Publishing Is Not Good for the Soul

Just ask Jonathan Edwards (via Jonathan Yeager):

Edwards vocalized his disgust with the way that his book Religious Affections was published in 1746, probably because it was concisely printed, with tightly cropped margins and line spacing. Despite his complaints, the printer for this book feared that he had not printed enough copies to meet public demand. In an advertisement at the end of the book, the Boston printer Samuel Kneeland remarked that some 1,300 subscriptions had been taken for Religious Affections, at a time when a colonial author would have rejoiced if 500 copies of a book sold.

Edwards was also not happy with the editorial work that the ministers Benjamin Colman, John Guyse, and Isaac Watts did when publishing his revival account A Faithful Narrative in London. After its publication in 1737, none of the first editions of Edwards’s book would be published again from London. Partially because of Edwards’s desire to exercise more control in how his future books would be edited and published, he preferred to have them printed from Boston, where his trustworthy friend Thomas Foxcroft could oversee the presswork. Here again is more irony. A Faithful Narrative was one of Edwards’s best-selling books, and led to his international recognition as a revivalist. Yet if this book had been published in Boston, he might not have achieved international fame within his lifetime.

Personally, I don’t think Edwards was wrong to be particular about the way his books looked, nor do I think he should have thought his own book sense better than someone in the business. But is this the kind of reaction you’d expect from a man so earnest for holiness? Sure, he was a regenerate sinner like the rest of us. But the New Calvinists (and their Obedience Boys siblings) keep marveling at former New Calvinists’ sanctity. Can’t we de-escalate the piousity syndrome and relate like real human beings?

5 thoughts on “Publishing Is Not Good for the Soul

  1. I’ve often thought that recovering evangelicals, including experiential Calvinists, best strides in this life would be simply learning how to live and relate as human beings.


  2. “… probably because it was concisely printed, with tightly cropped margins and line spacing.”

    I know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… or by its margin space- but alas: these things make all the difference in the world! Some publishers are to be commended for their great books. For example, Yale University Press has recently published some winners that are great to own because of their font choice, ease of opening the book, hardback binding- all at a reasonable price. They recently published Scott Hendrix’s book, “Luther: Visionary Reformer” (which is great); the quality of printing, etc., makes the book all the better. Yale also published Carlos Eire’s recent work, “Reformations.” This book is also of great binding quality and reasonable price. (BTW, it is a good book to study 1450-1650 Europe… very thorough, yet readable… though this book discusses the Reformation from a seemingly pro-Catholic church perspective. Nonetheless, still a good book with new contributions to the field of Reformation studies. it also serves as a portable gym to be used for benchpress and squats while on the road! I.e., it has an expansive girth; it is large).

    One other Yale book that has great binding, as well as content: E. Brooks Holifield’s “Theology in America.”

    Anyway- I concur with Edwards on this point…


    …Three cheers for Yale!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oliver Crisp—I think Edwards is committed to panentheism (all-in-god-ism). I argued that in my book Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation (OUP, 2012), and others have said something similar. But I now think that there are tendencies within Edwards’s thought that press him in the direction of pantheism (all is god). He would never have embraced that, of course. But there are things he does say that seem to lead to that conclusion–and this was the conclusion that Charles Hodge came to in the nineteenth century as well. So I guess I think that there is more than one Edwards, depending on how you weight certain claims that he makes in his works.

    Oliver Crisp pleads for justification from eternity, salvation for all people, universal efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice, and also for more room for the freedom of the human will, [as allowable views within the Reformed tradition) For each of these points, he mentions the names of Reformed authors, but it is clear that, historically speaking, there is nobody who (as Crisp wants now) pleads for these positions together. Furthermore, it is logically impossible to combine freedom as indifference with the absolute predestination of all people. Crisp does not answer the question why the position he defends did not become accepted in the Reformed tradition. It is not a coherent position.

    Gert van den Brink, The Netherlands, review of Crisp, Deviant Calvinism


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