Tuesday, 26 June 2012

History of Christianity/Christian Thought Faculty Job

There is a faculty job at Mount Saint Mary College for those interested in teaching the history of Christianity and/or Christian thought. Check it out:

The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Mount Saint Mary College announces a 1 year position at the rank of Assistant Professor, beginning in the fall of 2012. Candidates must have a specialization in Scriptural studies, and in the history of Christian thought, with particular emphasis on ancient to post-reformation history.

Evidence of effective teaching is required. In addition to courses in the area of specialization, the candidate must be willing to teach introductory level courses in the college's core of general education requirements. Candidates must demonstrate commitment to and excellence in undergraduate teaching as well as scholarly achievement. The Ph.D. must be held by the start of the appointment.

Applications will be reviewed immediately, and the position will remain open until filled.

Applicants must submit the following: letter of intent, CV, graduate school transcripts, three letters of reference, a sample of scholarly work, and teaching evaluations. For full consideration, materials should be received by July 21, 2012. Applications should be sent to: Dr. John Hofbauer, Chair, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Mt. St. Mary College, 330 Powell Ave., Newburgh, NY 12550.

New Review of Enlightened Evangelicalism in the Westminster Theological Journal

I'm on vacation with my family at Carolina Beach, NC, enjoying the sand and surf with my wife and kids (the surfing conditions could be better though). I recently read a new review of Enlightened Evangelicalism in the spring 2012 edition of the Westminster Theological Journal by Kenneth J. Stewart. I must admit that I have been anxious about Ken's review ever since he emailed me several months ago stating that he would be reviewing my book. Some of his past reviews have been seasoned with a bit more salt than I am accustomed to reading. That being said, Ken's review of Enlightened Evangelicalism is quite favorable overall. His final paragraph reads:

Clearly we are in Jonathan Yeager's debt. His chosen subject is one that should provoke us to think afresh about the appropriate stance for Reformed theology now, situated as we are in a new period of cultural and intellectual upheaval. We should not miss, either, the role played by this influential Scot as the encourager and enabler of others.

Ken did go after me on two of my chapters: "The Enlightened Preacher" and "The Enlightened Theologian." Some of his criticism on the structure and prose of the chapters are fair (he says that my "Enlightened Preacher" chapter, for instance, is a "heavy going" "paraphrastic tour of Erskine's preaching), but I think that it should be pointed out that judgments on these two chapters have varied, depending on the interests of the readers. Historians who do not often venture into the dangerous waters of writing about theology have commended these chapters as helpful in articulating evangelical thought in the eighteenth century. Roger L. Emerson is touching up an article on Scottish history in which he cites my book--and these chapters in particular--as giving a good overview of Scottish evangelical theology. I also remember David Bebbington pleased with the addition of these theological chapters in the thesis. As a theologian, Ken has higher expectations on theological writing than other scholars. Nevertheless, I think that I could have summarized more succinctly the information in these chapters and worked more diligently at providing greater insight into the theological implications of Erskine's arguments. Reading reviews of one's work can be humbling, but it can also be a useful in alerting authors to areas of weakness that can be strengthened in future projects.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Forthcoming Article on John Maclaurin

A few days ago I received word from an editor at the Scottish Journal of Theology that my article, "Nature and Grace in the Theology of John Maclaurin," will be published in the November edition of the journal. I wrote this article in 2009 and, after several months of waiting for the completion of the peer-review process, it has been in the queue for about a year.

Here is the abstract for the article:

The important, but unexplored, John Maclaurin of Glasgow (1693–1754) represents the branch of enlightened evangelicals in the Church of Scotland who defended aspects of supernaturalism as compatible with reason. Evangelicals like Maclaurin endorsed the transatlantic evangelical revivals while still maintaining that such pervasive and multifarious spiritual awakenings were not a chaotic display of enthusiasm. Maclaurin supposed that God had created humanity with the ability to reason and could influence one’s thinking to adopt epistemological assumptions about religion that some saw as irrational and superstitious. In order to prove this point, Maclaurin turned the tables on the opponents of the revivals by arguing that in order to be truly natural, in the sense of being a complete human, one must embrace the inner workings of the Holy Spirit. The corruption of our nature that occurred as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve left mankind in an incomplete state. Therefore, the purpose of God’s supernatural grace is to restore mankind to its authentic natural state. Without such divine aid to form knowledge, he argued, one would never be able to gain a full understanding of spiritual truth.
            Similar to Thomas Aquinas, Maclaurin assumed that humans can know many things about God and his work in the world using reason. Sin has not corrupted our intellect to the extent that we cannot ascertain any truth about God from observing the world around us. Nevertheless, in order to have a thorough understanding of God, divine grace is needed. Following Aquinas, Maclaurin claimed that God uses secondary causes like preaching to motivate people to seek grace. Such secondary causes cannot produce any real change in a person unless accompanied by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. As opposed to many of the more liberal ministers of the day, Maclaurin, although not entirely comfortable with the fainting and weeping that sometimes appeared at the revivals, was willing to admit that emotional displays could be a natural response by a person whose heart had been moved by the spirit of God. While defending extreme emotions, Maclaurin’s main point in his sermons was that evangelicalism was entirely reasonable.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

New Review of Enlightened Evangelicalism

Yesterday, I received the latest issue of Eighteenth-Century Scotland, the newsletter of the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society. The journal that the ECSSS puts out features a few articles and a number of book reviews. In the current spring 2012 issue, William Smith, a graduate student in history at Notre Dame, has written a very nice review of Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine.

I appreciated how Smith thoroughly summarized the book. This is not always the case in book reviews, which sometimes leads one to wonder if the reviewer has actually read the book. Smith has clearly read the whole of the book and understood what I was attempting to argue. The review is almost entirely favorable, but in the final paragraph he did criticize me for not providing enough context to Erskine's life. I must agree with Smith on this assessment. If I had to write the book over again, I would have provided better contextualization and background to the culture in Scotland and colonial America.

Here is a taste of the review:

It has been nearly two hundred years since someone published a biography of the now little-known Scottish pastor and theologian, John Erskine. Overshadowed by some of the monumental figures of eighteenth-century evangelicalism, including George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards, Erskine has gone underappreciated. But now, Jonathan Yeager in a well-researched "life and thought" shows why Erskine should be regarded as one of eighteenth-century Scotland's most important intellectual forces. Yeager places Erskine at the center of the transatlantic evangelical movement, showing him to be not only a capable thinker in his own right but, more importantly, a "disseminator of enlightened evangelicalism." In particular, Erskine emerges as a figure who combined fervent commitments to Calvinist orthodoxy, evangelicalism, and Lockean epistemology into a coherent theological system.

 Many thanks again to William for his kind remarks.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Forgotten Wesley

While in England I have been reading John Tyson's book, Assist Me to Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley. Despite having been a capable preacher, and producing between 6,000 and 9,000 hymns, Charles has not received the same scholarly interest as his brother John. Tyson argues that while John Wesley actively sought the limelight, his younger brother shunned such attention. In the introduction, Tyson writes, "It is clear that Charles Wesley did not intent to become famous from his hymn writing, since he often published his hymns jointly with his brother John, refusing to attach his own name directly to any single composition. Further, he withheld many of his compositions from publication, fearing that they would attract too much attention--being either too private or too bombastic for popular consumption. Nor did Charles make much money from his hymns" (ix). A second reason is that once Charles married, he gave up much of his itinerant preaching for a more stable life as a family man, first at Bristol, and then after 1771 in London. A third reason has to do with Charles's relationship with the early Methodist preachers. Some of his contemporaries complained that Charles was not fulfilling the Methodist mission of itineration, which also contributed to the fact that he was less highly regarded than his brother. Tyson notes that Charles could be overly critical of others by comparison to his older brother. John by contrast was much more lenient of the faults of his preachers and therefore was held in higher esteem by them. 

Born prematurely as the eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, Charles grew up under the strict guidance of his mother and siblings before entering college in 1727 at Christ Church, Oxford. After a year of card playing, dancing, and attending the theater, he began practicing a spiritual life more consistent with his upbringing. Charles is the first in the family to report that a fellow student called him a “Methodist” because of his newly-acquired methodical habits of piety. Soon he joined in fellowship of zealous believers which became known as the “Holy Club” at Oxford.  When John Wesley returned to Oxford in 1729 as a fellow of Lincoln College, Charles happily submitted to his brother’s leadership of the club. As the more introverted brother, Charles often allowed John to forge the way toward spiritual maturity. Charles, for instance, accompanied John to Georgia in the mid-1730s, despite his initial lack of interest in traveling to the American colony. Tyson writes that "There was, deep in Charles's personality, something that made him willing to be led by his brother, just as there was something in John that made him prone to lead. Things went along smoothly with their shared ministry when each man settled into his unspoken but well established role" (173). But as Tyson alludes, there were occasions when Charles firmly resisted his brother’s influence. After marrying in 1749, he balked at John’s insistence that Charles continue to itinerate as frequently as he had in the early 1740s. Unlike John, Charles had a happy married life and felt that he owed it to his wife and children to spend as much quality time with them at home as possible. Charles also had a different perspective on the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection, viewing it as gradual and coming to completion at the end of one’s lifetime. John, by comparison, argued for the expectance of a sudden obtainment of sanctification, which need not come at an elderly age. Although both planned to remain loyal to the Church of England, Charles had a firmer commitment than his brother, which cost the younger Wesley the admiration of many of the Methodist preachers. Finally, whereas John welcomed laymen to join the ranks of the burgeoning movement, Charles was much more cautious in commissioning itinerant preachers. Disgusted with his brother’s apparent cavalier attitude toward religion on one occasion, Charles once wrote to a friend that John had made a tailor a preacher. "I, with God's help," Charles responded, "shall make a tailor of him again." Charles’s death in 1788, while officially lamented in the Methodist minutes for that year, allowed ambitious preachers in the movement to guide John Wesley towards a final break with the Church of England. 

Charles’s main contribution to Methodism was, of course, as the movement’s chief hymn writer. A talented lyricist, he penned an estimated 6,000 to 9,000 hymns and sacred poems during his lifetime. But it is difficult to determine exactly how many of these he composed since Charles usually published his work jointly with his brother John. Most scholars, however, attribute the majority of early Methodist hymns to Charles, seeing his brother’s role as the final editor. Charles wrote thematically on topics such as “Hymns for Christian Friends,” “Hymns for the Persecuted,” “Hymns for Children,” “Hymns for Families,” “Short Hymns on Select Passages of Scripture,” and hymns during special seasons like his “Hymn for Easter-Day,” better known as “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” After experiencing conversion in May 1738—days before John felt his heart “strangely warmed” at Aldersgate—Charles composed lyrics that the brothers sang together to mark this joyous occasion. We don’t know for certain which hymn they sang, but it might have been “And Can It Be,” which was published as “Free Grace” in 1739, or the popular, “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing,” composed in 1739 and published in 1740 as “For the Anniversary of One’s Conversion.” The inclusion of a “thousand tongues” is said to have come from the Moravian leader Peter Böhler, who once declared, “Had I thousand tongues, I would praise Christ with them all!” The theology behind words explicitly deferred all power of conversion to divine grace, while encouraging the singer to participate in the narrative of the song. 

Tyson's book is a very accessible introduction to the life of Charles Wesley, clearly showing the importance and genius of the younger brother. While I wished that Tyson would have included the context of such hymns as "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" or the theology behind "Wrestling Jacob," one cannot fault the author for not covering all of the thousands of compositions by Wesley. Rather, it seems fair enough to conclude that Tyson's main accomplishment is to whet one's appetite for further reading and study on this lesser-known Wesley.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


I'm at Bristol, England today doing research at Bristol Baptist College, founded in 1679. This school is a gem for scholars interested in Baptist history and thought. Although small, in terms of the number of students who attend, BBC has an amazing archive with manuscripts dating back to the 18th century. You can, for instance, look at a collection of original letters from John Newton (Amazing Grace) to John Ryland Jr. One of the archivists told me that the school a few years ago sold a Gutenberg Bible for close to two million pounds. The school simply couldn't afford to insure the book.

I hope the material I have collected will be helpful as I continue to research and write on 18th-century evangelicalism.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Bodleian Library Oath

While researching at the Bodleian Library yesterday, I had to swear to a librarian the following statement:

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.

Every person who wishes to do research at the Bodleian must say this statement.

Interestingly, I noticed that in the gift shop you can purchase tote bags, mugs, towels, and other items with this statement on it to take home as a souvenir.

Christianity and Christendom

While in England I have been talking with my friend Andy, who I went to graduate school with at Regent College. He lives in a communal house in London with Christian friends that are about the same age. Andy commented about how rare it is to find Christians in Britain, as evident in the fact that very few people attend church. This issue is particularly problematic when trying to find someone to date. The low turnout in British churches is, of course, an issue that I am familiar with, having lived in Scotland for over two years. Britons are also well aware of the statistics of the declining church, a subject documented in such books as Callum Brown's The Death of Christian Britain

One of the aspects of my conversation with Andy that I found interesting was his reference to "Christians" in Britain. He uses this general term, rather than referring to evangelicals, Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. He does not differentiate between the denominations, or even between Catholics and Protestants. If you willing attend church and declare yourself a follower of Christ, then you are a Christian, regardless of the various nuances of your belief system.

What he described reminded me of the time before Constantine's reign when there was a minority of Christians in the Roman Empire. Obviously, Christians in Britain are not physically persecuted in the same way as some of the earliest Christians, but one would certainly not be popular today for saying that he or she is a Christian in Britain. Whereas in America, we bicker over whether a person should be dunked or sprinkled, be able to speak in tongues, and if women can become ministers, in Britain a person is often happy to find people who are simply willing to admit that they are believers.

Our discussion then turned to the question of whether Christendom was good for Christianity. This question was debated all the way back to the time of Constantine, who made Christianity the most popular religion in the empire. Indeed, a person wanted to become a Christian at the time of Constantine in order to get ahead in life, at least politically. When Constantine favored Christianity, waves of people joined churches largely to affiliate with a religion that had become dominant, almost overnight. Some, in protest to this tide change, moved into the desert to live an ascetic life. These monks saw Christianity as now corrupted by the state and so wanted to purge themselves of the mixture of materialism, politics, and apathy that seemed to accompany the mobs of people now professing the same faith.

There is something to be said about banding together as a faithful minority. A Christian living in Britain must make a conscious decision to move in a countercultural direction. Because there is very little in the way of social benefit to declaring oneself a believer in Britain, people who congregate at churches seem to have a firmer commitment to their faith (though, not always). By contrast, in Christendom America, there are hordes of people who attend church but do not seem to have the same kind of appreciation for Christianity as the minority groups of westerners in Europe.

All of this discussion is pushing me toward offering a class next spring on Global Christianity in which we would look at the history of Christianity in the West and non-western world. Perhaps I would use some of Philip Jenkins's books since he will be giving a lecture at UTC in February.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


I'm at Oxford for two days. I arrived in London two days ago before taking the train this morning to Oxford. I plan on doing some research at the Bodleian Library and the Angus Library at Regent's Park tomorrow.

Oxford is an amazing city. After visiting the Oxford University Press bookstore and Blackwell's, I ate one of the best meals of my life: a three-course lunch that concluded with Banoffee pie. I was tempted to eat at the Eagle and Child, but it was too busy. I think that Pierre Victoire was the right choice.