Reflections on History and Theology

Tag: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Sweeney’s “Edwards the Exegete” and “the Real Jonathan Edwards”

Edwards the ExegeteDouglas Sweeney - Edwards the Exegete represents a crowning achievement of a dozen years of studying Jonathan Edwards. Doug Sweeney, who was my doctoral advisor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and who runs a helpful blog on Edwards, has done Edwards scholars and followers a tremendous service in this volume, pulling back the curtain on a foundational aspect of Edwards’ life and thought that has generally been ignored. As Sweeney puts it succinctly, “We fail to comprehend Edwards’ life, thought, and ministry when viewing them apart from his biblical exegesis” (ix).

This monograph offers readers the first synthesis of Edwards’ exegesis across his entire corpus. Other volumes have explored aspects of Edwards’ corpus—particularly Stephen Stein’s fine introductions to Edwards’ biblical manuscripts printed in Yale University Press’s Works of Jonathan Edwards—or examined Edwards’ approach to particular parts of the canon. But Sweeney offers a truly groundbreaking study in analyzing the whole, based on a remarkable mastery of the primary and secondary literature on Edwards and his world, visible in the length and detail of the book’s notes.

As indicated by the volume title, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2015; source: publisher), Sweeney aims to present Edwards in his broader exegetical and cultural context without outright commending or denigrating Edwards as a biblical exegete. He admits, “I am not an Edwardsean,” and he instead seeks to approach the topic “as a historian, . . . transport[ing] thoughtful readers into Edwards’ biblical world, helping them understand and sympathize with Edwards’ exegesis, from the inside out, before resuming critical distance and evaluating his work from a late-modern perspective” (ix). He accomplishes this goal well.

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Doug Sweeney’s Wise Words for Graduates

doug-sweeney-222x296“You will never be smart enough.” For those who study church history and theology, these words by Dr. Doug Sweeney are some of the most freeing words you will hear. The constant pressure to know more and read more can drive a graduate student crazy, but embracing our limitedness frees us to pursue knowledge with a right view of God and ourselves.

In a commencement  given at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School last December, Doug Sweeney (my doctoral mentor) draws on some of the great theologians of the past to encourage Christian divinity students to approach their future ministry with three principles:

  1. Humility – We are limited creatures who can never know enough, and thus masters of divinity are not to master God, but to be mastered by God.
  2. A Learning Spirit – This humility should not cause us to stop learning, but should give us perspective as we become lifelong learners.
  3. Confidence in God – While we have much to learn, we can have confidence in God that we have been given enough in Christ and the enduring Word of God to minister to those in our care.

During this season of commencement speeches, Sweeney’s address (read the full version here) draws from Scripture and past theologians like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and Jonathan Edwards to offer helpful perspective for graduates, challenging them not to get stuck on themselves and their limitations, but to live out their calling boldly in Christ.