Adam Newcomb Boyd Interview: Author of Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals

Editor’s Note: Adam Newcomb Boyd recently published a new book entitled Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals published by JESociety Press. This book can be purchased on Amazon here. What follows is a recent interview with the author about his faith and life, as well as a synopsis of the new book.

Adam, give us an introduction to your own life and work for those not familiar. 

I became a Christian during my freshman year in College through an enthusiastically charismatic ministry.  After growing up with an under-applied faith, I was ready to be all in. I didn’t want to miss anything, and there were a lot of things going on with the charismatic movement at that time. At some point my brother Bobby handed me a copy of the Westminster Confession and I finally ended up at RTS in Jackson.  If you look at the school directories from those years you will see written in the description under my picture in year 1, “Assemblies of God;” year 2, “Non-Denominational;” year 3 “PCA.” It was a gentle, gracious education thanks to men like Knox Chamblin and Ligon Duncan. 

I grew up with my family running summer camps, first in Atlanta and then in North Carolina, but Ann and I were not interested in that. It was hard work, and we frankly lacked vision for the impact camps could have. Instead the plan was either missions or campus ministry until we were both struck by an oddly undeniable call back into camping. What we found was that a seminary degree was the perfect training for leading staff and developing a mission that was surprisingly effective for the gospel. We feel like we found a niche where Christians can learn to be a blessing to the world and unbelievers can see the beauty of the gospel.  

Tell us about the camps you run. How do you like doing ministry in a non-ecclesiastical setting? I bet you have a great opportunity to impact many people’s lives. 

Both our camps are expressly Christian programs. Our counselors are thoughtful believers who share a high view of the Bible and are growing in grace. It’s really fun to work with these guys, especially because our campers do not necessarily come from Christian homes. This is our 75th summer, and some campers come because of that tradition. Others come because friends are coming, etc., but the important thing is that they come back summer after summer. I heard someone say that a broken world view is like a broken bone. It must be handled very gently, with empathy. Many of our campers come from homes with broken world views and we have the chance to gently help them experience the gospel through friends and adventure. After they have been with us for seven or eight years, after they have learned to take risks in kayaks and on ropes, and make friends who are more like family because they live together, we see them becoming Christians. 

And of course the ones who come from Christian homes (about half of our campers) have the chance to see what their parents are teaching them demonstrated by counselors that they watch summer after summer. 

What drew you into the field of Jonathan Edwards studies?

Honestly, I found myself asking what is wrong with me? Why am I more entertained by Breaking Bad than Second Corinthians?  There has to be an ontological break in me and Edwards helped me find that break. So I started reading Jonathan Edwards because of a very narrow, very personal question. I have kept reading him because of the way he answers this and so many others. 

I love the perspicuity of scripture. Sadly, there is no perspicuity of Jonathan Edwards, and there is precious little perspicuity of his commentators. The good part about this is that reading Edwards requires me to slow down and think about what he is saying. The bad part is that it takes commitment, which is tough if Breaking Bad is coming on.

Who are some of your favorite Edwards scholars, and what books inspired you to go deeper with JE? 

I like some of the older guys: Conrad Cherry and Perry Miller are a great way to measure the growth in current scholarship and they help with a feel for some of the high points. More recently I have enjoyed JE Society’s The Miscellanies Companion, and your article there in particular. I also love Patricia Tracy’s historical lens, but Ronald Delattre was the most helpful on zeroing in on Edwards’s concept of beauty. His Beauty and Sensibility in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards is my first recommendation for understanding Edwards’s aesthetic. 

Hey! Thanks for the kind words! So you’ve written the new book Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals. Give us a brief synopsis of your overall goals. 

A lot of people understand that you cannot separate the head and the heart (the  18” truism). Edwards shows us why. He takes us on a journey through the veins and sinew that feed and bind these things together. He uncovers the neural pathways of inclination. I think this is what our younger evangelicals are looking for; some way of reconciling what they find beautiful (inclination) and their faith. The book is about that. 

It is also about Edwards’s method. He was too confident to be protectionist. He knew that new ideas could push us deeper into God’s world so he was never afraid to engage. Younger Evangelicals want that too. They want to engage with the world rather than hide from it, and we all know that; none of this is new. What is new (or forgotten) is the way Edwards shows us how to do that.

In the first part, you did some biblical exegetical work. What did you focus on? 

I wanted to show how the church has engaged with beauty throughout the history of redemption. The church wants what the Bible describes.  I wanted to show that these are not new ideas, they are not inventions to make the faith sound relevant. The beauty of God is fundamental throughout scripture. Christian faith is primarily about finding something so beautiful that we cannot live without it.

After that, you dove pretty deeply in the Religious Affections. Why did you choose that work among Edwards’ many treatises?

I think Religious Affections is more accessible to some readers. It’s organization is intuitive so I could spend time unpacking his syntax rather than his argument. I also felt that its close ties to the events of Edwards’s day gives another handle for a first-time Edwards reader to grab onto. It is easier to understand what people are talking about when you understand why they were talking. 

In the next main section, you do some comparison and contrasting to Newton and Locke. How does Edwards compare to these giants? 

He compares as an equal. Each had their chosen primary studies: physics and mathematics for Newton, moral and political philosophy for Locke and of course practical theology for Edwards. But their brilliance is shown in their curiosity and overlap into other fields. I spent some time on this because Edwards that overlap proves the confidence of his method. It also contrasts with the way we often engage new ideas. 

Towards the end of the book, you do quite a bit of pastoral application. Give our readers a taste of that. 

Let me give one example as a “quick taste.” I read somewhere that if you want employees tell them what to do. If you want leaders tell them why you do what you do. Matthew says that we (and our students) are the light of the world – we are building leaders. That is why I added a “why did we?” section at the end of most of the lessons described in the last section.  I added this for the readers, but I also included it when I taught this material at my church. The idea was to explain the content along with how we employ it in the way we teach. 

God’s truth is for God’s people so I wanted to help readers think through how they might make it accessible. 



Interview with Robert Caldwell: Author of “Theologies of the American Revivalists”

Today, Edwards Studies speaks with Dr. Robert Caldwell III, Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and author of the new work Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP, 2017). 


ES: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you fall in love with historical theology?

I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, raised in Buffalo, New York, went to school in the Chicago area (Northwestern University for undergrad, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for my M.Div. and Ph.D.). I came to faith in Christ in high school, met my wife in Cru at Northwestern (currently married 21 wonderful years), and we have two daughters (13 and 11). I enjoy the guitar and running.

I have always loved history and the mind. Being a science buff in high school, I was drawn to the history and philosophy of science in college. When I got to seminary, I discovered Jonathan Edwards who lighted my mind and fired my soul. From there I developed a deep appreciation for how the great thinkers of the Christian faith have pursued loving the Lord with their minds: Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Edwards. Keeping company with these folks through their writings has made me a better Christian, husband, father, and churchman.

ES: Where do you teach, and what do you focus on in your research studies? 

I am an Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I’ve taught for thirteen years. My research has specialized in Jonathan Edwards, the First and Second Great Awakenings and the history of theology in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

ES: Give us an overview of your project – what will readers expect to discover here? 5164

Theologies of the American Revivalists explores the ways American revivalists from the First and Second Great Awakenings (1740-1840) thought, preached, and wrote about what I call “revival theology,” that combination of Protestant soteriology, conversion expectations, and preaching practices associated with revival. Unlike today, there was a great deal of theological writing done on this subject during that time. The book identifies and charts the historical theological developments of the various different schools of revival theology of the period, with specific attention given to the major controversies and writers.

ES: Of course our readers here will be most interested in Jonathan Edwards. How does he figure into your work? 

Edwards plays a prominent and unique role throughout the book. In the first chapter I examine Edwards’s views of revival amidst the standard Calvinist revivalists of the First Great Awakening—Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, and Jonathan Dickinson—a group of folks I call the “moderate evangelical” revivalists. Edwards’s views and practices were consistent with those of the moderates.

At the same time, however, Edwards advances two ideas in his own unique way—the “voluntarist accent” in his theology (sinners have a natural ability to trust Christ; we are complicit in Adam’s original transgression) and his “disinterested spirituality” (the idea that we love God for who he is, not for any good we get from God in salvation). These ideas were later taken up and modified by his disciples who formed them into a deeply revivalist school of Calvinism known as the New Divinity. I examine this side of Edwards’s revival theology separately in half of the second chapter, and spend several other chapters exploring the legacy of the Edwardsean New Divinity tradition through the Second Great Awakening.

In short, Edwards is, simultaneously, a First Great Awakening moderate revivalist and the fountainhead of a uniquely American school of Calvinism.

ES: Are there other less-appreciated revivalists of interest that perhaps most readers will not already know about? 

Yes, there were many I came across in writing the book; I’ll briefly mention three, each from different perspectives. Jonathan Dickinson (1688-1747) was known abroad as one of the two “great Jonathans” in the colonies during the First Great Awakening (the other, of course, being Jonathan Edwards). Dickinson was the elder statesmen of New Jersey Presbyterianism who played a significant role the founding of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). He was a great promoter of the Awakening, and wrote numerous works defending moderate evangelical revival theology including A Display of God’s Special Grace and The True Scripture Doctrine Concerning Some Important Points of Christian Faith. His writings are distinguished for their precision, their balance between the head and the heart, and for their spiritual insight.

Andrew Croswell (1709-1785) was a radical revivalist of the James Davenport type who actually published a host of sermons and smaller treatises defending views which were then considered radical, but would today would be considered commonplace by many evangelicals. These views include the positions that assurance is the essence of saving faith, that conversions should be experienced quickly, that grace is absolutely free, that the preaching of the moral law and the experience of preconversion “terrors” are not necessary prior to trusting Christ. For most of his ministry, Croswell was criticized, marginalized and charged with antinomianism and “enthusiasm.” His ideas would become increasingly widespread in a later history of evangelicalism.

Edward Dorr Griffin (1770-1837) was a booming Boston preacher from the Second Great Awakening who represented the Edwardsean or New Divinity theological tradition at its zenith. Griffin had a long and distinguished ministry. After a decade of pastorates he was called to be professor of pulpit eloquence at Andover Seminary. Later he was the first pastor of Boston’s historic Park Street Church, and throughout the 1820s and 30s he served as president of Williams College. His published sermons are noteworthy for their powerful rhetoric, their vivid imagery, and their strong dose of Edwardsean theology.

ES: What are some of your conclusions about the importance of revivalism? What are some of its lasting results that we still feel today? 

While revivals may be thought of as phenomena of the past, they are still an important part of the evangelical church today:

  • They form a fundamental part of evangelical identity and our historical memory. Many of us would love to see revival happen in our churches, even though we may differ theologically or practically as to what that would look like.
  • The most authentic revivals occur in the context of a ministry that is deeply informed by biblical theology and spirituality. While we can’t schedule a revival (i.e. we can’t produce one by our own efforts; God is not on our timeline), pastors who know the Word and who know how to apply it to real lives can increase the chances that a revival may occur by being faithful to their calling of preaching, teaching, and shepherding souls.
  • Revivals can happen again. We don’t need to wait for a certain set of social, cultural or political conditions to be manifested in our society before one happens. All we need are Christians and pastors who are faithful in prayer and sound in the proclamation of the Word.

The phenomenon of revivals over the last several centuries has resulted in a number of features of that are still with us today in the evangelical church:

  • Evangelicals tend to identify with a strong, powerful leaders who preach the gospel with passion and clarity—men like Whitefield, Moody, and/or Graham. This is still with us today; just notice how many evangelical subgroups are built not so much around the ministry of the Word but upon the foundation of a personality, either an evangelist, a pastor, a blogger, or a conference speaker. Depending upon who the person is, this can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
  • How we expect conversions to occur has been deeply shaped by revivals of the past and the theologies behind them. Many evangelicals expect that conversion is preceded by a period of spiritual distress when an individual comes to the awareness of personal sin and God’s wrath. There is a rich theology of this in
    America’s revival traditions, one that has developed and changed throughout the generations. I explore this theological development and the practical effects of it in the book.
  • How we call people to faith has also been influenced by American revivals. For instance, the Billy Graham altar call is still with us. The theological foundations to this practice were developed in the period I treat in the book, but there were other ways evangelicals called people to faith which I explore as well.

ES: What is your own theological/ecclesiastical tradition and how do you think it colors your perspective on the revivals?

I am a Southern Baptist who deeply appreciates Augustine’s trinitarianism, the reformed tradition on soteriology, and Edwards’s spiritual theology. My experience in Cru as an undergraduate and education at TEDS has given me a great appreciation for the broader evangelical tradition. My training as a historian has encouraged me to be sensitive about allowing my theology to color my historical writing. I try to be as objective as possible and thus attempt to treat Edwards, Finney, Bellamy, and Bangs in a way that I would hope they each would find to be judicious and accurate.

Having said that, I am sure that my own views affect my historical judgment for none of us is 100% objective. There are many ways this may have affected the book, though I will only mention one. My affinity for Edwards’s spiritual theology probably surfaces in the amount of space I devote to the Edwardsean theological tradition in the book. As I reflect on this, this probably has to do with fact I appreciate Edwards’s spiritual theology which the Edwardseans faithfully represented long after Edwards’s death (even though the Edwardseans modified other aspects of Edwards’s views which I find to be problematic).

ES: Any book recommendations for our readers? 

How about a few primary sources from several American revivalists? For those interested in the topic of American revival theology here are a few writings to whet your appetite from across the theological spectrum. Most of these texts you can find for free in Google Books.

Archibald Alexander. Thoughts on Religious Experience. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1841.

Albert Barnes. The Way of Salvation. 7th ed. New York: Leavitt, Lord and Co., 1836.

Joseph Bellamy. Theron, Paulinus, and Aspasio; Or, Letters and Dialogues upon the Nature of Love to God, Faith in Christ, Assurance of a Title to Eternal Life. In The Works of Joseph Bellamy, D.D. Vol. 2, 161-267. Boston: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1853.

Jonathan Dickinson. A Display of God’s Special Grace. In Sermons and Tracts, Separately Published at Boston, Philadelphia, etc., 379-446. Edinburgh: M. Gray, 1793.

Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversions of Hundreds of Souls in Northampton. In Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 4, The Great Awakening, edited by C. C. Goen, 144-211. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972.



Author Interview: Brandon Crawford – Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement

EdwardsStudies is talking today with Brandon Crawford, the author of the new book Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement: Understanding the Legacy of America’s Greatest Theologian published by Wipf and Stock. Brandon, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I am 33 years old, and I serve as a pastor in Marshall, Michigan. I hold an M.Div. and a Th.M. in Reformation and Post-Reformation Theology. My wife, Melanie, and I will celebrate our 11-year anniversary this June, and we have two children—Daniel and Sarah. I love reading, writing, stargazing, visiting sites of historical importance, and spending time with my family.Brandon Crawford

So, how did you get started studying Jonathan Edwards? 

I tell the full story in the preface of my book. In short, my interest in Jonathan Edwards was ignited during my freshmen year of college after reading John Piper’s book, Desiring God. While I wasn’t sure I liked the term “Christian Hedonism,” the overall message of Piper’s book really resonated with me. On the back cover there was an endorsement from J. I. Packer that said, “Jonathan Edwards, whose ghost walks through most of Piper’s pages, would be delighted with his disciple.” If Piper was getting his inspiration from Jonathan Edwards, I knew I needed to study Edwards too. I began with a couple biographies of Edwards, and then turned to his own writings. I began with his famous treatise, The End for which God Created the World, and went on from there. That was about 15 years ago. I have been a disciple of Edwards ever since.

Where are you doing ministry right now? 

I was ordained in August of 2010, and was installed as the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Marshall, Michigan, immediately thereafter. I have been at Grace ever since.

So give us the overall picture of your book. 

Jonathan Edwards had no true intellectual successors, but he did leave behind a group of admirers now known as the “Edwardeans” or “New Divinity” men. Without exception, these New Divinity men rejected the penal substitutionary view of Christ’s atonement in favor of a view that sees Christ’s death merely as a penal example. So the perennial question is, “To what extent did Jonathan Edwards influence the New Divinity toward this view?”One reason for the continuing debate on this question is the paucity of secondary literature examining Edwards’s doctrine of atonement on its own terms. This is where my book comes in. My aim was to provide a thorough presentation of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement as revealed in his collected works, with the goal of (1) filling that lacuna in our understanding of Edwards’s doctrinal perspective; (2) generating interest in this subject from other authors; (3) settling the question of Edwards’s influence on the New Divinity; and (3) stirring greater interest in the doctrine of atonement in general.The first three chapters of the book offer a brief history of the doctrine of atonement from the Apostolic Fathers to the Age of Enlightenment. The remaining four chapters explore Edwards’s own doctrinal perspective. A concluding chapter offers a few summary thoughts.

Do you think you turned over any stones that haven’t already been turned over by other scholars? 

Thanks to the good work of the scholars at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, most of Jonathan Edwards’s extant writings have been digitized, posted online, and made accessible with a searchable database. This allowed me to scan the massive Edwards corpus for statements on the atonement in a way that has never been possible before. As a result, I was able to offer a more complete survey of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement than anyone before me. I trust that the greater level of information has also led to a greater level of insight.

What drew you to the theme of atonement? 

The gospel is the heart of the Christian faith, and the atonement is the heart of the gospel. No doctrine is more worthy of our reflection, affection, and careful application than this one.

Okay, so what, if anything, does Jonathan Edwards contribute that is unique to our understanding of the biblical doctrine of the Atonement among Reformed theologians? 

Unique to Jonathan Edwards is the way he brings together the concepts of penal substitution and penal example into a single, coherent system. Very briefly, he taught that Adam’s sin involved a twofold offense: he violated God’s law, and he dishonored God himself. As a result, Christ’s atonement necessarily involved a twofold work: he bore sin’s penalty in the sinner’s place, and he publicly vindicated God’s honor through his life and death. The symmetry of his doctrine of atonement is quite stunning. Most Reformed writers tend to emphasize the former at the expense of the latter.

What biblical texts or primary sources does Edwards draw upon in his construct of the Atonement? 

Edwards relies on two sources in constructing his doctrine of atonement: Reason and Revelation. His sermons on Psalm 40:6-8, Isaiah 53, Luke 22:44, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:25-27, Hebrews 9:12-14, and Revelation 5:12, along with his works History of the Work of Redemption and Justification by Faith Alone, all contain rich material on Christ’s atonement.

What original sources of his (sermons, treatises etc.) did you primarily consult in his massive corpus? 

The sermons and treatises mentioned previously were very helpful. Additionally, I found quite a bit of information on the atonement in his Miscellanies, Controversies Notebook, Notes on Scripture, and other sermons.

Finally, do you have any books on JE to recommend to our readers? 

I would recommend my book, of course! But beyond that, readers looking for a good devotional biography on Edwards should consult Iain Murray’s classic work Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Those interested in a substantive critical biography should read George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Those who want to start reading the works of Edwards himself should begin with his sermons. They are generally easy to understand, and they are very helpful. Many of them are available online through The Jonathan Edwards Center. After spending some time in his sermons, interested readers could move on to his more taxing works like The End for Which God Created the World and Religious Affections.


Interview with Daniel Gullotta and John T. Lowe; Editors of the Forthcoming “Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment”

EdwardsStudies is talking today with Daniel Gullotta and John T. Lowe, editors of the new collaborative project, Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment, which is now collecting chapter proposals for a future book with V&R. 

This is a pretty cool gig. How did you guys land this job as the editors for this project?

JTL: The credit goes to Daniel. While we had both tossed around the idea of putting a writing project together, it was him who proposed the idea to the directors at the Edwards Center at Yale, Ken Minkema and Harry Stout, for this to be part of the “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards” series. Daniel and I wrote a proposal together, gained the support from the series editors, and from Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, and have hit the ground running since then.


The title kind of sounds like a Star Wars thing. Is this a Jedi vs. Sith concept, and if so, were you inspired by the new movie Rogue One? 

JTL: Somewhat. Daniel and I are both Star Wars fans. While this volume is to focus on broad aspects of Edwards and the Enlightenment, we want it to touch areas where scholarship has either been previously assumed or unexplored entirely. Most of the time we only hear about one side of Edwards. Sometimes readers forget there were “dark” aspects of his life and context. For example, he was pro-slavery, he had to deal with ideas of witchcraft, and his world was full of violence.


Alright, so remind us what the Enlightenment was, how long it lasted, and why it is significant to Jonathan Edwards. 

JTL: In short, and by broad definition, the Enlightenment took place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was period where areas of science, medicine, philosophy, politics, and others underwent drastic changes. Some say it marked the beginning of modernity in the Western world. The Enlightenment needs to be understood with Edwards because it was part of his context. While Edwards was trained in a medieval tradition, his thought is the expression of both his Puritan heritage and Enlightenment influence. He is the synthesis of both the old and new worlds, and influential to the development of evangelical and American identity.

What is it like studying with Ken Minkema?

DG: Studying with Dr. Minkema (or Ken as he insists being called) has been a great experience. So far I have had the opportunity to study Jonathan Edwards, American Puritans, early modern witchcraft, and the Christian colonization of the Americans under him. He is a great teacher and a fantastic scholar. He is also very personable. When we aren’t talking about Edwards, the conversation usually turns to Bob Dylan. He and the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale are both treasures. As a student, he is the type of scholar-teacher I want to emulate in my own career.

Where did you originally get the idea for this work, that is, to focus on Edwards and the Enlightenment?

DG: I got the idea for this volume from a seminar I took at Yale on the Enlightenment with Dr. Sophia Rosenfield. One of the challenges we kept facing and one of the questions were kept asking was: what is the legacy of the Enlightenment? Typically scholarship has viewed the Enlightenment as a part of the triumphal progress of humanism, reason, democracy, science, etc. But after engaging texts by Foucault (Discipline and Punish) and Sala-Molins (Dark Side of the Light), just to name two, this narrative was not so easily upheld. We have Enlightenment thinkers being complicit in the Atlantic slave trade, we have others thinking of new ways to control the populous, and others appealing to authoritarianism as the better means to govern. What got me thinking about Edwards and the “dark side” of the Enlightenment was his role in Indian missions and his ownership of slaves. It is clear that Edwards believes converting and ‘civilizing’ the Native Americans are one in the same. It was uncomfortable truths like this that got me thinking about the most uncomfortable elements of Edwards’s life, theology, and legacy. Sometimes, Edwards scholars are too romantic in their approach to Edwards and push things they don’t like to the side. We didn’t want to do that with this volume. Not that this book is an indictment of Edwards, rather, it will be designed to help scholars and students further contextual Edwards and situate Edwards within the Enlightenment. This includes the Enlightenment’s dark side.

John, tell us a little bit about your interest in JE. How did you get started? 

JTL: I was first exposed to Edwards during college—it was more of a hobby. It wasn’t until graduate school when I became a serious reader of Edwards. After reading Andrew Fuller (a later Edwardsean), I noticed he relied heavily on Edwards’ writings. Chris Chun’s The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller connected my two interests and I was hooked.

And Daniel, how did you originally get interested in studying JE?

DG: Being an Australian and a former Anglican, I had never heard of Jonathan Edwards. If I recall correctly, I first encountered Edwards in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces of all places. But when I began to study American religious history, I learned about Edwards and his role in the First Great Awakening. Coming to Yale, it was in Dr. Stout and Dr. Kinkema’s “Jonathan Edwards and the American Puritans” class that I really got bitten by the Edwards bug. I could not believe how much had been written on him! Over the summer break, I took a summer course on “Edwards and the Bible,” where I met John, and it was amazing to see how many people Edwards still brings together. Studying with Skip (Dr. Stout) and Ken (Dr. Minkema) makes it easy to see why people become Edwards junkies. He unavoidable in American religious history and once you start really engaging with his life and thought, he is hard to escape!

If we were interviewing Edwards today, do you think he would have described the Enlightenment as a positive development? 

JTL: I’m always hesitant to suggest Edwards would have done “this” or “that.” But I think he would have seen the Enlightenment as a positive movement. Although he would have undoubtedly seen something like Unitarianism as appalling, Edwards wouldn’t have viewed reason in of itself as something “bad.” Modern views of the Enlightenment see faith and reason pitted against one another, but for Edwards, everything existed in one realm and he probably would have seen the oncoming areas of knowledge as revelation and as aids to explain experience.

Same question Daniel, do you think Edwards would have thought of the Enlightenment as a good thing, or a great challenge to the Puritan/Colonial status quo?

DG: The Enlightenment was not a monolithic movement (if you can even call it a movement), but there were certain things about it Edwards championed. More knowledge about the world meant more knowledge about God and his providence, better education meant more people could read and understand the Bible, and more rationalism could further damage the ‘superstitious’ beliefs associated with popery. Yet there were things Edwards would have been horrified about, particularly how key Enlightenment thinkers began to embrace deism and atheism. Something like Thomas Jefferson’s Bible would have enraged him. And because the Enlightenment is often credited for being integral to the ‘age of revolutions,’ a question John and I love discussing is whether or not Edwards would have supported the American Revolution. Because the Enlightenment was not a single thing, we should not expect Edwards to have a single response.

What kinds of chapters are you hoping to receive for publication in this new book? Tell us about the range of suggested topics you released.

JTL: A few of the suggested topics are: 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. Topics unnamed here are welcomed as well. These areas are not new to historians, or theologians, but we hope to this project brings new ideas once Edwards is in the mix.

How many contributors are you expecting in this collaboration, and what kind of backgrounds (education, experience) do you expect possible writers to bring to the table? 

JTL: We are expecting a dozen or so contributors with a wide range of backgrounds. We’re hoping to see more new names and fresh ideas brought to this effort. This isn’t geared to a specific audience, but to all readers of Jonathan Edwards. We’d like a variety of scholars to participate—fresh academics to seasoned researchers. To that end, graduate students as well as experienced Edwards scholars are encouraged to make submissions.

You are working on some stuff related to Edwards and witchcraft. Give us a teaser of what you are developing.

DG: The main element of my research is similar to that of Owen Davies and Paul Kléber Monod in which I argue that the Enlightenment and the dawning of the eighteenth century did not end belief in witches and witchcraft. For a long time, scholarship has been dominated by the model championed by Keith Thomas’s Magic and the Decline of Religion, in which it was believed magical thinking and witchcraft belief died out because of modern rationalism. But there is plenty of evidence to challenge this. People (mostly women) throughout the American colonies in the eighteenth century were still being accused of witchcraft and sometimes, they were even still executed. Yale College own both Glanvill’s Saducismus triumphatus and Hutchinson’s A Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft. To be sure, belief in witchcraft and understandings in how witches operated had changed, but they had not vanished. Edwards was, I argue, a part of this changing landscape and is a good model to see how some of these changing beliefs took place. While Edwards was not a philosopher on witchcraft or a witch hunter in any sense, he did believe in witches and witchcraft, as evidenced by his writings.

Any shout-outs or book recommendations for our readers? 

JTL: Book recommendations?! I might have too many. But if I had to narrow it down, I’m really looking forward to reading A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards. I had a few friends contribute to that project and excited to dig in. Thomas Kidd’s American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths. While this isn’t a book on Edwards—but has a chapter of his dealings with the Great Awakening—it’s about Edwards’ world. The world in which he lived and thought. Also, Douglas Winiarski’s book coming out this year Darkness Falls on the Land of the Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England. I got to see the proofs last week. It looks fantastic.

Thanks so much for chiming in! Will you keep us updated on the project? 

JTL: Absolutely. Daniel and I will be sure to give updates as it moves along. Thanks for having me.

Sarah Boss: Second Generation Jonathan Edwards Scholar

Today, chats with Sarah Boss, a second generation Edwards Scholar whose essay “Edwards and Thoreau: Typologies of Lakes” appears in the new JESociety publication A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards (2016).

Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks for having me! I’m always happy to talk with other Edwards enthusiasts. In a nutshell, I’m a native Texan, a recent graduate of Wheaton College, where I studied English and history, and a current teacher in Fort Worth.

You teach ancient history at Covenant Classical School. What are some of your main foci in your curriculum and how is that going?sarah-boss

It’s going well, thanks! I attended Covenant myself, and it played a vital role in my development both spiritually and intellectually, so it has been a joy to be a part of giving what I received there. This year I’ve had the opportunity to teach a very bright, inquisitive class of seventh graders about Pre- and Early Dynasty Egypt and Sumer. A couple threads we’ve been following through these periods are rulers’ claims to divinity as a means of expressing or expanding their authority and how these claims and other technological or cultural developments enable empires to be born. (We also talk a lot about pyramids, of course!) A key emphasis of classical Christian education is training young minds to think critically and express themselves clearly, so our discussions are informed by the lens of biblical truth, beauty, and wisdom, especially as we think through age-old questions of humanity, divinity, and how they play out in society. So far I haven’t made any tangential references to Edwards in class, but the year isn’t over yet…

So, how did you become interested in a dead, wig-wearing Puritan (referring to Edwards of course!)?

Full credit goes to my dad, who introduced me to Edwards at a young age; this dead, wig-wearing Puritan was a household name for me growing up. I first read Edwards for myself as a ninth grader, beginning with “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” then dove in to his typological writings. I’ve read more broadly since then, but I still haven’t lost the fascination that I felt for Edwards’s “Images” as a fourteen year old. A year after discovering my interest in Edwards, I accompanied my dad to the Jonathan Edwards Society conference in Northampton, MA, where I got my first taste of the Edwards community in action. The summer before my senior year of high school I wrote a paper on Edwards that I was able to present at that year’s conference. I continued research afterwards and rewrote it as my high school senior thesis. The paper dealt with the connections between Edwards’s typological writings and the myth genre and sought to find an outlet for Edwards’s epic worldview in our contemporary society. I was out of my depth with such a colossal undertaking, and, as often happens, the more I read the less I felt I knew. But that first paper brought up questions I’m still wrestling with now and gave me a sense of how intricate and relevant Edwards’s thought remains today.

Tell us a little bit about your essay in the recent publication by JESociety and how it developed. It’s had a wider audience already, hasn’t it?

I originally wrote the essay for my college’s independent literary journal, The Wheaton Pub. The issue’s theme was “encounter,” and I knew I wanted to write about Edwards and his encounters with nature, but wasn’t sure what specifically. While reading Walden Pond for an American literature class, I was struck by how similar a certain passage was to an entry in Edwards’s “Images.” I decided to wrestle with these two passages in my essay, and teased out subtle differences that reveal opposing frameworks of thought. After being in The Pub, the essay appeared a few places online – including here on Edwards Studies – and I also had the opportunity to present a version of it at the Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media at Northern Illinois University this past spring. Now I am happy to have it included in JESociety’s latest publication.

You have the unique opportunity to work alongside your father in this publication. What’s that like?

My parents have always encouraged my interest in Edwards, and it has been special to present papers alongside my dad and now to be published with him. I feel very blessed to be part of a family that values education so much and to have a father who is intellectually creative and encourages me to be the same. With this publication in particular, as we wrote essays on related topics, I can see how much I have gained from his research and example and how that has influenced me as a thinker and writer. (Also, it’s pretty nice to have access to his library.)

What are your other research interests?

Most simply, I’m interested in nature. Nature as a universal symbol – how it manifests in literature, religion, and art and often serves as a muse or conduit for dialogues on life’s big questions. But also nature as a concrete, basic element of human life. Over the past couple years I’ve become more interested in the sciences, ecocriticism, and exploring how Christians do and should encounter nature and mediate a spiritual and scientific understanding of their environment. These questions have fed my interest in typology but also expanded it to engage issues of how to practically live out a biblical understanding of nature.

Any shout-outs or book recommendations for our readers?

A couple books that gave me a solid foundation when I first started researching Edwards are George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life and Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (which I loved in part for the really cool cover art). A couple that helped contextualize my thoughts when writing my essay on Edwards and Thoreau are Mason Lowance’s The Language of Canaan: Metaphor and Symbol in New England from the Puritans to the Transcendentalists and Perry Miller’s classic Errand into the Wilderness. A couple books on typology I am currently reading (or am excited to read over Christmas break) are Jennifer Leader’s Knowing, Seeing, Being: Jonathan Edwards, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, and the American Typological Tradition and Tibor Fabiny’s Figura and Fulfillment: Typology in the Bible, Art and Literature. Lastly, for an in-depth study of Edwards’s typology and the tradition he drew from, I recommend Rob Boss’s God-Haunted World: The Elemental Theology of Jonathan Edwards.

Interview with Oliver Crisp: Saving Calvinism is very pleased to have Dr. Oliver Crisp, author of a number of works on Jonathan Edwards, back in the interviewer’s hot seat today as we discuss his new book Saving Calvinism (IVP, 2016) which is fresh off the press. 

First of all, tell us a little bit about your amazing productivity. I’m assuming you must have a lot of interns.

I don’t really have a lot of interns, although I do now use Research Assistants to help me compile indexes when that is necessary. I’m sometimes asked about my productivity, which I find a bit embarrassing to be honest. I don’t really have a particularly interesting answer to this question. I just try to write regularly, and read widely, and drink a lot of tea. I do think that I have been fortunate to make friendships with other scholars, and form reading groups where ideas are exchanged and papers are read. That is a real boon, and it is something I think every scholar or writer can benefit from.saving-calvinism

Alright, so tell us why Calvinism needs “saving.” What’s wrong with it and how can it be saved?

This title was not the original one I had envisaged. The publisher decided it was better than “Reforming Salvation,” which is what I had titled the book. However, their title does capture something important: in many ways the book is trying to argue for a more popular audience things I’ve said in some more scholarly works, namely, that the Reformed tradition is broader and more variegated than is often reported today, and that we need to recapture something of this in order that we don’t end up unnecessarily narrow in our doctrine and in order to keep some perspective. Sometimes we can lose the wood for the trees. Some specific issues dealt with in the book: the scope of election (who is saved?); the nature of the atonement (do we have to hold to penal substitution if we’re Reformed?); the scope of the atonement (for whom did Christ die?); whether we have to hold to some sort of theological determinism (God ordains all that comes to pass). The book addresses each of these matters in detail and argues in each case that the Reformed tradition is broader and deeper than we might think at first glance—not that there are people on the margins of the tradition saying crazy things we should pay attention to, but rather that there are resources within the “mainstream” so to speak, which give us reason to think that the tradition is nowhere near as doctrinally narrow as the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” might lead one to believe.

Do you consider yourself an heir of the Calvinistic tradition, broadly speaking? 

Absolutely. Yes, I do. It has fashioned and shaped my thinking since I was a teenager. That is a long time ago now! These days I’m often called a Deviant Calvinist, but I don’t really think my views do deviate from the Reformed tradition, though in some respects they may represent views that are not as popular now as they once were, or that may represent a minority report in the tradition. But that only goes to underline the point I’m trying to make about the need to broaden our account of the tradition!

Of course, the namesake of this website is Jonathan Edwards. How does Edwards fit into your trajectory in this book, if at all? Does JE show up, or have readers logged on to the wrong website? 

Edwards definitely shows up in the book. He appears as one of the interlocutors in the chapter on free will, the other being the Southern Presbyterian theologian John Girardeau. Edwards is one of my heroes. I’ve learned much from him over the years. To my mind he is an interesting figure because he is both a canonical Reformed thinker, and yet also someone that pushed the envelope in a number of key areas of theology. (How many people in the pews know that he is both a founder of evangelicalism and, say, an idealist who denied that the material world exists? Probably a lot more know the former than the latter, though both these things are true of him!) In the case of his views on free will, Edwards is the person who really made theological determinism a serious option for Reformed thinkers, and the influence his views had in nineteenth century Reformed thought, in the USA and the UK in particular, is enormous. We are still living with the consequences of that today in popular Reformed thinking from the likes of John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and Tim Keller. So he has to be engaged with on this issue if you’re writing about Calvinism as I am in this book.

If you would, give us a taste of one of your favorite chapters. 

In the chapter on the nature of the atonement I argue that it is a mistake to think that penal substitution is the only option on the doctrine of atonement. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not rubbishing penal substitution. But there are other options that have been advocated by Reformed thinkers of the past. For instance, the notion of non-penal substitution. This idea, found in the work of the nineteenth century Scottish Reformed theologian John McLeod Campbell and based upon his reading of the letter to the Hebrews in particular, is that Christ offers up his life and death as a penitential act on our behalf, rather than as a punishment in our stead. And here is the interesting twist: Campbell came to his views through reading Jonathan Edwards who suggested at one point in his ruminations on the atonement that Christ could have offered up a perfect act of penitence instead of punishment, and that this would have been an acceptable offering suitable to remit our sinfulness.

Then there is the view I call penal non-substitution, or the penal example view. (It is also called the Governmental View in textbooks of theology.) This is often associated with Arminian theology stemming from the great Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius. However, the view was taken up by Edwards’s disciples in New England, who developed a Calvinistic strand of the doctrine. On this view Christ is not punished in our place. Rather, he is a kind of penal example. God shows us in Christ what he would have to do if he were to punish us for our sins. Christ’s work is a kind of deterrent to us, and a way of upholding the justice of God’s divine government of the world. So the atonement chapter shows how there are real riches in Reformed theology that most Christians today have no idea about.

The subtitle of your work is “expanding the Reformed tradition.”  I remember taking silly putty and pulling the image off of the full-color funny pages as a kid, and then stretching the image until it was distorted beyond recognition. How far do you think it can be expanded and still be recognizable?

The expansion I have in mind isn’t the same as distortion. Of course, there are those who say their views represent Reformed thought, but what they end up with is a caricature of what Reformed thinking is really about. I hope I am not one of those people, but readers will have to make up their own minds on that score!

There are constraints on what counts as “Reformed.” It’s more than a name or a label. It’s about belonging to a particular theological stream or tradition, which is shaped in important respects by particular thinkers and their work, particular arguments and ideas, a particular community (especially, particular church communities, denominations, and so on), particular liturgies or ways of worshipping and living out the Christian life, and particular confessions that inform the practices of these communities. But the confessions don’t speak with one voice. They are more like a cluster of closely-related but distinct voices—a kind of choir, if you like. Reformed theology belongs to this confessional tradition, and Reformed theologians and churches continue to write confessions even today. What I am trying to argue here and in other works before this one is that the Reformed tradition as I have characterized it is much broader and richer than many of us today imagine. It is not just about “Five Points,” and it was never just about Calvin’s thought. For instance, there are many mainstream Reformed theologians that deny the doctrine of “limited” atonement (the “L” in TULIP, the acrostic for the Five Points of Calvinism). These are not thinkers on the margins or troublemakers. They are leaders at the center of Reformed thinking like Bishop John Davenant, who is mentioned in the chapter on the scope of atonement. By a similar token, although Calvin is revered as a thinker of immense importance in Reformed thought, Jonathan Edwards could say in his preface to his treatise on Freedom of the Will that he had derived none of his views from the work of Calvin, though he was willing to be called a “Calvinist” for the sake of convention.

Okay, I’m tracking with you. But suppose someone objects and says, “Right, but the Reformed tradition is stationary by definition. We are creed professors and confession writers. Our tradition is one with strong fences and firm borders. Expanding the parameters is not part of our ethos.” What would you say? 

I would say two things. First, there is no such thing as a stationary tradition. Traditions are always developing, living things. We may think that our tradition is exactly the same as it has always been, but that is an illusion. For instance, in the twentieth century the Reformed tradition was developed in several ways including additional confessions (Barmen, the Belhar Confession, the 1967 Confession of the PC(USA), and so on). It was also significantly augmented by the work of important thinkers like Karl Barth, T. F. Torrance, Jürgen Moltmann, Emil Brunner, Kathryn Tanner, and so on. The Reformed tradition at the beginning of the twenty-first century is different as a consequence of this—and different in nontrivial ways. Some may scoff at this, saying that such “developments” don’t represent Reformed thought. But by what standard? Perhaps by the Westminster Confession. But this is only one Reformed confession, and it was only ever a subordinate standard. No confession is inerrant; Reformed Christians are supposed to be those who seek to be constantly reformed according to the Word of God—and that includes our confessions as well.

But secondly, the book itself is not recommending that we move the borders, so to speak. It is recommending that we look at what lies within the confessional bounds of Reformed thought. When we do, we find some surprising things. For instance, it is often reported that the Five Points of Calvinism are the conceptual hard-core of Reformed thought. That is very misleading. The Five Points supposedly originate with the Synod of Dort in the early seventeenth century. Yet we find important Reformed leaders who were signatories to that documentation who don’t think that limited atonement is the right way to think about the scope of Christ’s saving work. How can this be? The answer that recent historical theology has thrown up is that the canons of the Synod don’t require adherence to the doctrine of limited atonement. The alternative of hypothetical universalism, according to which Christ’s work is sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect, was alive and well in early Reformed thought. Moreover—and importantly for our purposes—this view was not regarded as an aberration but as a legitimate position that could be taken within the confessional bounds of Reformed thought. But that means that the Five Points aren’t the non-negotiable conceptual core of Calvinism after all. This is discussed in the book and is a good example of just the sort of broadening I think popular Calvinism (especially popular American Calvinism) needs to take more seriously.

What are some of the most valuable contributions that you think Calvin and his heirs gave to believers today? 

Reading Calvin is a breath of fresh air. For those who have only ever read about Calvin, reading the man himself is an invigorating experience. He writes clearly, directly, without artifice, and gets straight to the practical heart of the matter. His Humanist training makes him an excellent writer. What is more, he is as relevant today as he was 500 years ago. I think everyone who has an interest in Reformed theology, or just in Christian theology more generally, should read his Institutes. As to the contributions, they are many and varied. One of the things we in the Reformed tradition are very good at is writing doctrinal theology! Calvin is often identified with his account of predestination. Yet that appears in the third book of his Institutes, not the first. His treatment of the person and work of Christ, of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, of prayer and liturgy, of the sacraments, and of the way in which we have an in-built sense of the divine that we suppress to our great sorrow—these are all immense contributions to Christian thought. The same could be said of his commentaries, which are still regularly consulted by biblical critics today. Calvin’s Institutes is often called a summary of Christian piety. You can’t say that about many modern works of theology. You can say it of Calvin. The best Reformed theology isn’t just about careful arguments for theologically sophisticated conclusions. It is about how to live the Christian life. That is the great contribution of Reformed thinking to the Christian church: theology for a life well-lived.

Thanks for chiming in again today Oliver! Before you go, any other book recommendations for our readers? 

Yes indeed. For the Edwardians among you, I recommend Doug Sweeney’s recent book Edwards the Exegete (Oxford University Press, 2015), which is a terrific treatment of the way in which Edwards was steeped in the Bible, so that it shaped the whole of his thinking. For those interested in Reformed thought more broadly, I’d recommend Peter Leithart’s recent book on Reformed Catholicism entitled, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Brazos Press, 2016), as a thought-provoking and stimulating read that should get us all thinking about the future shape of the Church, wherever we come from.

Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Waddington

Edwards Studies is pleased to be talking today with Dr. Jeffrey Waddington, a voice that you may find familiar from his excellent work on the Reformed Forum. Besides being a frequent contributor on the podcast East of Eden, Dr. Waddington is an ordained minister in the OPC and an occasional contributor to Reformation 21. He is also the author of The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. 

Pleased to have you Jeff!

Brother, I am thrilled to be able to spend time with you today. I was looking around your site and am quite impressed with the architecture and interior design of the place. Excuse me while I take a swig of my piping hot blondie coffee! You have outdone yourself in bringing together a multimedia extravaganza of Edwards articles, videos, and reviews. I am overwhelmed. It warms the cockles of my heart!


We will talk about your book in just a few moments, but tell us what is going on with the Reformed Forum lately? Are there big plans for the East of Eden show? There have only been a couple in 2015 and just one in 2016. What gives?

The Reformed Forum board recently met over the net (and though I was absent) and the big topic of discussion is our upcoming third annual theology conference at Greyslake, IL in October. We have thoroughly enjoyed the first two conferences and look forward the teaching and the interaction with the folks who come from all over the US and Canada. As for East of Eden the slackened pace of getting this podcast out is simply a matter of logistics for the three of us involved: Nick Batzig from the Savannah area, David Filson from Nashville, and myself from the greater Philadelphia area. We love doing the podcast and hope to get back into a regular routine. Please pray that the Lord would grant us schedules that mesh and the energy to tend to our pastoral charges and do the podcast and all the other writing we do. Thanks for asking about the forum and the Edwards podcast.

How did you get into Jonathan Edwards? Was it through John Piper like the majority of us, or through your English Literature class like a few others of us around here?

Years ago as a Salvation Army officer (Wesleyan-Arminian pastor) I picked up a copy of Iain Murray’s bio on Edwards but did not read it until I came into the Reformed community through a PCA congregation in Ithaca, NY. I actually had read a fair bit of John Piper and loved him. But I did not act on his hints sprinkled throughout his various books and articles. And I did read Edwards in my tenth grade English class back in 1980 but I was not a believer at the time. I remember reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and not being bothered by it at all. It was the plain gospel truth. Of course, as you know, Matthew, Edwards could rhapsodize just as lyrically on the joys of heaven as a world of love. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. I came into the Reformed community and purchased the two volume Banner of Truth edition of The Works of Edwards and began reading a little at a time. When I came to the Philly area to study at Westminster Seminary I purchased Piper’s delightful annotated edition of Edwards’s The End of Creation and fell in love with the aesthetic on display in the very way Edwards wrote The End. After that I took an independent study with Sam Logan, then president of Westminster and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That course was based on the taped lectures of John Gerstner on Edwards. Gerstner was just brilliant. Now as you know I have my differences with Gerstner, which are not inconsiderable, but in this series (which I would love to see on CD or MP3) he just shines. While I entered the PhD program at Westminster intent on doing something with Abraham Kuyper’s common grace doctrine, Sam Logan convinced me to work on something to do with Edwards. So I eventually took the PhD seminar on Edwards that Sang Lee offered at Princeton Theological Seminary. I took that course in 2003, just after his volume in the Yale edition of Edwards’s Works had been published. It was delight to learn from Lee, with whom I differ as well. He was gracious and an enjoyable professor. I had the privilege and pleasure of helping him edit the Princeton Companion on Jonathan Edwards. It took me a very long time to complete my PhD but I finally did under the supervision of William Edgar at Westminster. Edgar is a brilliant apologist interested in all things cultural. He was knowledgeable and encouraging.

Your 2015 book is entitled The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. Break that down for us – first the title, then the subtitle. What are you doing here?


The book is slightly revised version of my Westminster dissertation (very slightly revised!) for which I was awarded a PhD in 2013. I am challenging John Gerstner’s contention that Edwards was an exemplar of the classical method of apologetics. The heart of my argument is that Edwards rejected the hierarchical faculty psychology of the day (for instance as advocated by “Old Brick” Charles Chauncey, Edwards’s Boston nemesis). Faculty psychology at its worst thinks of the human soul as made up of three little agents called will, intellect, and emotions (or in Edwards’s case, just intellect and will). Edwards, I would argue, advocates the standard Reformed and Puritan notion of the convergence of the distinct yet inseparable powers or capacities or capabilities of the human soul. It is one person who wills, thinks, or feels. So the expression “unified operations of the human soul” simply tries to capture that facet of Edwards’s thinking that is capsulized in his notion of the new sense. The new sense or spiritual understanding involves the whole person or whole soul. Someone can understand to a certain extent the truth of the Christian faith without embracing it or being wowed by it. I was that way for many years. I am a preacher’s brat and a preacher myself. But I did not come to faith in Christ until I was 18 years old. Again this is somewhat standard Reformed anthropology (er…, doctrine of man). The new sense is at the heart of Edwards’s apologetic. He knew his intellectual endeavors defending the Christian faith against Enlightenment thinking would not bring a person to Christ without the Holy Spirit working a new heart in him or her. We might say with good reason that the true religious affections were the heart of Edwards’s apologetic. Affections are not to be equated with the emotions. I would argue, as others have as well, that affections are thoughtful volitions or we might say clear-headed thoughts that stir the will and emotions. Affections therefore have a volitional, emotive, and intellectual component. The subtitle is all about how Edwards’s understanding of man interacted with his view of the apologetic task. The heart of the book is the chapter on the relation of the intellect and will and how they must work together in regeneration to bring about true saving faith. The defense of the faith (the apologetic task) involves, to use the language of the Westminster assembly divines, the enlightenment of the mind and the renewal of the will. In that chapter I challenge Gerstner’s notion of the indirect effects of sin on the human mind. I interact with Alvin Plantinga’s use of Edwards on this topic in his justly famous Warranted Christian Belief to get at the problem. So in the end I argue that Edwards was an eclectic apologist who reflects his educational background and era and so draws from various philosophical streams that can assist him in making a biblical case for whatever doctrine Edwards is seeking to defend. The esteemed church historian Doug Sweeney kindly reviewed the book on the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS website. Where I might challenge Dr. Sweeney, who is gracious as the day is long, is his suggesting I was trying to make Edwards look like a presuppositional apologist. I am a presuppositionalist myself, or better, a covenantal apologetics guy. And I did argue that Edwards resembles Cornelius Van Til at times. I would still argue that. But Edwards insofar as Edwards was Reformed and his defense of the Christian faith reflected that, that far he looks like Van Til. Don’t worry if you don’t know who Van Til is. That may be a conversation for another time. I would be happy to fill your readers in on that score.

If you would, talk briefly about how Edwards saw humanity under this classic fourfold rubric: how man was created, fallen, redeemed, and consumated? Help us understand how these “states” work together. 

Edwards read his Bible but he also read the Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State in which Boston unpacks the movement of man as created good and holy, the fall of man into sin and misery, his restoration plus in redemption, and the summing up of redemption in the consummate state when all the saints and angels gather together to live with the Triune God in the new heavens and new earth. Man’s thinking capacities reflect his spiritual condition in each state. The only way to transition from the fallen state to a redeemed state is if the Father draws the unbeliever, with the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the unbeliever so that they freely embrace Jesus Christ by faith, repenting of his or her sin and pursuing holiness. Edwards followed this basic Reformed understanding of how a sinner becomes a saint.

How does this fit together with the Imago Dei (the image of God) in man? Did Edwards see this as a key component in man’s identity? 

The image of God is a big deal for Edwards and figures prominently in his defense of the doctrine of original sin. Adam and Eve were created in righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. In other words, they were not created neutral. Edwards follows the standard view that the image has a broader and narrower reference. The broad reference is to our ability to think, communicate, relate. I would call these the preconditions for exercising the image in the narrower reference. The narrow reference refers to our holiness, righteousness, and knowledge. Adam and Eve possessed the image in both senses at creation and for some time thereafter. In the fall, we lost the image in its narrow sense but retained, in a twisted and defaced manner, the broad image. Redemption restores the lost narrow image and in fact goes beyond mere restoration. Yes, this was a key component of Edwards’s understanding of who and what man is.

You have used the word “analog” in your writings. Is that an Edwardsian phrase? How does he view man as an analog of God, and what does that say about God’s nature and attributes? 

The question closely follows on the last and overlaps with it a bit. When I say that man is an analog (or analogue for you dictionary geeks out there) of God, I am talking about how we were created to reflect God in our very being and beliefs and behavior. This is not Edwards’s language although I do think it reflects his theology. I guess I could say that the word analog images the reality Edwards is getting at when he talks about the way that man resembles God his maker. Edwards understood that God is Creator and man is creature but he also saw that we are called to hunger and thirst after righteousness. We are to be holy. And with the coming of the Son in the flesh, we are to be conformed to the image of the Son (an image of the Image, we might say) Jesus Christ. God, Edwards tells us, has an intellect and will (this enters into Edwards’s discussion of the Trinity, but that is a discussion for another day too) and so do we. Our intellect and will worked harmoniously in the garden but the fall brought a disruption to that harmony. Redemption restores it. And we spend the whole of our Christian life growing into greater and greater conformity to God so that we once again image forth in our own lives the Son of God Jesus Christ (as argued, for instance, in Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10). Edwards talks about this throughout his sermons and in the treatise on The End of Creation and the Religious Affections, etc.

Let’s tie in the “apologetics” aspect here. Give us a brief rundown of how Edwards goes about defending these constructions against the pressing threats he perceived in his own day.

Edwards did not pen an apologetics handbook or manual. If he had it would have made my life easier. Maybe! We have to glean his understanding of how to defend the Christian faith from his actual defense. Edwards attacks his opponents head on. But I would argue he does it graciously but with surgical precision. In Original Sin Edwards goes after the notion that Adam and Eve were created neutral and that we sin merely by imitation of bad examples. he deconstructs the idea that death is a blessing and affirms a Reformed notion of the imputation of Adam’s sin to us (albeit with his own creative touches). In Freedom of the Will Edwards defends the compatabilist notion that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility coexist when properly understood. Edwards’s target is libertarian free will. Edwards’s rejection of faculty psychology is on full display here. Edwards reduces the idea of libertarian free will (that we have the ability to choose A or B from a state of complete equilibrium under no influence of prior motives). Take a look at Edwards’s sermons and semi-private notebooks and you will see how he reacts to deism and other challenges to the Christian faith. Edwards affirms common grace (that the Holy Spirit is active in the world mitigating the worst effects of sin and allowing for human flourishing to occur and for the gospel to be spread and for sinners to become saints and come into the church) and he affirms natural or general revelation. This is God’s revelation of himself in creation (including us human creatures). Edwards also affirmed something called the “prisca theologica” or primitive theology. This is the idea that the human race has passed along accounts of revelation from Adam to Noah to Abraham to whoever and that this accounts for some similarities between different religions and is a form of special revelation and general revelation. This primitive theology cannot save since it is twisted and perverted as it gets past down from generation to generation. But it means, among other things, that no one is free from exposure to God’s revelation in nature, primitive theology, and Scripture (special revelation). Edwards was an acute and effective apologist. I do not happen to think he was perfect. I think we have made progress since his day and would not want to go back to his day. But he is not afraid to use sanctified reason and Scripture in his defense of the faith and that is a good thing.

Do you have more research to do in this area or do you have any plans for future projects along these lines?

I am interested in everything (well, almost) theological (and philosophical, political, military, and historical, etc) and so my work extends well beyond Edwards. In that regard I suppose I am like Edwards himself. However, I try to keep abreast of the latest developments in Edwards scholarship and always am reading something by or about Edwards. As Piper would say, Edwards is one of my constant companions and conversation partners. I am looking on doing something where I compare Edwards on the unified operations and the work of the 19th and 20th century Dutch Reformed biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos on the soul. I once noted on Facebook that Vos wrote in four pages in his newly translated Reformed Dogmatics on the soul what i tried to say about Edwards in my dissertation in more than 200 pages. Ugh!! I would also like to do work on Edwards the exegete. Perhaps I may revisit the question of how much influence John Locke had on Edwards. I am one who does not think it was as radical as others have thought. Feel free to make recommendations brother!

How about some shout outs and recommendations for our readers. 

Marsden’s  Life is the best biography on Edwards. It is well written and makes Edwards understandable in terms of his own age. Murray’s bio is still worth reading. I think Stephen Nichols’s Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought is a wonderful intro to the life and thought of Edwards. McDermott and McClymond’s Theology of Jonathan Edwards is encyclopedic, but I have many major reservations about the book (and not just because they critique me in a few footnotes!). Craig Biehl’s Infinite Merit is a magisterial treatment of Edwards’s understanding of justification within the broader spread of God’s purposes in Christ and his unchanging rule of righteousness. This website has to be must read as well. Check out for articles and podcasts related to Edwards and Reformed theology in general. Various websites connected with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (reformation21 and Place for Truth, for instance) are worth checking out. I also frequent the Desiring God site and love various Piper books. I also recommend checking out the Gospel Coalition site as well. This is not to say I agree with everything these sites or authors say. But they are worthwhile. There are many others.

Thank you so much for chiming in Jeff! Hope you will write an article or so for us here at Edwards Studies, can we count on that from you sometime brother? 

Absolutely. Let me have some recommendations and I will run with them.

Interview with Michal Choinski: The Rhetoric of Revival is talking today with Michal Choinski, the author of the new book The Rhetoric of the Revival: The Language of the Great Awakening Preachers published by V&R Academic. Michal teaches American literature at the Institute of English Studies of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. 

Michal, before we launch into The Rhetoric of Revival, why don’t you take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers: where did you grow up, and how did you get interested in JE?


Well, I was born in Tarnów, in southern Poland – to attend the Jagiellonian University I moved to Kraków, where I did my MA in English literature in Shakespeare’s political drama. Then I decided to switch to American literature for my doctoral studies and for some time I was hesitating about which area of study to chose. A good friend of mine, Marta Gillner-Shaw, who now also teaches at the Jagiellonian, mentioned on some occasion Edwards’s Sinners at that time. Of course, I remembered the text vaguely from my introductory courses to American Literature. I reread the sermon, and was amazed by its rhetorical artistry. I guess when I had read it as a sophomore I just could not appreciate it fully. Then, the more of Edwards I read, the more interesting his language turned out to be. I also got interested in the phenomenon of the awakening itself, especially of its language-related aspects – from the perspective of Polish culture and religion, it seemed particularly fascinating, if not even exotic. So, this is what got me started with my research.

Tell us a little bit about what you are doing in the Jagiellonian University? What do you cover in your courses in American literature? Do you find Polish students interested in uniquely American writings? 

The classes I teach include mainly general literature survey courses. Apart from these, I run MA and BA seminars as well as “specialized courses” that are not compulsory but that students may select if they are interested. One such class concerns Southern writers, like Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, or Harper Lee. My other courses include American Presidential Rhetoric and Shakespeare’s drama. What I think particularly strikes a chord with my students is contemporary American poetry and drama. We do not have time to read much of Edwards, though – Sinners, of course, fragments of Personal Narrative and I always try to make time to take a look at Edwards’s letters – for instance the one he sent to his daughter from Stockbridge in March 1753. My students are always puzzled about why he offers Esther to send her a rattlesnake, or about the recipe for jam he includes in the postscriptum. This helps in presenting Edwards as real person rather than just another blurry name of the American past.

Michal Choinski

Apart from teaching, I research Edwards’s writings using computer methods together with my colleague, Jan Rybicki. For instance, with the help of stylometric software used to determine the authorship of texts, we have been able to determine to what extent Thomas Foxcroft, Edwards’s literary agent and editor, amended and modified his writings.

You mentioned to me in an email that it took you over ten years to write The Rhetoric, tell us a bit about how it all developed.

Well, yes, almost ten years, if you include all the research time. I did my reading on rhetoric and American colonial culture during my doctoral studies for four years, and then after my defense in 2011, it took me almost five more years to transform the dissertation into a book. I was very lucky to receive two research fellowships at the JFK Institute at Freie Universität Berlin where I could access rich collections on American studies. Meanwhile, I was also preoccupied with translating the Yale Edwards Reader into Polish, which also consumed insane amount of time and diverted my attention elsewhere. But, of course, if it was not for my tendency to procrastinate, I would have done it earlier.

Give us the “big E on the eye chart” for this book – what’s it all about?

In the book, I tried to characterize the sermons of the Great Awakening preachers, and to understand why their language bore such an impact on the colonial audiences. The oratory the New Lights used, the “rhetoric of the revival” was very innovative, and met with massive reactions from the colonial audiences. The first chapters outline the basis of rhetorical theory, discuss the transition from rhetoric to preaching, and the rhetorical tradition of the earlier generation of colonists. “Rhetoric” is the big word for this book – I wanted to point out its importance as a great method of enquiry, as well as a means of continuity within American revival tradition. Then, in the analytical part, I introduce different Great Awakening preachers and study their sermons, paying close attention to the minutiae of figures and arguments they use.

You chose Edwards as well as some others (Whitefield, Tennent). How did you choose your subjects? 

I study the sermons of six preachers: Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Dickinson, Jonathan Parsons and Andrew Croswell. All of them were engaged in the Great Awakening and all of belonged to the “New Lights” group, the proponents of the revival. Through my choice, I have tried to include both the prominent ministers everyone knows about, as well as those pulpit orators whose discourses have not been in the main academic spotlight. My goal in the selection of sermons was to present the diversity and richness of the Great Awakening rhetoric and to illustrate different aspects of the colonial “rhetoric of the revival”, be it persuasiveness,  theatricality, or its experiential and confrontational character.

You look at three particular sermons of Jonathan Edwards. Why did you choose these three? 

Yes, with Edwards I look into three sermons: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, The Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable and The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God – I wanted each of them to demonstrate a different aspect of Edwards’s “rhetoric of the revival”. The choice for the first one was rather obvious. You can hardly attempt at discussing Edwards’s pulpit oratory without studying Sinners – although with this sermon, because it is such a famous (or infamous) text, you also have to take into account the bulk of critical literature. In my study of Sinners I stressed how the changes in perspective and the use of a “deictic shift” allowed Edwards to transport his hearers mentally into the figurative imagery. Then I look into how in Future Punishment the preacher employs a wide variety of rhetorical ploys to create rich sensory images designed to elicit an emotional reaction from the audience. Finally, The Distinguishing Marks helps me to demonstrate Edwards’s skill of argumentation in a theological debate.

Your book is Volume 1 in the exciting series “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies” in cooperation with The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. That’s got to be pretty thrilling.

Yes. I was very happy and honored when Professor Kenneth Minkema from Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University proposed the publication of my dissertation in the series. He was also very patient with addressing all my doubts and problems concerning the whole process.

Any book, conference, or website recommendations? 

I mentioned digital humanities and Edwards studies earlier. Robert Boss’s book “God-Haunted World: The Elemental Theology of Jonathan Edwards” as well as the webpage with his beautiful visualizations is something any person interested in Edwards should definitely take a look at.

Thanks for joining us Michal!

Thank you so much for having me!


Interview with Dr. Rhys Bezzant

Today has the opportunity to talk with Dr. Rhys Bezzant, the Dean of Missional Leadership and Lecturer in Christian Thought at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. He is also the author of Jonathan Edwards and the Church published by Oxford University Press (2013).

Dr. Bezzant, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. That’s quite a title you have over there at Ridley: “Dean of Missional Leadership.” Tell us about what you are up to at the College these days. What courses are you teaching?


Don’t be too impressed! Outside of regular classes, I have pastoral responsibility for a cohort of students who want to serve in a variety of ministry settings within Australia, often on the front line of outreach: campus workers, Bible translators, youth pastors, children’s workers, church planters … I get the title to try to capture something of the breadth of the task! Apart from that, I teach Church History, Christian Worship, and some theology classes.

Any future Edwards scholars being reared under your tutelage there, I would imagine?

I talk a lot about Edwards in Australia, because not many other people do! Our teaching of church history has more often than not been oriented towards Britain, but new global impulses mean the church in Australia increasingly understands itself in relation to the US and Asia. I often say my goal is to make Edwards a household name, but only if the Lord Jesus is better known! It can be a tough gig getting students to think about further research in church history, because our churches need evangelists and pastors so desperately.

Give us a good lead as to what we might learn about JE in your book “Jonathan Edwards and the Church.” 


What I tried to do in that book is work through all the stages of Edwards’s ministry, and show what he taught about the church at any moment. So it is a chronological analysis of his ecclesiology. Basically, he is a great Protestant, who sees the center of the church as the ministry of Word and sacraments, but adds to that definition the ways in which the church is central to the development of God’s purposes in the world. His ecclesiology is dynamic and responsive, not just institutional or clerical. God’s promises have to be held together with God’s presence and purposes. The church is like a tree, deeply rooted in theology but also responsive to its environment.

If I’m not mistaken, you have another book coming out about Edwards as a mentor. This sounds pretty cool. Are you working with the “log college” educational concept for ministers in this book, or do you mean something else by the term “mentoring”?

Yep, presently I am working on a book about Edwards’s ministry of mentoring. I think he was a better pastor than is sometimes imagined, and his mentoring was exceptionally effective. Mentoring is such a synthetic skill-set, drawing on Scriptural themes, historical examples, cultural norms and pastoral insights, so this topic gives me ample scope to understand features in Edwards’s pastoral labours often overlooked.

Any applications from your studies on mentoring that you think can be applied to educational leadership in our context today, in the modern world?

It takes much longer than it used to shape a future minister. There is so much to unlearn first. And the costs of serving in a church are much more significant than they once were. Mentoring helps in the process of growing in character, skills, and confidence. Seminary professors aren’t always the best people to do the mentoring, but at least we should start there. Intentional face to face experiences in education are more and more prized in a high-tech world.

Tell us a little bit about the Jonathan Edwards Center in Australia. What goes on over there?

Our job is to promote the texts and teachings of Edwards, and the history of evangelicalism more generally. We hold occasional conferences, public lectures, and Masters units for the professional development of clergy. Ridley holds the biggest collection of Edwardseana in Australia.

Are you in pretty frequent communication with the other JE Centers around the world? Let’s see there’s Yale, the one at TEDs, one in South Africa too…

Yep, the network based around the mother ship at the Yale Divinity School has been fantastic for me, when there are so few local Edwards scholars. Ridley hosted an Edwards Congress last year with representatives from every continent, built on the fellowship of the JE Centers worldwide.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to stop by at Before you go, are there any book or conference recommendations that you would like to pass along to our readers?

Why not take up the invitation this summer and do a one week reading course on Edwards at Yale?




Don Whitney – Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards and Its Influence on His Pastoral Ministry

Editor’s Note: Recently, had the opportunity to speak to Don Whitney about his most academic work, Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards and Its Influence on His Pastoral Ministry (Peter Lang, 2014). While professor Whitney is known mostly for his interest in the spiritual disciplines and his successful popular level works, this book is a complete and thorough academic treatment on Jonathan Edwards.


I caught up with Don Whitney, professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently by phone call. Dr. Whitney happened to be house hunting at the time, so thankfully, he graciously took my call between padlocks and for sale signs. Our chat was warm and inviting, just like the tone of his many helpful books. Among other things, I learned that Dr. Whitney has an enthusiastic admiration for quality ink pens, and has even written birthday letters on nice stationary to most of his church’s congregants in an elegant handwriting which he relearned as an adult.

What I did not know about Professor Whitney until somewhat recently is that he is a second-to-none Jonathan Edwards scholar. My first introduction to his writing came through his extraordinarily helpful book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I am sure that others who know him also encountered his writings the same way. Indeed, Whitney spent the better part of a few years combing through Jonathan Edwards writings, especially his personal writings in Volume 16 of the Yale Works.

My first clue that that Whitney had a fascination with Jonathan Edwards was when I heard his talk on the Northampton Divine at the Desiring God conference several years back. But I did not know he had studied Edwards formally. As we chatted on the phone, I could hear the tenor in his voice change when he described the experience of holding Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God in his own hands when he studied at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale.

Whitney’s interest in JE began in earnest several years earlier when he was teaching a course on the lives of three great Christians. In that course, Whitney asked his students to read a biography of Edwards, Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones as well as a taste of their own writings. And, as is the course for many of us, his fascination with the New England Puritan kicked into another gear.

He was hooked on Edwards.

Finding God in Solitude as you might guess, stays in Whitney’s primary traffic lane: that is to say, it does not depart far from his special interest in the spiritual disciplines. In this work, Whitney looks at the overall piety of Jonathan Edwards. By the way, when using the word “piety,” we should not think of religious show or artifice in any way. Sometimes the adjective “pious” has a bit of a negative overtone. On the contrary, we are talking about the very sincere desire of one’s heart to be given over in obedience and sanctification to the Lord. Truly, Edwards modeled this desire for personal holiness, as the book catalogs.

Edwards, of course, is well known for his devotional life: his prayers in the woods, his singing along to God by horseback, his Blank Bible, his Miscellanies, and voluminous notes on Scripture. All of that work was forged in the quiet of the study alone with God, largely uninterrupted by the distractions of the world (especially those we face in the modern world). But even among Colonial Puritans, Edwards’s desire for solitude alone with God was remarkable. Whitney sees in all of this a great example that modern believers can imitate in some limited ways, although we ought not to expect to have Edwards’s mental powers.

It is true that Jonathan Edwards’s desire for solitude got him into trouble, as all who have read a biography of the Puritan well know (the “Bad Book Case” and the Lord’s Supper controversy come to mind). Edwards’s preference for company with God alone probably prevented him from being a more sociable pastor in many ways. At the same time, as Whitney argues in his book, that same desire for the Lord’s presence also resulted in some of the most important and profound theological treatises, books, and personal jottings that Colonial America would ever produce.

The book itself is a doctoral dissertation made somewhat more readable. Since it is an academic publication, this is likely to be one of Whitney’s lesser read books. That’s probably a shame. Not only that, but the price-tag at nearly $80 will be a hindrance to some. But for others who want a full-length treatment of how Edwards’s personal spiritual life effected him as a pastor of the Northampton Church, the book may very well be worth the cost.

I also asked Whitney if any of his more academic study on Jonathan Edwards would seep through into his popular writings. He assured me that it would, if only to a less intense degree than is given in this academic treatise. As a matter of fact, his newest work, Family Worship, quotes Edwards and length, and provided a new venue for Whitney to allow Edwards to continue to speak through the written press. Although not technically about Jonathan Edwards, Family Worship will have a tinge of Edwards’s scent throughout.

When I asked Whitney what originally attracted him to Jonathan Edwards, the SBTS professor said it was his rare and attractive combination of “life and doctrine; heart and mind.” It would be hard to disagree with that sentiment. True enough, that same emphasis which can be found in Jonathan Edwards also comes through in Don Whitney’s works. Surely it is a great thing when passion for the Lord of Glory and deep and reflective theology come together.