From the JEC Blog

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.

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.

Computational Stylistics and Jonathan Edwards

csgComputational Stylistics is an exciting and pioneering way to engage in literary and semantical analysis by employing statistical research. The Jagiellonian University and Polish Academy of Sciences has developed a website to share the fruit of their many projects employing this kind of research for the humanities. Here’s a brief description from the website about its project:

Computational Stylistics Group is a cross-institutional research team focused on computer-assisted text analysis, stylometry, authorship attribution, sentiment analysis, and the like stuff. The research projects conducted by the team members could be described as an intersection of linguistics, literary criticism, and computer sciences – however the best name here would be “Digital Humanities”. The group is based mostly in Kraków, at the Institute of Polish Language (Polish Academy of Sciences), but also at the Jagiellonian University and the University of Antwerp.

What is stylometry? Stylometry is the process of employing statistical analysis of variations in literary style between one writer and genre and another.

An excellent post from this new website explains its particular value for those interested in Colonial American historical studies. Project managers, including Dr. Michal Choiński, applied stylometry to around 300 sermons from the colonial era. Preachers of these sermons included: Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Jonathan Parsons, Samuel Blair and Gilbert Tennent. The goal of applying this technique of statistical study was to establish the distinguishing features of each of these preachers and to investigate the relationships between them.

The below excerpt explains Dr. Michal Choiński’s conclusions about what light stylometry sheds on understanding the image of God in Edwards’ sermons, particularly the way the semantics of the image of God in Edwards’s sermons changed over time.

The research proves that the image of God in Edwards’ writings is both multifaceted and mutable. The complexity resides in the Almighty being simultaneously portrayed as an object of religious reverence and a dynamic sustainer of the visible world. Statistically, “an angry God” from Sinners or Future Punishment is but an addition to an otherwise deeply devotional and benevolent depiction. Also, central as Edwards’s image of God remains for most texts within the oeuvre, one can hardly claim it to be perdurable. Looking at the rich corpus of the studied texts from a wider comparative perspective and with the help of stylometry, we have been able to discern a stable evolution of the manner in which Edwards talks about God, a movement from the early sermons, towards the style of the treatises and philosophical writings.

This very interesting article goes on to discuss how Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield compare, as well as the relationship between Jonathan Edwards and his editor and literary agent, Thomas Foxcroft.

I recommend reading the full write up here…