A Name or a No-name?
January 26, 2016
I'm currently editing a book with Michael Haykin on intra-Reformed debates in the Long Eighteenth Century (1688 to 1815). It is a sort of companion to this book, and part of a life-long project of mine where I want to highlight theological debates over the centuries to give readers a better understanding of the history and progress of theology.
What sorts of debates took place in the Reformed Evangelical world during the Long Eighteenth Century? Here are some of the following debates we're looking at:
The Neonomian Controversy (1690s)Trinitarian debates: The Salters' Hall Synod to Edward Sharman (fl. 1790s)Is Revival Really from God? Debates about the Great AwakeningThe Modern Question: Hyper-CalvinismThe New Divinity issues in New EnglandWhitefield and the Ecclesiological debates with the ErskinesIrvingism: ChristologyEschatologyThe Battle over SandemanianismThe Marrow ControversyMarriage/DivorceScottish Common Sense RealismEdwards on the Freedom of the Will (his departure from Reformed orthodoxy)
As you can see, the eighteenth century is not unlike every other century in terms of theological debate. It happens; and one way to get a handle on the theological climate of any given period is to consider the debates that took place.
Editing a volume is sheer agony. Be warned. Thankfully, one gets to read some very impressive scholarship from time to time, which brings me to the real point of this post, namely, the choice of scholars.
I've noticed that in many edited books the editors have gone for pastor-scholars with a sort of reputation. Now, depending on the type of book, I can see the (strategic) point in pursuing people who are well known. The book has to sell (though I'm told that edited books rarely sell well, anyway). Conferences are the same.
But I'm persuaded that many of those who are well known don't always write good essays. They are busy people, and their scholarship isn't always up-to-date. Here is the limitation of being a pastor-scholar-conference speaker-etc. There are many scholars with PhDs who are consistently doing excellent work, but because they don't write popular stuff and are just normal church-going folk, they get no prestige and are often ignored by most of the non-academic world.
I'm really encouraged by the amount of fine young scholars emerging in the Reformed world. I just hope they get their chance to write in a way that will benefit both the academy and the church. Most of my favorite scholars and preachers are unknowns.
Personally, I'd much rather a hungry PhD student who is in the thick of the primary and secondary literature, and wants to prove himself/herself. I say this having just read an excellent essay by a PhD student who has shown (convincingly) that Edwards was not perhaps as Reformed on the question of the will as many suppose. And, much of what I've learned about hypothetical universalism has not come from the secondary literature, which for the most part has been very poor up until recently, but from a PhD student at Calvin Theological Seminary.
The ideal is, in my view, not the so-called well-known "pastor-scholar", but rather the bona fide scholar who has proven himself/herself over many years by producing essays that were not whipped up in a week or two. These scholars don't rest on their PhD, but have moved far beyond the usual mediocrity of a PhD dissertation.
At the popular level I'd like to see the permanent end of edited books, unless, of course, you let PhD students contribute or scholars who will take the time to write a really thoughtful and careful piece. (Trust me, you can tell when someone has put in work and when someone has had perhaps a little too much help from an assistant who has not even finished seminary). But would publishers sell these types of books?