From the JEC Blog

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Rhetoric of the Revival

Michał Choiński. The Rhetoric of the Revival: The Language of the Great Awakening Preachers, New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016. 212 pp. $100/£68.

ChoinskiThis insightful monograph by a young Polish scholar, Michał Choiński (a professor of American literature and culture at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland), marks the beginning of a new series of cutting-edge books published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies. Edited by Kenneth P. Minkema and Adriaan C. Neele, this series will feature new scholarship on Edwards and his world. Its second volume, by Philip Fisk (an alumnus of TEDS), should appear in a few months.

Choiński’s book is organized in three parts. Part One sketches the history of rhetoric both in general and as background against which the composition of sermons during New England’s Great Awakening is interpreted as discourse. Part Two treats the historical and cultural context of the Awakening itself, describing its emergence over three generations (that of the so-called “Pilgrim Fathers,” the “sustainers” of the New England way, and Enlightenment-era descendants who reformed Puritan preaching for more modern churchgoers). Part Three analyzes ten rhetorically different sermons preached by six different preachers from 1739 to 1745 in New England and its environs. Choiński examines public performances by George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Parsons, Jonathan Dickinson, and Andrew Croswell, featuring talks that represent a diversity of rhetorical styles and highlight the preachers’ strengths and idiosyncrasies.

The author combines a traditional rhetorical analysis of these sermons and their structure with a modern pragmatic interpretation of their effects (based on the speech-act theories of J. L. Austin, H. P. Grice, and John Searle). He is interested not only in their oratorical aspects, but also in the things that preachers accomplished with these sermons as they spoke them in particular cultural contexts.  “By paying attention to the language-related phenomena,” he writes, “we can arrive at a much deeper understanding of colonial religious thought. This book attempts to pursue this very topic—it surveys the stylistic and persuasive aspects of the language of the Great Awakening and examines the minutiae of the sermons of its important preachers” (9). Another aim, Choiński continues, “is to understand the mechanisms of rhetoric and the persuasive use of language in New England in the mid-18th century, a period which constituted an important stage in the evolution of oratory in America” (10).

Choiński claims that the words of his Great Awakening preachers “had a fantastic, almost magical power” on listeners (9). Their rhetoric, moreover, revolutionized America (or at least American speech), producing a lasting effect on modern religion, politics, and media. Or as the author makes this point in the conclusion of his book, “vivid and vibrant sermons, delivered in a dynamic manner, were particularly appealing to audiences who had been accustomed to rigid, conventional Calvinist homiletic patterns and viewed the ‘rhetoric of the revival’ as a completely original form of oratory” (202-203). This form captivated audiences for centuries to come. In fact, “in order to comprehend the present rhetorical complexity of religious discourse used in churches, in politics or in public media, one needs to look closer at its roots, especially the early revival tradition” (204).

This is a fine first book by an up-and-coming scholar of American life and letters, and a fine first volume in an up-and-coming series on Edwardsean history and thought. One only hopes that, in the future, these V & R volumes will include indices.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Théologie et Lumières

Roy Carpenter. Théologie et Lumières: Jonathan Edwards entre Raison et Réveil. Paris: Éditions Ampelos, 2015.

Carpenter-EdwardsThis is a fine introduction to Edwards’ life and mental labors for thoughtful, francophone readers.

Educated in Canada at the undergraduate level (McGill University), Carpenter finished his graduate study at the University of Versailles–St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, writing a doctoral dissertation with Bernard Cottret. This revision of that work, Theology and Enlightenment: Jonathan Edwards between Reason and Revival (English translation), tracks the ways in which Edwards reinvented Calvinist thought during the age of the Enlightenment, responding to his era’s most pressing epistemological and ethical concerns. Its author has written on Edwards before, treating Edwards’ views of divorce, “sexual politics,” and hell. (See here for his article on divorce and sexual politics, published in Jonathan Edwards Studies: He serves as associate professor in the Faculty of Law of Jean Moulin University Lyon 3.

This is a hefty paperback, nearly 500 pages long. It is organized in three main parts and twelve chapters, along with a preface by Louis Schweitzer of the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at Vaux-sur-Sein (in Paris), an introduction by the author, and a conclusion in which Carpenter discusses Edwards’ death, posthumous image, and “hidden legacy” (héritage caché).

In Part One (pp. 23-186), “The Formulation of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (La formulation de l’hypothèse évangélique), Carpenter introduces the notion that Edwards’ evangelicalism was an experiment of sorts in the development of Reformed thought with scientific tools. He describes Edwards’ context in “the wake of Newton and Locke,” his intellectual formation at Yale College and beyond, and his pastoral ministry through the late 1730s. In Part Two (pp. 187-322), “The Testing of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (la mise à l’épreuve de l’hypothèse évangélique), Carpenter analyzes the ways in which the fires of revival tried Edwards’ evangelicalism. He treats the Great Awakening, Edwards’ view of the revivals, and their application in Edwards’ own millennial theology and work in Indian missions. In Part Three (pp. 323-454), “The Revision of the Evangelical Hypothesis” (La Remaniement de l’Hypothèse Évangélique), the author observes a purgation of impurities in Edwards’ evangelical Calvinism during the membership debate that rankled Edwards’ congregation, his ejection from Northampton, and his writings on free will, the end of creation, true virtue, and original sin. Throughout this final phase of his life, Edwards reevaluated his “evangelical hypothesis,” correcting for the spurious conversions and false piety inflated by the heat of the revivals.

Summing up his main point about Edwards’ new experiment in enlightened Calvinism “between reason and revival,” Carpenter claims that Edwards’ writings “constitute a single work whose aim is to reconcile religious practice with the latest advances of Western thought, while subjecting the modern theses to the same critical review that applies to scholastic Puritanism” (les écrits d’Edwards constituent bien une seule oeuvre dont le but serait de réconcilier la pratique religieuse avec les dernières avancées de la pensée occidentale, tout en soumettant les thèses modernes à la même analyse critique qu’il applique au puritanisme scholastique, p. 21.) His was a grand experiment in Reformed evangelicalism that fueled later evangelical movements powerfully, particularly in America. Benjamin Franklin is often portrayed as the prototypical American. But Edwards fits the bill much better, according to Carpenter. He might not represent what most Westerners today want America to be, Carpenter concludes from his perch in eastern France, but he represents more fully what it is (il représente, non pas ce que l’Amerique devrait être, mais ce qu’elle est, p. 469).

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