‘17th Century’ Category

Unlocking the Cotton Mather Treasure Trove, Part I

May 5th, 2016 Posted in 17th Century, Books, Puritans

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?

Stievermann: 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 Because he couldn’t find the necessary patronage, his manuscript was left unpublished.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.

MatherSince 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.

Tomorrow: Part 2.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published on the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany website.

New Book: Baptists and War: Essays on Baptists and Military Conflict, 1640s-1990s

March 19th, 2015 Posted in 17th Century, 18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Church History

9781625646743Just released from Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, a collection of essays on Baptists and War. These papers, which were originally delivered at the 2011 annual conference of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, were compiled and edited by Gordon L. Heath and Michael A.G. Haykin. The book is available for purchase now from the publisher and on Amazon. For a PDF flyer with all the book details see here.

Description from Publisher:

While Baptists through the years have been certain that “war is hell,” they have not always been able to agree on how to respond to it. This book traces much of this troubled relationship from the days of Baptist origins with close ties to pacifist Anabaptists to the responses of Baptists in America to the war in Vietnam. Essays also include discussions of the English Baptist Andrew Fuller’s response to the threat of Napoleon, how Baptists in America dealt with the War of 1812, the support of Canadian Baptists for Britain’s war in Sudan and Abyssinia in the 1880s, the decisive effect of the First World War on Canada’s T. T. Shields, the response of Australian Baptists to the Second World War, and how Russian Baptists dealt with the Cold War. These chapters provide important analyses of Baptist reactions to one of society’s most intractable problems.

Endorsements:

“Conflict challenges the Christian conscience, fostering divergent responses. Hence Baptists have commonly sought peace, sometimes to the extent of condemning war outright, but equally they have often believed that justice required the taking up of arms, even with enthusiasm. The detailed and penetrating international studies contained in this book illuminate contrasting attitudes over the centuries, showing how war has put Baptists to the test, spiritually as well as materially.”
–David Bebbington, Professor of History, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland,
UK

“Baptists have had a varied approach to war from the Pietist/Reformed tensions of four hundred years ago to the reactions to the Vietnam War. This work explores the theme in different time periods and, using a number of individuals as case studies, opens the past so the reader can reflect on the present. The volume is an important contribution to both Baptist studies and the Christian approach to war and peace.”
–Robert Wilson, Professor of Church History, Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Canada

 

Coming September 2015: Owen on the Christian Life by Matthew Barrett & Michael A.G. Haykin

January 19th, 2015 Posted in 17th Century, Books, Church History, Eminent Christians

Coming in September 2015 from Crossway. By Matthew Barrett and Michael A.G. Haykin: Owen on the Christian Life.

Owen on the Christian Life

400-Year-Old Lessons from English Baptists and Persecution

October 30th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Church History

By Steve Weaver

In the forthcoming 9Marks journal titled Vanishing Church?, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin has an article offering lessons from the 17th-century English Particular Baptists. The article went live today on the 9Marks website. The article is titled “400-Year-Old Lessons from English Baptists and Persecution” and focuses on the experiences of three individuals:  John Bunyan (1628–1688), William Mitchel (1662-1705), and Abraham Cheare (d. 1668). The subject of persecution is a vital one for the church today as Haykin summarizes:

There are countless lessons we can learn from saints long-dead, particularly should our times increasingly approximate theirs. Like Paul speaking of Old Testament Israel to the church at Corinth: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). He says something similar to the Christians in Rome: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

So it is with our 17th-century English Baptist brethren. They were determined to obey God where God had spoken clearly no matter the cost; they recognized that suffering is a means that God uses to sanctify us; they were conscious that no persecutor is ever able to hurt physically any of God’s children without divine sovereign permission; and they were aware that suffering for Christ’s sake is a means of bringing glory to their great Savior. For all of these reasons, they would have regarded persecution and even martyrdom as a gift to the Church.

Be sure to read the article in its entirety and check out the other articles in the upcoming journal.

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 3 and 15. You can read more from Steve at his personal website: Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian.

“Baptists, Confessionalism and the Providence of God”: A Conference in Indianapolis, IN on Nov. 13-15

October 15th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Conferences, Theology

By Steve Weaver

1689_conference_web_banner

On November 13-15, 2014, in Indianapolis, In., a conference will be held titled “Baptists, Confessionalism and the Providence of God.” The conference is being held in the year of the 325th anniversary of the adoption of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith by the General Assembly of Particular Baptists.

The purpose of the conference is stated on the conference website as follows:

Simply stated, this conference is a three day event to gather Christians with one deliberate purpose:

To encourage, equip and exhort them to value Jesus Christ above all things through a deeper, richer understanding of God’s Word as preserved and presented in the historic 1689 Baptist Confession.

The conference will be held on the campus of:

CROSSROADS BIBLE COLLEGE
601 N. Shortridge Road
Indianapolis, IN 46219

To register for the conference or for more information (including conference schedule, speakers, etc.), please see the conference website at http://www.1689conference.org/.

_________________

Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 3 and 15.

Was John Bunyan a Baptist? A Test Case in Historical Method

July 29th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians, Theology

By Nathan A. Finn

In recent weeks, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the life and legacy of John Bunyan (1628–1688). Some readers will know that Bunyan was the famous tinker-turned-pastor who spent most of 1660 to 1672 (and a few months in 1675) imprisoned for preaching illegally during the reign of King Charles II. This was a season when many Dissenting pastors, including Baptists, were fined and often imprisoned for violating the Clarendon Code, a series of laws meant to promote Episcopal uniformity in Britain. Over 2000 Puritan ministers lost their pulpits during the “Great Ejection” of 1662 alone.

No doubt even more readers will know that Bunyan authored the famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), a work that has remained continuously in print, been translated into over 200 languages, and likely outsold every book in the English language besides the King James Bible. Of course, Bunyan also wrote numerous other books and tracts, including his famous spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) and the allegory The Holy War, which focuses on cosmic spiritual warfare (1682).

What many readers may not know is that scholars have debated whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist or a Congregationalist since at least the late-1800s. There are several reasons for this debate. First, Bunyan’s church in Bedford, which began as a Congregationalist (Independent) meeting, seems to have embraced a dual baptismal practice prior to his pastorate. Second, though there is no evidence the church baptized infants during Bunyan’s pastorate, the church continued an open membership policy that included both credobaptists and pedobaptists. (Bunyan even engaged in a literary debate with William Kiffin, among others, over the relationship between the ordinances and church membership.) Finally, after Bunyan’s death in 1688, the church gravitated toward mainstream Congregationalism and rejected credobaptism as a normative practice.

For these reasons, scholars have tended to fall into three camps when debating Bunyan’s baptism bona fides. First, some scholars argue he was not a Baptist, but rather was a Congregationalist who privately preferred credobaptism to pedobaptism. Second, some scholars argue that Bunyan was an “Independent Baptist,” i.e., a Baptist who practiced open membership. Finally, some scholars punt (ahem) and suggest that Bunyan was “baptistic,” but falls short of being a consistent Baptist.

This makes for a good test case in historical method.  A growing number of scholars argue there was considerable interchange and even intercommunion between various Dissenters prior to 1660. It was not unusual for one to move between Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and even Quaker meetings during his lifetime (besides other lesser-known sects and the Church of England). Among Baptists, even the very terms “General Baptist” and “Particular Baptist” are arguably anachronistic when used prior to the 1640s, because the two groups were different trajectories rather than fully formed denominational traditions.

Furthermore, many scholars of the Independents in particular suggest that there was a great diversity of baptismal views in the tradition prior to the adoption of the Savoy Declaration in 1658. In other words, it was perfectly possible, even acceptable to be an anti-pedobaptist Independent, yet not self-identify as a Baptist (the latter carried considerable cultural baggage due to frequent association with Anabaptism). Other historians have suggested that there was a “dotted line” between many Independents and their Particular Baptist friends.

Finally, there is no doubt that a number of self-identified Baptist congregations, all of which had their roots in Independency, did practice an open membership policy, at least for a season. Examples include Henry Jessey’s congregation in London, the Broadmead Church in Bristol, the Baptist meeting in Oxford, and some Welsh Baptist congregations.

As in so many historical debates that touch upon the nature of Baptist identity, the answer to the question of whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist depends upon whether one is speaking descriptively or prescriptively. From a descriptive standpoint, I find it hard to argue that Bunyan was anything other than a Baptist, at least during his years of formal pastoral ministry. He was an Independent Baptist who practiced open membership and open communion. While this was a minority position, it was not unknown among British Baptists. For the past century, this exact position has been quite common among Baptists in the British Isles and Australasia (and, increasingly, in North America).

This does not mean I agree with Bunyan from a descriptive standpoint—far from it. I reject Bunyan’s contention that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are private ordinances that are not directly related to the church. Scripturally, I see a close connection between the ordinances and the church, leading me to affirm a closed membership that restricts communion to biblically baptized believers. However, for me to hold Bunyan to my prescriptive convictions would be to confuse the work of the historian with the work of the theologian. The same point could be made about nearly all General Baptists and, eventually, Particular Baptists prior to 1641/1642; their baptism by affusion does not measure up to my theological standards, but for historical reasons I consider them to be Baptists.

Historians of Christianity will always be tempted to be theologians. And, of course, one cannot be a very good historian of Christianity if he or she doesn’t understand theology. Nevertheless, the task of the historian is primarily descriptive, whereas the task of the theologian is primarily prescriptive. We would do well to avoid confusing the two, even when we hold very strong theological convictions. As a historian, I have little doubt Bunyan was a Baptist. As a theologian, I have strong disagreements with aspects of Bunyan’s ecclesiology. It’s a matter of description versus prescription, and for the historian, the former ought to win every time.

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Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

Dr. Haykin’s Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach Available in Romanian

July 11th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Church History

By Steve Weaver

Cover

While in London recently to speak on Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Dr. Tom Nettles discovered copies of Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin’s Kiffin, Knollys, Keach: Rediscovering English Baptist Heritage (available here from the Tabernacle Bookshop). However, these books were in Romanian! This book has been long out of print in English and is scarcely available in North America. It is good, however, to see that this book continues to have usefulness in other contexts.

ToCNota bene: Much of the material from this book will be incorporated into a forthcoming Baptist history textbook co-authored with Anthony Chute and Nathan Finn.

Bibliographic details: Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn and Michael Haykin. The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Faith (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, Forthcoming, August 2015).

 

Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 3 and 15.

Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism: A Brief Review

July 2nd, 2014 Posted in 16th Century, 17th Century, 18th Century, Books, Church History, Historians, Reformation

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

Many historians and theologians have described Scholasticism as dry, stodgy, and mechanical. Although Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism has not necessarily convinced me that the Scholastic literature is more exciting than reading Augustine or Jonathan Edwards, it has shown me that understanding Scholasticism is worth my time. Written by Dutch scholar Willem J. van Asselt with three other contributors, the work was translated into English from its original publication, Inleidung in de Gereformeerde Scholastiek.

The authors challenge the historiographical scheme that pits Calvin versus his Scholastic heirs. Following Richard Muller, they counter that Calvin was not the sole shaper of the Reformed tradition and thus should not represent the standard by which the rest are judged. Secondly, they argue that Scholasticism refers to a method rather than a doctrinal system. Theologians from a variety of traditions—including Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Arminian—all employed the Scholastic method but adhered to different doctrinal content. Thus, the authors define their study by narrowing it to Reformed theologians who employed the Scholastic method.

In the first half of the book, the authors provide a brief history of nineteenth and twentieth-century scholarship on Scholasticism, arguing that many have erred by either reducing the tradition to a Centraldogma or dismissing it as rationalism. They then examine the impact of the Aristotelian tradition on their method and the Augustinian tradition on their content. In chapters five through seven, they explain how Scholasticism operated in Medieval and Renaissance universities, outline the scholastic method and style of argumentation, and they define much of the difficult jargon like quaestio, disputatio, and fontes solutionum.

The second part of the book describes the eras of Reformed Scholasticism. Van Asselt follows Richard Muller’s classification of early (1560–1620), high (1620–1700), and late (1700–1790) orthodoxy, showing how Reformed Scholasticism developed from confessionalization and codification in the early stage to a sophisticated academic system with active debates and diverse schools of thought by the high and late stages. He highlights characteristics of each era, the positions represented in the leading universities and regions, and a theologian who is representative the period. The appendix offers a helpful study guide on how to access and navigate the primary source material of the Scholastics.

The work is accessible and comprehensive. I found the chapter on late orthodoxy especially useful in guiding one through the Reformed reaction to the Enlightenment. The work even addresses the role of Baptist theologians—like John Gill (1697–1771) and Andrew Fuller (1754–1815)—and their use of Reformed Scholastic categories in the debates during the period of late orthodoxy. Becoming familiar with Scholasticism is vital for understanding medieval theology, the Reformation, and the Puritans, and I highly recommend Van Asselt’s work as an introduction to the subject.

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Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.

Remembering Matthew Henry

June 22nd, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Church History, Eminent Christians, Puritans

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Matthew Henry (1662-1714), who died June 22 exactly three hundred years ago, is rightly remembered as a leading figure among early eighteenth-century Dissent. His devotional commentary on the entire Bible, the Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, was the first such work in English and is a prism of late Puritan piety. If one wishes to get a good feel for the thinking of late seventeenth-century Puritanism read Henry on the Bible. By the early Victorian period this work had gone through some 25 editions and is still in use today. It is well known that George Whitefield, the  tercentennial of whose birth will be celebrated later this year, used this exposition widely in his ministry and prayer life. Henry ‘s twenty-five year ministry in Chester bore other fruit as well: a sterling witness in a degenerate age, the edification of God’s people under his charge  and about 30 other publications that ministered to the church at large both in his day and subsequent ages. A conference on his ministry and thought will be held July 14-16 this year at the University of Chester, England. Dr Ligon Duncan is to be one of the speakers.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

William Ames’s Holy Logic

April 15th, 2014 Posted in 16th Century, 17th Century, Eminent Christians, Philosophy, Puritans

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

One of the few things I remember from my freshman philosophy class is learning about the syllogism. The syllogism is a logical tool used to deduce a conclusion from a major and minor premise (for example: A: All students wear red. B: John is a student. C: Therefore, John wears red). You’ve probably seen it before, but have you seen it used as a formula for holy living?

The Puritan theologian William Ames (1576–1633) believed that the syllogism—when used rightly—offered considerable moral guidance, for it contained the “force and nature of conscience (I.3).”[1] Ames defined the human conscience as “man’s judgment of himself, according to the judgment of God of him (I.1).” The syllogism provided the means for the conscience’s operation of accusing, excusing, and comforting the moral agent. It consists of three elements:

  1. The Proposition: The proposition fulfills the role of the major premise. The Latin term Ames employed is synteresis, meaning a source for principles of moral action.Ames also referred to the proposition as a “light” and a “law.” God’s will and commandments furnish this “storehouse of principles.” While nature can often lead men and women in moral living, God’s revealed will is the only perfect rule of conscience, illuminating mankind’s moral duty (I.4–7).
  2. The Witness: the witness, which Ames also termed the “index,” “book,” “review,” or “assumption,” functions as the minor proposition. The witness is a subjective statement about the self for the purpose of considering one’s moral condition in reference to the proposition. It measures the moral agent alongside the law. The moral state of the human will is compared with the standard of God’s will (I.21–25).
  3. The Conclusion: the conclusion, also referred to as the “judgment,” derives partly from the proposition and partly from the witness. In the conclusion, “God’s commandment and man’s fact are mutually joined together.” The conclusion passes the sentence, or “application,” of either comfort or condemnation for the man or woman in light of the major and minor premises (I.28–32).

In sum, “in the Proposition God’s Law is declared, and in the Assumption, the fact or condition of man is examined, according to that Law; so in the Conclusion, the sentence concerning man is pronounced according to his fact…by virtue of the Law that hath been declared” (I.28).

Ames provides two examples. The first delivers accusation but the second comfort:

1. [A] “He that lives in sin, shall die”
[B] “I live in sin”
[C] “Therefore, I shall die”

2. [A] “Whoever believes in Christ, shall not die but live”
[B] “I believe in Christ”
[C] “Therefore, I shall not die but live (I.3)”

For Ames, the objective of the syllogism was to assist men and women in assessing their moral condition in light of God’s commandments and in conforming their wills to God’s will. Ultimately, it shows us how desperately short we fall, pointing to our need to rest faith in the Christ who followed God’s will perfectly.


[1] William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (London, 1639). You can access the text at this link.

 

Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.