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Posts Tagged ‘Maltby Gelston’

Sweeney’s Booknotes—New England Dogmatics

New England Dogmatics: A Systematic Collection of Questions and Answers in Divinity by Maltby Gelston (1766-1865), ed. Robert L. Boss, Joshua R. Farris, and S. Mark Hamilton (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019).

New England DogmaticsThis is a goldmine for students of the New Divinity (the theological movement that stemmed from Edwards’ life and work).

It contains three lists of questions in dogmatic theology used with ministerial hopefuls and other students in New England: two lists by Jonathan Edwards and one by Jonathan Edwards, Jr., all of which are also available in the online edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

The book’s main contribution is that it also offers the answersto the questions of Edwards, Jr., as penned by Maltby Gelston in a notebook that has long lain unpublished in the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale.

After graduating from Yale College in 1791, Gelston lived for three years in the home of Edwards, Jr., then a pastor in New Haven, for more ministerial training. Edwards ran the young Gelston through his theological paces with the help of an impressive list of 313 questions in theology, which, taken together, open a window onto the values of the Edwardsean tradition in New England. Gelston would go on to serve for more than 45 years as the pastor of the Congregational church in Sherman, Connecticut.

The book’s editors are all up-and-coming Edwards scholars: Robert Boss is the founder and Executive Director of JESociety.org; Joshua Farris is a professor at Houston Baptist University; and Mark Hamilton is a recently-minted Ph.D. from the Free University of Amsterdam (who has already published both on Edwards and the Edwardseans). Their introduction to the volume includes a biographical sketch of Maltby Gelston’s life and work and an analysis of his answers on the doctrine of the atonement. It uses Edwards’/Gelston’s answers to contribute to the ongoing debate about the nature and significance of the Edwardseans’ so-called Calvinistic moral government theory of the atonement (pp. 1-49).

Several scholars have written about the pastoral mentorships that characterized the Edwardsean tradition in the years during and after the Great Awakening. Here is the summary offered by Yale’s Kenneth P. Minkema in a “Foreword” written for this volume:

It was common practice for a student, having finished his baccalaureate work, to supplement or extend his training and experience, either before going on for a master’s degree, or while pursuing it. This period was called “rusticating.” The student would identify an established pastor who ran a school of the prophets [i.e. a mentorship program] with whom he wanted to live for a time–usually a year or so–during which he would be part of the minister’s family, try his hand at preaching, visitation, and other pastoral duties, and witness the domestic, social, and professional life of an ordained leader in all its aspects. He would also, under his mentor’s direction, engage in further study (p. ix).

Nary a single modern scholar has ever written about Gelston, so here is what I wrote for the book’s back cover:

Maltby Gelston is one of the most important New Divinity scholars about whom most have never heard–primarily because of his book of questions and answers in divinity written for Jonathan Edwards, Jr., his pastoral mentor. This material, published here for the very first time, opens a whole new window onto the world of the Edwardseans, reminding us of a time and place quite different from our own, where the details of Christian doctrine were matters of life and death or, in the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, “all was profoundly real and vital,–a foundation on which actual life was based with intensest earnestness.”

Everyone who wants to know more about the New Divinity schools of the prophets and their theological fruits will want to read this groundbreaking volume.