The Author’s Corner with Jeffrey McDonald

hres.9781498296311.jpgJeffrey McDonald is an Affiliate Professor of Church History at Sioux Falls Seminary. This interview is based on his new book, John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America (Pickwick Publications, 2017).

JF: What led you to write John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America?

JM:  I wrote this book because I felt that John Gerstner and members of the old United Presbyterian Church of North America had been neglected.  The UPCNA was a Covenanter/Seceder influenced denomination that contributed in numerous ways to rise of modern evangelicalism and their work and legacy needs to be appreciated and understood. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America?

JM: The argument of the book is that John Gerstner’s efforts led to a revival of interest in Jonathan Edwards and that he helped facilitate the modern resurgence of Presbyterian and Reformed evangelicalism. I demonstrate that the Pittsburgh Seminary church historian made many contributions to American Christianity and became a key shaper of evangelicalism.   

JF: Why do we need to read John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America?

JM: I think my book should be read because it provides good contextual history of a vital faction within American evangelicalism and illuminates very aspects of Presbyterian history. It also shows that evangelical marginalization by mainline Protestantism has led to the growth of evangelicalism.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

JM: I was a history major in college and loved church history in seminary. In seminary I read Don MacLeod’s excellent biography of W. Stanford Reid and that really showed me how I could combine ministry with historical scholarship. I became a historian because history is important to Christians and I enjoy studying and illuminating the past.

JF: What is your next project?

JM: My next book will be a 20th century history of American Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism. My next project will look at the movement from a broader perspective and provide in depth analysis of the various streams.

JF: Thanks, Jeff!

 

The Jonathan Edwards Center Adds to its Collection

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In case you have not heard, Andover Newton Theological School (Newton, Massachusetts) is now affiliated with Yale Divinity School. According to this piece in the New Haven Register, the merger will bring additional Jonathan Edwards material to the the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale.

Here is a taste:

When Andover Newton Theological School announced it would be moving to New Haven and affiliating with Yale Divinity School, Stephen Crocco and Ken Minkema took a special interest.

It meant that a lot of overdue books borrowed from in the seminary’s Jonathan Edwards collection would be returned after about 150 years.

Crocco is the seminary’s librarian and Minkema is executive director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at the divinity school, the premier research institution devoted to one of America’s greatest theologians.

“As Edwards’ editor, it brings great relief, I sleep better at night knowing these things are all reunited again,” said Minkema, who is executive editor of the 26 volumes of “The Works of Jonathan Edwards,” published by Yale University Press.

Andover Newton, the nation’s oldest graduate seminary, announced in 2015 that it would move to New Haven and in July the two schools’ officials signed a formal affiliation agreement. There’s a lot of overlap in the 100,000 volumes being shipped from Newton, Massachusetts, but about a dozen boxes contain the Edwards material.

Read the rest here.

Princeton Seminar 2017: Day 3

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The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History “Colonial Era” teachers seminar (aka the “Princeton Seminar“) is rolling along.

This morning in the lecture hall we finished our discussion of colonial Virginia. I made the connection between mercantilism and tobacco culture and challenged the teachers to consider the social and cultural influence of tobacco on race, social structure, gender, and labor in the seventeenth century colony. We ended this lecture with an examination of Bacon’s Rebellion.

Midway through the morning session we turned to colonial New England.  We did a lot of background work today.   My lecture developed along these lines:

  • The settlers of New England were Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Calvinist Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were English Calvinist Protestant Christians

We then discussed Winthrop’s idea of a “City Upon a Hill” and how Puritan theology influenced politics and regional identity in Massachusetts Bay.  On Thursday, when we return to New England, I am hoping to say a few words about social life in the region, drawing heavily from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Good Wives.

The teachers spent the afternoon with master teacher Nate McAlister.  He continues to work with the teachers on their lesson plans and the use of primary documents.

After dinner we all headed over to the Princeton Cemetery.  I gave a very brief lecture at the graves of the early Princeton presidents–Aaron Burr Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, and John Witherspoon.  For some reason the grave of Aaron Burr Jr. got more attention than it has in years past. 🙂

We will be in Philadelphia tomorrow with George Boudreau!

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Phillis Wheatley: “On Virtue”

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Michael Monescalchi is a graduate student in English at Rutgers University.  Over at Common-place he reflects on Phillis Wheatley‘s poem “On Virtue” and her engagement with the theology of Jonathan Edwards.

Monescalchi writes: “Wheatley’s saying that her soul touched by Virtue can ‘guide [her] steps” is thus more than just a metaphor for God’s ability to change a converted person’s life: it is an acknowledgment of the immense power that God’s virtuous character can have over a person’s body and soul.”

Here is a taste of this piece:

In agreement with Edwards, Wheatley argues that Virtue is a divine and “sacred” quality (it is “array’d in glory from the orbs above”). Yet Wheatley additionally alludes to Edwards when she asks Virtue to “embrace” her soul and “guide [her] steps to endless life and bliss.” For in Freedom of the Will, Edwards also claims that one’s soul is capable of influencing the way one walks: “And God has so made and established the human nature . . . that the soul preferring or choosing such an immediate exertion or alteration of the body, such an alteration instantaneously follows. There is nothing else in the actings of my mind, that I am conscious of while I walk . . .” The reason that Edwards is conscious of nothing while he walks is because his newly converted soul has suspended “the actings of [his] mind.” By saying that his body only moves as a result of his soul’s and not his mind’s “preferring or choosing,” Edwards argues that when one undergoes a conversion experience and gives one’s self up to God, one no longer has complete control over one’s own body. Wheatley’s saying that her soul touched by Virtue can “guide [her] steps” is thus more than just a metaphor for God’s ability to change a converted person’s life: it is an acknowledgment of the immense power that God’s virtuous character can have over a person’s body and soul. 

This idea that one’s spiritual status is reflected in the way one walks recurs in black evangelical writing in the early-national period, most especially in Lemuel Haynes’s sermons. Like Edwards and Wheatley before him, Haynes, in his 1776 sermon on John 3:3, argues that a converted man “evidences by his holy walk that he has a regard for the honour of God.” Though she was not a minister, Wheatley was, like Haynes, deeply invested in Edwards’s theology and advanced his theory of conversion. Placing Wheatley’s “On Virtue” in dialogue with the writings of other evangelical ministers, black or white, is one of the many ways that scholars can begin to value Wheatley as a formidable theological thinker in the colonial era.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Ken Minkema of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale

MinkemaThe Junto is featuring Katy Lasdow‘s interview with Ken Minkema, the heart and soul of The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.

Here is a taste:

JUNTO: Tell us about the work that you do. How does it relate—or not relate—to the research you undertook in your doctoral studies?

KENNETH MINKEMA: I completed doctoral studies at the University of Connecticut in 1988, having completed a dissertation on—what else—Edwards. But more precisely, I wrote on the Edwards family as a ministerial dynasty in eighteenth-century New England (think Middlekauff on the Mathers and Nagel on the Adamses, prominent multi-generational family studies that appeared at that time).

Since then, I have come to be responsible for nearly all of the activities of a major historical papers and digital humanities project. The Yale Edwards Edition is venerable, going back to the 1950s, when a multivolume series was begun by a team of editors under the direction of Harvard’s Perry Miller and published by Yale Press.T hat series, 26 volumes, was completed in 2008. Out of the Edition’s offices the Jonathan Edwards Center was created to support research, education and publication in Edwards Studies and related fields. In the process, we became a digital humanities project as well, digitizing all of the printed volumes as well as supplemental born-digital sources that amount to nearly 100,000 pages. So, while we perform all of the functions of a research center, assisting scholars, students and others, and coordinating several outreach initiatives, we are also still transcribing and editing texts by Edwards and documents that relate to his life and legacy.

JUNTO: What was the journey after graduate school like for you? Can you reflect on some of the choices you confronted when you made the decision to work with for — and later lead — the Jonathan Edwards Center?

MINKEMA: Following doctoral studies, I adjuncted for one year, teaching classes at UConn and at University of Hartford. Meanwhile, my mentor and long-time friend Harry (Skip) Stout, who had become part of the Yale faculty the previous year, joined the board of the Edwards Works, eventually becoming the General Editor (so he’s technically the “leader,” while I’m the managing editor). When the project received its first multi-year grant, enabling it to establish a central office for the first time at Yale Divinity School, Skip put my name forward and I was hired, beginning in 1989. (I arrived a couple of days before a tornado hit downtown New Haven, tearing right up Prospect Street in front of the Divinity School; I recall stepping over downed power lines and trees on my walk home, and of course electricity was out for days. Welcome to New Haven!)

Over the years, and especially early on, I applied for and have been recruited for other positions, but I made the decision to remain with the Edwards project, because I felt a real sense of purpose there. It has become my life’s work, my vocation or calling. I feel very fortunate to have found just the right niche for myself, in which I love what I do. Not many people get to realize that. But I owe that to the advice and support of many people (not least of all my wife, Lori).

Read the entire interview here.

National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the Online Works of Jonathan Edwards

Edwards

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University is at work in putting the papers of this 18th-century evangelical minister and theologian online.  Here is a taste of what Edwards Center is all about:

The mission of the Jonathan Edwards Center is to support inquiry into the life, writings, and legacy of Jonathan Edwards by providing resources that encourage critical appraisal of the historical importance and contemporary relevance of America’s premier theologian.

The primary way that we do this is with the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, a digital learning environment for research, education and publication, that presents all of Edwards’s writings, along with helpful editorial materials that allow the reader to examine Edwards’ thought in incredibly powerful, useful ways.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, revivalist, Christian philosopher, missionary, and college president, is widely regarded as North America’s greatest theologian. He is the subject of intense scholarly interest because of his significance as an historical figure and the profound legacy he left on America’s religious and intellectual landscapes. His writings are being consulted at a burgeoning rate by religious leaders, pastors, and churches worldwide because of the fervency of Edwards’s message and the acumen with which he appraised religious experience. Yet for centuries, scholars and readers of Edwards have had to rely on inaccurate and partial versions of his writings. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, the critical edition of Edwards’s writings, was created at Yale University in 1953 to overcome these obstacles.

But even with the Edwards Works amounting to a 26-volume letterpress series, less than half of Edwards’s total writings was available. To provide the entirety of Edwards’s corpus on a global basis, we have created the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online (WJE Online), a digital environment that supports and assists the research, reading, and teaching of Edwards’s writings, primarily through a comprehensive, searchable online database that contains the series published by Yale University Press but also tens of thousands of pages of unpublished computerized transcripts–sermons, notebooks, essays, letters, and personalia–that the Jonathan Edwards Center has on file. Complementing these primary texts are reference works, secondary works, chronologies, and audio, video, and visual sources. Simply put, no comparable digital resource for an American religious figure exists.

In 2016 the National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding for the continued digitization of Edwards’s works.

To learn more about the Edwards Center click here.

For other posts in this series click here.