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Jonathan Edwards Center Blog

Book Review – John Carrick, Jonathan Edwards and the Immediacy of God. [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

John Carrick, Jonathan Edwards and the Immediacy of God. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2020. 172 pages. $ 22.00, paperback. [Reviewed by Dr. Marco Barone]

This book has two goals. First, to demonstrate that “the concept of divine immediacy is Ariadne’s thread that runs throughout … Edwards’ thought” (136). Second, to demonstrate that that very same concept of divine immediacy is “the Achilles’ heel of his [Edwards’s] entire philosophical-theological system (136).

The author is successful in reaching the first goal. Carrick demonstrates how the immediacy of God’s presence and action is a constant that connects any theological or philosophical topic discussed by Edwards, either explicitly or implicitly.

Chapter 1, “God and the Creation,” is a helpful summary of Edwards’s God-infused view of reality. Carrick rightly notices that most, if not all, of Edwards’s philosophy was either directly or indirectly set against deism. While the deists wanted to conceive of a God distant from and disinterested in creation, Edwards powerfully argued for a God whose continual creative and sustaining power is necessary for the being and existence of all things.

Chapter 2, “The Will,” contains helpful considerations about the relationship between Edwards’s idealist and occasionalist view of God-creation and Edwards’s doctrine of the will; in fact, Carrick points out that, just like the deists wanted to relegate God outside of the cosmos, in a similar way Edwards believes that also the broad group of “Arminian” theologians, perhaps inadvertently, exiled God from man’s inner life.

Chapter 3 is, perhaps, the most interesting chapter of the book. Carrick shows how Edwards’s opposition to “Mr. Stoddard’s way” and to the “Halfway Covenant” find their ultimate origin in Edwards’s doctrine of the immediacy of God. Edwards’s desire to preserve “exclusiveness, purity, internalization, and immediacy” (105) in religion contrasted with Stoddardism and the Halfway Covenant which, according to Carrick, Edwards saw as leading to “inclusiveness, worldliness, externalization, and distance” (105) in religious matters.

In good continuity with chapter 3, in chapter 4, “Spiritual Experience,” Carrick expounds on Edwards’s view of religious experience. Also here, we find Edwards developing a “theology of the immediate influence of the Spirit” (133), which Edwards opposes to the “anti-immediacy” of both deists and Arminians. However, Carrick reminds us that Edwards was no “enthusiast.” Quite the opposite, he opposed the “ultra-immediacy” of Anabaptists and Quakers in favor of a via media between anti-immediacy and ultra-immediacy.

The Conclusion offers an overview of the author’s findings.

Regarding the second goal, one may detect some problems. Carrick argues that Edwards’s view of the relation between God and creation dissolves the creature-Creature distinction (39-45, claim x) makes God the author of sin (60-62, claim y). Quoting John Locke, Carrick goes so far in claiming that Edwards’s view of continuous creation can be described as “the ungrounded fancies of a man’s own brain” (135).

The problem is not that arguments for these claims cannot be given. They can, and they have, but the book does not seem to offer a complete case in that direction. Especially in the first two chapters and in the conclusion, Carrick detects problems and difficulties with Edwards’s position, which are reasonable and understandable concerns. However, a philosophy’s prima facie problems do not necessarily prove positive claims about said philosophy. Though the book raises lawful concerns and offers indications, these by themselves do not constitute a developed argument for either x or y. For example, Edwards’s doctrine of continuous creation (23-27) and his occasionalism (33-38) do not by themselves necessarily entail x and y. However, this seems to be the conclusion made in the book, supported simply by, firstly, the unusual nature of those teachings, and, secondly, because Edwards’s language and concepts at times differ from the classical ones. X and y, however, need a much larger positive development in order to be proved. On the basis of Edwards’s own works and of some secondary literature (e.g., Bombaro, 207-232; S. Mark Hamilton), a strong case could be made according to which x and y are mistaken. Relatedly, y is a charge from which all sorts of Christian theisms need to defend themselves, not simply Edwards. What follows is about George Berkeley, but it can be discerningly applied to Edwards as well.

In the Three Dialogues, Berkeley again treats the problem of evil, but this time the subject is moral evil rather than natural evil. With regard to immoral actions performed by human beings he notes first that “the imputation of guilt is the same, whether a person commits such an action with or without an instrument,” where in this context the “instrument” on the matterist’s account is understood to be material substance. In this way, Berkeley argues that his immaterialism is, for good or ill, on equal footing with realism when it comes to the problem of moral evil. If given his principles, the benevolence of God must be denied because of the presence of moral evil in the world, then the same follows for the philosopher who assumes the principles of matterism. Interposing material substance between God and human misconduct provides no buffer against divine responsibility. Just as a murderer is equally culpable for his act whether he uses a gun or his fist, God is culpable (if culpable at all) for natural evil whether or not he created the world using corporeal substance. Thus, Berkeley’s intention here is simply to show that any theodicy that works here for the matterist works equally well for the immaterialist. There is no difference between them on this issue … Anyone within this [Christian] tradition, including those of the matterist stripe, must grapple with the thorny problem of reconciling divine determinism, human responsibility, and the goodness of God … Berkeley’s immaterialist metaphysics does not subject him to any more formidable problem of evil than that which confronts certain other matterists. For both the task of forging a satisfactory theodicy in light of the sovereignty of God is equally onerous.” (James S. Spiegel, “The Theological Orthodoxy of Berkeley’s Immaterialism,” in Idealism and Christian Theology, 15-16).

Some essential entries from the secondary literature have not been considered, which perhaps would have been a way to help navigate these difficult issues of philosophical theology.

However, the reader should not be put off. Although the book’s second goal has not been reached, the first goal has and it does not need the second goal in order to stand. One of Edwards’s many fascinating features is that one can detect some treads which run across the entirety of his theological and philosophical corpus, and show how Edwards’s system is explained and clarified by that tread. For example: God as a communicative being (Schweitzer), Trinity and participation in the divine (Strobel and Tan), dispositional theocentrism (Bombaro), and others. Carrick has offered some useful analyses regarding the omnipresence of the doctrine of God’s immediacy in Edwards’s thought. Especially Edwards’s ecclesiology is rarely considered in this light, and Carrick offers some important reading keys to better understand Edwards’s ecclesiastical writings and to better place them in his theocentric view of all things. These reasons make the book an informative reading which encourages further discussion.

Book Review – Michael Patrick Preciado. A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Book Review – Michael Patrick Preciado. A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Michael Patrick Preciado, A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019. 316 pages. $ 27.00 USD [Reviewed by Dr. Marco Barone]

Even if late, a review of Preciado’s book could not be missing from the Jonathan Edwards Center Blog. The reasons will become clear as I briefly outline the content of this volume.

Chapters 1 and 2 are expositions of the theory of guidance control by Martin Fisher and Mark Ravizza. The appendix contains a defense against objections, and it also suggests some possible developments and corrections to Fischer’s and Ravizza’s theory. Although the author says that the reader who is not interested in guidance control can skip these chapters (page xvii), these three chapters are necessary in order to fully appreciate the first of the three stated purposes of the book.

To establish compatibility between guidance control and reformed theology on the issue of freedom and moral responsibility … by establishing that reformed theology denies the sourcehood condition and alternative possibilities conditions, by establishing that rational spontaneity is a primitive form of reasons-responsive theory and by establishing that reformed theology and guidance control have a similar subjectivist condition. (page xv-xvi)

The second and third purposes of the volume are more directly related to reformed theology in general and to Jonathan Edwards in particular.

The second purpose of this book is to elucidate the reformed orthodox view of freedom and moral responsibility. I will accomplish this by stating the reformed orthodox view in their own terms as well as in the terms of contemporary analytic philosophy. This will allow reformed theologians and philosophers to see what the reformed view amounts to in light of current debates in contemporary philosophy.

The third purpose of this book is to show that there is basic continuity between the reformed orthodox and Jonathan Edwards with regard to freedom and moral responsibility It will be argued that there are some differences, however, they hold substantially the same position. This conclusion rebuts Richard Muller’s contention that there was a parting of ways between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. (page xvi)

These last two goals are achieved in chapters 3 to 5, and, according to the present reviewer, successfully so. Chapter 3 argues that the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP) is not necessary in order to maintain a genuine reformed sense of “could have done otherwise. Then, Preciado offers a refutation of the “Libertarian Calvinism” of Oliver Crisp who, similarly to John Girardeau, argues that some sections of the Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism affirm or can be used to allow the possibility of libertarian free will and PAP. The chapter continues with a critical examination of the Utrecht School. Preciado shows that in the Reformed Orthodox, where the Utrecht School sees synchronic contingency, we only find support for indifference in the divided sense (with clear rebuttals of indifference in the compound sense).

In chapter 4, the author argues that the reformed view of free will and moral responsibility is a type of compatibilism. The careful distinctions and qualifications of this chapter reveal how excessive fear of decontextualizations can stray into an unnecessary fear of applying recent philosophical terms to past works, even when the concepts signified by those terms are present in said works. The chapter further elucidates how reformed theology meets the requirements that allow us to consider it compatible with guidance control.

Chapter 5 contains an exposition and defense of Edwards’ orthodoxy on free will and necessity. Preciado shows that Edwards denied the sourcehood, rejected PAP, and supported a type of reasons-responsive theory and a type of subjectivist condition. These and other findings lead the author to state what follows.

This makes his [Edwards’s] thinking about free will and moral responsibility substantially continuous with guidance control and the reformed orthodox. They are all some sort of reasons-responsive compatibilists. In this way, there has been no parting of the ways between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. (page 215)

Lastly, chapter 5 refutes Muller’s claims regarding Edwards’s departure from the teachings of the Reformed orthodox. To be sure, Preciado mentions the differences between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. Nevertheless, “Muller failed to present evidence that there has been a parting of the ways. Though Edwards used different language and categories, he covered the same ground and gave substantially the same answers as the reformed orthodox” (page 215). Additionally, Preciado helpfully notices that, even if we granted the multiple potencies that Muller posits, this does not prove parting of the ways. Furthermore, the alleged multiple potencies would be substantially similar to Edwards’s notion of natural ability, which, together with other elements of his position, and contrary to Muller’s claim), allow for a genuine sense in which an agent “could have done otherwise.”

One minor criticism of the book regards the author’s invitation “to mine the resources of contemporary analytic philosophy on the issue of free will and moral responsibility” because “there is a wealth of material that could aid reformed theologians and philosophers in articulating a rigorous view of a reformed doctrine of free will and moral responsibility” (page 218, see also xv-xvi). Nevertheless, the invitation needs to be qualified further. Much of today’s analytic philosophy is characterized by logical experiments conducted in separation from other grounding considerations of ontology, theological anthropology, ethics, and exegesis. Both the Reformed orthodox and Edwards did not separate these subjects from their reasoning, and they always philosophized within the context of their Reformed anthropology and ethics. In this regard, Muller’s warnings are appropriate (see Muller, Divine Will and Human Choice, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 44, 50).

Preciado has done a great service to the Reformed philosophical and theological community. Besides clearing the Reformed Orthodox’s and Edwards’s respective positions from some important misreadings, this book also offers a good model of sound philosophy that is both respectful of historical, intellectual, and textual contexts and able to abide to constructively contrast and compare terminology and concepts of past and present. Preciado has also helped to clear the way from recent interpretations of freedom and contingency (namely, synchronic contingency and multiple residual potencies) which are often presented as the only options to preserve a genuine notion of contingency and of “could have done otherwise.” These last considerations are, of course, also true for Preciado’s treatment of Edwards. This book makes a good addition to Helm’s and others works on the nature of Edwards’s doctrine of freedom and necessity and its continuity (and difference) with the Reformed orthodox.

Book Review — Todd, Obbie Tyler. The Moral Governmental Theory of Atonement: Re-envisioning Penal Substitution. Re-Envisioning Reformed Dogmatics [Review by Brandon Crawford]

Todd, Obbie Tyler. The Moral Governmental Theory of Atonement: Re-envisioning Penal Substitution. Re-Envisioning Reformed Dogmatics. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. 213 pp. $27.00 USD [Review by Brandon Crawford].

Obbie Todd’s recent book offers a systematic theology of the moral governmental theory of atonement as it was articulated by the New Divinity. The first part places the theory in its intellectual context. Todd begins with Jonathan Edwards, explaining how some of the familiar themes in the Edwards corpus likely influenced the New Divinity thinkers—particularly Edwards’s distinction between “natural” and “moral” human ability. Todd does a particularly admirable job of explaining both (1) why the governmental theory found its birth in America and (2) why it was such a short-lived phenomenon. The New Divinity ministered in a transitional age as the thirteen American colonies were becoming the United States. Conversations about justice, sovereignty, the principles of good government, etc., were front and center. The moral governmental theory of atonement harnessed these concepts and applied them to the cross of Christ. This contributed to the theory’s particular appeal to late-eighteenth century Americans, but it also explains why the theory did not last. As the conversation in America took a new direction in the late-nineteenth century, this way of describing the atonement was no longer compelling.

The second part of the book covers the five “core principles” of the moral governmental theory: glory, goodness, sovereign grace, public justice, and faith. As he develops these themes, Todd argues that the New Divinity’s theory does qualify as a form of “penal substitution,” though it does re-envision the concept as well. As Todd explains, the theory states that  “Christ suffered the equivalent of damnation in order to maintain the honor of the law, to vindicate the Moral Governor, and to achieve the most good for his moral universe. Christ did not endure the actual penalty of the law, but suffered extralegally, non-savingly, and non-transferrably as a substitute for punishments in order to satisfy public (general) and rectoral justice and to open the door for sinners to be pardoned of their sins upon faith by a good and just Ruler” (7).

The third part brings the New Divinity doctrine into conversation with other Reformed thinkers to better demonstrate how it compares and contrasts with the traditional Reformed doctrine of atonement. I found his summary of Warfield’s, Hodge’s Crisp’s, Sweeney and Guelzo’s assessments of the moral governmental theory and its relationship to the Reformed tradition very enlightening, but I found it curious that he chose to bring John Piper into the conversation when Piper has thus far chosen not to speak to this issue. More curious still was Todd’s decision to describe the New Divinity as “Christian Hedonists” early in the book (p.65).

These critiques aside, readers will find Todd a reliable guide as they seek to understand how the New Divinity’s doctrine of atonement developed, how it was distinct from the traditional Reformed orthodox view, and why it did not endure. Readers may also appreciate his pastoral tone throughout the work. Todd is a pastor, and he communicates like a pastor, sprinkling his work with analogies, alliterations, and applications for the present. In doing so, he has produced a work that can edify scholars and students alike.

Book Review — Paul Helm, Reforming Free Will: A Conversation on the History of Reformed Views [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Paul Helm, Reforming Free Will: A Conversation on the History of Reformed Views (Reformed Exegetical Doctrinal Studies series). Mentor, 2020. 264 pp. $ 19.99 [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Reforming Free will finally offers in one place the main movements and arguments of Paul Helm’s thought on free will, compatibilism, necessity, contingency, and related issues within the context of the thought of the Reformed Scholastics and Jonathan Edwards.

The Introduction and Chapter 1 contain some background and clarifications aimed at preparing the reader to better understand the rest of the book. Chapter 2 and 3 absolve Martin Luther and John Calvin respectively from the allegation of being “necessitarians,” that is (among other things) from the claim that their respective thoughts do not leave room for genuine contingency. Chapter 4 starts entering more directly into the current debate between Antonie Vos, the editors of Reformed Thought on Freedom (Baker Academic, 2010), Richard A. Muller, and Helm himself. Chapter 5, perhaps one of the most important parts of the book, shows the significant similarities between Edwards’ and Francis Turretin’s on the issues of freedom and necessity. Chapter 6 attempts to show how for the Reformed Scholastics the relationship between the understanding and the will has a causal nature, and not simply logical. Chapter 7 contains an exposition of several Reformed Scholastics who according to Helm present positions quite in harmony with compatibilism. Finally, the Conclusion offers based on the proceeding material some hints for further research on these issues.

One of the main strengths of Reforming Free Will is that it provides the reader with further evidence to show the mistaken and textually ungrounded nature of some readings of Edwards which has been offered in the relatively recent literature (on this regard, the book focuses primarily on Richard A. Muller’s accounts of Edwards’ thought). Helm’s book also helps to understand that when it comes to the issue of the soul and its faculties, the discussion cannot limit itself to the logical sphere (which seems to be the limit of the discussion of the editors of Reformed Thought on Freedom), but it also needs to consider the dynamics and narrative of both theological anthropology and soteriology. In this latter regard, Reforming Free Will is a good companion volume to Helm’s Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards (Reformation Heritage Books, 2018) as the two works aptly complement each other.

On a negative note, the book would have benefited from a more thorough editorial work (typos and stylistic inconsistencies are not infrequent), as well as some additional revision of the critical apparatus (a few relevant bibliographical entries are missing). The syntax is also somewhat difficult, and surprisingly so, in the light of the author’s previous publications. That said, and as it transpires from the previous paragraphs of this review, there is much to be thankful for this book, and one can hope that there will be further contributions from Helm on these topics.

 

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.