From the JEC Blog

Archive for April, 2017

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Bright Shadows of Divine Things

Robert L. Boss, Bright Shadows of Divine Things: The Devotional World of Jonathan Edwards (n.p.: JESociety Press, 2017).

Boss_coverRob Boss, Director of the JESociety, is the most thoughtful and creative independent Edwards scholar at work today. All of his books are privately published and usually fall below the radar screens of mainstream academics. Nonetheless, Boss has built a large network of followers with his passion for Edwards’ writings and his knack for social media.

This most recent, little book, nicely illustrated throughout, offers extended rumination on Edwards’ natural typology (i.e. his investigation of the natural world for emblems of the divine). It is pitched as a devotional aimed at other serious Christians as well as seekers who are lovers of the beauty of the world. It uses Edwards’ famous notebook, “Images of Divine Things,” as a deep well of insight into the “nature” of reality, a nature that was made by God, Boss contends with Edwards, to reflect God’s glory and point sensitive souls to Scripture, which interprets its worldly sights and sounds in comprehensible ways.

As Boss explains his book’s message in a brief epilogue, “The Book of Nature is full of correspondences and similitudes that echo and illustrate the Book of Scripture. . . . Behind every bush and under every rock and within every tree, creature, and event is a voice of Wisdom crying out to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.” He then quotes from Edwards’ “Images of Divine Things” accordingly:

If we look on these shadows of divine things [in nature] as the voice of God, purposely, by them, teaching us these and those spiritual and divine things, . . . how agreeably and clearly it will tend to convey instruction to our minds, and to impress things on the mind, and to affect the mind. By that we may as it were hear God speaking to us. Wherever we are and whatever we are about, we may see divine things excellently represented and held forth, and it will abundantly tend to confirm the Scriptures, for there is an excellent agreement between these things and the Holy Scriptures. (p. 116)

This foretaste of the meal Boss has readied for hungry readers is enough to give you the flavor of the feast on offer. Spiritually-minded nature lovers will eat it up.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Theologies of the American Revivalists

Robert W. Caldwell III, Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

Caldwell booknoteI need to be careful here. Caldwell is one of my former doctoral students. I refereed this book in manuscript for the press, and then wrote an endorsement for it. I am one of the author’s biggest fans. But notwithstanding my bias, I can say in all honestly that this is a marvelous survey of American revival thinking from 1740 to 1840, or the time of the Great Awakening through that of the Second Great Awakening. It handles its controversial subject matter accurately, fairly, and with keen historical insight, even challenging contemporary views of conversion based on the story that it tells.

Noting that conversion experiences and narratives have long been central to evangelical identity, Caldwell contends that the theologies undergirding these phenomena are often overlooked, to the detriment of historical understanding of evangelicals and the practice of evangelism by Christians in the present. We have several good books on parts of the story Caldwell tells. But not until now have we had an expert overview of the whole–let alone one that avoids theological partisanship and contemporary denominational wrangling.

As the author of a first-rate monograph on Jonathan Edwards’ doctrine of communion in the Spirit, co-author of a sourcebook on Edwards and the Trinity, and professor of church history at a Southern Baptist seminary, Caldwell is well-placed to guide readers reliably through the often-dense thickets of early American revival thought.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

Introduction
Chapter 1. Moderate Evangelical Revival Theology in the First Great Awakening
Chapter 2. First Great Awakening Alternatives: The Revival Theologies of Andrew Croswell and Jonathan Edwards
Chapter 3. Revival Theology in the New Divinity Movement
Chapter 4. Congregationalist and New School Presbyterian Revival Theology in the Second Great Awakening
Chapter 5. Methodist Revival Theology in the Second Great Awakening
Chapter 6. Revival Theologies among Early American Baptists
Chapter 7. The New Measures Revival Theology of Charles Finney
Chapter 8. Two Responses to Modern Revival Theology: Princeton Seminary and theRestoration Movement
Conclusion
Bibliography
General Index
Scripture Index

Highly recommended for historians of American evangelical religion, college and seminary classes in American church history, and readers with an interest in the doctrine of conversion.