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