Tag Archives: Puritan

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

Cotton Mather in a post-Christian world

Cotton Mather can provide a useful example as today’s evangelicals reckon with the changing culture, according to the conservative evangelical World Magazine.

The Puritan who lived at the turn of the 18th century had a lot in common with evangelicals living in the first part of the 21st, writes Russ Pulliam, a newspaper editor, in a positive review of Rick Kennedy’s new book, The First American Evangelical

Pulliam explains:

“Mather lived (1663-1728) during two eras of American history. Mather was born when Puritans were the dominant cultural influence in New England, but he lived well into the post-Puritan time. In that context, Kennedy identifies Mather as the first evangelical because he was shifting the Puritan approach to being salt and light.

“‘His grandparents and parents had hoped to create a City on a Hill, a model republic, far from England, where purified churches would be the foundation of politics,’ Kennedy writes. ‘But that colony was now a province and no longer isolated from imperial politics and imperial religion. Compromises must be made and expectations lowered.'”

That loss of privilege looks familiar to readers of World. As the review concludes:

“America is moving from a time when many people looked to the Bible, sometimes seriously, others times nominally or by memory of a childhood Christian influence. American culture has shifted in recent years, at least to where the dominant influence is much more post-Christian than it was 25 years ago. Given those shifts in our culture, Kennedy’s life of Cotton Mather takes on added value for our times.”

Pulliam argues that Mather needs to be rediscovered along with other Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards and John Owens. Kennedy’s book is recommended to that end. Mather, it is suggested, might be especially useful in these times.

— Daniel Silliman

New documentary on David Brainerd

A new documentary on Puritan missionary David Brainerd has been put out by Church Works, a group that publishes worship music and devotional material.  The documentary, featuring interviews with scholars and pastors, looks at how Brainerd’s devotional life has been an inspiration over the years. An accompanying devotional on Brainerd’s life is also available.

The Puritan war on Christmas

Puritan theologian William Perkins, considered a moderate in 1595 Cambridge, decried the practice of Christmas. It was, he wrote, a basically heathen day of “rifling, dicing, carding, masking, mumming” and assorted “licentious libertie”:

In New England, where dissenters worked to establish a truly Christian society, Christmas was frowned upon, and actually illegal for some years. Anyone caught celebrating in Massachusetts would be fined five shillings.

As Michael D. Hattem writes,
“Due to the penchant for disorder, immodesty, gluttony, and the (temporary) breakdown of the social order, it should come as no surprise that in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, English dissenters began to take a very dim view of the holiday. Indeed, the hotter the Protestant, the stronger the aversion to Christmas. But their opposition to Christmas was not just due to the overtly social nature of its celebration. Puritan faith derived wholly from scripture, and, in 1645 and again in 1647, the Long Parliament declared the abolition of all holy days except the Sabbath, which was the only day described as such in the Bible.”

It’s common to hear contemporary Christians make claims about the missing “true meaning” of Christmas. The Puritans of Early America might have countered that, if you understood the true meaning, you wouldn’t celebrate the sham holiday at all.

— Daniel Silliman