Author Archives: Ryan Hoselton

Upcoming Conference: Biblical Interpretation and Early Transatlantic Evangelicalism

A recent scholarly trend in Edwards studies has sought to remedy the glaring neglect of Jonathan Edwards‘ biblical exegesis. However, the same problem still exists for early transatlantic evangelicalism more generally.

To work towards filling this lacuna, the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany is co-hosting a conference with the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies on the topic of Biblical Interpretation and Early Transatlantic Evangelicalism. It takes place September 21-22, 2018 on the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The speakers include the conference hosts: the Director of the JE Center Germany, Jan Stievermann, and the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center, Michael Haykin. Joining them is a team of world-class scholars in the field (including notable Edwards scholars): Douglas Sweeney, Ken Minkema, Isabel Rivers, Bruce Hindmarsh, Crawford Gribben, Adriaan Neele, and Robert Brown.

Here’s the description from the conference website:

The objective of the conference aims to bring the historiography of early transatlantic evangelicalism together with the history of biblical interpretation. The goal is to understand the exegesis of various eighteenth-century exegetes in their intellectual, cultural, and religious contexts. 

Two recent academic developments have largely inspired the vision for this conference. The first is the recent interest devoted to Jonathan Edwards as an exegete. Scholars like Douglas Sweeney, Robert Brown, and Stephen Stein have shed important light on Edwards’ theology, ministry, and context by engaging his exegesis. The second is the publication of Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana by a team of scholars under the editorial leadership of Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann. These volumes (so far Vol. 1, 3, 4, 5, and 9 have been published) have yielded tremendous insight into early American literature, intellectual history, and religious expression.

However, more work is needed to understand the role of biblical interpretation in the early evangelical movement from a transatlantic perspective, as well as the important (but largely neglected) role of evangelicals in the broader history of biblical interpretation.

More information on the speakers, paper titles, schedule, registration, location etc. can be found here: http://events.sbts.edu/andrewfullerconference/

 

Robert W. Jenson (1930-2017): Heidelberg Alumnus & Edwards Scholar

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Edwards scholar and Lutheran theologian Robert W. Jenson passed away on September 5, 2017 at 87 years of age.

Jenson received his Dr. Theol. in 1960 from Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, the current home of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany. He wrote his dissertation on Karl Barth’s doctrine of election under the supervision of Heidelberg Professor Peter Brunner (1900-1981), and he later studied with Barth in Basel.

Holding posts at Oxford University, Lutheran Seminary, St. Olaf College, and Princeton University, Jenson published several books and articles on systematic theology, the Trinity, biblical commentaries, and more.

Among his many publications was an influential monograph on Jonathan Edwards, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (1988). Edwards studies was undergoing a renaissance at the time, due largely to the publication of his works in the Yale edition and the revival of interest among scholars in the fields of history, American Studies, and English.

Jenson however was one of the first to boldly ask whether Edwards was right and if his theology still holds value for today.

The title betrays his thesis: Jenson recommends Edwards as “America’s theologian,” and despite his flaws, American theologians and pastors today should take his theology seriously. He writes, “Edwards’ theology meets precisely the problems and opportunities of specifically American Christianity and the nation molded thereby” (3).

Many have taken Jenson’s recommendation seriously, and the strength of Edwards studies today owes a great deal to his legacy. From Heidelberg: ruhe in Frieden.

Edwards scholar speaking in Heidelberg

Mark Valeri will be lecturing at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, February 7 at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies. The title of the lecture is, “Free Conscience, Conversion, and Social Realities in Eighteenth-Century America.”

Valeri is the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. He also works at the Danforth C. Center on Religion and Politics. He specializes in religion and social thought, especially economics, in early America. He’s done extensive research on the thought, context, and legacy of Jonathan Edwards, and he edited vol. 17, Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733 of the Works of Jonathan Edwards.

His award-winning book Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America analyzes social transformations in the American views of the economy from the early 1600s to the 1740s. Valeri charts a change in Protestant thinking, from when Puritans argued personal profit should be subordinate to the common welfare to when they increasingly celebrated commerce as an unqualified good.

The talk is a part of the Winter Baden-Württemberg Seminar and is open and free to the public.

New book looks at Edwards and print culture

Scholars of Jonathan Edwards have explored Edwards’ writings and legacies from seemingly every angle. Yet, a new monograph published by Oxford University Press has revealed a blind spot: print culture. In Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture, Jonathan Yeager, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Religion at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, fills this lacuna.

JY bookThis book is grounded in extensive research. In four Appendices, Yeager provides a table of Edwards’s published works in chronological order up to 1800, a graph showing the most fruitful years for his publications, their prices and formats, and subscription lists for his most successful work, The Life of David Brainerd. But this work is no mere collection of data. Yeager unpacks a compelling narrative and advances an important thesis: “I argue,” he writes, “that Edwards’s printers, publishers, and editors shaped the public perception of him in the way that they packaged and marketed his publications” (xi).

Yeager has two intended audiences. First, he wants to help historians of print culture better understand the religious dimensions of the trade, and second, he guides scholars of religion through the critical connections between religious history and the history of the book. He has five chapters detailing the reception of Edwards’s writings, his relationship with his publishers and their impact on his public perception, and the role of those in the late eighteenth century who continued to publish Edwards’s writings to advance their own objectives.

Yeager also helpfully underscores the transatlantic dimension of evangelical publishing networks and its role in shaping the public identity of figures like Edwards. Not only did Edwards’s evangelical contemporaries like John Wesley and Isaac Watts in England help advance his publications, but so did his heirs, including his son Jonathan Edwards Jr. and the New Divinity men in New England, John Erskine in Scotland, and Baptists in England such as John Ryland Jr.

The German reception of Edwards’s Faithful Narrative is of particular interest, with two groups translating and appropriating Edwards’s work in 1738, but in different ways. On the on hand, Johann Adam Steinmetz packaged Edwards’s work as reinforcing a Lutheran approach to revivalism. On the other, a group of German Reformed Pietists embraced Edwards’s Reformed inflections in their translation, and catered it to a more uneducated and popular readership (23-24).

This book is a much-needed resource, and students and scholars of religious history and print culture will benefit greatly from it.

–Ryan Hoselton

Jonathan Edwards Paper Competition

Our sister Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois has just announced the Third Annual Jonathan Edwards Paper Competition.

Most of the information is the same as the last two years, except for one important detail: the winner’s cash prize has doubled from $500 to $1,000. Think of all the scintillating monographs on Jonathan Edwards that you could buy with that money.

You have until May 1st, so get writing!

Unlocking the Cotton Mather treasure trove

Prof. Jan Stievermann’s new book is “the most important book ever written on biblical scholarship in early American history,” according to Douglas Sweeney, Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity looks at how Cotton Mather struggled to read the Hebrew Bible as Christian scripture in the early modern era in a way that seemed intellectually honest and also, at the same time, spiritually satisfying. Prof. Sweeney says the work is “simply must reading for all who work on early modern Christianity.”

Ryan Hoselton, who is working with Prof. Stievermann on a dissertation on Mather and Jonathan Edwards, sat down with him to ask him a few questions about his work on Cotton Mather:

Hoselton: Some readers may find it curious that a German has devoted so much time and energy to studying Cotton Mather, and American religious history in general. What drew you to this field?

Stievermann: Some of it is biographical coincidence. Studying American literature and culture, I was lucky enough to have good teachers who believed in the crucial importance of religion, and especially New England Puritanism, for understanding the cultural and social life of the U.S. So reading the Magnalia and other texts by Mather was very much part of my training as an Americanist.

Later my fascination deepened for different reasons. Studying the Puritans and their different heirs gives you a very wide range of modern Protestant thought and culture, from strict Biblicism, creedal conservativism, revivalism to ultra-liberal. Mather’s religious and intellectual life is incredibly complex and complicated and well-worth studying.

Hoselton: What is the Biblia Americana project and what fruit has it yielded so far?

IMG_1573Stievermann: The “Biblia Americana: The Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testament Illustrated” was supposed to be Cotton Mather’s magnum opus of biblical interpretation. Because he couldn’t find the necessary patronage, his manuscript was left unpublished. It’s more than 4,500 folio pages. Mather’s heirs bequeathed the manuscript to the Massachusetts Historical Society after the the American Revolution. It has slumbered
in the archives almost untouched for more than two centuries.

Since 2010, Mohr Siebeck has started to publish what will be a 10-volume scholarly edition, amounting to about 10,000 pages in print. The scholarly edition is not only making the “Biblia Americana” readily available in transcription for the first time, but also, by virtue of extensive introductions, annotations, and translations, is facilitating access to its rich contents. In the past, the work had been largely unapproachable to most modern readers. Mather frequently uses early modern forms of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and he was engaging in dialogue with very specific, now often forgotten, debates and traditions.

Led by Reiner Smolinski (General Editor) and myself (Executive Editor), the Biblia Americana edition thus resembles an archaeological project in early American religious and intellectual history. An international team of experts is recovering and piecing together, shard by shard, the lost world of Mather’s biblical interpretation. We’re attempting to bring his thoughts back to life by placing the Biblia Americana within its larger discursive environment.

Four volumes have been published so far: Genesis (2010, ed. Reiner Smolinski), Joshua-Chronicles (2013, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema), Ezra-Psalms (2014, ed. Harry Clark Maddux), and now Proverbs-Jeremiah (2015, ed. Jan Stievermann). There has also been a collection of essays on Cotton Mather and the “Biblia America” (2010) that came out of a conference marking the launch of the editorial project. The positive reception of the published volumes is an encouraging sign that the scholarly community is beginning to recognize the importance of the “Biblia Americana” manuscript as a great untapped resource.

Hoselton: There’s been much attention given to Jonathan Edwards’ exegesis, recently. Why does Mather’s biblical interpretation deserve our consideration as well?

Stievermann: Now that Edwards’ exegetical writings are published in the Yale edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, his biblical interpretation has finally received the attention it deserves, including in Douglas Sweeney’s 2015 monograph, Edwards the Exegete. We hope to see the same for Cotton Mather. The “Biblia Americana” is a treasure trove, not only for early American studies, but also for scholars interested in the development of Protestant theology and biblical interpretation during a decisive period of intellectual change in the early modern Atlantic world.

The “Biblia” holds special potential since it’s the first serious engagement of an American exegete with critical-historical methods in biblical scholarship. With surprising breadth and depth, Mather discusses, among many other things, questions regarding the inspiration, composition, transmission, canonization, and historical realism of the biblical texts.

As one of the very first theologians in the British colonies, he pondered the quintessentially modern questions surrounding the Bible. He tackles issues that continue to concern those who seek to harmonize academic inquiry with a traditionalist faith. Mather was fully convinced that his “Biblia” offered just such a harmonization and effectively defended the authority and unity of the canon as well as the basic legacy of 17th-century Reformed theology.

Mather’s commentary is also an early attempt to reconcile a traditional Protestant biblicism with the emerging natural sciences and the philosophical challenges of the early Enlightenment. The “Biblia” pioneered a highly learned but apologetically-oriented type of biblical criticism especially invested in a new kind of factualist evidentialism, which would later flower among evangelicals. Thus, the “Biblia” can contribute much to a deeper understanding of the transformations of New England Puritanism into early evangelicalism.

Hoselton: What is the main argument of your monograph, Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity, and what does it contribute to the findings of the Biblia Americana project?

IMG_1576Stievermann: In the simplest terms, this book is about Cotton Mather’s struggle to read the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture in ways that he thought were intellectually justifiable as a highly-educated scholar and which also felt satisfying and nurturing as a devout believer.

The book draws on fresh material from volume five (the one I edited), which contains the sections on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles (Song of Songs), Isaiah, and Jeremiah. It examines in detail Mather’s annotations on these biblical books and discusses specific subjects and hermeneutical problems that figure prominently there. At the same time, I undertake the first interpretative synthesis and overall appraisal of Mather’s engagement with the Hebrew Scriptures.

It introduces the reader to the main characteristics, recurring topics, and features of the “Biblia Americana.” The introductory section also ventures to provide a more comprehensive assessment of how Mather’s exegetical work can be situated in the history of biblical interpretation, specifically in the history of the Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The title of this book, Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity, alludes to what I regard as some of the most important issues with which Mather wrestled. Mather belonged to a generation of exegetes that was already confronted with far-reaching historical challenges to the authority of the Bible, and the Hebrew Scriptures in particular.

The basic legitimacy of time-honored methods of interpreting Old Testament texts as prophetically, typologically, and mystically prefiguring Christ and the gospel could no longer be taken for granted. Indeed, at least in intellectual circles, the problem of historicity was beginning to call into question the very status of the Hebrew Bible as the Christian Old Testament. Although Mather himself had not the slightest doubt about this status, he, like many other theologian-scholars of his generation, felt the need to make new apologetical arguments in support of the traditional view. He was ready to make some significant compromises, however, where the scholarly arguments appeared compelling to him.

Besides more specific questions relating to authorship, the provenance of the biblical texts, apologetically-oriented critics like Mather faced one very fundamental issue: Although for very different reasons than in earlier centuries, they saw the necessity of defining and defending what rightful uses could be made of the Hebrew Scriptures for Christian faith and piety.

Hoselton: How does Mather’s biblical interpretation fit into his early American cultural and transatlantic intellectual context?

Stievermann: The book emphatically confirms the assessment of revisionist scholars who have contested the still wide-spread belief that Mather propagated some early form of apocalyptically-inflected American exceptionalism. No entries in the “Biblia Americana” have been found where Mather does this. The long-held assumption that Mather somehow partook in an extension of the bounds of traditional typology to the realm of secular history that allowed him to identify New England as the latter-day surrogate of Old Israel is insupportable in the light of his “Biblia” annotations. On the contrary, Mather’s use of typology is quite conventional Protestant fare. Even in his reading of Canticles as a predictive history of the church culminating in the millennium, New England is not inserted into the narrative even once. The fact that this reading is derived from the German-Dutch Reformed Pietist Johannes Cocceius is emblematic of Mather’s very transatlantic and transdenominational orientation. The “Biblia” thoroughly defies the stereotypes of parochialism and the tribalist mentality that are too often still associated with Puritan theology. It also undercuts conventional readings of Mather and his work that primarily view them in terms of their American-ness.

One of the guiding assumptions of much of the older scholarship was that the key to understanding Cotton Mather and his significance could be primarily found in his relation to the future nation and its ideological formations. The “Biblia” commentaries make it unmistakably clear that Mather has to be studied as a figure whose thinking was not so much inward-looking as intensely transatlantic in orientation. Beyond a vast array of sources from across the British Empire, Mather drew upon work from his contemporaries and the generation preceding them in the Dutch, German, French, and broader European academic theological contexts. This is significant because it demonstrates that Mather and the British Colonies in North America, although geographically distant, were nevertheless very much involved in the European debates.

If Mather is still to be viewed as the archetypical Puritan forerunner of later trends in American cultural life at all, he should be seen as an early example not of intellectual nationalism but of a religiously inspired, utopian cosmopolitanism. For besides the many other things that Mather was—Reformed theologian, early evangelical pastor and reformer, Enlightenment philosopher, and naturalist experimenter with medical vaccinations—he, despite his location in a remote outpost of the British Empire, always aspired to be a Christian citizen of the international republic of letters.

Hoselton: Rick Kennedy’s recent biography on Cotton Mather labels him the “first American evangelical.” How does Mather’s biblical interpretation fit into the early evangelical historiography?

Stievermann: It’s a very complicated and loaded issue. Mather doesn’t use the term himself. He says “revivalism.” Constructing  historical genealogies for modern groups or movements is a problematic endeavor that involves a lot of ideology and theology. We must not identify eighteenth century figures and their ideas with current positions or assume that one directly leads to the other. There are radical discontinuities between what we now call evangelicalism and pro-revivalist theologians of the Great Awakening like Edwards. But there are continuities, too.

The “Biblia Americana” offers plenty of new material that strongly affirms this assessment of Mather as an early evangelical. You also see how Mather drank deeply from medieval traditions, from the devotion moderna to alchemical lore to his vitalist cosmology. The “Biblia Americana” is really a treasure trove.

New work looks at Edwards’ exegesis

A new study of Jonathan Edwards puts Edwards’ biblical exegesis in its proper place.

Douglas A. Sweeney, Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, offers a welcome contribution to Edwards studies with Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment.

9780199793228Years of research are apparent in this work, representing the fruit of Sweeney’s determination to understand Edwards through Edwards’ most cherished intellectual and spiritual exercise: biblical exegesis. Setting Edwards in his early eighteenth-century context, Sweeney reminds readers that “Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) lived in a world strangely different from our own, a world imbued, often enchanted, by the contents of the Bible.” Sweeney doesn’t merely discuss Edwards’ view of Scripture but deals directly with his exegesis—his sources, methods, and conclusions. Sweeney then connects these insights to ongoing discussions concerning other areas of Edwards’ ministry and thought, such as his understanding of christology (in chapter 5) and justification (in chapter 10).

Jan Stievermann, Professor of the History of Christianity in North America at Heidelberg University and the Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany, had this to say about the book:

“Much has been written about Edwards’ life and times, his theology, and philosophy. But so far we did not have a comprehensive study of what Edwards himself would have regarded as the foundation of everything else: his biblical exegesis. Drawing widely from the Edwards corpus, Sweeney offers us a highly learned and nuanced but also very readable account of Edwards’ multifaceted engagement with Scripture in the context of the early Enlightenment.”

Demonstrating the pervasive role of biblical interpretation in Edwards’ corpus and life, Sweeney’s work leaves scholars no excuse for marginalizing Edwards’s exegesis in treatments of his metaphysics, theology, and ministry.

— Ryan Hoselton

#Whitefield300

After 300 years, George Whitefield is trending on Twitter! Or maybe not trending, officially, but there’s a tweet-a-thon celebrating the evangelist’s birthday and religious historians and reformed evangelicals alike are pumping Twitter with Whitefield quotes and the hashtag #Whitefield300.

The social media campaign is largely organized by historian Thomas Kidd of Baylor University. Kidd recently released a biography of the famous revivalist of the transatlantic Great Awakening: George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, published by Yale University Press. On the group blog The Anxious Bench, Kidd notes that the excitement over Whitefield’s 300th anniversary far exceeds that of his 200th.

“Whitefield is being more thoroughly commemorated this year than he was in 1914,” Kidd writes. “1914′s commemorations were more muted. Of course, all of Europe was preoccupied with the outbreak of World War I.”

The growing attention to Whitefield over the past century parallels the increasing attention to Jonathan Edwards. The correspondence makes sense considering the fact that these two men co-pioneered the revivalist fervor in Britain and America in the early-to-mid eighteenth century. In recent years, historians (such as David Bebbington and Mark Noll) have attributed the emergence of evangelicalism in large part to their influence. Popular reformed evangelical pastors (such as John Piper and Steven Lawson) have commended them as exemplary ministers and spiritual guides.

George Marsden recounts the intriguing beginning of Edwards’s and Whitefield’s relationship in his biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Edwards first wrote Whitefield in February 1740, inviting him to preach in Northampton. Whitefield accepted, and his preaching stirred Northampton just as it had in other parts of New England. Despite his excitement over his congregation’s response, Edwards had reservations about the genuineness of the enthusiasm. When Whitfield left, Edwards preached a series of sermons on the parable of the sower, warning the congregation to test their hearts and not facilely swing from religious zeal to indifference.

An imaginative recreation of Edwards and Whitefield's first meeting (from theblazingcenter.com).An imaginative recreation of Edwards and Whitefield’s first meeting (from The Blazing Center).

Whitefield was more comfortable than Edwards was with zeal and more eager to make use of the latest and greatest communications technologies. One can even imagine Whitefield making liberal use of Twitter and hashtags. Edwards, on the other hand, would more likely worry about the reliance on religious impulses and ecstatic experiences. The two men, despite their differences, advanced the same cause.

 

— Ryan Hoselton