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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.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Bible in American Life

Philip Goff, Arthur E. Farnsley II, and Peter J. Thuesen, eds., The Bible in American Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

BibleinAmericanLifeThis is a gold mine for anyone who wants to know more about the uses of the Bible in the lives of average Americans outside their houses of worship. Its editors, all based at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), added questions on this topic to a couple national surveys: the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study III. Then they wrote up their results and invited a diverse group of social scientists and intellectual historians to interpret them in view of larger trends in American culture. The group met in 2014 to share their work. This tightly packed volume bears their meeting’s ripest fruit.

The results of the survey are worth the price of the book ($35 in paperback): Americans continue to hold high views of the Bible (91% of those who read the Bible at all called its contents the inspired Word of God and/or inerrant); but only half of them had read it in the past 12 months; more than half of Bible readers still preferred the King James (almost three times as many as preferred the NIV, the next most popular version); black Americans read the Bible most (far more frequently than any other group); and similar results, some surprising, some predictable.

None of the book’s chapters says much about Edwards. But those by Jan Stievermann and Robert E. Brown (titles below) deal at length with Cotton Mather as a bellwether of early evangelical attempts to interpret sacred scripture “between faith and criticism” (to steal a phrase from Mark Noll, who penned the volume’s conclusion).

Here’s a peek at the table of contents:

Introduction

Part One: Overview
1. “The Bible in American Life Today,” by Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsley, and Peter Thuesen

Part Two: Past
2. “America’s First Bible: Native Uses, Abuses, and Re-uses of the Indian Bible of 1663,” by Linford D. Fisher
3. “The Debate over Prophetic Evidence for the Authority of the Bible in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana,” by Jan Stievermann
4. “Navigating the Loss of Interpretive Innocence: Reading the ‘Enlightenment’ Bible in Early Modern America,” by Robert E. Brown
5. “Reading the Bible in a Romantic Era,” by Beth Schweiger
6. “The Origins of Whiteness and the Black (Biblical) Imagination: The Bible in the ‘Slave Narrative’ Tradition,” by Emerson B. Powery
7. “Biblical Women in the Woman’s Exponent: The Bible in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism,” by Amy Easton-Flake
8. “Scriptualizing Religion and Ethnicity: The Circle Seven Koran,” by Sylvester Johnson
9. “Reading the Bible in War and Crisis to Know the Future,” by Matthew Avery Sutton
10. “Reference Bibles and Interpretive Authority,” by B.M. Pietsch
11. “The Soul’s Train: The Bible and Southern Folk and Popular Music,” by Paul Harvey
12. “Where Two or Three are Gathered: The Adult Bible Class Movement and the Social Life of Scripture,” by Christopher D. Cantwell
13. “The Word is True: King James Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty in American Evangelical Life,” by Jason A. Hentschel
14. “Selling Trust: The Living Bible and the Business of Biblicism,” by Daniel Vaca
15. “The Bible and the Legacy of First Wave Feminism,” by Claudia Setzer
16. “Let Us Be Attentive: The Orthodox Study Bible, Converts, and the Debate on Orthodox Lay Uses of Scripture,” by Garrett Spivey

Part Three: Present
17. “The Continuing Distinctive Role of the Bible in American Lives: A Comparative Analysis,” by Corwin Smidt
18. “Emerging Trends in American Children’s Bibles, 1990-2015,” by Russell W. Dalton
19. “The Curious Case of the Christian Bible and the U.S. Constitution: Challenges for Educators Teaching the Bible in a Multi-Religious Context,” by John F. Kutsko
20. “Transforming Practice: American Bible Reading in Digital Culture,” by John B. Weaver
21. “Readers and their E-Bibles: The Shape and Authority of the Hypertext Canon,” by Bryan Bibb
22. “How American Women and Men Read the Bible,” by Amanda Friesen
23. “Feels Right Exegesis: Qualitative Research on How Millennials Read the Bible,” by J. Derrick Lemons
24. “Crowning the King: The Use of Production and Reception Studies to Determine the Most Popular English-Language Bible Translation in Contemporary America,” by Paul Gutjahr
25. “Literalism as Creativity: Intertextuality in Making a Biblical Theme Park,” by James S. Bielo
26. “The Bible in the Evangelical Imagination,” by Daniel Silliman
27. “Feeling the Word: Sensing Scripture at Salvation Mountain,” by Sara M. Patterson

Part Four: Retrospective
28. “The Bible: Then and Now,” by Mark Noll

These essays offer perspective on the long-range significance of uses of the Bible in Edwards’ life and world, suggesting, ironically, that most of those today who share Edwards’ biblical worldview and sacred reading practices are probably not Edwards fans at all. Hmm.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture

Jonathan M. Yeager. Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 256 pp. $74/£47.99.

YeagerJE&TransatlanticPrintCultureHundreds of books and articles have been published on Jonathan Edwards since the birth of the Yale Edition of his Works. Yet we still know very little about how Edwards’ varied publications actually came to print. We know little of Samuel Kneeland, Edwards’ go-to printer in Boston. We know little of Daniel Henchman, Edwards’ bookseller there (and, thus, his publisher as well). We know little of the shift to British publishers of Edwards’ works shortly after he died, the roles of Jonathan Edwards, Jr., John Erskine, and John Ryland in facilitating this shift, and thus the mechanisms by which Edwards’ writings played a major role in undergirding the rise of British evangelicalism.

In Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture, Yeager (an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who has appeared here before) addresses this deficit in a manner that will fascinate everyone interested in American social history, the history of the book, or the book trade in the eighteenth-century transatlantic world. Inspired by Richard Sher’s The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America (2006), but convinced “that much more work needed to be done on early evangelical authors” and the publishers who moved their work from manuscript to market, Yeager undertook a study of “how Edwards’s works came to print, the various people who were involved, and the role that the formation of these texts had on early evangelicalism” (pp. ix-x).

The book has five chapters: an introduction on the reception of Edwards’ writings through the end of the eighteenth century; a chapter on Samuel Kneeland and the business of printing in Boston; a chapter on Edwards’ publishers; a chapter on Edwards’ editors; and a chapter on the people who assumed these roles between the time of Edwards’ death and the end of the eighteenth century.

Yeager’s two main arguments are that “evangelicals like Edwards cared how their books appeared in print, even if they seemed more concerned about disseminating their particular beliefs than profiting from publications” (p. xv), and that “Edwards’s printers, publishers, and editors shaped the public perception of him in the way that they packaged and marketed his publications” (p. xi). This will sound like common sense to all who publish books themselves, those who work in the book trade, and those who pay as much attention to the production and the buzz surrounding books as to their contents. But, strangely, no one has made a case like this before regarding the work of Edwards himself.

This is an outstanding monograph, the best so far this year to treat the mundane realities that shaped Edwards’ life and historical significance. The author overreaches when he claims in conclusion that “the favorable reception of [Edwards’] books had just as much to do with the way that they were packaged and marketed as with the content that they represented” (p. 149). But I am glad that he has made a strong case for the importance of this packaging and marketing, and I hope that this is just the first of many more studies of the people and the businesses that shaped public perception of Edwards’ work and its legacies.

N.B. Yeager gave a public lecture at our Jonathan Edwards Center on this topic last year. Click here for the recording.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: George Whitefield: Life, Context, and Legacy

Geordan Hammond and David Ceri Jones, eds. George Whitefield: Life, Context, and Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 352 pp. $105/£65.

Whitefield300OUPThis is the most important scholarly book ever published on Whitefield (1714-1770). It derives from a major conference at Pembroke College, Oxford (Whitefield’s alma mater), “George Whitefield at 300,” held in June 2014, which featured presentations from more than 40 scholars from several different countries (the U.K., Germany, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand). The sixteen here (see the table of contents, below) are among the best of the bunch. Well-researched and up-to-date, they represent well the state of Whitefield studies, a field plowed often since the publication of Harry Stout’s book, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, in 1991.

This is certainly not an effort in hagiography. Apparently embarrassed by the largely uncritical assessments of Whitefield by Protestants before the 1990s, rather, Boyd Stanley Schlenther, in the book’s opening chapter (“Whitefield’s Personal Life and Character,” pp. 12-28), mainly catalogues Whitefield’s numerous shortcomings—a rather striking compensation for his predecessors’ sins, some would say an overreaction.

Chapter 7, entitled “Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Revival” (pp. 115-31), is the only one that treats this blog’s subject in detail. Written by Kenneth P. Minkema, it is premised on the fact that most scholarship on Whitefield and Edwards in the past “centred on Whitefield’s first visit to Edwards’s home and church in Northampton, Massachusetts, in late 1740, a visit that, while dramatic in terms of impact, left the pair at an emotional and theological distance from one another.” Minkema reviews this remarkable encounter but also covers the rest of the story of this pair, “showing that there were initial points of friction between the two—points over which Edwards, true to character, confronted his visitor. However, Whitefield’s subsequent moderation, combined with Edwards’s evolving views of the revivals, resolved the friction to a large extent. In the end,” Minkema summarizes, “Edwards’s public support of Whitefield as an instrument of God and as a fellow labourer in the revival vineyard reflected a consensus they had reached about the nature of the subjectivity of spiritual experience” (p. 115).

My other favorite chapters include the one by Beebe and Jones, “Whitefield and the ‘Celtic’ Revivals” (pp. 132-49), a subject about which I knew precious little; Boren, “Whitefield’s Voice” (pp. 167-89), which employs acoustical models to estimate the size of Whitefield’s largest outdoor crowds (concluding that he could have reached 50,000 people amid ideal conditions, and thus that contemporary estimates of 20,000-30,000 “seem acoustically reasonable,” p. 188); and Berry, “Whitefield and the Atlantic” (pp. 207-23), which focuses on Whitefield’s life and ministry at sea. (“George Whitefield spent over two of his fifty-six years of life on board ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. If one adds the days and weeks spent coasting along the British and American shores, he passed nearly three full years of his life on water, or roughly 8 per cent of his adult ministerial career.” Impressive numbers indeed. Why had no one thought to investigate this subject matter before?)

Here is the book’s table of contents:

“Introduction,” Geordan Hammond and David Ceri Jones

1. “Whitefield’s Personal Life and Character,” Boyd Stanley Schlenther
2. “Whitefield’s Conversion and Early Theological Formation,” Mark K. Olson
3. “Whitefield and the Church of England,” William Gibson
4. “Whitefield and the Enlightenment,” Frank Lambert
5. “Whitefield and Empire,” Carla Gardina Pestana
6. “Whitefield, John Wesley, and Revival Leadership,” Geordan Hammond
7. “Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Revival,” Kenneth P. Minkema
8. “Whitefield and the ‘Celtic’ Revivals,” Keith Edward Beebe and David Ceri Jones
9. “Whitefield and His Critics,” Brett C. McInelly
10. “Whitefield’s Voice,” Braxton Boren
11. “Whitefield and Literary Affect,” Emma Salgard Cunha
12. “Whitefield and the Atlantic,” Stephen R. Berry
13. “Whitefield, Georgia, and the Quest for Bethesda College,” Peter Choi
14. “Whitefield, Hymnody, and Evangelical Spirituality,” Mark A. Noll
15. “Whitefield’s Reception in England, 1770-1839,” Isabel Rivers
16. “Commemorating Whitefield in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” Andrew Atherstone

Bibliography

This is must reading for students/scholars interested in Whitefield and the rise of transatlantic evangelicalism.