From the JEC Blog

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards: Writings from the Great Awakening

Philip F. Gura, ed., Jonathan Edwards: Writings from the Great Awakening (New York: Library of America, 2013)

Edwards has finally made it into the Library of America, a prestigious set of volumes containing the most important work in American literary history.

The publishers in New York could not have a chosen a better person to serve as editor of this volume. Philip Gura teaches English in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written several books on American literary history, including Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005).

In this volume, he has reprinted much of the most important literature penned by Edwards during the so-called Great Awakening in New England.

  • A Faithful Narrative (1737/38)
  • Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741)
  • Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (1742/43)1
  • “Personal Narrative” (published posthumously)
  • Seven sermons (only three of which were published in Edwards’ lifetime), including Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741)
  • Four letters that treat revival (only one of which was published in Edwards’ day).

In most cases, Gura has reprinted Edwards’ first editions, or has re-transcribed and printed Edwards’ manuscripts. In the case of the Faithful Narrative, however, he has printed the first American edition, corrected by Edwards and published in 1738. (Edwards felt the editors of the first London edition, printed in 1737, had revised and abridged too much, distorting the story Edwards told.) And in the case of the “Personal Narrative” (whose manuscript is lost), Gura has printed the version found in Samuel Hopkins’ Life and Character of the Late Reverend Mr. Jonathan Edwards (1765), the same as that used by the Yale Edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

Specialists will continue to use the versions of these texts published in the Yale Edition. But the appearance of Edwards’ writings in the Library of America ensures his lasting legacy in American belles lettres. Many thanks to Philip Gura for this beautiful anthology.

1 Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England was published in 1743 as reckoned by our new style calendars. It was published in 1742 by Edwards’ old style calendar, whose new year commenced in March.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: History of the Stockbridge Mohicans

Jeffrey Siemers, Proud and Determined: A History of the Stockbridge Mohicans, 1734-2014 (Fond du Lac, WI: Big Smokey Press, 2013)

jeffrey-siemers_proud-and-determinedThis is a fine general history of the Stockbridge Mohicans by a sympathetic amateur historian. It traces the complicated history of this variegated people from its founding in Massachusetts in the early 1730s through its difficult modern history in Shawano County, Wisconsin.

The early chapters of the book are based on the work of other scholars (the late Patrick Frazier, Rachel Wheeler, Lion Miles, Trinity’s own Mark Rogers, and several others), though its latter chapters include some original research.

Siemers writes like a journalist, clearly and compellingly. He spends little time engaging the work of other scholars, but succeeds admirably in writing a solid and uplifting tribal history.

The author devotes several pages to Edwards’ work at the mission, treating him fairly as a caring and courageous friend of the Indians who nonetheless had weaknesses as a missionary (mainly cultural and linguistic).

Specialists will find nothing new here on Edwards. But those seeking information on the history of this people will find Proud and Determined a helpful place to begin (but will want to supplement it with the work of Wheeler and Silverman noted previously on this blog. See bibliography on Native American Christianity in the Great Awakening in the review of David J. Silverman’s Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America.

[Note: Jeffrey Siemers maintains a blog at]

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards and the Church

Rhys S. Bezzant, Jonathan Edwards and the Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014)

Jonathan Edwards and the Church

This groundbreaking book began as a doctoral dissertation in the Australian College of Theology. Its author, Rhys Bezzant, is a friend and fellow director of a Jonathan Edwards Center, his at Ridley College, Melbourne, where he has worked for nearly a decade. It offers a diachronic treatment of Edwards’ ecclesiological work as well as synchronic summaries and analysis of the nature and significance of Edwards’ doctrine of the church. As I note on the dust jacket, “It’s sad but true: among the hundreds of books on Edwards, nary a one has been published on his view of the Christian church, a doctrine Edwards preached and wrote about throughout his pastoral ministry (despite what you may have heard from other leading scholars). We have needed Rhys Bezzant’s book for a very long time. It is far and away the best, most systematic and comprehensive work on the subject ever written.”

Most previous Edwards scholars, such as Harvard’s David Hall, have suggested that Edwards never had a real ecclesiology, but that his ecclesiastical ministries and battles were shaped primarily by other theological and especially social forces. Bezzant demonstrates that Edwards did maintain a comprehensive ecclesiological vision. Bezzant does not deny that social and interpersonal forces contributed to the contours of Edwards’ ecclesiology. Yet he insists that scholars not reduce Edwards’ churchly writings by describing them as little more than functions of New England’s social history.

This monograph makes several contributions to Edwards studies. The most visible one is found in Bezzant’s manner of balancing Edwards’ high ecclesiology with his ecclesiological reflection “from below.” He argues correctly that Schafer’s classic treatment of Edwards’ ecclesiology (in an article published in Church History in 1955) proves too narrowly ontological, and insufficiently evangelical. It pays short shrift to the ways in which Edwards’ pastoral labors and leadership of revivals also played a role in shaping his view of the church. As a result, Schafer left us with an Edwards who is not as evangelical or pastoral as the real Edwards of history. Bezzant, by way of contrast, offers an Edwards much closer to the minister of Northampton. He finds a golden mean, that is, between Schafer’s purely metaphysical view of Edwards’ doctrine and Hall’s social-historical reduction. In Bezzant’s able treatment, Edwards appears as a genuine theologian after all, but one whose work was forged in the fires of revival and a long life of ministry to people in the church. Bezzant’s Edwards is a man of his time who thought very deeply about the nature of the church, a man who developed an “evangelical ecclesiology” with “revivalist emphases at its core” (256-57).

Another important contribution is Bezzant’s argument that Edwards was evangelical without being a separatist. Edwards moved beyond the Christendom model of ecclesial identity without becoming sectarian. “Edwards was suspicious of the pride generated by separatist certainties growing out of their claimed clarity of personal experience. . . . Purity was secured in the separatists’ model at the expense of social stability, a position Edwards rejected” (176). I hope this argument will exert a salutary effect on the field of Edwards studies, which too often is divided between those emphasizing Edwards’ socio-cultural power and those who nearly turn Edwards into an eighteenth-century Baptist.

Finally, Bezzant corrects the tendency among Edwards scholars to account for his ejection from the pulpit in Northampton by suggesting that he was too old-fashioned, hierarchical, insensitive to the family needs of traditional New Englanders to manage their concerns about church order. Bezzant demonstrates that Edwards was not ejected for his allegedly reactionary attempt to re-impose an antiquated social order on his people. Rather, he held a biblically progressive view of the church and society transformed by the gospel—and was ejected primarily as a result of ecclesiological conviction.

“Edwards’s representation of the church is an exemplary model, not of traditional mechanistic ecclesiology, nor of revivalist and separatist ecclesiology, but of evangelical ecclesiology, which harnesses creative innovative missiological forms to received and systematically constructed Biblical truth” (260). Indeed. This book is highly recommended. It is one of those rare finds useful to scholars, pastors, and church leaders alike.

Dissertation Notes: “Jonathan Edwards’s Application of Theological Method to His Doctrine of Assurance in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.”

Eric J. Lehner. “Jonathan Edwards’s Application of Theological Method to His Doctrine of Assurance in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections” Ph.D. diss., Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA, 2012.

Eric J. Lehner’s dissertation offers a discussion of Edwards’s theological method in conjunction with his doctrine of assurance in Religious Affections. Lehner is Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary.

He writes to show how Scripture is the most important source and influence on Edwards generally, but more specifically, he labors to show that there is a matrix of sources involved in the execution of Edwards’s method including philosophy, history, and Scripture. He seeks to redress what he considers a problem in scholarship on Edwards which has under-emphasized the role of Scripture in Edwards’s thought and the lack of virtually any work on his theological method.

He argues that Edwards is best understood through a “matrix of informing sources, with Scripture as the primary and governing source” (14). This thesis challenges the idea that Edwards’s thought was mostly explained by the rise of Enlightenment thought. He also rejects the notion that Edwards’s thought can be explained by or reduced to a single central motif. He argues that we ought see a number of motifs coming together in Edwards’s thought. He concludes, “An examination of Edwards’s use of philosophical, historical, and biblical sources demonstrates conclusively that Edwards’s theology is not governed by metaphysical or epistemological categories, as some argue, but by biblical data” (iv).

In situating his study, he attempts to adopt the merits of both the “Yale school” approach to Edwards as well as the approach exemplified by Ian Murray. The former, founded by Perry Miller, took a strictly academic and secular approach to the study of Jonathan Edwards. Murray and other evangelical Christian historians and theologians have been willing to allow their theological convictions to color their assessment of Edwards.

Lehner’s study is a welcome contribution that makes substantial inroads into the study of Edward’s theological method and the use of the Bible. Scholars who specialize in Edwards ought to be interested in Lehner’s work as well theologians who have interests in theological method or the doctrine of assurance. He demonstrates a well informed awareness of the field of secondary literature though he may be a little too dependent upon Perry Miller at points. He could have made use of some more recent secondary literature on New England Puritanism. Overall, highly recommended for specialists.