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Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Hindmarsh’

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism

Bruce Hindmarsh, The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism: True Religion in a Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

HindmarshThis lovely new book on evangelical spirituality treats Edwards among his cohort of early evangelical leaders in the middle third of the eighteenth century. Penned by the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, it interprets evangelicalism “as a distinctive form of traditional Christian spirituality that emerged in the eighteenth century highly responsive to the conditions of the modern world” (p. 276).

What were those conditions? “Modernity, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution” as these developed side-by-side with the so-called Great Awakening in and through the fields of natural science, ethics, the arts, and, of course, religion as well (p. 270).

And what was the spirit of evangelicalism, on Hindmarsh’s account? His subjects said the Holy Spirit. They yearned deeply to experience what one of their favorite Scottish writers, Henry Scougal, liked to call “the life of God in the soul of man.” But put more generally and historically, the “spirit” of eighteenth-century evangelical religion was its subjects’ “aspiration to know the immediate presence of God” in a modernizing, naturalizing European culture “that was sharply separating nature (including human nature) and spirit” (p. 268).

The author deals with Edwards’ life and thought in several different ways, but mainly through Edwards’ stories of the work of the Holy Spirit in New England’s Great Awakening, his engagement with Newtonian thought, and his evangelical ethics (on pp. 57-68, 127-35, 226-33, respectively). Along the way, Hindmarsh paints him as an emblem of his movement, whose “entire intellectual project could, at one level, be described as an account of divine intimacy,” or the presence of the Spirit in the life and soul—indeed, in the universe–of man. In every sphere of his activity, Hindmarsh explains, “Edwards pushed against the tendency to view God as the remote, impersonal cause of things natural” (p. 132).

This assessment is spot on, and highly recommended.