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Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism

Bruce Hindmarsh, The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism: True Religion in a Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

HindmarshThis lovely new book on evangelical spirituality treats Edwards among his cohort of early evangelical leaders in the middle third of the eighteenth century. Penned by the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, it interprets evangelicalism “as a distinctive form of traditional Christian spirituality that emerged in the eighteenth century highly responsive to the conditions of the modern world” (p. 276).

What were those conditions? “Modernity, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution” as these developed side-by-side with the so-called Great Awakening in and through the fields of natural science, ethics, the arts, and, of course, religion as well (p. 270).

And what was the spirit of evangelicalism, on Hindmarsh’s account? His subjects said the Holy Spirit. They yearned deeply to experience what one of their favorite Scottish writers, Henry Scougal, liked to call “the life of God in the soul of man.” But put more generally and historically, the “spirit” of eighteenth-century evangelical religion was its subjects’ “aspiration to know the immediate presence of God” in a modernizing, naturalizing European culture “that was sharply separating nature (including human nature) and spirit” (p. 268).

The author deals with Edwards’ life and thought in several different ways, but mainly through Edwards’ stories of the work of the Holy Spirit in New England’s Great Awakening, his engagement with Newtonian thought, and his evangelical ethics (on pp. 57-68, 127-35, 226-33, respectively). Along the way, Hindmarsh paints him as an emblem of his movement, whose “entire intellectual project could, at one level, be described as an account of divine intimacy,” or the presence of the Spirit in the life and soul—indeed, in the universe–of man. In every sphere of his activity, Hindmarsh explains, “Edwards pushed against the tendency to view God as the remote, impersonal cause of things natural” (p. 132).

This assessment is spot on, and highly recommended.

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought

Oliver D. Crisp and Kyle C. Strobel, Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018).

Jonathan Edwards_Crisp&StrobelThis fine introduction to a selection of timely topics in Edwards’ philosophical theology represents the work of Crisp and Strobel well. Each of these systematic thinkers has engaged Edwards extensively in several well-known writings—Oliver Crisp most famously in Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation, which we reviewed here; Kyle Strobel most famously in Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation, which we reviewed here.

Their new, co-written book recapitulates the leading themes treated in their earlier works, engages them in relation to contemporary concerns, and offers guidance for theologians of retrieval who want to “become Edwardsean,” as they say in the book’s final chapter, improving upon Edwards in Edwards’ own critical spirit, carrying classical Calvinism into the future.

Here is the book’s table of contents:


  1. Intellectual Context
  2. God of Beauty and Glory
  3. God and Idealism
  4. God and Creation
  5. The Atonement
  6. Salvation as Participation
  7. Becoming Beautiful
  8. Becoming Edwardsean

This volume takes its place among several recent introductions to Edwards’ life and thought. McClymond and McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards remains the most comprehensive introduction to Edwards’ thought. Finn and Kimble’s Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards treats Edwards for evangelicals. Stout, Minkema, and Neele’s Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia is, of course, the most encyclopedic treatment of Edwards’ work, and includes the most diverse array of scholarly contributors. But Crisp and Strobel’s book will find a ready, eager audience among constructive theologians in what McDermott calls the “British school” of Edwards scholarship (

Anglo-American, analytic, and constructive Reformed Protestants who wish to retain a classical doctrine of God and creation, retrieving concepts and arguments from the mainstream Christian tradition in the service of churchly theological work in the present, will find no better models for their work than Crisp and Strobel.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards, Continuous Creation and Christology

Mark Hamilton, A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards, Continuous Creation and Christology, A Series of Treatises on Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (n.p.: JESociety Press, 2017).

hamiltoncover-web1This is the first book in a series “given exclusively to the select publication of cutting-edge research” on Jonathan Edwards’ life and thought (unpaginated front matter) by the JESociety (, an organization we discussed last summer in our annual magazine, Edwardseana.

Its author, Mark Hamilton, is a Ph.D. candidate at the Free University of Amsterdam, as well as a regular participant in events here at the Center. He is a co-editor of Idealism and Christian Theology (Bloomsbury, 2016), and the author of several articles and other publications treating Edwards and his philosophical sources.

In this short essay (about a hundred pages in length), he addresses a rather controversial cluster of Edwards’ doctrines regarding God, creation, and Christology. Taking to task those who claim that Edwards’ handling of these doctrines verges on the incoherent and/or places Edwards beyond the pale of classical Christian orthodoxy, Hamilton contends “for the coherence of both Edwards’ doctrine of continuous creation as well as what [he refers] to as Edwards’ Continuous Christology” (pp. 10-11), rehabilitating Edwards’ reputation as a resource for constructive but traditional Christian thinkers.

As I have noted in an endorsement that is printed in the book, “this is the best attempt to date to systematize the nexus of comments found mainly in Edwards’ notebooks on the relationship of ontology, etiology, and Christology. It represents an advance on the account of Hamilton’s brilliant teacher, Oliver D. Crisp, one on which analytical minds will noodle for many years to come. I recommend it strongly, and find its arguments for what Hamilton calls Edwards’ ‘immaterial realism’ compelling.”

This book is aimed mainly at philosophical theologians, but its author is one to watch by anyone interested in Edwards and his place in Christian intellectual history.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards

Nathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble, eds., A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

A Reader's GuideAs I have noted in my blurb in the front of this book, “Christians wanting to dip into Edwards’s daunting prose but seeking expert help in doing so will find it in this book. The tour guides are clear, edifying, and reliable. They don’t discuss all of Edwards’s massive body of work, but they treat most of his greatest hits—and do so in the service of what Edwards, quoting [the biblical book of] James, called ‘true religion.’”

Nathan Finn (Union University, Jackson, TN) and Jeremy Kimble (Cedarville University, Cedarville, OH) have assembled a fine panel of evangelical intellectuals to produce a truly Edwardsean introduction to Edwards’ works. As they note in the “Introduction,” every contributor to this enterprise “is . . . a convictional evangelical who resonates personally with Edwards’s spiritual vision and wants to commend his writings to others so that they too might be encouraged, convicted, and challenged by this great pastor-theologian” (p. 19).

After a “Foreword” by Ken Minkema and the editors’ “Introduction,” the volume leads off with a winsome opening chapter by one of its publisher’s leading editors, Dane Ortlund, an Edwards scholar with a Ph.D. from Wheaton, “How to Read Jonathan Edwards.” In the evangelical spirit of the volume as a whole, Ortlund’s very first paragraph begins and ends with a striking theological assertion: “To read Jonathan Edwards is to see God” (p. 23). Thus the “fundamental prerequisite” to reading Edwards rightly “is that you must be born again” (p. 25), Ortlund adds a bit later. And for born again readers, Ortlund states from experience, Edwards “turns . . . postcard views of Christ and the beauty of authentic Christian living into an experience of the real thing. . . . Edwards gives us longings for God and for holiness that are more satisfying than even our best joys currently are” (p. 24).

The rest of the book’s chapters introduce one or more of Edwards’ most important texts, offer the most salient aspects of these writings’ historical background, provide a summary and detailed analysis of their contents, and apply them to the lives of contemporary readers.

The book concludes, fittingly, with pastor John Piper’s essay on his admiration for Edwards, “A Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards: A Mind in Love with God,” pp. 209-29, which is adapted from material published first in The Reformed Journal in 1978 and expanded upon in one of Piper’s best-selling books, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (1998). The volume as a whole, in fact, is dedicated to Piper.

Here is a peek at the table of contents:

Introduction (Nathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble)

  1. How To Read Jonathan Edwards (Dane Ortlund)
  2. Autobiographical Spiritual Writings (Nathan A. Finn)
  3. Revival Writings (Jeremy Kimble)
  4. Justification by Faith Alone (Michael McClenahan)
  5. Religious Affections (Gerald McDermott)
  6. The Life of David Brainerd (Rhys Bezzant)
  7. Freedom of the Will (Joe Rigney)
  8. Original Sin (Robert Caldwell)
  9. A History of the Work of Redemption (Sean Michael Lucas)
  10. Edwards’s Affectional Ethics (Paul Helm)

Appendix: A Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards: A Mind in Love with God (John Piper)

As you have surely seen by now, this project is produced by and for evangelicals. Other Christians, not to mention non-Christians, will likely feel as though its chapters were not written mainly for them. Nonetheless, it serves its target audience admirably.