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Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Cambridge Companion to Reformed Theology

Paul T. Nimmo and David A. S. Fergusson, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Reformed Theology, Cambridge Companions to Religion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 360 pp. $34.99/£19.99.

CambridgeCompanionReformedTheologyThis new addition to the well-known series of Cambridge Companions—one of which, published ten years ago, focused on Edwards—treats the origins, development, and significance of Reformed theology around the world. Both of its editors are Scottish Presbyterian academics. Nimmo teaches theology at the University of Aberdeen. Fergusson does the same at the University of Edinburgh.

The volume has three parts (see the table of contents below). Part One, “Theological Topics,” addresses key themes, “instincts and impulses” (5) that contributed to the emergence of Reformed theology. Part Two, “Theological Figures,” examines an assortment of especially influential Reformed doctors of the church. Part Three, “Theological Contexts,” looks at some of the most important settings (historical and geographical) in which Reformed theology has been pursued by proponents.

Edwards is discussed at length in two of the book’s chapters: the first in Part Two, by Oliver Crisp, “Jonathan Edwards”; the second in Part Three, by James Bratt, “Reformed Theology in North America.”

Crisp’s chapter (148-62) presents Edwards as a “constructive” theologian, Reformed, to be sure, but also eccentric and entrepreneurial. “Edwards is most certainly a Reformed theologian of the first rank,” he writes, “and the most influential theologian yet to appear on the American continent. Nevertheless, he was not a confessional theologian in the mold of Hodge, who famously remarked that no new doctrine had been taught at Princeton during his tenure. Edwards was not concerned merely to transmit a tradition, or to reiterate certain confessional standards. . . . He was a constructive theologian who did not appeal to tradition, but Scripture, and ‘called no man father’—not even John Calvin” (149). Consequently, Crisp continues, he contributed significantly (though also rather oddly) to the history of Christian thought, especially in the areas of “divine and human freedom, original sin, the Trinity, personal eschatology, theological aesthetics, theological ethics, religious psychology, and hagiography” (151). He never fancied himself a maverick. But “his intellectual project could be characterized as an attempt to re-envision Reformed theology using aspects of early Enlightenment philosophy” (150).

Bratt’s chapter (269-84) also presents Edwards mainly as an innovator, a thinker bent on a project of “radical reconstruction” (270) that, in the years since his death, may have done more harm than good. “He intended his work to rearticulate classic Calvinism in a voice fit for the age,” Bratt underscores with Crisp, “so as to dispel the enlightened delusions of the time.” He also sought to interpret the phenomena of revival. And “the result was a theology with distinctive markers: the controlling place he gave the affections and his all-or-nothing polarization between holiness and ungodliness there; his distinction between the natural freedom and the moral bondage of the will; his argument, respecting original sin, that God conceived of all humanity as organically present . . . in Adam; the strong polarity he drew between self-love, however generously cast, and the disinterested benevolence God demands; and the idealist metaphysics that held that the universe and every particular it contains were not just created but were sustained in being every moment by the active mind of God. Finally, Edwards’s system was pervaded by an aesthetic sensibility. The believer’s new disposition, he averred, would find God’s work ‘sweet,’ and would ‘relish’ it beyond all measure, as the gravity holding together the cosmos of God’s will was love” (271). Edwards’ disciples, Bratt continues in a manner reminiscent of complaints at Old Princeton and among the neo-orthodox, turned his theocentric piety into a grasping moralism, accommodating old-fashioned Calvinism further to the spirit of a now-more democratic age. And in the twenty-first century, Bratt concludes caustically, Edwards appeals most famously “to people left hungry by the evangelical bromides of their upbringing and also, clearly, to young ambitious males who aspire to a heroic spirituality and vehemently reject feminism, the sexual revolution, and everything thereunto pertaining” (283).

There are no surprises here, as Crisp and Bratt interpret Edwards in accordance with their earlier work on Reformed Christianity. But as a result, this volume is a useful bellwether of leading interpretations of Edwards and Reformed thought today. Those who don’t like these views can follow Edwards’ own example, study tirelessly, and enter the conversation.

Table of Contents

  1. “Introduction,” Paul T. Nimmo and David A. S. Fergusson

Part I. Theological Topics

  1. “Scripture,” J. Todd Billings
    3. “Confessions,” Michael Allen
    4. “Election,” Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer
    5. “Christology,” Bruce L. McCormack
    6. “Sacraments,” Paul T. Nimmo
    7. “The Christian Life,” Cynthia L. Rigby

Part II. Theological Figures

  1. “Huldrych Zwingli,” Peter Opitz
    9. “John Calvin,” Randall C. Zachman
    10. “Jonathan Edwards,” Oliver D. Crisp
    11. “Friedrich Schleiermacher,” Kevin W. Hector
    12. “Karl Barth,” Michael Beintker

Part III. Theological Contexts

  1. “Reformed Theology and Puritanism,” Susan Hardman Moore
    14. “Reformed Theology and Scholasticism,” Dolf te Velde
    15. “Reformed Theology in Continental Europe,” Eberhard Busch
    16. “Reformed Theology in the British Isles,” David A. S. Fergusson
    17. “Reformed Theology in North America,” James D. Bratt
    18. “Reformed Theology in Africa,” Isabel Apawo Phiri
    19. “Reformed Theology in Asia and Oceania,” Sung Bihn Yim, Alexander Chow, Yasuhiro Sekikawa, and Geoff Thompson
    20. “Reformed Theology, Mission, and Ecumenism,” Darrell L. Guder.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Rhetoric of the Revival

Michał Choiński. The Rhetoric of the Revival: The Language of the Great Awakening Preachers, New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016. 212 pp. $100/£68.

ChoinskiThis insightful monograph by a young Polish scholar, Michał Choiński (a professor of American literature and culture at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland), marks the beginning of a new series of cutting-edge books published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies. Edited by Kenneth P. Minkema and Adriaan C. Neele, this series will feature new scholarship on Edwards and his world. Its second volume, by Philip Fisk (an alumnus of TEDS), should appear in a few months.

Choiński’s book is organized in three parts. Part One sketches the history of rhetoric both in general and as background against which the composition of sermons during New England’s Great Awakening is interpreted as discourse. Part Two treats the historical and cultural context of the Awakening itself, describing its emergence over three generations (that of the so-called “Pilgrim Fathers,” the “sustainers” of the New England way, and Enlightenment-era descendants who reformed Puritan preaching for more modern churchgoers). Part Three analyzes ten rhetorically different sermons preached by six different preachers from 1739 to 1745 in New England and its environs. Choiński examines public performances by George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Parsons, Jonathan Dickinson, and Andrew Croswell, featuring talks that represent a diversity of rhetorical styles and highlight the preachers’ strengths and idiosyncrasies.

The author combines a traditional rhetorical analysis of these sermons and their structure with a modern pragmatic interpretation of their effects (based on the speech-act theories of J. L. Austin, H. P. Grice, and John Searle). He is interested not only in their oratorical aspects, but also in the things that preachers accomplished with these sermons as they spoke them in particular cultural contexts.  “By paying attention to the language-related phenomena,” he writes, “we can arrive at a much deeper understanding of colonial religious thought. This book attempts to pursue this very topic—it surveys the stylistic and persuasive aspects of the language of the Great Awakening and examines the minutiae of the sermons of its important preachers” (9). Another aim, Choiński continues, “is to understand the mechanisms of rhetoric and the persuasive use of language in New England in the mid-18th century, a period which constituted an important stage in the evolution of oratory in America” (10).

Choiński claims that the words of his Great Awakening preachers “had a fantastic, almost magical power” on listeners (9). Their rhetoric, moreover, revolutionized America (or at least American speech), producing a lasting effect on modern religion, politics, and media. Or as the author makes this point in the conclusion of his book, “vivid and vibrant sermons, delivered in a dynamic manner, were particularly appealing to audiences who had been accustomed to rigid, conventional Calvinist homiletic patterns and viewed the ‘rhetoric of the revival’ as a completely original form of oratory” (202-203). This form captivated audiences for centuries to come. In fact, “in order to comprehend the present rhetorical complexity of religious discourse used in churches, in politics or in public media, one needs to look closer at its roots, especially the early revival tradition” (204).

This is a fine first book by an up-and-coming scholar of American life and letters, and a fine first volume in an up-and-coming series on Edwardsean history and thought. One only hopes that, in the future, these V & R volumes will include indices.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Théologie et Lumières

Roy Carpenter. Théologie et Lumières: Jonathan Edwards entre Raison et Réveil. Paris: Éditions Ampelos, 2015.

Carpenter-EdwardsThis is a fine introduction to Edwards’ life and mental labors for thoughtful, francophone readers.

Educated in Canada at the undergraduate level (McGill University), Carpenter finished his graduate study at the University of Versailles–St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, writing a doctoral dissertation with Bernard Cottret. This revision of that work, Theology and Enlightenment: Jonathan Edwards between Reason and Revival (English translation), tracks the ways in which Edwards reinvented Calvinist thought during the age of the Enlightenment, responding to his era’s most pressing epistemological and ethical concerns. Its author has written on Edwards before, treating Edwards’ views of divorce, “sexual politics,” and hell. (See here for his article on divorce and sexual politics, published in Jonathan Edwards Studies: He serves as associate professor in the Faculty of Law of Jean Moulin University Lyon 3.

This is a hefty paperback, nearly 500 pages long. It is organized in three main parts and twelve chapters, along with a preface by Louis Schweitzer of the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at Vaux-sur-Sein (in Paris), an introduction by the author, and a conclusion in which Carpenter discusses Edwards’ death, posthumous image, and “hidden legacy” (héritage caché).

In Part One (pp. 23-186), “The Formulation of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (La formulation de l’hypothèse évangélique), Carpenter introduces the notion that Edwards’ evangelicalism was an experiment of sorts in the development of Reformed thought with scientific tools. He describes Edwards’ context in “the wake of Newton and Locke,” his intellectual formation at Yale College and beyond, and his pastoral ministry through the late 1730s. In Part Two (pp. 187-322), “The Testing of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (la mise à l’épreuve de l’hypothèse évangélique), Carpenter analyzes the ways in which the fires of revival tried Edwards’ evangelicalism. He treats the Great Awakening, Edwards’ view of the revivals, and their application in Edwards’ own millennial theology and work in Indian missions. In Part Three (pp. 323-454), “The Revision of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (La Remaniement de l’Hypothèse Évangélique), the author observes a purgation of impurities in Edwards’ evangelical Calvinism during the membership debate that rankled Edwards’ congregation, his ejection from Northampton, and his writings on free will, the end of creation, true virtue, and original sin. Throughout this final phase of his life, Edwards reevaluated his “evangelical hypothesis,” correcting for the spurious conversions and false piety inflated by the heat of the revivals.

Summing up his main point about Edwards’ new experiment in enlightened Calvinism “between reason and revival,” Carpenter claims that Edwards’ writings “constitute a single work whose aim is to reconcile religious practice with the latest advances of Western thought, while subjecting the modern theses to the same critical review that applies to scholastic Puritanism” (les écrits d’Edwards constituent bien une seule oeuvre dont le but serait de réconcilier la pratique religieuse avec les dernières avancées de la pensée occidentale, tout en soumettant les thèses modernes à la même analyse critique qu’il applique au puritanisme scholastique, p. 21.) His was a grand experiment in Reformed evangelicalism that fueled later evangelical movements powerfully, particularly in America. Benjamin Franklin is often portrayed as the prototypical American. But Edwards fits the bill much better, according to Carpenter. He might not represent what most Westerners today want America to be, Carpenter concludes from his perch in eastern France, but he represents more fully what it is (il représente, non pas ce que l’Amerique devrait être, mais ce qu’elle est, p. 469).