Jonathan Edwards: Spiritual Writings, Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press)

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The Miscellanies Companion by JESociety Press, Edited by Robert L. Boss and Sarah B. Boss

Finally, I have a copy in my own hand.

Hardcore Jonathan Edwards scholars and amateur enthusiasts alike have been excited about the release of this new project, The Miscellanies Companion, edited by Robert L. Boss and Sarah B. Boss. This hardback edition is exactly what it claims to be in the title, a “companion” to the newly released computer-electronic analyses of Edwards voluminous “Miscellanies.”

Like never before, this digital research performed by the super-program created by Boss will allow scholars to find deep and meaningful connections in Edwards’ massive corpus of thought. The book, then, complements the programming in a marvelous way by providing over twenty essays on doctrinal and philosophical issues in Edwards’ personal “Miscellanies” thought-project.

As to the book, contributors include Obbie Tyler Todd, Jonathan S. Marko, S. Mark Hamilton, Toby Easley, David Luke, and others. My own chapter on “Edwards and Happiness,” for example, seeks to pull together the various threads of conception throughout Miscellanies 501-832 on joy, heaven, light, blessedness and more.

As to the programming, JESociety was graciously commended by Douglas Sweeney in the foreward who said the book represents as new frontier, since “Big data is here to stay–even in Jonathan Edwards studies. Here’s hoping that those who use it can make the interpretation of Edwards more accurate, visually impressive, and compelling.”

Without any further ado, I present to you a brief video review of The Miscellanies Companion by JESociety Press…

Some (Early) Thoughts on Jonathan Edwards’s Favorite Book: Theoretical Practical Theology by Peter Van Mastricht

I have not yet finished reading the first volume of the newly translated masterpiece of Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, translated by Todd M. Rester, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018) but I have read deeply enough into this volume to know that it is very good.

Indeed excellent.

Image result for van mastricht

In the age of the internet where seeming everything is apparently a click away, (especially with data mine treasures like the Edwards website from Yale), we sort of expect to have access to every academic source we could ever need. It would seem justifiable to believe that someone, somewhere out there on the interwebs had already done the work of translating this excellent work of classical Reformed theology into modern English. But sadly, except for a few items such as Mastricht on regeneration, and a short essay on preaching, this was not the case.

Until now.

Believe it or not, but this seminal work on Reformed theology from one of the esteemed Dutch masters is just this year finally accessibly for reading by many in the English-speaking world for the first time in history.

This volume is going to be followed by as many as six more volumes which will fill out the whole complete set. I have reason to believe that this series will shortly take its place in seminaries and pastoral libraries alongside such excellent Reformed multi-volume sets as Turretin and Bavinck; both of which also required previous massive labors of translation to bring to many of us on this side of the Atlantic.

This volume on “prologomena” (or foundational assumptions and beginning points) is prefaced with several contemporary statements of the work’s historical importance. Editor Joel Beeke and translator Todd Rester both make meaningful comments about the impact they hope the work will have. I am especially thankful for Todd Rester, whose skill is clearly evidenced in the smooth reading of this English edition. The layout, design, and even the typeface make this work wonderful to read. But it is Rester’s skill in bringing the original Latin (and Dutch editions) into modern English that makes this work so delightful to both the eye and mind.

Also, the volume comes with an introduction to Peter Van Mastricht’s life by Adriaan Neele, as well as a somewhat detailed funeral oration given by Henricus Pontanus at the author’s own time of death. Together, these essays help the uninitiated reader to gain a handhold on the biographical life of the esteemed writer who was doubtlessly better known on the continent than across the Atlantic.

Even though this first volume barely gets into Peter Van Mastricht’s actual theological system–we don’t get much further than defining theology and introducing Holy Scripture in this first volume–we can see the method and style of this historic Dutch theologian beginning to unfold. We can also clearly see his heart. As I read the first parts, what became plain to me was that Van Mastricht did not see theology as merely an academic or intellectual enterprise. No, theology plainly and profoundly affects mind, heart, and life. Over and over, PVM insists that theology, when done well, produces a mature believer who “lives to God through Christ.” Much of his work is biblical, almost in the same way that William Ames filled his Marrow of Theology with citation after citation of Scripture. It is fuller though and less punctiliar, as the author easily and naturally toggles back and forth between his own assertions and Scriptural citations. Nary a page will proceed without plenteous Biblical citations and proof texts.

In every section, we can expect to see four things from PVM: (1) an exegetical exposition of a Biblical passage, (2) a doctrinal definition given in somewhat classical form, (3) an elenctic question and answer conversation or debate, and (4) a practical application for the heart and life of the believer.

The exegetical sections tie each main theme directly to Scripture. Clearly, PVM wants to be biblical (even bleeding bibline, as Spurgeon once said!). After that, he attempts to both define the doctrine that he is working through and show its place and relevance among the other Christian doctrines. Or to say it another way, he attempts the process of systematizing the categories of theology within their proper relation and function. Next, he attempts to answer questions that his students, or even opponents, would ask. Here, he often challenges himself deeply to work through the opposing arguments of pagans, heretics, Arminians, Lutherans, Socinians, and atheists. Finally, and this is where his heart for the Lord really shines through, PVM makes special attempts to apply the doctrine at hand to the heart and life of his readers; often speaking to students and ministers, but never straying too far from the lives of common, everyday Christian believers. Each of these is necessary to doing Christian theology, and as I read, I often thought about how this fourfold method would preach and teach well in the church chancel or seminary classroom. It seems like such a wise way to articulate doctrine in this method, and I can imagine myself preaching sermons or teaching lessons with this fourfold method in the future.

As I said above, I have not yet finished the work–and will have several more volumes to go to do so–but it is already endearing itself to me as an especially heart-felt, Biblical, and practical work of Reformed theology. Jonathan Edwards certainly liked it. We know this was Edwards’s favorite book because he wrote in a letter to Joseph Bellamy, dated January 15, 1747, the following words:

As to the books you speak of: Mastricht is sometimes in one volume, a very thick, large quarto; sometimes in two quarto volumes. I believe it could not be had new under eight or ten pounds. Turretin is in three volumes in quarto, and would probably be about the same price.1 They are both excellent. Turretin is on polemical divinity; on the Five Points, and all other controversial points; and is much larger in these than Mastricht; and is better for one that desires only to be thoroughly versed in controversies. But take Mastricht for divinity in general, doctrine, practice, and controversy; or as an universal system of divinity and it is much better than Turretin or any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion. (WJEO 16:217).

 

Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought by Oliver Crisp and Kyle Strobel

 

A new and significant work on Jonathan Edwards has just come out, thanks to our good friends at Eerdman’s publishing. This new edition is the mutual brainchild of Edwards scholars Oliver C. Crisp (Fuller Seminary) and Kyle C. Strobel (Biola University), each of which has been interviewed here at Edwardsstudies.com in the past. This new work is an attempt to provide an overview of the thought of the great Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards.

Regular followers of this site will perhaps already be aware of some of the individual contributions of Strobel and Crisp (see book list below) and this new combined effort seeks to provide an overview of Edwards’ overall theological trajectory. Some key doctrines explored in this text include Edwards’ views on the Trinity, Creation, and the Atonement. Readers of Crisp in particular will not be surprised to see the concepts of idealism, occasionalism, and continuous creation treated in his contributory sections.

Book Links Mentioned in Video Review Above:
Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought

The Case for Christ

Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation

Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation

Jonathan Edwards Among the Theologians

Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

Formed for the Glory of God

After Jonathan Edwards

Book Review – A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards: Continuous Creation and Christology, by S. Mark Hamilton

S. Mark Hamilton has written a very exceptional and handy new volume on the metaphysics of Jonathan Edwards, especially as regards his somewhat unusual ideas of continuous creation and idealism, and their respective relationship to Christology.

Entitled, “A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards: Continuous Creation and Christology,” this work is published by the emerging new leader in Edwards publication projects, JESociety Press. Before we get to a review of the book itself, we should take a moment to note what a good thing this is for Edwards scholarship in general.

Having a press that is devoted to Edwards alone is a marvelous thing. This means that it can be small, nimble, and tightly focused on projects that advance our specialized field. JESociety Press plans to remain concentrated on publishing new projects by both respected scholars and emerging new writers alike for the tailored audience that eagerly anticipates them. While bigger publishers like Crossway do gobble up manuscripts on Edwards from time to time, they are not always as willing to give more technical treatises like the one being considered in this review the availability they deserve.

Moreover, JESociety Press, with this volume as a first foray, is also introducing a new line of monographs entitled “A Series of Treatises on Jonathan Edwards.” This new lineup promises to give readership “lively, assessable and in-depth treatments of Edwards-specific subject matter.” Each of these new volumes is also promised to be concise (Continuous Creation is only around 100 pages), which I believe will make these books all the more valuable. Hamilton

S. Mark Hamilton’s own learned contribution to Edwards scholarship on continuous creation (pictured: right) comes with high recommendations from Gerald McDermott, Douglas Sweeney, Sam Storms, and Oliver Crisp (his doctoral adviser), so my hopes were high for this volume. Thankfully it did not disappoint me in any way. Actually, even the very Forward by Crisp had me intrigued; here the esteemed professor at Fuller Seminary admits that his student will be challenging some of his own ideas within. Drama!

Crisp also admits that the concepts contained herein by his student are heavy and rank among some of the great thoughts that can be entertained by the human mind. As I delved in to the introduction, I considered myself duly warned.

In the beginning of the work, Hamilton introduces the reader to the concept of Edwards’ idea of continuous creation; that is, that God is constantly re-creating the universe at every instant, which is akin to His sustaining the universe (Colossians 1:15-17). Rather than creating just once, and then letting the universe spin (so the enlightenment machinists), Edwards has an idea that God is always and constantly recreating everything that is. But this idea, if accepted, comes with some tangential “baggage” that likewise must be toted to keep the concept coherent. Thus, in order to make this view hold together (note: Hamilton is not arguing a defense of continuous creation; he is only trying to help readers understand Edwards more clearly) he will have to dig into related areas that this notion of continuous creation may affect.

On page 11, Hamilton gives the outline for the book. First, he will deal with the fact that Edwards held to some form of immaterialism. That is to say, the universe is actually a product of God’s uncreated mind, and all else that “is,” consists of either created minds with the power to perceive, or else the mental impressions that God places upon those minds. As I understand it, Edwards’ believes that the universe is somewhat like the movie the Matrix, with reality somehow impressed into the minds of God’s intelligent creatures, all the while they perceive that they are actually “there.” This chair that I am sitting on as I write is not really here. My created mind perceives it to be there; but there is no “stuff” below me. All that exists in Edwards’ metaphysical world is the Uncreated Mind of God impressing ideas into our created minds.

But this is all not so simple. What do we make of time itself? Does it progress? Is it eternally present to God? Does it lapse moment by moment? Does the past still “exist” once it is gone, or is it destroyed? All of these questions, Hamilton tries to explain in his second chapter on time, a view which he calls “stage theory.” In the third chapter, Hamilton deals with occasionalism which is the idea that God is the sole causal factor in all that transpires in the universe. Hamilton does not think that Edwards believes God needs to recreate the lesser created minds instant by instant, but he does argue that the percepts given by God to those minds are in a constant state of being “updated” through God’s direct agency. And while all of these things are interesting enough on their own, where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is in the Christology of Jonathan Edwards.

Here we see the subtitle of the work coming into full effect, “Continuous Creation and Christology.” True enough, if the doctrine of the Incarnation suggests that the Son of God took on humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, this opens up quite a few other questions about Edwards’ metaphysics: What of Jesus’ physical body? Does it possess physicality (material) outside of its “idea,” or does it too exist as an impression from the Uncreated Mind (God) to the created minds of men? And even more startling, we must ask, what about the mind of Jesus of Nazareth itself; is it created or uncreated? Does the human mind of Jesus of Nazareth need be constantly recreated? If Jesus is to be truly incarnate as a human being, he must exist in his humanity in the same way as all human creations do, right? And yet this is made quite a bit more complex still by the fact that the Son is also eternal and timeless; begotten by the Father. The reader is challenged to work through these complex questions alongside Hamilton as he considers each one in turn.

When Hamilton is working through Edwards’ first hand materials, he is primarily doing work in his Miscellanies and his book Original Sin. It is in the latter that we see his doctrine of continuous creation explained most fully, and in the former that Edwards talks about such ideas as idealism and occasionalism freely. There are moments when Hamilton, in order to explain what Edwards likely thought, is somewhat forced to make conjectures and leaps to fill in that gaps that are not fully explained by Edwards himself in his extant writings. Of course, he rigorously works through the relevant literature, and especially interacts with Crisp in the footnotes.

Since the book is short, the reader moves through these questions a bit fast. Perhaps too fast at times, although Hamilton tries to give the reader enough illustrations and examples to keep his or her mind focused on the topic at hand. Several times, just when my focus was about to “tap out” from mental perplexity, Hamilton would give just the right illustration that helped me to jump back on board and cling on a bit longer. Readers will find themselves preserved from mental fatigue by helpful handholds such as the recurring “cupcake” illustration (p. 32-33), a Monet painting reference (page 38), an illustration of an actor watching himself on film (p. 40), a memorable old-school slide projector (p. 56) and so on.  The constant use of these illustrations gives the reader the assurance of “Okay, I’m still with you!”

Without giving too many spoilers, Hamilton holds that Edwards does have a coherent view of continuous creation that sustains challenges from other problematic issues related to Christology. Edwards’ view of immaterialism is that the universe consists of minds and ideas only. He holds that the ideas must be constantly recreated, but not the minds. This prevents him from having to admit that the created mind of Jesus of Nazareth (as distinct from the uncreated mind of the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity) need be remade continually. This makes Edwards, in Hamilton’s view an “immaterial realist.” Thus, Hamilton concludes the following propositions can be discerned in Edwards’ metaphysics:

  • The humanity of Jesus is a real substance, composed of an immaterial mind and a body composed entirely of ideas presented to Him by the Spirit
  • The mind of Jesus persists through time by enduring moment-to-moment whereas the body of Jesus, like all other perceptible objects, is continuously created and re-presented ex nihilo to the mind of Jesus (p. 92-93).

The book does get embroiled in quite a bit of jargon. Each chapter introduces new terms to the reader that must be considered before one or the other is finally preferred by the author. Is time discreet or dense? We must become familiar with fusion theory and fission theory. Neophytes will struggle to keep up with terms like idealism, occasionalism, substances, minds, immaterialism etc. Readers may do well to keep the new Edwards Encyclopedia close at hand. Thus, the constant introduction of new terms may give some uninitated readers the sense of playing “catch up” throughout the book. On the other hand, the brevity, clarity, and illustrations of the book make it an attainable read for all who are interested to go further into Edwards’ somewhat idiosyncratic thoughts on metaphysics.

 

 

Edwards Encyclopedia Preview

Forthwith, the world’s first look at the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (pre-order this volume here), edited by Harry S. Stout, Kenneth P. Minkema, and Adriaan C. Neele (Eerdmans, 2017). The edition shown in the video below is not the final version, but is rather an advanced, uncorrected proof provided by the good folks at Eerdmans Publishing. The hardback edition will be released in November of this year, and will weigh in at well over 700 pages. It will likely be the definitive one volume reference work on Jonathan Edwards for decades to come. Contributing authors include: Robert L. Boss, Jonathan S. Marko, Oliver Crisp, Joel Beeke, Sean Michael Lucas, Thomas S. Kidd, Rhys S. Bezzant, Jeffery C. Waddington and many more.