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Sweeney’s Booknotes—A New Divinity: Transatlantic Reformed Evangelical Debates during the Long Eighteenth Century

Mark Jones and Michael A. G. Haykin (eds.), A New Divinity: Transatlantic Reformed Evangelical Debates during the Long Eighteenth Century (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2018).

New DivinitySince Doug Sweeney is a contributor to the volume under review, this booknote is written by Joey Cochran, assistant director of the Jonathan Edwards Center and doctoral student of Doug Sweeney’s. 

Editors Mark Jones and Michael Haykin have assembled a crack squad of theologically minded historians to trace the stories of significant ecclesiological and theological debates during the “Long” 18th Century. Though these discussions lend themselves broadly to Calvinistic traditions in Britain and New England, these debates represent both confessional and non-confessional backgrounds. The editors wish for this study to be an aid for today’s churchmen and scholars to assess how to best navigate our day’s ecclesiological and theological disputes.

Since the nature of the Jonathan Edwards Center blog pivots on the figure of Edwards, this booknote will primarily address the fifth chapter contribution from Daniel W. Cooley and Douglas A. Sweeney. A fundamental premise of the authors in this chapter is that Edwards Sr. modeled a methodology of theological reflection open to adaptation. His theological heirs apparent (literally in this case) adopted the practice of adaptation and included it in their theological toolkit.

New Divinity theology had the hallmark of distinguishing natural ability and moral inability, along with asserting a doctrine of immediate repentance. Edwards Sr.’s understanding of imputation of Adam’s sin followed an Augustino-Federal theology of original sin. However, the New Divinity theologians that followed him shifted to a view where guilt is derived from personal sin alone.

This then becomes the avenue by which the penal substitutionary view of atonement might be eclipsed by the moral government view. The chapter authors indicate that Edwards Jr. pioneered this view of the atonement sometime in the 1780s as a viable polemic against the trending universalism of his day. (See Michael McClymond’s stout two-volume study, The Devil’s Redemption, for more on the history and interpretation of universalism.)

Edwards Jr. viewed the payment of the debt for sin as metaphorical. Rather than emphasizing substitution, “the atonement is about restoring God’s divine rule” in which his moral government set by his moral law is upheld (120). He proposed that God’s general justice—where his moral goodness is upheld by God conducting himself in a manner in which he seeks his own glory and provides for the universe’s good—is in mind with the moral government view of atonement. General justice necessitates vindicating God’s true virtue. Thus, Edwards Jr. retrieves both of Edwards Sr.’s two dissertations, a post-humous publication impossible apart from the help of none other than Edwards Jr., in order to facilitate a moral government view of the atonement (cf. Yeager, Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture).

The chapter authors make clear that Edwards Jr. does not forsake substitution altogether in his moral government view. This view of substitution protected against universalism by clarifying that the payment to God was not for each individual sinner. Rather, it is Christ’s sufferings that are substituted for the punishment justly due to humanity, which clears the way for individual conversion. In other words, the locus of substitution is relocated from ontology to mission. Though Edwards Sr. spoke in more conservative Reformed-scholastic terms that indeed merged Anselmic and Grotian themes, father and son agreed that atonement ought to restore God’s honor and express God’s character.

Akin to how the humanists of the later 15th and early 16th century might best be understood as purveyors of a methodology, one might argue that Edwards’ ability to adapt, in the 18th century’s new era of science and enlightenment, served as an exemplar for his theological heirs and in itself may have been one of the most powerful influences of “America’s Theologian.”

I heartily recommend the rest of the chapter contributions in this fine collection. This work is an asset for scholars and churchmen concerned about developments and disputations of doctrine in the long 18th century. Perusing the book’s table of contents provides a depiction of the broad landscape that this compendium offers:

Editors Introduction | Mark Jones / Michael A. G. Haykin

1 The Antinomian-Neonomian Controversy in Nonconforming England (c. 1690) | Mark Jones / D. Patrick Ramsey

2 The Marrow Controversy | William VanDoodewaard

3 “A catholic spirit”: George Whitefield’s Dispute with the Erskines in Scotland | Ian Hugh Clary

4 The Doctrine of Free Choice | HyunKwan Kim

5 The Edwardseans and the Atonement | Daniel W. Cooley / Douglas A. Sweeney

6 The “Modern Question”: Hyper-Calvinism | Paul Helm

7 Eschatology: Spes Meliorum Temporum | Mark A. Herzer

8 The Particular Baptist Battle Over Sandemanianism | Nathan A. Finn

9 Andrew Fuller and the Fading of the Trinitarian Imagination | Michael A. G. Haykin

10 Church Authority and Subscription in the Synod of Philadelphia (1721-1741) | Scott Sealy

11 The Legacy of John Witherspoon and the Founding of Princeton Theological Seminary: Samuel Stanhope Smith, Ashbel Green, and the Contested Meaning of Enlightened Education | Paul Kjoss Helseth

12 Is Revival from God? The Great Awakening Debate Between Two Moderates | Robert Smart

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology

Adriaan C. Neele, Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

BeforeJonathanEdwardsThe title of this book is a riff on the title of a book that Oliver Crisp and I published with the same press seven years ago, After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology. Its author, Adriaan Neele, is a long-time friend and colleague, one whose labors for the Edwards Center at Yale gave birth to the Edwards Center here (and the rest of the Edwards Centers outside New Haven).

Neele’s premise is a good one: we cannot understand the historical significance of the “courses” of Edwardsean theology after Edwards—at least not sufficiently—without understanding their “sources” in the “trajectories” of Reformed scholastic thought. Neele’s work, then, examines these Calvinist “trajectories,” their roots in older forms of scholastic theology, and their bearing on the work of the sage of Northampton.

Inasmuch as Edwards never wrote a comprehensive synthesis, Neele notes further, reading him “is like listening to an unfinished symphony.” But by reading him together “with the complete ‘symphonies’ of post-Reformation systematic theology . . . one may hear a more extended composition of European continental thought resonating in Edwards’ work” (pp. viii-ix).

The Edwards who emerges from this study of his forebears in Reformed Orthodoxy is, not surprisingly, more traditional and theological than the one usually featured by American historians. He is also more invested in early modern European intellectual endeavors—especially those performed in ecclesiastical Latin—in relation to which Edwards shows both strong continuities and largely underappreciated discontinuities.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

Preface

Introduction: Early New England and the Early Modern Era

Chapter 1: Jonathan Edwards and the Protestant Scholastics

Chapter 2: Sources of Christian Homiletics

Chapter 3: Sources of Biblical Exegesis: An Ecumenical Enterprise

Chapter 4: Sources for the Formulation of Doctrine: Continuity and Discontinuity?

Chapter 5: Sources of History as Theology

Conclusion and Prospects

And here is my endorsement on the book’s back cover:

“Neele’s encyclopedic treatment of one of the most important sources of Jonathan Edwards’ New England Theology is must reading for specialists in early modern Protestant thought. Building upon his earlier work on the Dutchman Peter van Mastricht, Neele has laid out and summarized the Latinate Reformed bibliography in Edwards’ world, demonstrated continuities and discontinuities between Edwards and the work of his Reformed antecedents, and thus underscored Edwards’ place in early modern Western Christian intellectual history. This will be an essential handbook for scholars like me for years to come.”

This book is not so much a demonstration of which sources we know that Edwards used and how he used them (though Neele offers some discussion of individual texts—by van Mastricht, William Perkins, Matthew Poole, and others—and their roles in Edwards’ work) as a portrait of its subject among the leading practitioners of Reformed scholasticism, a portrait that situates Edwards in a world more European, classical, and biblical-theological than the one taken for granted by most of his interpreters.

Neele’s prose will prove difficult for some readers to follow, but the gains are worth the effort. Highly recommended.

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards

Owen Strachan, Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).

Strachan_AlwaysInGodsHandsUnder normal circumstances, we do not post booknotes on devotional material. But in this case, the material comes largely from Edwards (in conjunction with the Bible). So we thought that our readers might want to hear about it, whether or not they share Edwards’ faith or keep daily devotions.

For every day of the year, Strachan offers here a single-page, spiritual reflection based on a passage from Edwards and appended with some Scripture (most often a single verse tied to that day’s theme).

This is not a scholarly resource. It is aimed at those for whom Edwards is a “home boy,” and who might wear the t-shirt. Put more seriously, it is aimed at Reformed evangelicals who use church history for spiritual edification.

Christmas present anyone?

Sweeney’s Booknotes—Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality

Gerald R. McDermott, Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018).

McDermott_EverydayGloryThis is not a book on Edwards. Nor does it offer original research into Edwards or his context. But it is written by one of the best Edwards scholars at work today, and offers fascinating reflections on the nature of reality from an Edwardsean perspective.

“Many years ago,” McDermott writes, he “happened upon a notebook” Edwards kept throughout his life. “He titled [it] ‘Images of Divine Things.’ In this notebook, now about eighty-five pages, Edwards jotted notes on the resemblances to the Triune God and his ways that he saw in the world around him.” McDermott “was immediately enthralled,” he confesses.

This notebook opened a whole new world to me. I began to see beauty and riches in the stars above and the world beneath and pointers to gospel truths in multiple dimensions of reality. Later when I started to explore the history of Christian thought, I discovered that this Edwardsean way of seeing the world was not uncommon in previous Christian theology. In fact, it was the norm (p. vii).

It has since been lost, though, at least to most moderns. Everyday Glory is an effort to recover it.

Here is a look at the table of contents, which provides a sure sense as to the scale of what McDermott calls his “typological” vision (taken from Edwards’ understanding of the “types”/pointers/emblems of divinity around us):

Chapter 1. Recovering a Lost Vision
Chapter 2. The Bible: A World of Types, Keys to Types in All the Worlds
Chapter 3. Nature: Sermons in Stones
Chapter 4. Science: The Wonder of the Universe
Chapter 5. Law: The Moral Argument
Chapter 6. History: Images of God in the Histories of Peoples
Chapter 7. Animals: The Zoological World Bursting with Signs
Chapter 8. Sex: The Language of the Body
Chapter 9. Sports: Its Agonies and Ecstasies
Chapter 10. World Religions: So Similar and Yet So Different
Chapter 11. A New World: Believing Is Seeing
Appendix: Theological Objections–Luther and Barth

Those not interested in theology may struggle with this book. It is written in a clear style, accessible to all. But its message is counterintuitive. As I wrote in an endorsement:

The ‘natural’ world McDermott describes is the world I want to inhabit—and sometimes do. Profound faith is required of those who want to live there constantly, far more faith than most moderns are able to muster every day. But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear its wondrous beauty, it is gleaming with an eternal weight of glory that exceeds our paltry efforts to reproduce, abstract, or counteract it. It enchants the bodily senses—and awakens the spiritual senses— with its still-too elusive satisfactions.

Taste and see.