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Archive for September, 2014

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards, the Psalms, and the History of Redemption

Editor’s note: The Jonathan Edwards Center thanks Professor Gerald McDermott for this note on a new monograph by Trinity’s David Barshinger, a student of Douglas Sweeney and former Book Review Editor and Senior Fellow here.

David P. Barshinger, Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms: A Redemptive-Historical Vision of Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014)

This is the closest look at Edwards’s actual use of Scripture to date.  Only two scholars have produced book-length analyses of Edwards’s use of Scripture.  Robert Brown studied Edwards’s interaction with nascent biblical criticism, and Doug Sweeney did a rather short evaluation of Edwards’s ministry with the written word (Sweeney is now completing a major study, also for OUP, of Edwards’s use of the Bible).  But until Barshinger’s new volume, nothing had yet appeared that focused scholarly attention at length and in detail on Edwards’s actual use of Scripture.  Now we have a careful and close study of Edwards’s use of his favorite book—if favorite means the one he cited the most.

Barshinger does an excellent job in this study.  It will be a boost to Edwards scholarship.  It is thorough, incisive, and well-written.  It will be read carefully by Edwards scholars, cited often, and will be attractive to a wide swath of other readers who are interested in Edwards—and their number seems to be growing annually.

One special aspect of this volume is its deep research in the Reformed treatment of the Psalms, so that readers can compare Edwards to Matthew Henry, for example, in a myriad of ways and in depth.  The footnotes alone are exceedingly helpful to a wide range of scholars in historical theology, the history of preaching, and the Reformed tradition.  But Edwards scholars interested in how America’s theologian was influenced by his favorite Reformed Bible commentators—Henry, Poole, and Mastricht—can also go to the index and see every place (and they are legion) where Barshinger shows these commentators’ influence on our theologian.

Better yet, Barshinger has included a separate index for references to Scripture passages, including the psalms.  Scholars and preachers will now be able to look up what Edwards had to say on this or that verse in other books in his preaching on Psalms, and more importantly, how he dealt with every important passage in the Psalms.  An index is of course necessary for this.  This alone is worth the price of this book.

Finally, the conclusion is helpful because it compares Edwards’s use of the psalms to the ways they were interpreted in the history of theological exegesis.  Barshinger also notes how he tweaked his inherited Reformed tradition.

In short, the publication of this book is great news for Edwards scholarship, preachers, and everyone who wants to get inside the head of one of the greatest expositors of Scripture in the last two thousand years.

Gerald McDermott
Roanoke College
Co-author, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards – Christian Biographies for Young Readers

Simonetta Carr, Jonathan Edwards, with illustrations by Matt Abraxas, Christian Biographies for Young Readers (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014)

JEdwardsThis lovely children’s book would make a wonderful Christmas present for elementary-school-age boys and girls. It is written in an age-appropriate manner by a Sunday school teacher, and illustrated beautifully with original artwork, a map, a timeline, and reproductions of artifacts from Edwards’ world (even a new portrait of the gaunt, older Edwards by our friend Oliver Crisp). It tells the story of Edwards’ life in a sweet, sensitive tone on glossy, coffee-table-quality materials. The author has done her homework and has told her story well, consulting with Ken Minkema, Oliver Crisp, Darryl Hart, and other leading scholars as she wrote.

People who don’t like Calvinism may not like this book (for it presents Edwards’ Calvinist perspective uncritically), but Reformed Christian families will likely treasure it for generations to come.

Jonathan Edwards Congress 2015: Call For Papers

Jonathan Edwards Congress 2015 LogoThe Jonathan Edwards Center at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia will be hosting the 2015 Jonathan Edwards Congress (Aug 24-28). Rhys Bezzant, director of the Ridley College Center and friend to the TEDS Jonathan Edwards Center, has issued a call for papers. This event’s theme is “The Global Edwards” and the program promises an accomplished lineup of keynote speakers including our very own Doug Sweeney. The links below contain additional details.

Call for Papers

Conference Registration

Sweeney’s Booknotes: George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014)

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of George Whitefield (1714-1770) and historians have been making hay in the tercentennial sunshine. Academics have been gathering to commemorate Whitefield in places like Pembroke College, Oxford (where Whitefield went to school), Cape Town, South Africa (at George Whitefield College) and, closer to home, Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The most important fruit of their labors comes from our friend, Tommy Kidd, whose new monograph on Whitefield is about to be released.

Some will know Professor Kidd as the author of other books on eighteenth-century America: God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution; Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots; and The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America.

Others will know him as an historian who blogs about religion and its relevance today at The Anxious Bench.

Less learned folks may know that Kidd appeared on Glenn Beck (the former conservative TV program on the Fox News Channel) to share his knowledge about Whitefield. Here’s a recording of his appearance and a transcript.

Much like Whitefield himself, Kidd is a skillful media maven with a knack for plain speech. Though his books are erudite, they are also clearly written and remarkably even-handed. Kidd is certainly not the first to write a book about Whitefield. His does not offer a great deal of new information. But it does provide a calm and comprehensive presentation of an evangelical star—not an easy thing to do–who maintained a long friendship with Edwards.

Most of his predecessors have taken fire for either over-identifying with Whitefield’s spirituality or explaining it away as a product of his own social and psychological history. As Kidd has confessed in his book’s introduction:

Writing biographies, and writing religious biographies in particular, presents significant challenges. The temptation to write hagiography—the biography of a pristine saint—is ever present. In placing Whitefield within the new evangelical world, I am not offering an unsullied picture of a sanctified man, nor is my primary aim to edify readers spiritually. Yet historians today know that none of us is fully objective—personal perspectives matter. So let me admit it up front: I have a high regard for Whitefield. I identify personally with the religious movement he helped start. Yet I hope that I have also been fair to his critics and transparent about his obvious failings as a man and minister (3-4).

This kind of honesty and clarity have enabled Kidd to write a book on Whitefield for everyone—fans of Glenn Beck and supporters of the Clintons, home schoolers and cosmopolitans, evangelicals and their critics. It deserves a wide readership.

If you want to know more, join us at Dr. Kidd’s lecture in our Jonathan Edwards Center, Wednesday, October 29, 1pm, in Hinkson Hall, “George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and the Eighteenth-Century Calvinist Network.”