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Archive for January, 2016

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Unified Operations of the Human Soul

Jeffrey C. Waddington, The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2015)

RESOURCE_TemplateThis is the published version of Waddington’s dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. An
Orthodox Presbyterian minister near Philly, Waddington also serves as Secretary of the Reformed Forum, an organization that has done good work on Edwards over the years. His book concerns itself with Edwards’ theological anth
ropology and its bearing on Edwards’ work in the field of apologetics.

Waddington’s thesis is that the late John Gerstner (1914-1996) was wrong to classify Edwards as a “classical” apologist. Gerstner should have seen that Edwards’ doctrine of humanity was too Augustinian, indeed Calvinistic, to yield a “classical” defense of Christian faith.

Gerstner spoke at times about three kinds of apologists in early church history, distinguished from one another by their views of the relation between philosophy and theology. “There is the rejection of any interaction,” Waddington explains, “arguably exemplified in Tertullian. Then there is Augustine’s perspective in which philosophy serves as the handmaid of theology providing conceptual tools. Finally there is the view of Thomas Aquinas in which philosophy has its own legitimacy apart from its role as handmaiden to theology. In fact, philosophy provides the foundation upon which theology is built” (pp. 23-24). This last, Thomistic view is the so-called “classical” view.

In Waddington’s estimation, “classical” apologists are too rationalistic, too dependent on a “hierarchical faculty psychology,” too soft on the noetic consequences of the fall, and too Catholic on the relationship between nature and grace to include the likes of Edwards. The author stops short of calling Edwards a “presuppositionalist,” for eighteenth-century scholars never wore that modern label, designed as it was by Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and his followers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster Seminary, and related institutions—but he clearly thinks that Edwards would have chosen this label over “classical” if pressed.

“Edwards was not a presuppositionalist apologist born out of season,” Waddington admits in a paragraph that gives the reader a sense of his overall argument and delivery. “However, there are areas of overlap that seem to have escaped the notice of John Gerstner. It is this writer’s view that major advances have occurred in the field of apologetics since the time of Edwards. One such advance is the self-conscious nature of the discipline. It is not as if apologists from the different schools do things absolutely differently. That is surely not the case. But we are better off being sensitive to epistemological issues and how the Scriptures bear on these. Edwards may have used some classical arguments in his apologetic endeavors, but he lacks the zeal for the classical method that Gerstner himself evidenced. What’s more, Edwards does in fact show some leanings in a presuppositional direction. But that is not surprising. Inasmuch as he was a Reformed theologian he would manifest such things” (p. 227).

In his effort to create distance between Edwards and less Calvinistic “classical” apologists, Waddington paints a rather unflattering portrait of Aquinas and his ilk on philosophy and theology, reason and revelation, and, indeed, nature and grace–one in which very few late-modern Thomists would see themselves. (In a section on the history of the donum superadditum, he claims that the goal of human fellowship with God is “an optional extra” for them, and that for Edwards, by contrast, “there is no sense that fallen man can function adequately” without the gift of the Spirit [p. 75–both claims are false.]) But in the main, this is a helpful look at Christian anthropology, Christian apologetics, and Edwards’ place within them.

I highly recommend this book for Reformed Protestants and others interested in Reformed apologetics.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The First Great Awakening: Redefining Religion in British America, 1725-1775

John Howard Smith, The First Great Awakening: Redefining Religion in British America, 1725-1775 (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015)

9781611477146_bigThis important new history of the eighteenth-century revivals offers what Smith calls “a secular interpretation” of the phenomena (p. x). Or as this history teacher at Texas A&M University-Commerce claims throughout the book, this is a reinterpretation of the first Great Awakening and its role in charging American national culture with a lively current of fractious, supernaturalistic, and even mystical piety—a current that helped to catalyze the War of Independence and then characterized much of the new nation’s Christianity.

Smith contends that previous books on the eighteenth-century revivals take for granted an all-too-narrow Anglo-Protestant frame of reference. However, in Smith’s retelling, both African and Native religions contribute to their outcomes, as do a longer and more diverse cast of characters (German, Dutch, and female characters, especially).

Smith features Jonathan Edwards most clearly in chapter four, “‘A Glorious Work of God’s Infinite Power’: Jonathan Edwards and Revivalism in New England, 1734-1741.” But Edwards appears in other places in the narrative as well, looking rather more conflicted over the work of radical New Lights than traditional interpreters have made him out to be. In spite of Edwards’ “reputation for being a moderate,” says Smith, he “nevertheless endorsed some of the more radical expressions of evangelicalism. Recent reexaminations of his own written works paint a slightly different picture of him—one that does not exactly conform to the consistently even-tempered New Light found in the pages of most accounts of the Awakening” (p. 152).

Smith sensationalizes evangelical faith and fervor frequently, majoring in the most exotic tales told by Old Light opponents of the Awakening. He notes “a subsequent rash of suicides” in the wake of Joseph Hawley’s death in 1735, though we have no actual evidence of any more suicides in Edwards’ neck of the woods during that devastating year (p. 99: suicidal thoughts, yes, and one earlier attempt; suicidal deaths, no). He features Old Light claims regarding New Light eroticism, claiming that “many New Side and New Light ministers” were accused of “having fornicated with enamored female adherents and even to have fathered bastard children” (p. 163: a few accusations, yes; many accusations, no). He asserts matter-of-factly that “women in the Old Testament are little more than servants and instruments of Satan—irrational, undeserving of honor or respect, and responsible for the Fall” (p. 167: where to begin?). And he refers to the era’s evangelical Calvinism as a form of “fundamentalism” (pp. 57, 265, 296, and elsewhere: a twentieth-century label from a very different world). Maneuvers like this may attract undergraduates, but they leave such students misinformed about the past.

Though not as accurate or helpful theologically as Noll or Kidd, Smith does incorporate a broader array of contextual material than anyone. His book is not as new as he says (as attested by his excellent use of the best recent scholarship on eighteenth-century America). But it is the most comprehensive single-volume interpretation of the first Great Awakening to date.