comprehensive treatment of Edwards’ approach to prayer should consult Peter Beck, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Prayer (Joshua Press, 2010). But Christians looking for a brief, inspiring booklet on the subject can do no better than this work by Pastor Najapfour.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: A Reinterpretation?

Kyle Strobe: Jonathan Edwards's Theology: A ReinterpretationKyle C. Strobel, Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation, T & T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

Kyle Strobel is quickly becoming one of the most prolific scholars working on Edwards’ thought today. And this revised version of Strobel’s Aberdeen dissertation is his most important work on Edwards to date.

Strobel’s overarching argument is that Edwards worked primarily as a Reformed theologian whose doctrine of God and of the Trinity funded a “theocentric vision of reality,” which, in turn, became the primary force in Edwards’ thought (p. 2). Strobel supports this contention using four key points: “First, Edwards’s theology begins with God, in his eternal life as Trinity, as the ontological principle which grounds his systematic task. Second, Edwards begins ‘from eternity’ and then ‘descends’ to address God’s work in time, or, in other words, God’s economic movement to create and sustain. Third, this work in time is the work of redemption, directing the ‘revolutions in the world’ and guiding it toward resurrection, judgement and consummation. Fourth and finally, Edwards’s theology is a theology of redemptive history, grounded in and formed by the God who is redeeming, or more specifically, the God who redeems in, through and as Christ” (4).

In three main sections, Strobel treats Edwards’ doctrine of the Trinity (section one), Edwards’ view of God’s purpose in the creation of the world (section two), and Edwards’ Trinitarian doctrine of redemption (section three). Along the way, he seeks “to trace the ‘metanarrative’ of Edwards’s theology” (p. 12), a storyline that shaped nearly everything he wrote.

On its surface, Strobel’s argument appears rather commonplace, largely unexceptional to those who know Edwards. But as Strobel makes clear, he has offered it in contradiction to Sang Lee and others (especially McClymond and McDermott) who follow Lee’s view of Edwards’ philosophical theology. Strobel thinks these scholars misconstrue Edwards’ thought by portraying it, not in terms of Trinitarian dogma, but of late modern philosophy. Strobel thinks his synthesis accounts for Edwards better, offering a more comprehensive and coherent view of Edwards’ grand vision of God and the world (p. 232).

I agree that Strobel’s Edwards is more accurate than Lee’s. There is little new here. Strobel rehearses sources and themes treated well by many others. He exaggerates the extent to which his argument is novel. He exaggerates his differences with McClymond, McDermott, and others–seeming to relish his confession that, “in this volume I ‘go after’ almost everyone!” (p. xi). Still, he does provide a fine way of making sense of Edwards’ thought in systematic terms. I cannot think of another text that handles Edwards better in relation to dogmatic debates about the nature of God.

Northampton Edwards conference: “Jonathan Edwards: An American Apocalyptic Prophet”

John Martin, The Last Judgement

John Martin, The Last Judgement

Jonathan Edwards is an apocalyptic prophet, not so much as a prognosticator but as a revealer of what lies hidden.  Edwards discerned the trends of events of his own time and place and viewed them sub specie aeternitatis.  Since then some of these trends have gathered momentum and come to fruition in our own day.  The framework of Edwards’ world-view is radically eschatological.  He interprets the course of human and natural events as tending inexorably towards a future denouement in the form of the establishment of God’s postmillennial kingdom on earth.  His conceptions of history and nature are teleological.  Edwards conceives of history as a divine comedy.  Though history has its periodic tragic regressions when its wheels seem to turn backwards, its overreaching arc is towards a postmillennial denouement.  The locus classicus of Edwards’ eschatology, together with its attendant philosophy of history, is his History of the Work of Redemption, an updating of Augustine’s City of the God. This was to be a new kind of divinity written in an historical key.  It would have been Edwards’ theological summa had it not remained unfinished at his death.  Edwards’ postmillennialism lodged in the American psyche and took a secular turn in the nineteenth century when it gave rise to fictional utopias (Bellamy’s Looking Backward) and dystopias (Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance) as well as utopian social experiments like Brookfarm.

As might be expected of one who took the bird’s-eye view of history and discerned deeper historical trends, Edwards pronounced jeremiads on his own social-political milieu with its emergent mercantile economy based upon the unregulated pursuit of self-interest.  He diagnosed this cultural malaise as a symptom of Arminianism which in all its forms he strenuously opposed throughout his life.  He understood that forms of self-determination, individually and collectively, which were not consonant with the will of God or an expression of disinterested benevolence to general being are nothing less than demonic and doomed.  On one reading (Alan Heimert’s) Edwards, as a fomenter of the Great Awakening that prepared the way for the American Revolution, is a prophet of the American capitalist-republican polity.  On an alternative reading he is more rightly regarded as an American Jonah who stands in stark judgment on the American cult of self-reliance (Arminianism again) as represented paradigmatically by Edwards’ contemporary and nemesis, Benjamin Franklin; indeed, Franklin had the victory over the American mind.

The focus of this conference is the light that Edwards sheds on contemporary social, political and economic movements.  The conference will consider which of these Edwards would have approved and those he would not have.  In brief, the purpose of this conference hopes to bring an Edwardsean perspective on, among other things, the many conflicts that have riven contemporary society, the crises that seem endemic to it, but also those things boding well for the future.  This perspective need not be narrowly sectarian.  The conference encourages applying the spirit, if not the letter, of Edwards to interpreting the present age.

Papers need not be confined to Edwards alone.  They may be concerned with other, later thinkers or even your own reflections on these matters.  The only criterion is that the papers be informed by an Edwardsean perspective broadly conceived.

SOME SUGGESTED TOPICS:

  • Edwards’ eschatology and philosophy of history
  • Edwards’ eschatology in its historical context
  • Arminianism
  • American utopian and dystopian literature
  • Utopian social experiments
  • The social, political, and economic context of Edwards’ thought
  • Contemporary cultural trends in light of Edwards’ eschatology and ethics.

Please e-mail your papers or abstracts to me in Microsoft Word format no later than September 1st, 2013.  The papers should be geared to a reading time of 20 to 30 minutes.

DATE:  Thursday, October 3rd through Saturday, October 5th, 2013

LOCATION:  The First Churches, Northampton, Massachusetts