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Posts Tagged ‘Pickwick Publications’

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also offers the answersto the questions of Edwards, Jr., as penned by Maltby Gelston in a notebook that has long lain unpublished in the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale.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.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Children Before God

John McNeill, Children before God: Biblical Themes in the Works of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017).

ChildrenBeforeGod_McNeillThough he serves now as the Superintendent Methodist Minister in Aberdeen, McNeill devoted more than three years to full-time children’s work in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, where he encountered what he describes as “the ripple effects” of Calvinist fundamentalism on children (p. 2). As the author tells this story, Sam Doherty and others with Child Evangelism Fellowship had persuaded many families of “a wooden, literalist, absolutist, substantialist and essentialist reading of the customary Calvinist rhetoric of total depravity, collapsing it into one whereby original sin has corrupted human nature both to the maximal extent and intent of its reach so that the heart is understood to be utterly depraved, ‘black’ in an unqualified sense” (p. 6). And according to McNeill, this left all-too-many children feeling worthless, utterly sinful, and in need of a complete divine makeover experience, in which God provided everything and they contributed nothing.

By the time he made it to Cambridge for his doctoral research, McNeill decided to reflect upon this problem theologically. Using imagery from Scripture and a short list of writings by John Calvin, Thomas Boston, and Jonathan Edwards, especially, he attempted to develop a more nurturing approach to early childhood development and growth in Christian grace.

He concluded that while Calvin himself was often misconstrued by his “fundamentalist” heirs, even sympathetic readings of his thought include the notion that children are born morally vicious, hopelessly disfigured by the ravages of sin. Edwards, on the other hand, provided a way forward. Although just as Calvinistic as most other Reformed Christians, his aesthetics, in particular, featured a “sliding-scale” of being, goodness, beauty, and integrity on which even those at the bottom have a certain amount of value (p. 153). Fallen sinners are depraved on Edwards’ sliding-scale of beauty, but their lives apart from grace are not as “black” as they can be. They are characterized, rather, by 50 shades of grey (my phrase, not McNeill’s).

McNeill’s conclusion leaves the reader with the clearest view of his struggle against Calvinist “fundamentalism” applied to the lives of children. It will remind many readers of Horace Bushnell’s approach to the issues, published in 1847 against the conversionistic Calvinism of Edwards’ own heirs—an irony worth noting in a book that uses Edwards to correct such Calvinism. “The development of children,” according to our author, “is achieved by maintaining the delicate fabric of human life and should not be disrupted any more than necessary. The divine purpose for children occurs within this life sequence, not simply in a moment when a child ‘knows’ it, but rather when it lives within it. If life is an extensity or a sequence, then the ‘gate’ for the intensity of the divine presence is in the sequence not in the instantaneous. Grace is the condition by which the child grows and moves forward, rather than something that kick-starts it instantaneously. The child experiences this grace; indeed to grow is to experience this. The goal is a security in the grace of God that the child will not be knocked off no matter the difficulty. Grace is thus intertwined with the child in who they are in a way that does not inhibit them but is conducive to their development and growth to a mature form of human flourishing” (p. 178).

I think McNeill has been unfair to Child Evangelism Fellowship, and that Edwards is not the answer to what bothers him the most. But everyone who loves and cares for children will appreciate his efforts to help them sense their worth, beauty, and potential in the providence of God.