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Jonathan Edwards Center Blog

Book Review – Free Will: Jonathan Edwards’ Psychological, Ethical, and Theological Philosophy in his Freedom of the Will. [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Peter B. Jung, ed. Free Will: Jonathan Edwards’ Psychological, Ethical, and Theological Philosophy in his Freedom of the Will. Resource Publications, 2019. 424 pp. $49.00 [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

This book is an annotated version of Jonathan Edwards’s famous Freedom of the Will, first published in 1754. The volume also contains 5 appendixes: two letters by Edwards, one by John Erskine, Thomas Reid’s notes on Freedom of the Will, and Edwards’s proposal for printing his work on free will.

Jung’s introduction is faithful to the full title of this edition. In fact, Jung offers a good account of Edwards’s psychological, ethical, philosophical, and theological thought as contained in Freedom of the Will, without ignoring the historical context and the rest of Edwards’s works. Additionally, the editor offers a helpful overview of the relevant Edwardsean scholarship and a justification for the editorial work done to Edwards’s text.

In addition to footnotes aimed at clarifying both the content and the history behind Edwards’s book, Jung has divided each chapter into titled paragraphs. This will help the reader (especially the beginner) not only to understand better Edwards’s ideas but also to take the necessary breaks while reading Edwards’s often challenging, long, and demanding arguments.

Although Jung has done good editorial work, one minor criticism I have is that there are several typesetting errors (i.e., page 5). The helpful critical apparatus would have benefited here and there from some more academic oversight for accuracy’s sake (i.e., see the arguable claim at page 208, note 7, according to which the doctrine of double predestination was “refuted” by Arminius).
Personal experience should not excessively influence a critical review. Nevertheless, I cannot avoid mentioning that while examining Jung’s edition I could not help but think about my twenty-five year old self trying to read with understanding Edwards’s work, an attempt that, even though successful, required much effort.

Although Paul Ramsey’s critical edition of Edwards’s Freedom of the Will is now a classic, Jung’s edition can be very helpful to the reader who is not too acquainted with Edwards’s thought and who would like to read Edwards’s Freedom of the Will for the first time. The book will also benefit scholars such as the present reviewer who will at times find themselves in need of a refresher of Edwards’s arguments found in his work on free will.

Marco Barone, PhD

Jonathan Edwards and the Long Eighteenth Century: A Summary of Recent Edwards Scholarship By Dr. David Rathel, Gateway Seminary

The 2020 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society featured a special session devoted to the life and work of Jonathan Edwards. Organized by the Evangelicalism in the Long Eighteenth Century consultation team, the session featured four paper presentations devoted to the New England divine. A group of scholars serving in North America participated in the proceedings, including Brandon Crawford, a staff member at Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest.

Presenting a paper entitled, “’The most pleasing color:’ Jonathan Edwards on the Typology of Green,” Dr. Michael Haykin addressed Edwards’ fondness for typology. Haykin serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary and as Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at Southern. Edwards believed in a universe charged with divine grandeur, and he found theological significance in even the most seemingly mundane objects. Haykin mined Edwards corpus to reveal that for Edwards, the color green possessed special typological significance. It represented joyful resurrection and rebirth, akin to the emergence of vegetation every Spring. It also expressed divine grace; the rainbow depicted in Rev 4:3 as surrounding the divine throne displayed the color emerald. With this paper, Haykin provided a creative and exciting survey of Edwards’ biblical and ontological typology.

Dr. Doug Sweeney, Dean and Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, presented a paper that considered miracles in the thought of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards. Mather and Edwards possessed a great interest in the miraculous. Mather recorded a list of miraculous occurrences that he claimed took place in the New England of his day. Edwards wrote of a divine hand guiding human history and bestowing extraordinary and dramatic outpourings of grace. Both men gave attention to the miracles associated with Jesus’ earthly ministry. Crucially, Mather and Edwards offered their reflections on miracles during a period marked by growing skepticism toward supernatural claims. Sweeney ably demonstrated that neither Mather nor Edwards uncritically accepted some of the philosophical assumptions of their day. They did not envision a project in which they subjected claims about the miraculous to the standards of reason and science popular during their time. Rather than offering an evidentiary argument for Christianity’s veracity based on miraculous events, they sought to reclaim an older, enchanted view of the world. For Mather and Edwards, miracles are supernatural occurrences that ultimately point to the great work of spiritual regeneration and resurrection in the human soul.

Brandon Crawford, a current Ph.D. student at Puritan Reformed Seminary and a staff member at Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest, presented a historical survey of the Stockbridge mission. Edwards’ biographers tend to minimize Stockbridge’s significance, at times presenting the location as a rural locality in which Edwards could rest, preach sermons, and compose his treatise on the will. Crawford convincingly argued that Stockbridge served as a strategic location in New England’s political and religious life. Documenting the history of Stockbridge before Edwards’ arrival, Crawford explored the great lengths to which the Massachusetts governor and Puritan leaders went to fashion Stockbridge as a praying town for Indians. Rather than a mere backwater local, Stockbridge operated as a Puritan embassy, representing the governing authorities and the Puritan religious establishment. Stockbridge’s importance means that contemporary studies of Edwards should attend to it more than they have.

Dr. David Rathel, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Gateway Seminary, presented a paper that considered how the Baptist minister Andrew Fuller appropriated Edwards’ religious epistemology. Entitled “Religion Beyond a Bare Faith: Understanding the Religious Epistemology of Jonathan Edwards Through the Writings of Andrew Fuller,” Rathel contended that Fuller was a nuanced early reader of Edwards. Fuller recognized Edwards’ use of early modern writers such as John Locke. Fuller also apprehended that Edwards’ repurposed and deployed Lockean concepts to suit his religious aims. Fuller imbibed Edwards’ approach in his debate against Sandemanianism, a religious tradition that argued for a mere mental assent to Christian truth claims. In Edwards, Fuller found a warm-hearted piety that critically engaged with the philosophical currents of its day.

After the presentations, all four speakers addressed audience questions. The conversation was profitable, despite the limitations imposed by meeting over Zoon rather than in person. The Evangelicalism in the Long Eighteenth Century consultation will continue to provide sessions focused on significant 18-century figures at future ETS events.

Book Review – Jonathan Edwards within the Enlightenment: Controversy, Experience, & Thought

Book Review

By Brandon Crawford

John T. Lowe and Daniel N. Gullotta, eds. Jonathan Edwards within the Enlightenment: Controversy, Experience, & Thought. New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Series, Vol. 7. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2020. 337 pp. $106.00

This latest volume in V&R’s New Directions in Edwards Studies series explores Edwards’s complex relationship with the Enlightenment. The book’s sixteen chapters are broken into five categories: Historiography, Controversies, Society, Experience, and Theology. Most of the chapters are written by new scholars in the field. In several instances, this work represents an author’s first academic publication.

The chapters are consistently excellent. They are well-researched and well-written. They also provide a valuable preview of emerging Edwards scholarship. The renaissance in Edwards studies began with examinations of his philosophical and theological writings. Then, attention moved into Edwards’s sermons and exegetical writings. Among today’s emerging Edwards scholars, it seems that interest is now moving into Edwards’s thought on social and cultural issues. Here we find chapters addressing Edwards’s thoughts on slavery, race, gender, children, witches, war, and more.

If the book has a key term, it is “transitional” or “transitional figure.” In nearly every chapter, the author concludes that Edwards exhibited patterns of thought characteristic of both Reformed scholasticism and Modernity. For example, Edwards defended the right of a clergyman to hold slaves, but he opposed the international slave trade; he believed that children are inherently depraved, but also extolled their potential; he was a staunch defender of the existing social hierarchy, but also made significant contributions to the rise of populism; he believed in the reality of hell, but he defended the justice of hell with Enlightenment principles.

The book also suggests that some of Edwards’s social views may have changed over time. For example, before moving to Stockbridge Edwards could not seem to identify any redeeming qualities in the Native Americans; however, after spending some time in Stockbridge, his views moderated as he found evidence of biblical wisdom in some of their native beliefs and practices.

Given the nature of this volume, there will be times when readers would like to learn more about a particular topic, but will be denied the opportunity—a single chapter is rarely enough space to do justice to a groundbreaking topic. Hopefully, these chapters will serve as catalysts for book-length treatments of some of these topics. Some chapters also have an inordinate number of typographical errors. One wishes that the copyeditors had been more thorough. These issues aside, this is a groundbreaking volume that demands attention from all serious students of Jonathan Edwards.

Book Review – Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohicans: His Mission and Sermons

Book Review by Brandon Crawford

Roy M. Paul, Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohicans: His Mission and Sermons. H & E Publishing, 2020. 194 pp. $22.99

This book offers a brief account of the Stockbridge Mohican Indians from pre-European contact to the present, with special reference to their experiences under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. Their story is told in five chapters, with a final section offering a summary and conclusion.

Chapter 1 is entitled “A Brief History of the Mohican Tribe.” In the span of just thirty-nine pages it attempts to survey the whole history of the Mohican people from pre-contact to the present day. The chapter focuses particularly on the eighteenth-century Mohican sachem Konkapot, his desire to receive a Christian missionary, and the growing English desire to evangelize the Indians. Unfortunately, the chapter lacks both the nuance and the explanatory paragraphs expected in a work of historical scholarship. For example, the author gives little attention to the broader social, political, and economic forces at work in colonial America, and he rarely ventures to answer the question, “why?” Why, after decades of resistance, were the Mohicans suddenly interested in receiving a Christian missionary in the mid-1700s? Why did English interest in evangelizing the Indians experience a surge at the same time, after decades of neglect?

Chapter 2, just twelve pages long, offers a sweeping survey of Mohican spirituality from pre-contact to the present day, with particular emphasis on the present state of the Christian churches on their Wisconsin reservation. Chapter 3 then tells the story of the “Stockbridge Bible,” which was gifted to the Mohicans in 1746, lost for many years, but finally recovered in the 1990s and moved to the Wisconsin reservation.

Chapter 4 is the longest at sixty pages. It offers a brief biography of Jonathan Edwards, from his birth, to his conversion, to his ministry in Northampton. The author devotes a significant amount of time to the “Bad Book” controversy, which contributed to Edwards’s downfall as the pastor of Northampton’s church. He then offers a brief account of Edwards’s ministry in Stockbridge, with special mention of his efforts to curtail English land-grabs. The chapter also includes a section on Edwards’s spirituality that provides brief treatments of his “Resolutions,” Humble Attempt, and a full fourteen pages on his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The most notable feature of this chapter is its heavy reliance on secondary sources, particularly the works of Marsden and Haykin. Even direct quotations of Edwards are often pulled from secondary literature.

Chapter 5 offers transcriptions of seven sermons that Edwards preached to the Stockbridge Indians along with a brief commentary on each sermon. The selections reveal Edwards’s Stockbridge sermons to be occasional documents, crafted to answer the pressing needs of the Mohicans at each moment. For example, when the French and Indian War broke out, Edwards preached a sermon on the sovereignty of God over human affairs, and another about overcoming the fear of death. The transcriptions also reveal that Edwards’s Indian sermons employed less complex vocabulary and relied more on narrative and illustrations drawn from nature than the sermons he preached to his English audiences. The final section of the book presents the author’s summary and conclusions. He concludes that Edwards genuinely cared for the Stockbridge Mohicans, tried to preach in a style that would be meaningful to them, and left a spiritual legacy that still impacts the Mohicans today.

It cannot be said that this book has broken new ground, as it is almost entirely a survey of older scholarship. What this book does represent is the growing interest in Stockbridge within the field of Edwards studies. It is also an example of the growing desire to include Mohican perspectives in the Stockbridge story. For too long, accounts of Native-Colonist interactions have been one-sided. Perhaps this book will encourage a new generation of scholars to repair that imbalance.

Book Review – Adam Newcomb Boyd, Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals

Book Review

by Brandon Crawford

Adam Newcomb Boyd, Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals (JE Society Press, 2019). 236 pp. $18.99

The book begins with a word about the cultural shift currently underway in America—a shift that is being felt in evangelicalism as much as anywhere. As this shift takes place, many younger evangelicals are finding themselves caught on the horns of a dilemma (or so the author claims) as they find neither the doctrine-based Christianity of “older evangelicals” nor the intuition-based Christianity of the Emergents particularly satisfying.

This leads to the premise of the book: the author believes that Edwards can serve as a helpful guide to young evangelicals as they wade through the cultural morass. Edwards lived in a time of cultural upheaval as well, and he spent much of his intellectual energy thinking through its implications for the Christian faith. As the author finds Edwards’s conclusions satisfying, he believes they could be for young evangelicals as well. Thus, the book’s purpose is threefold: (1) “to explore the qualities of a healthy, biblical faith” with guidance from Edwards; (2) “to develop the most foundational dynamic of our faith”; which he identifies, with help from Edwards, as affection for the beauty of God; and (3) “to begin the healing process by looking at a biblical view of a renewed heart and rightly ordered affections” (p.7).

The book’s argument develops over the course of four chapters. Chapter 1 surveys prominent Bible figures including Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, Christ, Paul, Peter, and John. He concludes that “each of the characters and texts examined demonstrate the centrality of desiring the person of God, his beauty, his holiness, and his reality, above all other things…Simply put, there is no genuine Christian life apart from the affections.” (p.55)

Chapter 2 offers a summary of Edwards’s book, Religious Affections. The author shows Edwards’s continuity with the above mentioned biblical figures in rooting true religion in the affections. He identifies Edwards’s twelve marks of religious affection as: (1) The New Sense; (2) Lack of Self-Interest; (3) Love of [God’s] Moral Excellency; (4) The Enlightened Mind; (5) Effectual Conviction; (6) Evangelical Humility; (7) A Changed Nature; (8) A Spirit of Love and Meekness; (9) An Increasingly Softened Heart; (10) Symmetry of Virtues; (11) Increasing Desire; (12) Christian Practice. His conclusion is that genuine Christianity entails “more than a mere belief in the gospel; it is a sense of its beauty. It is exactly what the enlightenment stole from the church” (p.90).

Chapter 3 dwells on the cultural shifts which took place in Edwards’s day, including Edwards’s childhood and adult experiences as he lived through the changes. Boyd introduces us to Edwards’s father and grandfather and then to the philosophical and scientific developments of the 18th Century—in particular, the increasing hold of Enlightenment thinking upon society. Edwards’s response to these changes was not to completely discard the old or the new; rather, Boyd says, “Edwards held the best of both in an exceptionally orthodox way.” This is why younger evangelicals today must be introduced to Edwards, the author suggests (p.140). Edwards can show them how to navigate a cultural shift without losing the best of their orthodox heritage or dismissing out-of-hand every new cultural development . Edwards can teach them how to offer a biblical critique of the surrounding culture while also embracing its best elements, all the while keeping a doctrinally-rich and affectionate faith.

Chapter 4 is entitled, “A Model for Application.” Essentially, this chapter is a synopsis of a five-week teen Sunday School series that Boyd developed in order to teach the above concepts to young people. As such, this chapter reads very differently from the previous three. This chapter is written in a much more casual style than the previous chapters, and it abounds with pop culture illustrations.

The author provides a glossary defining the key terms used in his book, but curiously, he does not provide a definition of “beauty”—perhaps the most-used word in the book. He does define the words “affection,” aesthetics,” “Emergent Church,” “Postmodernism,” “Worldview,” and “Younger Evangelicals.”

The flow of the book’s argument can also be difficult to track at times as the author jumps from postmodern to early modern times, from Edwards’s midlife to his childhood, and from colonial America to the Emergent Church at a jarring rate. Some may also take issue with the author’s taxonomy of modern evangelicalism. For example, he places those who prioritize doctrine over matters of the heart under the label “older evangelicals.” But is this fair? Indeed, on occasion, the author seems to violate his own taxonomy as he cites John Piper and Timothy Keller as exemplars of Edwardsean piety, though their age would certainly place them in the category of “older evangelicals.”

A final curiosity was how the author justified his extensive use of pop culture illustrations in his teen class (such as showing TV commercials and movie clips) with the argument that Edwards did the same when he interacted with the latest in science and philosophy in his treatises (p.198). This would seem to be a clear category error and perhaps evidence of a superficial reading of Edwards and his times.

Each reader will have to decide for him or herself whether the author’s taxonomy of evangelicalism, use of illustrations, and flow of argument have merit. In this reader’s opinion, the greatest value of the book is not found in these, but in the observation that Edwards lived in a time of cultural transition like our own, and therefore could be a useful source of Christian wisdom as we navigate the present culture shift.

Edwards on Infectious Disease and Social Distancing

by Adriaan Neele & Brandon Crawford

In 1736 Edwards preached on Ps. 65:2, “Tis the character of the Most High God, that he is a God that answers prayer,” on the “occasion of [scarlet fever] epidemical sickness at the eastward” [of Boston]. He reminded his auditors that “The Most High is a God that hears prayers”; therefore “let us pray for others, as well for ourselves,” he said, and “especially…for the outpouring of his Spirit both on ourselves and others.” The sermon was published as “The Most High a Prayer-hearing God,” in Practical Sermons never published before (Edinburgh, 1788), and as De allerhoogste God is een hoorder der gebeden (Utrecht, 1793) in the Dutch Republic during the smallpox epidemy in the Dutch Republic. [1]

Then, during the winter of 1739/40, Edwards was planning a visit to Hadley, Massachusetts, to observe a time of fasting and prayer with his ministry colleague Isaac Chauncy. Chauncy and his church were seeking direction in the selection of a younger minister to come alongside him.  However, when Edwards learned of a measles outbreak in Hadley, he decided to cancel his trip. The following is Edwards’ letter informing Chauncy of his change of plans. Edwards’s thoughts on the nature of infectious disease, on the impact of underlying health conditions in one’s ability to fight infection, and on the usefulness of social distancing to mitigate a viral outbreak, seem particularly relevant given the times in which we live.

Rev. and Honored Sir,

I fully intended to come to Hadley the next Wednesday, and to have assisted in keeping the fast, as I have been desired, provided it had been safe passing the river. But I have since heard that the measles is in the town, which is a distemper that I am unwilling to expose myself to, both as I am loath to have it myself, so infirm as I am, if I can avoid it, and also as I would be unwilling to bring it into my numerous family, especially under my wife’s present circumstances.[2] And having heard that it is a distemper that is often given in persons’ breath, to great numbers at meeting, before the persons that give it are taken ill themselves, I think myself in prudence and duty, not called to expose myself.

Wishing you God’s smiles and blessing in that important affair that your people now are seeking direction about; and that they may be so directed in their choice as may be much for your comfort, I remain, honored Sir,

Your son and servant,

Jonathan Edwards.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, De allerhoogste God is een hoorder der gebeden. Of eene leerreeden over Psalm LXV:3. Uitgesprooken op eenen vast- en bede-dag (Utrecht; Wed. A. Stubbe, 1793); Utrechtsche Courant Feb. 25, March 13, April 1, 1793. Cf. Nederlandsch tijdschrift voor geneeskunde (Amsterdam: H.A. Frijlink, 1867), I:273.

[2] Sarah Edwards was pregnant with Susannah at the time.

Book Review – Rhys Bezzant, Edwards the Mentor

Book Review

by Brandon James Crawford

Rhys Bezzant, Edwards the Mentor (Oxford University Press, 2019). 216 pp. $74.00 (USD). https://amzn.to/2QNBjIl

Bezzant’s latest book is the product of a years’ long effort to understand Jonathan Edwards’s mentoring ministry and its impact on subsequent history. In the introduction, he sets the stage and defines his terms: “mentoring is intentional ministry of formation, whereby an older mentor invests in the character, competencies, and theological comprehension of a younger mentee…, seeking to empower the one being trained for spiritual development, often with the result of enhancing skills and attitudes for leadership. It most often occurs through face-to-face encounters and is supported through other strategies, like letter writing, discussion of decision-making, and sharing resources” (p.6).

The main body of the work comes in four parts. The first part places Edwards’s mentoring ministry in historical context. Bezzant traces the practice of mentorship through the ancient Roman world as well as through Christ and the apostles, the medieval monastics, the Protestant Reformers, and the Puritans of England and New England. The survey establishes that Edwards’s own mentoring ministry was part of a larger tradition that encompasses both Western civilization and Christian history; yet, it was also contextualized for his own time and place.

The book’s second part surveys Edwards’s mentoring practices. Special attention is given to Joseph Bellamy and the other young men who resided in Edwards’s home. On Bellamy’s experience, Bezzant writes, “Learning in a home, with a family, under the guidance of an experienced and well-regarded leader of the revivals, through expansive reading and reflection, marked Bellamy’s experience in Northampton as essentially integrative and his learning inductive” (p.44). This section notes that Edwards’s mentoring ministry took place in the context of genuine friendship, with its mutual accountability and sharing of ideas; and in the context of conversation, with “trusted self-disclosure” and honest verbal exchanges (p.60). It was further enhanced by the sending and receiving of letters “meant to foster emotional intimacy” (p.72) and through Edwards’s clear leadership agenda, often expressed in venues like ordination services.

The third part develops the theological framework which would have shaped Edwards’s mentoring agenda. Bezzant discusses Edwards’s understanding of human beings as creatures in the imago Dei and therefore capable of intimacy with God and others. He discusses Christ as the ultimate exemplar. He dwells on Edwards’s eschatological focus and in his belief that special friendships will persist in heaven. In short, Bezzant demonstrates that the goal of Edwards’s mentorship was not just to impart instruction, but to cultivate a certain kind of spirituality in his mentees focused particularly on developing their affective piety.

The fourth and final part of the book considers Edwards’s legacy. Bezzant states that Edwards’s legacy was “not necessarily doctrinally homogenous but certainly denominationally settled, evangelistically effective, and socially engaged” (p.117). It includes the New Divinity, which persisted for several generations and set the theological agenda in New England for many decades. It includes Andover Theological Seminary, the first graduate school of theology. It even includes the abolitionist and modern missionary movements.

Bezzant also includes a brief coda at the end of the work which is devoted to theological retrieval. In an age often marked by impersonal encounters, pragmatic ministry, and quick fixes, “It is time to be jolted into remembering how to offer personalized soul care, to walk with others in their shoes, and to create an ecclesiastical ecosystem that sustains spiritual life rather than endangers it, where distinct spheres of work, family, and leisure find their mutually rewarding home,” he says (p.135). And in a time when the modern educational establishment is focused on “efficiencies and outcomes,” Edwards reminds us that “pursuing wisdom requires a slow, expensive, and complex pedagogical arrangement. Education must not just provide the tools, but as masters take on apprentices, education must show how and when those tools are best used” (p.136). Furthermore, “Flourishing through face-to-face discipleship is a supremely Christian aspiration,” Bezzant says, “worthy of imitation, even now” (p.136).

Bezzant’s latest book is a genuinely original contribution to Edwards scholarship, and a work of pastoral wisdom as well. Pastors, professors, and other ministry leaders would do well to read this book carefully and learn from its insights. Young men and women would also do well to read it and then search for a person willing to provide them with the kind of mentorship commended in this book—the kind that has historically been a part of Western civilization and Christian tradition, and which was embodied in Jonathan Edwards.

Student Paper Competition Now Accepting Submissions

The Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest invites submissions to its Graduate Student Paper Competition. Papers must focus on Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), his contexts, or his legacies, and must be written in English.

Papers will be assessed by a committee led by Adriaan Neele, Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest, and including the other global Jonathan Edwards Center Directors.

Please direct queries and submissions to Adriaan Neele at adriaan.neele@prts.edu

ELIGIBILITY

· All full– and part-time graduate students from anywhere in the world are eligible to participate.

· Papers must focus on Jonathan Edwards, his contexts, or his legacies

· Papers must be original and not pledged elsewhere.

GUIDELINES

· Papers should be of superior, publishable quality, and they should follow the Author Guidelines published in Jonathan Edwards Studies (available at jestudies.yale.edu)

· Papers must be written in English

· Papers must be readable in Microsoft Word

· Papers must be received no later than September 15, 2020.

AWARDS

· Cash prize of $500 (USD)

· Publication in Jonathan Edwards Studies

The winner will be announced on December 15, 2020

JEC-Midwest Launches a New Book Project

The staff of the JEC-Midwest are pleased to announce the launch of a new book project. Tentatively titled, Reading Jonathan Edwards: An Annotated Bibliography, 2006–2020, the book will be a companion volume to the 2005 work by M. X. Lesser.

This new volume will provide an exhaustive bibliography of all secondary sources related to Jonathan Edwards published during the years 2006–2020, with a brief summary of the contents of each source. The book will include both English and non-English sources. The first draft should be completed by October 15, 2020. Following a 60-day editorial review period, the final manuscript should be ready for submission to the publisher on December 15, 2020.

Book Review — Ryan J. Martin, Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: “The High Exercises of Divine Love.”

Ryan J. Martin, Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: “The High Exercises of Divine Love.” T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (New York: T&T Clark, 2019). xi + 281 pp. $122 (USD)

In this book, originally written as his doctoral dissertation, Ryan Martin aims to correct what he sees as common misinterpretations of Edwards’s thought on the affections.

The first chapter offers a veritable encyclopedia of sources from authors who have either equated Edwards’s term “affections” with the modern term “emotions,” or have claimed that Edwards owed his affective psychology to John Locke. Martin argues that both interpretations are incorrect: Edwards’s affective psychology came from the Christian tradition alone.

Chapters two and three trace the development of Christian thinking on the affections through patristic, medieval, Reformation, and Reformed/Puritan sources. Martin concludes that “most contemporary understandings of emotions have little in common with the portrait of affections and passions” found in the Christian tradition (p.88). While emotions are generally defined as feelings in the body, Christianity has defined “affections” and “passions” as movements of the soul, specifically of the will, directed “toward or away from rational or spiritual good and evil” (p.88).

Chapters four through seven survey the works of Jonathan Edwards in chronological order. Martin reveals that Edwards’s understanding of affections and passions remained consistent throughout his life, and were in harmony with the historic Christian tradition. This leads him to conclude that any interpretation of Edwards which attempts to equate “affections” with “emotions,” or to trace Edwards’s affective psychology to Locke, are misguided. As he writes, “Edwards explicitly rejected the idea that affections are intrinsically corporeal . . . cautioned against making much of the bodily effects of the affections” and carefully distinguished between affections and passions (p.230).

The final chapter, “Toward a Theology of Affections,” is an attempt at theological retrieval. Martin writes, “Human beings, and especially Christians, are not better off having forgotten these distinctions [i.e. the distinctions between affections, passions, and emotions] . . . Edwards’s thought calls believers to return to spiritual affections as the cornerstone of Christian piety . . . Edwards’s thought also calls for a return to ethics and morality, and for those systems to consider the distinction between higher and lower desire . . . Christians today would do well to model such courage and clarity of thought” (p.237-38).

Martin’s work would have been more compelling had he spent additional time tracing the origin, development, and current usage of the term “emotions.” Even so, he makes a strong case that affections and passions as understood by the historic church, and especially Jonathan Edwards, are categorically distinct from the modern concept of emotions, and that Edwards’s use of the terms traces back through the Christian tradition rather than through Locke.

Martin’s work will be particularly valuable to two groups of people: Edwards scholars and Edwardsean pastors. Armed with Martin’s research, scholars will want to exercise caution before interpreting Edwards’s affective psychology through the grid of modern psychological categories. Similarly, Edwardsean pastors will want to exercise caution before citing the theologian to justify their contemporary ministry practices. It may be that some of those practices, designed as they are to stir the “emotions,” might just be what Edwards was warning against.