From the JEC Blog

Archive for the ‘BookNotes’ Category

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.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

Harry S. Stout, Kenneth P. Minkema, and Adriaan C. Neele, eds., The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017).

EncyclopediaThe long-awaited Edwards Encyclopedia is here. With nearly 400 entries by 169 scholars, as well as a “Foreword” by George Marsden, it is a culmination of many years of labor in New Haven as well as the spread of Edwards studies during the past generation through a wide array of scholarly institutions around the world.

I and several of my students have contributed to this volume. In the interest of fair play, I will keep my comments brief.

This landmark volume features well-known scholars writing on topics about which they have already published books: Robert Brown on “Biblical Languages (Hebrew and Greek),” Ronald Story on “Charity,” Rhys Bezzant on “Ecclesiology,” Ava Chamberlain on “Elizabeth Tuttle Edwards (b. 1645),” Jan Stievermann on “German Pietism,” Thomas Kidd on “Great Awakening,” Sang Hyun Lee on “Habit,” Oliver Crisp on “Idealism,” Seng-Kong Tan on “Incarnation,” Gerald McDermott on “Islam,” Donald Whitney on “Piety,” Ray Yeo on “Regeneration,” Stephen Stein on “Scripture (Exegetical Sources),” David Kling on “Second Great Awakening,” Terrence Erdt on “Sense of the Heart,” Amy Plantinga Pauw on “Trinity,” and Stephen R. C. Nichols on “Typology,” for example.

Perhaps more importantly, it also features lesser-known, up-and-coming scholars treating topics on which they have learned a great deal: Allan Hedberg on “Aging,” Ryan Hoselton on “William Ames,” Joseph Tyrpak on “David Brainerd,” Reita Yazawa on “Covenant,” David Komline on “Sereno Edwards Dwight (1786-1850),” David Barshinger on “Hermeneutics,” Roy Mellor on “An Humble Inquiry (1749),” Craig Biehl on “Merit of Christ,” Daniel Cooley on “Edwards Amasa Park (1808-1900),” Jon Hinkson on “Providence,” Ryan Griffith on “Spiritual Gifts”—this list could go on and on.

Several contributors wrote many different entries–most importantly Ken Minkema, Associate Editor of the volume and Executive Editor of the Edwards Center at Yale.

As the editors have written in the volume’s “Introduction,” the Encyclopedia “fills an essential gap” in reference works about Edwards and his world. It corrects “certain stubborn errors or myths about Edwards’s life and those of his family and acquaintance[s].” It also provides “succinct synopses of topics large and small, well known and little known in Edwards’s life, as well as easily referenced sketches of the people and events of his times, any or all of which can be followed up in more depth by consulting the suggested readings at the end of each entry” (p. x).

Stout, Minkema, and Neele hope to publish an expanded, online version of this work, which will include new entries on subjects identified by readers as important to the study of Edwards’ life, times, and legacies in the future. So our thanks should go today both to those who have made this letterpress book possible and those who will engage and improve it in days ahead.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: John Witherspoon’s American Revolution

Gideon Mailer, John Witherspoon’s American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

WitherspoonThis book is not about Edwards. But it does discuss Edwards, revising the way we think about the legacy of his Calvinist engagement with British moral philosophy.

John Witherspoon was one of Edwards’ successors in the presidency of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Born in Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland in 1723, he sailed to America 1768, serving as Princeton’s sixth president and a major civic leader in the nascent U.S. (Edwards had died a decade earlier, in 1758, while serving as the school’s third president.) During his 26 years in office (1768-94), he taught one U.S. president (James Madison), one vice president (Aaron Burr, Jr.), 49 members of the House of Representatives, 28 Senators, three Supreme Court justices, one secretary of state, three attorneys general, and two foreign ministers. More than 11% of his graduates became college presidents. Witherspoon himself served as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1776-82), worked on three national standing committees and dozens of congressional committees during the Revolution, and was the only ordained clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence.

In a fine summary statement of his book and its significance, Mailer, a British historian trained at the University of Cambridge but based now at the University of Minnesota Duluth, writes, “John Witherspoon’s American Revolution considers the ways in which Witherspoon’s Presbyterian evangelicalism could compete with, combine with, or even supersede the civic influence of Scottish Enlightenment thought in the British Atlantic world. It uncovers the association between evangelical Presbyterian religion and Anglo-Scottish unionism and the impact of such an association on social, religious, and political developments in American patriot discourse and in early national America. And it highlights the eventual legacy of Presbyterian political theology, through Witherspoon’s students, in nineteenth-century America” (pp. 12-13).

For several decades, most scholars have suggested that Witherspoon underwent a major sea change as he moved to America. Though an evangelical Calvinist and leader of the Popular party in the Church of Scotland, he became a leading promoter of the moral sense theories of the Scottish Moderate party as he settled in the colonies–thus functioning, ironically, as a conduit of the less Calvinistic Scottish Enlightenment in America during the age of Revolution. (The Scottish Popular party emphasized total depravity and the role of conversion in enabling civic virtue. The Moderates, by contrast, held a more optimistic view of the moral and intellectual potential of the populace, regardless of conversion. Their disagreement became especially important during the era of the American Revolution, many of whose leaders agreed that the health and success of their republic, or any democracy, would depend on the inculcation of virtue in its citizens.)

Mailer disagrees with the sea change thesis, claiming that Witherspoon retained and taught a Calvinistic view of human potential till the end, thus serving as a conduit of both kinds of Scottish thought in early U.S. history. As he told the boys at Princeton, conversion was required for the best kinds of civic virtue in the new nation. Or as Mailer explains the matter in the book’s introduction, “Witherspoon continued to claim that religious regeneration initially required a personal admission of sin, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The latter assisted individuals as they struggled to acknowledge the necessity of grace in supplying a regenerated moral sensibility. Provided their acknowledgment of iniquity was genuine, individuals would then receive divine mercy and a new moral understanding wrought by the ‘grace of God’ and the ‘Grace of hope.’ Societal stability, in such a formulation, required enough individuals to become similarly awakened. Moral sensory philosophy [i.e. of the Moderate kind], in Witherspoon’s opinion, failed to acknowledge such a requirement. Common sensory perception might allow individuals (and their leaders) to apprehend the difference between right and wrong in some circumstances. But Witherspoon’s evangelical hermeneutic tended to differ from the notion of sensus communis [taught by the Moderates] in warning that initial moral conceptions did not imply a predictable ethical reaction, benevolent or otherwise” (pp. 10-11).

Just as Edwards, then, repackaged traditional Calvinism vis-à-vis the work of the British moralists, employing their philosophy to valorize the moral lives of everyday people even as he distinguished this from truly Christian virtue, so Witherspoon did the same in his own day and age—for a broader body politic engaged in the founding of a righteous new republic. “The nature of the association between Witherspoon’s developing moral philosophy and the earlier values of the College of New Jersey founders, Samuel Finley, Samuel Davies, and Jonathan Edwards,” Mailer argues, “needs reassessment as well. In many ways, Witherspoon continued their synthesis of evangelical moral theory and formal instruction . . . . It is important to keep in mind that revivalism was not always antithetical to the conceptual terminology of moral sense theory” (p. 146).

This book will be tough sledding for all but specialists in early American intellectual history, but it sets the record straight on a most important aspect of the legacy of Edwards. Highly recommended.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Bible in American Life

Philip Goff, Arthur E. Farnsley II, and Peter J. Thuesen, eds., The Bible in American Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

BibleinAmericanLifeThis is a gold mine for anyone who wants to know more about the uses of the Bible in the lives of average Americans outside their houses of worship. Its editors, all based at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), added questions on this topic to a couple national surveys: the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study III. Then they wrote up their results and invited a diverse group of social scientists and intellectual historians to interpret them in view of larger trends in American culture. The group met in 2014 to share their work. This tightly packed volume bears their meeting’s ripest fruit.

The results of the survey are worth the price of the book ($35 in paperback): Americans continue to hold high views of the Bible (91% of those who read the Bible at all called its contents the inspired Word of God and/or inerrant); but only half of them had read it in the past 12 months; more than half of Bible readers still preferred the King James (almost three times as many as preferred the NIV, the next most popular version); black Americans read the Bible most (far more frequently than any other group); and similar results, some surprising, some predictable.

None of the book’s chapters says much about Edwards. But those by Jan Stievermann and Robert E. Brown (titles below) deal at length with Cotton Mather as a bellwether of early evangelical attempts to interpret sacred scripture “between faith and criticism” (to steal a phrase from Mark Noll, who penned the volume’s conclusion).

Here’s a peek at the table of contents:

Introduction

Part One: Overview
1. “The Bible in American Life Today,” by Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsley, and Peter Thuesen

Part Two: Past
2. “America’s First Bible: Native Uses, Abuses, and Re-uses of the Indian Bible of 1663,” by Linford D. Fisher
3. “The Debate over Prophetic Evidence for the Authority of the Bible in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana,” by Jan Stievermann
4. “Navigating the Loss of Interpretive Innocence: Reading the ‘Enlightenment’ Bible in Early Modern America,” by Robert E. Brown
5. “Reading the Bible in a Romantic Era,” by Beth Schweiger
6. “The Origins of Whiteness and the Black (Biblical) Imagination: The Bible in the ‘Slave Narrative’ Tradition,” by Emerson B. Powery
7. “Biblical Women in the Woman’s Exponent: The Bible in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism,” by Amy Easton-Flake
8. “Scriptualizing Religion and Ethnicity: The Circle Seven Koran,” by Sylvester Johnson
9. “Reading the Bible in War and Crisis to Know the Future,” by Matthew Avery Sutton
10. “Reference Bibles and Interpretive Authority,” by B.M. Pietsch
11. “The Soul’s Train: The Bible and Southern Folk and Popular Music,” by Paul Harvey
12. “Where Two or Three are Gathered: The Adult Bible Class Movement and the Social Life of Scripture,” by Christopher D. Cantwell
13. “The Word is True: King James Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty in American Evangelical Life,” by Jason A. Hentschel
14. “Selling Trust: The Living Bible and the Business of Biblicism,” by Daniel Vaca
15. “The Bible and the Legacy of First Wave Feminism,” by Claudia Setzer
16. “Let Us Be Attentive: The Orthodox Study Bible, Converts, and the Debate on Orthodox Lay Uses of Scripture,” by Garrett Spivey

Part Three: Present
17. “The Continuing Distinctive Role of the Bible in American Lives: A Comparative Analysis,” by Corwin Smidt
18. “Emerging Trends in American Children’s Bibles, 1990-2015,” by Russell W. Dalton
19. “The Curious Case of the Christian Bible and the U.S. Constitution: Challenges for Educators Teaching the Bible in a Multi-Religious Context,” by John F. Kutsko
20. “Transforming Practice: American Bible Reading in Digital Culture,” by John B. Weaver
21. “Readers and their E-Bibles: The Shape and Authority of the Hypertext Canon,” by Bryan Bibb
22. “How American Women and Men Read the Bible,” by Amanda Friesen
23. “Feels Right Exegesis: Qualitative Research on How Millennials Read the Bible,” by J. Derrick Lemons
24. “Crowning the King: The Use of Production and Reception Studies to Determine the Most Popular English-Language Bible Translation in Contemporary America,” by Paul Gutjahr
25. “Literalism as Creativity: Intertextuality in Making a Biblical Theme Park,” by James S. Bielo
26. “The Bible in the Evangelical Imagination,” by Daniel Silliman
27. “Feeling the Word: Sensing Scripture at Salvation Mountain,” by Sara M. Patterson

Part Four: Retrospective
28. “The Bible: Then and Now,” by Mark Noll

These essays offer perspective on the long-range significance of uses of the Bible in Edwards’ life and world, suggesting, ironically, that most of those today who share Edwards’ biblical worldview and sacred reading practices are probably not Edwards fans at all. Hmm.