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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 ( 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 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.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Children Before God

John McNeill, Children before God: Biblical Themes in the Works of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017).

ChildrenBeforeGod_McNeillThough he serves now as the Superintendent Methodist Minister in Aberdeen, McNeill devoted more than three years to full-time children’s work in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, where he encountered what he describes as “the ripple effects” of Calvinist fundamentalism on children (p. 2). As the author tells this story, Sam Doherty and others with Child Evangelism Fellowship had persuaded many families of “a wooden, literalist, absolutist, substantialist and essentialist reading of the customary Calvinist rhetoric of total depravity, collapsing it into one whereby original sin has corrupted human nature both to the maximal extent and intent of its reach so that the heart is understood to be utterly depraved, ‘black’ in an unqualified sense” (p. 6). And according to McNeill, this left all-too-many children feeling worthless, utterly sinful, and in need of a complete divine makeover experience, in which God provided everything and they contributed nothing.

By the time he made it to Cambridge for his doctoral research, McNeill decided to reflect upon this problem theologically. Using imagery from Scripture and a short list of writings by John Calvin, Thomas Boston, and Jonathan Edwards, especially, he attempted to develop a more nurturing approach to early childhood development and growth in Christian grace.

He concluded that while Calvin himself was often misconstrued by his “fundamentalist” heirs, even sympathetic readings of his thought include the notion that children are born morally vicious, hopelessly disfigured by the ravages of sin. Edwards, on the other hand, provided a way forward. Although just as Calvinistic as most other Reformed Christians, his aesthetics, in particular, featured a “sliding-scale” of being, goodness, beauty, and integrity on which even those at the bottom have a certain amount of value (p. 153). Fallen sinners are depraved on Edwards’ sliding-scale of beauty, but their lives apart from grace are not as “black” as they can be. They are characterized, rather, by 50 shades of grey (my phrase, not McNeill’s).

McNeill’s conclusion leaves the reader with the clearest view of his struggle against Calvinist “fundamentalism” applied to the lives of children. It will remind many readers of Horace Bushnell’s approach to the issues, published in 1847 against the conversionistic Calvinism of Edwards’ own heirs—an irony worth noting in a book that uses Edwards to correct such Calvinism. “The development of children,” according to our author, “is achieved by maintaining the delicate fabric of human life and should not be disrupted any more than necessary. The divine purpose for children occurs within this life sequence, not simply in a moment when a child ‘knows’ it, but rather when it lives within it. If life is an extensity or a sequence, then the ‘gate’ for the intensity of the divine presence is in the sequence not in the instantaneous. Grace is the condition by which the child grows and moves forward, rather than something that kick-starts it instantaneously. The child experiences this grace; indeed to grow is to experience this. The goal is a security in the grace of God that the child will not be knocked off no matter the difficulty. Grace is thus intertwined with the child in who they are in a way that does not inhibit them but is conducive to their development and growth to a mature form of human flourishing” (p. 178).

I think McNeill has been unfair to Child Evangelism Fellowship, and that Edwards is not the answer to what bothers him the most. But everyone who loves and cares for children will appreciate his efforts to help them sense their worth, beauty, and potential in the providence of God.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America

Paul C. Gutjahr, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Gutjahr_OUP_Bible in AmericaThe Oxford Handbook series is a goldmine of state-of-the-art reflection on a wide array of themes studied by scholars, which will soon include a volume on the life and thought of Edwards co-edited by Oliver Crisp, Jan Stievermann, and myself.

Paul Gutjahr is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of English at Indiana University and a specialist in the history of sacred texts in America.

And Gutjahr’s Oxford Handbook treats a wide range of topics that will interest Edwards scholars. Those of special interest to readers of this blog are tackled in chapters five and six, written by Robert E. Brown and Jan Stievermann. Brown covers “The Bible in the Seventeenth Century,” laying out the background to Edwards’ exegesis. Stievermann summarizes “Biblical Interpretation in Eighteenth-Century America,” discussing Edwards in two sections—on “The Enlightenment Bible” and “The Evangelical Bible”—and reinforcing the claim made by several recent scholars (including Stievermann himself and his student, Ryan Hoselton) that Edwards’ exegesis “stands out for its theological originality and philosophical sophistication” (p. 101).

The rest of this volume treats what Gutjahr depicts “as a . . . centuries-long interpretative rope of biblical examination. Like any rope,” he writes, “this one is made of individual cords that are woven together.” The six cords he features in the book’s introduction are 1) “textual interpretation” of the Bible in America, 2) “works concerning biblical translation,” 3) “bibliographic and textual work on the Bible,” 4) “historical work on the Bible,” 5) “cultural examinations of the Bible,” and 6) “reception studies of the Bible” (pp. xix-xxx).

Many thanks to Gutjahr and company for this fascinating handbook on the study of the Bible and the power of such study in shaping United States history and religion.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

Paul C. Gutjahr

Part I: Bible Production

1. Protestant English-Language Bible Publishing and Translation
Paul C. Gutjahr

2. American Children’s Bibles
Russell W. Dalton

3. Native American Bible Translations
Linford D. Fisher

4. Bible Bindings and Formats
Seth Perry

Part II: Biblical Interpretation and Usage

5. Seventeenth-Century Biblical Interpretation
Robert E. Brown

6. Eighteenth-Century Biblical Interpretation
Jan Stievermann

7. Nineteenth-Century Biblical Interpretation
Mark Noll

8. Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Biblical Interpretation
Daniel J. Treier and Craig Hefner

9. The Bible in the Electronic Age
John B. Weaver

10. The Bible and Feminist Interpretation
Claudia Setzer

11. The Bible and American LGBT Interpretation
Teresa J. Hornsby

12. The Bible and African American Culture
Abraham Smith

13. The Bible and Creationism
Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr.

14. The King James Only Movement
Jason A. Hentschel

15. The Bible and the Sermonic Tradition
Dawn Coleman

Part III: The Bible in American History and Culture

16. The Bible and American Education
Suzanne Rosenblith and Patrick Womac

17. The Bible in American Law
Daniel L. Dreisbach

18. The Bible in American Politics
Daniel A. Morris

19. The Bible and Slavery
Emerson Powery

20. The Bible and Sports
Jeffrey Scholes

21. The Bible and the Military
Ed Waggoner

22. The Bible and the Founding of the Nation
Eran Shalev

23. The Bible in the Civil War
Paul Harvey

24. The Bible and the Religious Right
Rebecca Barrett-Fox

25. The Bible and Environmentalism
Calvin B. DeWitt

Part IV: The Bible and the Arts

26. The Bible and Art
Kristin Schwain

27. English Cinema and tThe Bible and Cinema
William D. Romanowski

28. The Bible and Literature
Shira Wolosky

29. The Bible and Graphic Novels and Comic Books
Andrew T. Coates

30. The Bible and Music
Jason C. Bivins

31. Performing the Bible
James S. Bielo

Part V: The Bible and Religious Traditions

32. The Bible and Judaism
Jonathan D. Sarna

33. The Bible and Catholicism
Donald Senior

34. The Bible and Orthodox Christians
A. G. Roeber

35. The Bible and the Mainline Denominations
Elesha Coffman

36. The Bible and Evangelicalism
John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

37. The Bible and Fundamentalism
Randall J. Stephens

38. The Bible and Pentecostalism
Michael J. McClymond

39. The Bible and Mormonism
David Holland

40. The Bible and Seventh-Day Adventists
Nicholas Miller

41. The Bible and Jehovah’s Witnesses
Michael J. Gilmour

42. The Bible and Christian Scientists
Michael W. Hamilton