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Sweeney’s Booknotes: Vanity Fair and the Celestial City

Isabel Rivers, Vanity Fair and the Celestial City: Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Isabel_RiversThose who judge books by their titles may have failed to appreciate that this one deals extensively with Edwards and his world. It explores the publications written, edited, abridged, and promoted by evangelicals in eighteenth-century England. And Edwards was an eighteenth-century Englishman, remember, a colonist who read and even wrote many publications treated in these pages.

A Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture at Queen Mary University of London, Isabel Rivers also directs the Dissenting Academies Project hosted by the Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English. She is one of the leading authorities on the literary culture that shaped the life and work of Edwards.

The title of her book is taken from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, whose pilgrims have to pass through Vanity Fair, a tourist trap full of commercial temptations, to reach their final destination, Celestial City, the heavenly New Jerusalem. Rivers uses Bunyan’s allegory to indicate a paradox that saturates her book. “On one hand, Pilgrim’s Progress, like so many books of its kind, advocates rejection of this world for the sake of the next, using the metaphor of trade. On the other hand, the phenomenal success of such books in the eighteenth century depended on a number of worldly factors, clearly interrelated, including the expansion of the book trade, the growth of the population, the increase of literacy, and better conditions for travel and commerce, both within the British Isles and Europe and also between Europe and North America” (p. 2). She is interested, of course, in her subjects’ spirituality, but focuses her story on the “worldly factors” instead, asking questions about their bearing on evangelical religion and the literary lives of early English evangelicals.

Her book has three parts. Part I, “Books and Their Readers” (pp. 9-117), treats the publishing, marketing, and reception of religious books in eighteenth-century England. Part II, “Sources” (pp. 121-209), deals with the re-publication of older works in this period. And Part III, “Literary Kinds” (pp. 213-389), catalogues the different genres most important to its book trade (Bibles, commentaries, sermons, devotional guides, exemplary lives, journals, hymns, poems, etc.). Rivers mentions over 200 writers altogether, offering detailed discussions of her subjects’ favorite books. Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, John Wesley, and John Newton were the most popular authors in eighteenth-century England. But Edwards and his mentee David Brainerd also proved to be consistent best sellers.

Edwards appears throughout the book, but mainly in chapter 7, “North American Connexions” (pp. 183-209), particularly in the section of that chapter devoted to him (pp. 186-93). Rivers writes of Edwards and Brainerd, “they were the source of considerable disagreement among their British readers, but they were of crucial importance in different ways to the religious and literary heritage of Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Scottish Presbyterians, and Church of England evangelicals” (pp. 185-86). They were even more important in the North American colonies.

Rivers does not interpret Edwards in relation to church history, English intellectual culture, or Protestant theology. But she does better than anyone at placing him in the context of the history of the book trade and the reading lives of Christians in eighteenth-century England. Vanity Fair and the Celestial City offers a masterful, England-centered complement to Jonathan Yeager’s Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture.

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Edwards Amasa Park: The Last Edwardsean

Charles W. Phillips, Edwards Amasa Park: The Last Edwardsean, New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018).

Edwards Amasa ParkThis substantial revision of the author’s dissertation with David Bebbington at the University of Stirling in Scotland is the fourth installment in V & R’s series in Edwards studies. Phillips serves as the Executive Director of the Maclellan Family Foundations, a group of faith-based philanthropic bodies in Chattanooga. He is also a part-time church historian, however, with a special interest in Edwards and his legacies. The volume under review is not a biography of its subject, nor a comprehensive treatment of his theological views. It is a monograph on Park and his defense of Edwardsean Calvinism, which Phillips here interprets as a kinder, gentler extension of the New Divinity views of Samuel Hopkins and his network, especially Nathanael Emmons.

Edwards Amasa Park (1808-1900) did more than any other New Englander to synthesize the history of the Edwardsean tradition. Son of the Rev. Calvin Park (a student and friend of Emmons and a professor at Brown University), Edwards Park attended Brown, married Anna Maria Edwards (Jonathan Edwards’s great-granddaughter), graduated from Andover in 1831 and then engaged in pastoral ministry in Braintree, Massachusetts. Though heralded for his preaching, Park decided that academic work would better suit his gifts. So after a time of study with Nathaniel W. Taylor at Yale Divinity School (1834-35), he accepted a post at Amherst College in mental and moral philosophy.

In 1836, Park returned to Andover Seminary to teach as Bartlet Professor of Sacred Rhetoric. He remained there 45 years, retiring in 1881. In 1844, he assumed control with B. B. Edwards of the Bibliotheca Sacra, an Andover organ that he edited till 1884. In 1847, he succeeded Leonard Woods as Abbot Professor of Christian Theology, his school’s most influential teaching position. In 1853, he became the president of the faculty, a role he would play until 1868. In the 1850s and 60s, Park released a series studies on the New England Theology (i.e. the theology of the Edwardsean tradition in New England). He published memoirs of Hopkins (1852), Moses Stuart (1852), B. B. Edwards (1852-53), Emmons (1861), and Leonard Woods (1880). And in addition to numerous other pieces treating Edwardsean themes, he published a highly acclaimed anthology of Edwardsean views of atonement, The Atonement: Discourses and Treatises(1859).

Dubbed the last “consistent Calvinist,” Park was the final representative and first major historian of Edwards’ living legacy in New England. For many years he cared for a cache of Edwards’ personal manuscripts, planning but never executing a magnum opus on Edwards. He defended New England tirelessly, primarily against Princetonians staking a claim to Edwards’ legacy and opposed to New England’s recontextualization of his views (especially by the “Taylorites”). Even after his retirement, Park would champion Edwards’ views at Andover Seminary for years. In the face of his school’s marked transition to “Progressive Orthodoxy,” a more liberal Social Gospel, higher criticism and Darwinism, Park stood fast on the old-time gospel of Edwardsean evangelicals.

Phillips’s treatment of Park includes an introduction, five main chapters, and a conclusion. He does not provide readers with a great deal of new information on his subject. But he does offer a salutary interpretation of Park and his historical significance. Phillips argues that other scholars have for too-long associated Park with either the Taylorites or liberals like the Romantic Congregationalist Horace Bushnell, neglecting to pay him due respect as a leader in New England who kept the Edwardsean flame burning through the end of the nineteenth century (and whose students, Joseph Cook, Charles Joseph Hardy Ropes, Francis Edward Clark, Otis Cary, and many other worthies, carried that flame well into the twentieth century).

Phillips claims that Park agreed with the Taylorites only insofar as the Taylorites agreed with Hopkins and Emmons. “Park’s foundational identity lay in the New Divinity of Samuel Hopkins and Nathanael Emmons: at any point that Taylor contradicted this inherited line, Park did not hesitate to reject the New Haven departure” (p. 45). Exhibit A of this rejection is Park’s eschewal of Taylor’s strange doctrine of regeneration. Worried about the practical results of Hopkins’ teaching that unregenerated sinners—whose hearts had not been turned, and so were still governed by sin—only exacerbated their sinfulness when using means of grace without repenting on the spot, Taylor offered an “improvement” to the teaching he inherited (“improvements” were all the rage in the Edwardsean tradition). He agreed with the Hopkinsians that unconverted sinners always sinned when making choices (“a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,” etc., Matthew 7:18). But he claimed that during the regeneration of their hearts, God suspends their selfishness, enabling them to use the means of grace without sinning–which, in turn, enabled preachers to ask sinners to use the means without fear that this would exacerbate their sin. Park did not repeat the details of these Taylorite improvements and, thus, on Phillips’s account, should not be associated with them. He always stood with Hopkins over Taylor.

As for Park and the liberals, Phillips argues that Park’s famous speech of 1850, “The Theology of the Intellect and That of the Feelings,” which is usually interpreted as a romantic call to soften the sharp corners of Christian doctrine (even the doctrine of the Hopkinsians), was actually a conservative alternative to the patently liberal preaching of Bushnell. Park’s valorization of feeling, and distinction between the theologies of feeling and the intellect, were in fact rhetorical strategies that Park had honed for years to defend traditional Calvinism by teaching it in relation to the spirit of Romanticism. “It is clear,” Phillips claims, “that Park adopted those aspects of Romanticism that were complementary to presuppositions he already held” (p. 138). His famous speech of 1850 “was at the centre of a broad consensus among the orthodox that religious experience . . . had attained normative value for dogma” (p. 137). It was not a liberal speech, but “was a significant voice from the centre of orthodoxy that embodied and promoted an adjustment in the direction of the evangelical mainstream in response to challenges from Romantic conceptions of genuine spirituality” (p. 139).

Phillips is right to maintain that Park viewed himself as a stalwart of New England orthodoxy, as an Edwardsean responsive to the spirit of his age. But Park was never a repristinator of New Divinity doctrine. He “improved” upon his heritage, as he liked to say publicly, in the spirit of the best of the New England Theologians.

Park opposed Hopkins’ manner of treating “unregenerate doings.” He also steered students away from Emmons’ doctrine of unmediated divine efficiency (i.e. the teaching that God himself converts the hard of heart apart from means). He did not follow Taylor into the weeds of the suspension of a sinner’s selfishness, but he did tell sinners to employ the means of grace and, in the manner of the Taylorites, insisted that the means do not save unless and until the Holy Spirit changes the heart and its selfishness with truth. As he told every class of budding theologians at Andover, “it is very important” to help the wayward sinner understand “that, for aught he knows, his next effort to repent,” assisted by the means, “will be part of the complex act of repentance itself.” The Holy Spirit might be working to regenerate him now, using means to help him sense the truth and turn to God in faith. (This teaching is represented in most of the Andover student notebooks of Park’s lectures in theology. See, for example, those of George Park Fisher, 1850-51, Folder 159, Box 12, pp. 340-85, esp. p. 384, Park Family Papers, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University; and Gabriel H. DeBevoise, 1864, vol. 2, pp. 371-95, quotation from 2:393, Student Notebooks—E. A. Park, formerly in the Trask Library at Andover but now at Yale Divinity School.)

As he “improved” upon his heroes, Park also sidled closer to Romantic liberalism. Again, he remained evangelical, an orthodox defender of Edwardsean theology. But neither Hopkins nor Emmons–nor anyone in their circle–would have preached a sermon anything like “The Theology of the Intellect and That of the Feelings.” And few of Park’s conservative peers appreciated the way in which that sermon undermined the older Protestant confessions, discarding classically Protestant doctrines in a box with Catholic teachings labeled products of the “feelings” never intended for subscription. “In the Bible there are pleasing hints of many things,” he said, “which were never designed to be doctrines, such as the literal and proper necessity of the will, passive and physical sin, baptismal regeneration, clerical absolution, the literal imputation of guilt to the innocent, transubstantiation, eternal generation and procession.” In the leaves of holy writ, “these metaphors bloom as the flowers of the field; there they toil not neither do they spin.” Sadly, however, “the schoolman has transplanted them to the rude exposure of logic; here they are frozen up, their fragrance is gone, their juices evaporated, and their withered leaves are preserved as specimens of that which in its rightful place surpassed the glory of the wisest sage.” Charles Hodge was not the only one to balk at such preaching.

Phillips seems to think that associating Park with the teachings of his era’s best-known ecclesiastical writers is tantamount to rendering him a second-rate thinker, a protégé of other, less cautious theologians. But this is not what previous interpreters have suggested. Most have recognized Park for the conservative he was, but have also tried to understand the ways in which traditionalists working in New England recontextualized their faith to meet the challenges they faced. More than most other Christians in his nineteenth-century world, Park championed the right and responsibility of orthodox, Edwardsean evangelicals to adapt Reformed thought for apologetic and pastoral purposes.

Edwards Amasa Park is now the go-to book on its subject’s life and thought. Well-researched and well-written, it is the only book on Park to have been published after the renaissance of scholarship on Park’s beloved Edwardsean tradition and thus is far more current than anything else written about him. Phillips is right to suggest that Park excelled in his own right as a preacher and theologian, not merely by association with Taylor and Bushnell. He is also right to note that Park drew deeply from the wells of pre-railroad men such as Hopkins and Emmons. But Park lived through a revolution in American intellectual and technological history, the fruit of which the likes of Hopkins and Emmons never dreamed. In the future, perhaps, Phillips will spend more time on the ways in which Park felt the force of this transition, updating the Edwardsean tradition as a consequence—not merely by using current trends to reinforce doctrines it had crafted long ago, but also by changing in relation to those trends to meet New England’s, and the world’s, new realities.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Petrus van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology, Volume 1: Prolegomena

Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, Volume 1: Prolegomena, trans. Todd M. Rester, ed. Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018)

MastrichtAt long last, the first volume of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society’s English edition of Mastricht is available for purchase. Translated by Todd Rester of Queen’s University Belfast (Northern Ireland), edited by Joel Beeke of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan), it offers a great introduction to Reformed orthodoxy and makes available in English Jonathan Edwards’ favorite book. In addition to two prefaces–one by Rester, one by Beeke–its front matter features an introduction to Mastricht’s life and work by our friend Adriaan Neele and an English translation of the funeral oration preached for Mastricht by his university colleague Henricus Pontanus (1706, reprinted in some Latin editions of Mastricht’s magnum opus).

Only two sections of Mastricht’s work have appeared in English before: A Treatise on Regeneration, which was published here and here, and The Best Method of Preaching, released in 2013 as the first fruit of the Rester edition of Mastricht’s TPT and included in the current volume as well.

Mastricht (1630-1706) is widely acclaimed as one of the best theologians in the Calvinist tradition, and his Theoretico-Practica Theologia (1699) is his best work. A seventeenth-century Dutchman in the school of Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) at Utrecht University, he presented Reformed theology with academic precision as well as pastoral sensitivity and practical application. For a book-length introduction in English to Mastricht, see this monograph by Neele.

As Edwards wrote to his student and colleague, the Rev. Joseph Bellamy, in 1747, Francis Turretin (1623-1687, a Genevan Calvinist) is excellent “on polemical divinity; on the Five Points [of Dordtian Calvinism], and all other controversial points; and is much larger in these than Mastricht; and is better for one that desires only to be thoroughly versed in controversies. But take Van Mastricht for divinity in general, doctrine, practice, and controversy; or as an universal system of divinity; and it is much better than Turretin, or any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion” (Letters and Personal Writings, WJE Online Vol. 16). High praise indeed.

If you enjoy scholastic theology and want a better feel for Edwards’ intellectual world, read this work and stay tuned for its 6 remaining volumes.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: A Theology of Joy

Matthew V. Everhard, A Theology of Joy: Jonathan Edwards and Eternal Happiness in the Holy Trinity (n.p.: JESociety Press, 2018).

everhard_theology_of_joyThis new release from Dr. Robert Boss’s JESociety (http://www.jesociety.org/) is a revised version of Everhard’s Doctor of Ministry project at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.

The Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida, the author is no stranger to the study of Jonathan Edwards. Less than two years ago, he and Boss produced a volume of helpful essays on Edwards with the JESociety Press. Everhard also shepherds edwardsstudies.com. He likes to emphasize the usefulness of Edwards to Christians.

The current volume tells the story of its author’s quest for joy in everyday life and pastoral ministry, which was completed with a little bit of help from John Piper and the writings of Edwards and others (especially Augustine and Calvin). It also sets forth an Edwardsean theology of joy. In Everhard’s words, “this book does not attempt to mine new territory or to discover new theological motifs that have never been discussed more competently in other places. As limited as the topic of joy is, this short book does not attempt to be theologically novel or particularly original. On the contrary, this book will merely attempt to summarize a few of the major themes related to joy that can be found in the writings of the Puritan, Jonathan Edwards” (p. 9).

A Theology of Joy includes ten main chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. After doing some of his own Edwards-style exegesis, the author gathers fruit from some of Edwards’ best-known writings, most importantly—though certainly only—Religious Affectionsand his series on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (based on Matthew 25), published as True and False Christians by Ken Minkema, Adriaan Neele, and Bryan McCarthy in a series of Edwards’ sermons on the Matthean parables. Then Everhard applies Edwards on joy to pastoral ministry.

“Perhaps the most important things that Edwards has taught me in my research on his theology of joy,” Rev. Everhard concludes, “can be reduced to two simple truths. First, I must guard jealously the joy that I have as a pastor and as a redeemed sinner in the Lord Jesus Christ. Although there are many threats and counterfeits, there truly is no joy that can replace that which I have in God’s Trinitarian work of redemption. Secondly, as a pastor, I must prepare my people for death by relentlessly showing them the temporality of this world (as beautiful as it is) and causing them to set their gaze forward, on the eternal joys that are to come in eternity in the ‘joy of thy lord’ (Matthew 25:21)” (p. 203).

More power to Boss, Everhard and several other pastors reviewed here in the past few years making Edwards more accessible and useful in the churches.