From the JEC Blog

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Inventing George Whitefield

Jessica M. Parr. Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015.

Inventing George WhitefieldThis thought-provoking look at Whitefield’s malleable reputation as a minister of the people rides the recent wave of interest in his celebrity with style. I would not recommend it as an introduction to Whitefield. But for those who have kept up with the recent spate of books on Whitefield’s life and larger significance, Parr offers the best treatment we have of Whitefield’s legacy with respect to race and slavery through the era of the Second Great Awakening.

An adjunct professor and Project Coordinator for Public History at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, Parr presents her famous subject as an ambiguous icon of Anglo-American Protestantism who represented powerfully the tensions felt by many other Christians in his day. On the one hand, he defied religious elites in the Church of England and campaigned for greater toleration of dissent. On the other hand, however, he remained a priest of the Church. On the one hand, he prophesied against southern planters in the Carolinas, especially. On the other hand, he owned slaves and promoted slavery. On the one hand, he democratized American religion. On the other hand, he died before the Revolution started and enjoyed his social status as an Anglican hierarch. It should come as no surprise, then, that Christians then and since have used his iconic status for a variety of ends. Parr pursues these ends well, in six, rather brief chapters, showing that all kinds of people made use of Whitefield’s legacy, and paying special attention to the people who employed it to negotiate debates over slavery, segregation, and black gospel preachers.

Parr’s book has little to offer those who work with Jonathan Edwards. It discusses Edwards briefly, but mainly as a shaper of Whitefield’s iconic legacy, and mostly for the way in which Edwards “saw Whitefield as a symbol of hope, an Anglican minister with whom those of dissenting Protestant sects could work toward a common goal of religious toleration” (85). Parr glosses over the fact that Edwards remained a proud, top-down, state-church pastor. He was never a big promoter of religious toleration.

Many thanks to Jessica Parr for another insightful treatment of the relationship between religion, race, and revival in the early-modern, Anglo-American world.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards: A Life Well Lived

Allan G. Hedberg. Jonathan Edwards: A Life Well Lived. Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press, 2016.

Edwards A Life Well LivedThis is an edifying book by a clinical psychologist in Fresno, California, erstwhile faculty member at a number of different Christian universities, former president of the California Psychological Association, and long-time friend of this Center. It offers an introduction to Edwards for the uninitiated and an assessment of Edwards’ life based on the principles of a Christian mental health counselor. Each of its chapters ends with encouragement to apply the book’s insights to the daily lives of its readers.

As Hedberg confesses in an appendix on his vantage point, “this volume . . . was written as a summary treatise of [Edwards’] life through my perspective as a psychologist. Accordingly, I exercised a degree of freedom when I reviewed and interpreted his experiences, lifestyle, and behavior patterns. . . . When writing this book, I did so in the hopes of inviting other social scientists and psychologists to become acquainted with Edwards and vicariously interact with him in this manner” (310-11).

The most interesting parts of the book are indeed those in which Hedberg exercises professional freedom. The world does not need yet another introduction to Edwards as much as it needs learned analysis of Edwards by psychologists and other social scientists. As I have noted in my fly-leaf endorsement of the book: “I have been wishing aloud for years that professional psychologists would take a look at Edwards, helping us think about his life—and what can be learned about it today—from a mental health perspective. Dr. Hedberg has done just that. Of course Edwards is now in heaven, so conjectures about his psyche ought to be made with great care. Still, cautious, humble hypothesis about his inner life and the lessons it affords for people seeking better health can lead to useful conversations that bring healing to the soul. Whether or not you feel like Edwards (who was an ordinary man with extraordinary gifts for sensing the work of the Spirit of God), I pray that God will use this book to make you whole.”

Hedberg is a friend whom I assisted on this project. In the interest of equity, I’ll keep from saying much more. The table of contents of the book will give you a feel for its shape and the concerns of its author. This book is one of a kind, most helpful to those who want to consider Edwards as an example of an evangelical life well lived.


In Appreciation
The Edwards Challenge


The Man and His Roles, Values, and Times: An Executive Summary
A Brief Biography and Portrait Commentary of Jonathan Edwards
Timeline of the Life of Jonathan Edwards
A Good Name is Better than a Fine Ornament


The Hometown
The Tree House Years
The Yale Roots Run Deep
Many Factors Shape a Life
A Man of Learning, Wisdom, and Influence


The Unfolding of United States History (1690-1787)
The History of the Church
Colleagues in Ministry with Jonathan Edwards


The Seventy Resolutions and Other Personal Writings
The Pursuit of Godly Living
Spiritual Honing System
The Faith Languages of the Believer
Strategic Thinking about Moral Departure
Confronting Evil
Living for the Trumpet Sound of God


Stress Management Strategies
Daily Time Management
The Value of Temper Control
Desire to Be a Peacemaker
Compassion, Not Revenge


The Health Care System of Edwards’ Day
The Demons of Addiction
The Challenges of Aging
The Pursuit of Happiness
Dealing with Procrastination
Acts of Charity


A Large and Traditional Family
Honoring Parents and Family
The Provider in the Home
Parenting Styles and Strategies
Money Matters in the Home
Slavery in the Home
The Edwards Legacy


The Most Famous Sermon of All
An Authentic Faith
The Disciplines of Godly Living
Intentional Self-Examination
Advice to New Believers


The Man and the Pulpit
The Pastor’s Final Words to His Congregation
When God Has Other Plans
The Final Four Key Decisions
Life in the Rear View Mirror


The Ten Most Highly Regarded Writings of Edwards
The Author’s Perspective as a Clinical Psychologist
Publications of the Author and the Artist

Booknote by Kenneth Minkema: Edwards the Exegete

The TEDS Jonathan Edwards Center  does its best to provide thoughtful reviews of every new book pertinent to Jonathan Edwards studies. Reviews at the TEDS Jonathan Edwards Center are usually written by Professor Sweeney and entitled “Sweeney’s Booknotes.” As it would be odd for Professor Sweeney to review his own book and undesirable to overlook this contribution, Professor Minkema, the current General Editor of The Works of Jonathan Edwards and Director of Yale’s Jonathan Edwards Center, gladly accepted an invitation to review Sweeney’s book here.

Douglas A Sweeney. Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-American Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Edwards the Exegete“The book you hold in your hands,” the author’s preface ingenuously begins, “has been a long time in the making.” Indeed, this reviewer remembers when our humble author began this project, just after the turn of the millennium, around the time of the tercentennial of Jonathan Edwards’s birth, when there was much hoopla, many gatherings and publications, assessing his significance for both American and for Christian history. But to envision a study at that time that treated Edwards as a biblical expositor, and, more centrally, his biblicism, was to anticipate, even define, a turn in Edwards Studies.

For much of the latter half of the twentieth century, scholars of Edwards had focused on him as a philosopher or as a literary figure––and rightly so, for he was important to both genres. These interpretive loci owed their origins very much to—everybody say it with me—Perry Miller, whose sway over the field it seems will never end. Miller’s leadership of the Yale edition of The Works of Edwards imposed these priorities as well, with precedence given to treatises and the philosophical and natural typology notebooks, relegating genres such as sermons and biblical commentary to lesser rungs.

But the gradual mining and publication of Edwards’ sermons, thematic theological notebooks and essays, and, yes, biblical commentary was revealing “another” Edwards, or what many thought of as an unfamiliar, alternative Edwards. And there was a lot of it, equaling or even surpassing in sheer volume the famous Stockbridge treatises. These sources—“Notes on the Apocalypse,” “Notes on Scripture,” the “Blank Bible,” and others—taken together, suggested that the center of Edwards’ mental world was the Scriptures, that he was a biblical theologian at heart, and that his varied writings sprang from, or had as a major component, his engagement with the sacred texts.

This is what Professor Sweeney intuited, but first he had to wade through the sea not of blood but of printed material by Edwards and the ocean of material about him, all the while going against the tide of scholarly interpretation. One reviewer, upon considering the shifting paradigm away from the philosophical Edwards, lamented the loss of “our” Edwards, declaring the Sage of Stockbridge would never be as relevant again. Of course, this fear that the philosophical, or the literary, or the typological Edwards would be lost has not come to pass; rather, there is a more encompassing way (not a “key”––I can’t stand “key” people) to approach those “different” Edwardses.

Scholars such as Thomas A. Schafer and Wilson H. Kimnach had done some initial trail-clearing in this area, identifying and ordering Edwards’s manuscripts, many of whose contents had not been appraised since Edwards or his immediate disciples had used them. Particularly suggestive was the discovery that the “Blank Bible” functioned not only as a main repository of scripture commentary but as a hub, an index of indexes and a clearinghouse of cross-referencing, for Edwards’s entire corpus. These pioneers were followed by Stephen J. Stein and Robert Brown, who generally located Edwards within a pre-critical commentarial tradition in which he engaged the beginnings of the modern historical-critical method. And later, even as he labored on Edwards the Exegete, Professor Sweeney sicced a number of his graduate students on Edwards’ interpretation of specific biblical books or passages, an initiative that has produced some very helpful, targeted studies indeed.

From these labors, and from previous articles and essays that Professor Sweeney published as updates of sorts from the research trenches, we had a picture, though an incomplete one, of Edwards’ exegetical world. Now, thanks to this overarching study, that picture is much clearer, or, to switch similes, the puzzle has many pieces in place.

The opening section of Edwards the Exegete provides the first sustained exploration of the topic, including his understanding of (and love for) the Bible. The first sets the context: it considers the training that exegetes in Edwards’ time and place would have undergone; the languages and hermeneutics employed; particular manuscripts by Edwards in which he pursued the discipline; his interlocutors or sources (among his favorites were early modern English scholars such as Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, and Philip Doddridge, though he was surprisingly eclectic); and his notion of “spiritual understanding,” that is, that the regenerate have access to a fuller appreciation of the meanings of the biblical texts than “natural” persons.

Edwards’ notion of “spiritual understanding,” which so informed his reading of the sacred texts, sets up the remainder of the study. From previous scholarship we had an inkling that Edwards did not limit himself to the “literal” or historical sense. While he did not subscribe to the traditional medieval four senses––literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical––he did employ his own four “senses,” as the author identifies them, all some form of a “spiritual sense.” These four exegetical approaches are the canonical, the christological, the redemptive-historical, and the pedagogical, and for each Sweeney summons an example from Edwards’ writings. The canonical shows how, in opposition to contemporary challenges, the Bible for Edwards “cohered,” or how the testaments harmonized, the narratives complemented each other, and the language (allowing for different inspired authors living at different times) showed a remarkable consistency, as instanced in the figure of Melchizedek, king of Salem and “king of righteousness.” A christological exegesis identified how for Edwards the incarnation of the Logos was the hinge of all Scripture promises, prophecies, history, and types; here, Edwards’ (and the Puritans’) love of the Song of Solomon, with its erotic imagery, exemplifies the possibilities of considering Christ’s beauty and “excellence.” The redemptive-historical points to Edwards’ unifying structure of sacred time in his projected magnum opus, A History of the Work of Redemption; under this rubric falls Edwards’ interpretation of the end times, which reveals him to be an “extremely eschatological exegete.” And the pedagogical included practical religion, piety, spiritual disciplines, and the like, as seen in his view of the doctrine of justification.

By emphasizing Edwards as a “both/and” exegete who cannot be made to fit someone’s ready-made model of orthodoxy, but rather challenges historical and presentist preconceptions and even surprises us with the richness of his engagement with the Bible, Sweeney hopefully has set a wide but nonetheless firm starting point for further exploration. Knowing he could not get all of the complexities of Edwards’ biblicism in one volume, our author establishes the basic GPS bearings while beckoning down many routes for others to take. He also provides no less than a hundred and fifty pages of life-giving annotations for the journey—a distinguishing sign of a former Mark Noll student! Scholars both of Edwards and of the study of the Bible in the early modern period: you have a new guide.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Pentecostal Outpourings

Robert Davis Smart, Michael A. G. Haykin, and Ian Hugh Clary, eds. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016.

pentecostal outpouringThis is a fine collection of essays by an exceptionally learned group of conservative Calvinist churchmen, working in several different countries, who are concerned to use the past to promote revival today.

The essays treat revivals in the British Isles, British North America, and the U.S.—primarily in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mostly among the Reformed (Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists more than others).

The authors seem to presume that their readers will either share or gladly tolerate an overt and rather strong Reformed interpretation of history. In the introductory words of my friend Robert Smart, the main editor of the volume, “the Reformed perspective on these extraordinary outpourings of God’s Spirit is helpful. Whereas revival has often been associated with a humanly engineered series of meetings to convert the unsaved and with a fanatical experience that has little to do with the gospel and biblical theology,” this volume “demonstrates that revival is a sovereign gift from God,” a gift that “cannot be merited” by anything we do (p. ix). Those who share this point of view will find this volume inspirational. Those who don’t will nevertheless find it full of information on the history of revival and edifying counsel on the practice of Christianity.

This snapshot of the book’s table of contents offers a glimpse of its historiographical riches:

Foreword: Steven J. Lawson

Introduction: Robert Davis Smart

Part 1: Revival in the British Isles

  1. “The Power of Heaven in the Word of Life”: Welsh Calvinistic Methodism and Revival, Eifion Evans
  1. “Melting the Ice of a Long Winter”: Revival and Irish Dissent, Ian Hugh Clary
  1. “The Lord Is Doing Great Things, and Answering Prayer Everywhere”: The Revival of the Calvinistic Baptists in the Long Eighteenth Century, Michael A. G. Haykin
  1. Revival: A Scottish Presbyterian Perspective, Iain D. Campbell

Part 2: Revival in America

  1. Edwards’s Revival Instinct and Apologetic in American Presbyterianism: Planted, Grown, and Faded, Robert Davis Smart
  1. “The Glorious Work of God”: Revival among Congregationalists in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Peter Beck
  1. Baptist Revivals in America in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Tom J. Nettles
  1. Revival and the Dutch Reformed Church in Eighteenth-Century America, Joel R. Beene

A Concluding Word—A Call to Seek God for Revival Today, Robert Davis Smart

There is something here for everyone. Even experts on revivals will gain new information on the history of gospel work in parts of the Anglo-Welsh-Scottish-Celtic-American Protestant world that remain foreign to them.

But the primary audience of the book is thoughtful Calvinists for whom its subject matter is now distant, unfamiliar, even distasteful and embarrassing. The authors of its essays want to promote a greater eagerness for revival among such people. In the words, again, of Smart:

We not only confess [our] absolute dependence upon the Lord for continual outpourings of the Spirit, but we also ask you to join us in seeking God for revival today. Whether writing from the perspective of Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, Congregationalists, Dutch Reformed, Scottish or American Presbyterians, or Irish or American Reformed Particular Baptists, all the contributors of this volume would say ‘Amen!’ to English Baptist Andrew Fuller’s sermon delivered to the Northamptonshire Association of Baptists at Nottingham, England: “O brethren, let us pray much for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon our ministers and churches, and not upon those only of our own connection and denomination, but upon ‘all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours’ (1 Cor. 1:2)” (pp. 256-57).

Though not a Calvinist, I say “Amen,” too.