- Series: American University Studies (Book 340)
- Hardcover: 178 pages
- Publisher: Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers; New edition edition (October 30, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781433124440
- ISBN-13: 978-1433124440
- ASIN: 1433124440
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,776,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and Its Influence on His Pastoral Ministry (American University Studies) Hardcover – October 30, 2014
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«Donald S. Whitney’s, ‘Finding God in Solitude’ arrives amidst a growing interest in Jonathan Edwards’ devotional life, both private and public. Whitney’s work taps into several important veins of Edwards scholarship, including his role as a minister and his ‘God-centered’ theology. Whitney has both a historical and a contemporary approach, seeking to understand Edwards in context while exploring how he can and cannot be used as a resource for the pious life and for ministry today.
Whitney’s driving question is, What was the relation of Edwards’ piety to his pastorate, how were they related, and how can we detect that relation? He finds, above all, an Edwards steeped in ‘Christian solitude’, seeking personal experience with God, but out of this came a ministry defined by a God who was beautiful and communicative. Whitney’s use of primary and secondary sources is broad yet discriminating. He has a sound knowledge of scholarship on Edwards, and effectively utilizes Edwards’ personal writings, correspondence, sermons, and pastoral writings. What Whitney has done, therefore, is to provide the first full-length exploration of Edwards’ personal pious practices.» (Kenneth P. Minkema, Executive Director, Jonathan Edwards Center, Executive Editor, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale University)
«Piety was central to the life of Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest Evangelical theologian. Moreover, he was an heir to one of the richest traditions of Christian piety in the history of Christianity, namely that of Puritanism. So it is a surprise that relatively little by way of critical scholarship has been done on this area of his life. This new work by Donald S. Whitney admirably helps fill this gap in Edwards studies. Here, in so far as Edwards’s extant corpus allows, we have a detailed reflection on key aspects of Edwards’ inner walk with God. And as such, it is a fabulous introduction to not only Edwards, but to the spirituality of late Puritanism and early Evangelicalism.» (Michael A.G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky; Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies; Author of Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival and Co-Author of Travel with Jonathan Edwards)
About the Author
Donald S. Whitney received a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and a PhD in theology from the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Since 2005 he has been Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to this he taught for ten years at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. With twenty-four years of pastoral experience, Whitney is the author of seven books, including Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
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This work is organized into three chapters book-ended with an introduction and conclusion, each with sectional headings to help guide readers in the direction of the chapter’s purpose. Whitney does well by relying on primary sources as his foundation, and supplementing secondary sources as necessary.
The study of Edwards as a theological and philosophical titan has grown to international interest—and Whitney knows this. In the introduction he admits there has been lengthy treatment on many different facets of Edwards’ person, so it’s surprising that a focus on Edwards’ spirituality has not only been long overdue, but been neglected. For the basis of this study, Whitney asks, “If an extraordinary gifted and eminently successful minister like Edwards found the maintenance of a personal devotional life worth his time, what does this say for ministers today (2)?” In order to fully grasp Edwards’ piety it’s necessary to understand the day in which he lived. Whitney examines the religious environment and the influence it would have had on Edwards in Colonial New England. It was a time when “the nature of piety within the sphere of the English Puritan Period…was a fabric deeply colored with the dye of Puritanism (11).” Whitney uses this context as a mode of understanding Edwards’ piety and how it shaped him as a pastor.
After giving a historical sketch, the first of the three chapters survey Edwards’ personal piety concerning his life, and work, namely, his writing, and pastoral ministry. Being taken through a brief overview of Edwards’ early life, time at Yale, and conversion, Whitney highlights the significance of his first pastorate in New York City. While personal commitments were common during this era, the young Edwards began to pen his own Resolutions, which would be a defining moment in his personal piety—not because of an epiphany, but because they “reveal a remarkable level of spiritual intensity and determination, dealing with virtually every aspect of personal piety and practical Christian living (52).” Edwards used these personal resolutions as a bar, or standard, to remind himself of the “kind of Christian life he desired to live (52).”
As a caveat, Whitney discloses in the second chapter that his book does not examine every spiritual discipline Edwards practiced—which would have been a massive undertaking—but surveys the most important ones: prayer, and disciplines related to the Bible. The specific spiritual disciplines included here are prayer, journaling (diary, resolutions, Miscellanies, ‘remembrancers’), fasting, solitude, and family worship, all with Edwards’ acute view of a personal relationship with God and a high view of inspiration of Scripture. Whitney asserts the majority of these particular disciplines were “somehow connected with writing (87).” All of his writing ventures “demonstrate how reflective he was about the word of God (94).” While writing is a great example of his spiritual disciplines, it still was not at the heart of personal piety. Edwards always desired to be a faithful husband, father, and pastor, but, “his soul thrived best in the soil of solitude (97).” Despite criticisms of withdrawing far too often, which might seem like isolation, Edwards chose solitude simply to, “meet with his God (97).” Whitney describes solitude as Edwards’ personal “sanctuary.” Edwards would not agree, however, with the life of a hermit, but would yearn for solitude—because there, “he was a deeply thoughtful and intensely prayerful man (100).”
After giving special attention to each devotional practice, the third and final chapter reveals how Edwards’ personal piety manifested itself into his pastoral ministry—specifically by evaluating his pastoral relationships, pastoral preaching, and pastoral publications. Whitney gives an honest assessment and exposes what might have been a hindrance to Edwards’ ministry. Quoting Samuel Hopkins, Edwards “commonly spent thirteen hours every day in his study (109).” This amount of privacy in study would not have been seen as overly excessive for pastors during his day, but it would have left little time, if any, to give to the people of his parish. What’s more, Edwards viewed small talk as “a poor use of time” and “saw little value in socializing (110).” The seclusion of study combined with the low view of socializing left a gap between him and his congregation. Edwards knew he needed to communicate his piety and experience in a different way—and did so by the avenues of preaching and publication. The latter is quite obvious in the literary corpus he left behind. The spiritual disciplines not expressed in his writings, however, were urged in his preaching. The sweet, delight, and passion he experienced in solitude were the very things that molded him as a Christian, and were the same things he wanted for his people—“a spirituality that brought people to God and which reveled in the enjoyment of God (127).”
Whitney concludes the book with a review of his findings. As a reminder, this evaluation was not to merely extract the spiritual disciplines practiced by Edwards, but show how his personal piety manifested itself into his pastoral ministry. In summation, Edwards’ personal piety accurately reflected what is set forth in Scripture—so much, that it would be difficult to prove otherwise. Moreover, his personal piety fueled his pastoral ministry. Edwards sought piety for both his own benefit, and as a model for his congregation to emulate. He discovered his spiritual disciplines “empowered his ministry to others in the ways he described…was also the means of his soul’s sustenance (153).”
Appreciation is well deserved to Donald S. Whitney for providing a well-polished treatment of this pivotal eighteenth-century pastor. By mapping Edwards’ personal piety, Whitney brings new insight into the ever-growing realm of Edwards scholarship. This book is a great example of how pastors can learn from Edwards, and why he matters for them today. All audiences will gain a better understanding of who Edwards was, and how he shaped pastoral ministry through a biblical model of personal piety. This commendable work is a welcoming invitation to learn for all pastors and Christians “who long for the refreshments of body and soul enjoyed in solitude (101).”