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Sweeney’s Booknotes—Edwards Amasa Park: The Last Edwardsean

Charles W. Phillips, Edwards Amasa Park: The Last Edwardsean, New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018).

Edwards Amasa ParkThis substantial revision of the author’s dissertation with David Bebbington at the University of Stirling in Scotland is the fourth installment in V & R’s series in Edwards studies. Phillips serves as the Executive Director of the Maclellan Family Foundations, a group of faith-based philanthropic bodies in Chattanooga. He is also a part-time church historian, however, with a special interest in Edwards and his legacies. The volume under review is not a biography of its subject, nor a comprehensive treatment of his theological views. It is a monograph on Park and his defense of Edwardsean Calvinism, which Phillips here interprets as a kinder, gentler extension of the New Divinity views of Samuel Hopkins and his network, especially Nathanael Emmons.

Edwards Amasa Park (1808-1900) did more than any other New Englander to synthesize the history of the Edwardsean tradition. Son of the Rev. Calvin Park (a student and friend of Emmons and a professor at Brown University), Edwards Park attended Brown, married Anna Maria Edwards (Jonathan Edwards’s great-granddaughter), graduated from Andover in 1831 and then engaged in pastoral ministry in Braintree, Massachusetts. Though heralded for his preaching, Park decided that academic work would better suit his gifts. So after a time of study with Nathaniel W. Taylor at Yale Divinity School (1834-35), he accepted a post at Amherst College in mental and moral philosophy.

In 1836, Park returned to Andover Seminary to teach as Bartlet Professor of Sacred Rhetoric. He remained there 45 years, retiring in 1881. In 1844, he assumed control with B. B. Edwards of the Bibliotheca Sacra, an Andover organ that he edited till 1884. In 1847, he succeeded Leonard Woods as Abbot Professor of Christian Theology, his school’s most influential teaching position. In 1853, he became the president of the faculty, a role he would play until 1868. In the 1850s and 60s, Park released a series studies on the New England Theology (i.e. the theology of the Edwardsean tradition in New England). He published memoirs of Hopkins (1852), Moses Stuart (1852), B. B. Edwards (1852-53), Emmons (1861), and Leonard Woods (1880). And in addition to numerous other pieces treating Edwardsean themes, he published a highly acclaimed anthology of Edwardsean views of atonement, The Atonement: Discourses and Treatises(1859).

Dubbed the last “consistent Calvinist,” Park was the final representative and first major historian of Edwards’ living legacy in New England. For many years he cared for a cache of Edwards’ personal manuscripts, planning but never executing a magnum opus on Edwards. He defended New England tirelessly, primarily against Princetonians staking a claim to Edwards’ legacy and opposed to New England’s recontextualization of his views (especially by the “Taylorites”). Even after his retirement, Park would champion Edwards’ views at Andover Seminary for years. In the face of his school’s marked transition to “Progressive Orthodoxy,” a more liberal Social Gospel, higher criticism and Darwinism, Park stood fast on the old-time gospel of Edwardsean evangelicals.

Phillips’s treatment of Park includes an introduction, five main chapters, and a conclusion. He does not provide readers with a great deal of new information on his subject. But he does offer a salutary interpretation of Park and his historical significance. Phillips argues that other scholars have for too-long associated Park with either the Taylorites or liberals like the Romantic Congregationalist Horace Bushnell, neglecting to pay him due respect as a leader in New England who kept the Edwardsean flame burning through the end of the nineteenth century (and whose students, Joseph Cook, Charles Joseph Hardy Ropes, Francis Edward Clark, Otis Cary, and many other worthies, carried that flame well into the twentieth century).

Phillips claims that Park agreed with the Taylorites only insofar as the Taylorites agreed with Hopkins and Emmons. “Park’s foundational identity lay in the New Divinity of Samuel Hopkins and Nathanael Emmons: at any point that Taylor contradicted this inherited line, Park did not hesitate to reject the New Haven departure” (p. 45). Exhibit A of this rejection is Park’s eschewal of Taylor’s strange doctrine of regeneration. Worried about the practical results of Hopkins’ teaching that unregenerated sinners—whose hearts had not been turned, and so were still governed by sin—only exacerbated their sinfulness when using means of grace without repenting on the spot, Taylor offered an “improvement” to the teaching he inherited (“improvements” were all the rage in the Edwardsean tradition). He agreed with the Hopkinsians that unconverted sinners always sinned when making choices (“a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,” etc., Matthew 7:18). But he claimed that during the regeneration of their hearts, God suspends their selfishness, enabling them to use the means of grace without sinning–which, in turn, enabled preachers to ask sinners to use the means without fear that this would exacerbate their sin. Park did not repeat the details of these Taylorite improvements and, thus, on Phillips’s account, should not be associated with them. He always stood with Hopkins over Taylor.

As for Park and the liberals, Phillips argues that Park’s famous speech of 1850, “The Theology of the Intellect and That of the Feelings,” which is usually interpreted as a romantic call to soften the sharp corners of Christian doctrine (even the doctrine of the Hopkinsians), was actually a conservative alternative to the patently liberal preaching of Bushnell. Park’s valorization of feeling, and distinction between the theologies of feeling and the intellect, were in fact rhetorical strategies that Park had honed for years to defend traditional Calvinism by teaching it in relation to the spirit of Romanticism. “It is clear,” Phillips claims, “that Park adopted those aspects of Romanticism that were complementary to presuppositions he already held” (p. 138). His famous speech of 1850 “was at the centre of a broad consensus among the orthodox that religious experience . . . had attained normative value for dogma” (p. 137). It was not a liberal speech, but “was a significant voice from the centre of orthodoxy that embodied and promoted an adjustment in the direction of the evangelical mainstream in response to challenges from Romantic conceptions of genuine spirituality” (p. 139).

Phillips is right to maintain that Park viewed himself as a stalwart of New England orthodoxy, as an Edwardsean responsive to the spirit of his age. But Park was never a repristinator of New Divinity doctrine. He “improved” upon his heritage, as he liked to say publicly, in the spirit of the best of the New England Theologians.

Park opposed Hopkins’ manner of treating “unregenerate doings.” He also steered students away from Emmons’ doctrine of unmediated divine efficiency (i.e. the teaching that God himself converts the hard of heart apart from means). He did not follow Taylor into the weeds of the suspension of a sinner’s selfishness, but he did tell sinners to employ the means of grace and, in the manner of the Taylorites, insisted that the means do not save unless and until the Holy Spirit changes the heart and its selfishness with truth. As he told every class of budding theologians at Andover, “it is very important” to help the wayward sinner understand “that, for aught he knows, his next effort to repent,” assisted by the means, “will be part of the complex act of repentance itself.” The Holy Spirit might be working to regenerate him now, using means to help him sense the truth and turn to God in faith. (This teaching is represented in most of the Andover student notebooks of Park’s lectures in theology. See, for example, those of George Park Fisher, 1850-51, Folder 159, Box 12, pp. 340-85, esp. p. 384, Park Family Papers, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University; and Gabriel H. DeBevoise, 1864, vol. 2, pp. 371-95, quotation from 2:393, Student Notebooks—E. A. Park, formerly in the Trask Library at Andover but now at Yale Divinity School.)

As he “improved” upon his heroes, Park also sidled closer to Romantic liberalism. Again, he remained evangelical, an orthodox defender of Edwardsean theology. But neither Hopkins nor Emmons–nor anyone in their circle–would have preached a sermon anything like “The Theology of the Intellect and That of the Feelings.” And few of Park’s conservative peers appreciated the way in which that sermon undermined the older Protestant confessions, discarding classically Protestant doctrines in a box with Catholic teachings labeled products of the “feelings” never intended for subscription. “In the Bible there are pleasing hints of many things,” he said, “which were never designed to be doctrines, such as the literal and proper necessity of the will, passive and physical sin, baptismal regeneration, clerical absolution, the literal imputation of guilt to the innocent, transubstantiation, eternal generation and procession.” In the leaves of holy writ, “these metaphors bloom as the flowers of the field; there they toil not neither do they spin.” Sadly, however, “the schoolman has transplanted them to the rude exposure of logic; here they are frozen up, their fragrance is gone, their juices evaporated, and their withered leaves are preserved as specimens of that which in its rightful place surpassed the glory of the wisest sage.” Charles Hodge was not the only one to balk at such preaching.

Phillips seems to think that associating Park with the teachings of his era’s best-known ecclesiastical writers is tantamount to rendering him a second-rate thinker, a protégé of other, less cautious theologians. But this is not what previous interpreters have suggested. Most have recognized Park for the conservative he was, but have also tried to understand the ways in which traditionalists working in New England recontextualized their faith to meet the challenges they faced. More than most other Christians in his nineteenth-century world, Park championed the right and responsibility of orthodox, Edwardsean evangelicals to adapt Reformed thought for apologetic and pastoral purposes.

Edwards Amasa Park is now the go-to book on its subject’s life and thought. Well-researched and well-written, it is the only book on Park to have been published after the renaissance of scholarship on Park’s beloved Edwardsean tradition and thus is far more current than anything else written about him. Phillips is right to suggest that Park excelled in his own right as a preacher and theologian, not merely by association with Taylor and Bushnell. He is also right to note that Park drew deeply from the wells of pre-railroad men such as Hopkins and Emmons. But Park lived through a revolution in American intellectual and technological history, the fruit of which the likes of Hopkins and Emmons never dreamed. In the future, perhaps, Phillips will spend more time on the ways in which Park felt the force of this transition, updating the Edwardsean tradition as a consequence—not merely by using current trends to reinforce doctrines it had crafted long ago, but also by changing in relation to those trends to meet New England’s, and the world’s, new realities.

Call for Papers: Jonathan Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment

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Call For Papers:

 

Jonathan Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment

Edited by Daniel N. Gullotta and John T. Lowe

 

To be published in “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies” (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht) in cooperation with the Jonathan Edwards Studies at Yale University

 

The editors of the proposed volume, Jonathan Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment, are seeking chapter contributions of 5000-7000 words. Chapters should focus on Jonathan Edwards’ in relation to some subject of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Suggested topics include: political economy and the expansion of trade and/or capitalism; language, epistemology and the organization of knowledge; human rights, and thinking about war and peace; slavery and the question of racism; the place of women in the home and in the church; international relations; the social hierarchy; hysteria, superstition, and pseudo-science; poverty and the marginal of society; anthropocentrism and ecological dominance; Native Americans and colonialism; British imperialism; etc. Other related but not listed topics would be welcomed as well. The chapters shall be arranged into thematic sections. Contributors must use The Chicago Manual of Style and conform to the norms of the Jonathan Edwards Center (see the Jonathan Edwards Studies Journal).

 

Deadline for Abstracts: Apr. 30th, 2017.

300 Words and CV sent to daniel.gullotta@gmail.com and lowejohnthomas@gmail.com.

Answer to Authors: May 31th, 2017.

Full Chapters to Submitted: Dec. 31st, 2017.

See the Official Call for Papers.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards’s Turn from the Classic-Reformed Tradition of Freedom of the Will

Philip John Fisk, Jonathan Edwards’s Turn from the Classic-Reformed Tradition of Freedom of the Will, New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016).

V&RFiskThis second installment in V & R’s monograph series in Jonathan Edwards studies, which is edited by the staff of the Edwards Center at Yale, has been very well researched. Written by Philip J. Fisk, a Trinity graduate and long-time Free Church missionary, it began as Fisk’s doctoral dissertation for the Evangelical Theological Faculty (ETF) in Leuven, Belgium, where Fisk now teaches. Supervised by Anton Vos and Andreas J. Beck, it exhibits all the hallmarks of their neo-Calvinist rehabilitation of the Scotist line of Reformed thought on freedom, which is summarized well in a book by that name from the late Willem van Asselt and his colleagues in the Netherlands, whom the Leuven scholars follow (https://www.amazon.com/Reformed-Thought-Freedom-Reformation-Post-Reformation/dp/080103521X).

Put briefly, the Scotist line of Reformed thinkers on freedom held a less deterministic way of thinking about volition than that caricatured as “Calvinist” by Socinian, Arminian, and Roman Catholic foes. They allowed for what John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) and his heirs claimed was genuine contingency in human moral action. Using Latinate Aristotelian tools they inherited from medieval scholastic sources, they contended for a strong doctrine of predestination, a robust approach to the sovereignty of God over all of human history, and the freedom of the will via concepts like “concurrence” (of divine and human willing, the latter being truly free but depending on divine cooperation for existence) and what they called “synchronic contingency” (real power one has in the moment of volition to do other than what one chooses, even if/though one’s choice has been predestined by God). To their critics, these doctrines seemed logically inconsistent. But to Fisk’s scholastic Calvinists, they offered a way of eating one’s cake and having it too–of maintaining an apparently high view of God’s providence with a seemingly strong commitment to real freedom and contingency.

The burden of Fisk’s book is to show that Edwards abandoned such scholastic tools of art and thus turned from “the classic-Reformed tradition” on freedom. Or in Fisk’s own words, “our conclusion is that Edwards totally transformed the Reformed tradition from within the tradition, and as such, deviates from it” (p. 418). Edwards claimed to argue for the freedom of the will. But he actually undermined it by denying any contingency in human moral action, and became a rank determinist.

Fisk develops this claim in a two-fold manner. Part One of his book treats “The Harvard and Yale Curricula on Freedom of Will” (pp. 67-231), in which Fisk sketches the history of commencement theses at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as well on the freedom of the will up to the time when Edwards published his own Freedom of the Will (1754); the work of the Dutch scholastic thinker, Adriaan Heereboord, on the freedom of the will, which was studied at the colleges; and the work of the Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard Presbyterian, Charles Morton, on the will, which was based on Heereboord and Fisk suggests Edwards may have studied in college. Part Two treats “The Position of Jonathan Edwards on Freedom of Will” (pp. 233-408), in which Fisk measures Edwards and his work with other scholars on the freedom of the will (especially Daniel Whitby, an Anglican Arminian) against the gold standard of Reformed Scotists like Heereboord—and finds Edwards wanting.

Inasmuch as Fisk’s Scotist interpretation of what he calls “the main Christian line of thought” as well as “the classic-Reformed line” of thought on the will (pp. 108, 231 and passim) has sparked a bit of controversy, his interpretation of Edwards will prove controversial too. All should grant that Fisk’s scholastics avoided sheer determinism, but many (like me) will argue that Edwards did so too and, in the end, proved no more deterministic than most of his Reformed predecessors. He did leave behind much of the Aristotelian framework for interpreting volition, and thus defended human freedom in a rather different manner than scholastics such as Heereboord. But he did so in order to defend traditional Calvinism from critics who deemed it too deterministic. By Edwards’ day, critics saw through what they claimed was the verbal smoke and mirrors of the Scotists on freedom, and thus Edwards felt obliged to adopt a new approach–one that was more transparent about Calvinist views of God’s sovereign rule over history, and more forthright in its argument for human natural freedom (freedom to do whatever one pleases) in the midst of moral necessity (one always/necessarily wills to choose that to which one is most inclined when choosing). He ended up teaching something very much like the older Calvinistic doctrine, in spite of his modern framework for interpreting the issues: that God has predestined all the things that matter most in the history of the world, but that humans also choose freely everything they do (except in cases of natural/physical compulsion, in which we are not morally culpable for our actions). No matter which philosophical frame of reference he employed, none of the early modern Calvinists taught a view of human freedom that passed muster with their much more libertarian critics.

In the preface to the first edition of Edwards’ Original Sin (1758), the Rev. Samuel Finley (who became Princeton’s president three years after Edwards died) referred to Edwards’ earlier book on the Freedom of the Will (1754) as a volume “that has procured him the Elogy of eminent Divines abroad. Several Professors of Divinity in the Dutch Universities,” Finley specified, “very lately sent him their Thanks, for the Assistance he had given them in their Inquiry into some controverted Points; having carried his own further than any Author they had ever seen” (p. ix). The reception of Edwards’ writings on the freedom of the will has clearly changed since then in the Low Countries!

This book is highly recommended. Careful readers have now seen that it will prove most useful to philosophical theologians, and most interesting to Calvinists seeking the best ways to defend their faith from charges of determinism. But all serious students of early modern Western thought need to come to terms with its contents. And students of Edwards’ thought will want to noodle on its argument regarding Edwards’ place in the history of Calvinism.

For more on the issues handled masterfully by Fisk, consult the debate conducted through the following lectures from Richard Muller and Paul Helm hosted here at the Center.

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.