For the local pastor of First Baptist Church, Ryan Martin, the letter from Bloomsbury Publishing subsidiary T & T Clark came as a total shock. He had submitted a finished draft for his first book (Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards) a few months earlier, though with little hope of actually having it published.
“I didn’t think they’d ever publish it,” he said. Nevertheless, Martin was pleasantly surprised when he received the letter accepting publication of the local writer's first published book. Originally from Illinois, Martin attended the Northland Baptist Bible College in Wisconsin before earning his PhD at the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Minnesota.
He describes the focus of his studies as being on “Christian theology from the perspective of the past.” He and his wife, Jennifer, moved here roughly five years ago and Martin has been at First Baptist ever since. Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards covers the work of the 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards.
Widely regarded as an important and influential writer during a period of history known as the First Great Awakening, Edwards was instrumental in helping spark a major Christian revival and the eventual emergence of a common evangelical identity during the 1730s and 1740s.
As a young child, Martin grew up in a Christian family where he was introduced to the writings of Edwards at a very early age. He describes the impact of reading Edwards’ magnus magnum opus Religious Affections, and how that exposure helped to inspire him in his own faith. In particular, Martin was moved by Edwards’ defenses of the Christian faith and his observations on the inner workings of the human mind and body within a Christian context.
A primary focus of the book is exploring the various meanings and uses of ‘affections’ and ‘emotions.’ Martin is careful to interpret these concepts through their historically relevant 18th century context, as well as the larger body of Christian theology that both precedes and follows Edwards. Martin argues that historians have over-emphasized the role of the Enlightenment in forming Edwards’ views on human emotion.
Instead, Martin returns to the original source material that would have influenced Edwards during his own education. Based in this new approach to research, Martin concludes that Edwards would have distinguished affections as distinct from general passions inherent in all humans. Edwards was therefore framing his own evangelical theology with an older tradition, rather than the new systems of thought emerging with the Enlightenment.
The idea for writing a full length book on the topic of Jonathan Edwards stemmed from Martin’s doctoral studies from when he was still in seminary college. His completed dissertation runs at roughly 120,000 words, giving Martin considerable content to work with. Martin was also encouraged by his PhD advisor, his outside reader, and other academics to try and get the work published. “It seemed like there was an opening for me to contribute something to scholarship,” Martin said. He reorganized certain passages, clarified important arguments, and restructured the text to accommodate book chapters.
Although both Edwards and the author come from an evangelical Reformation tradition, Martin believes that non-evangelical readers still stand to benefit from the work of Edwards. “From a secular point of view, or historical point of view, it’s important to understand where America came from,” Martin explained. The biggest hurdle for the modern reader, however, is the now outdated language used by Edwards and other contemporary writers. Nevertheless, Martin stresses the importance of engaging with the past, especially for Christians discovering or re-discovering their faith.
The book books is scheduled for release on November 15. It forms part of the T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology. More information about the book and the series can be found at https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/series/tt-clark-studies-in-systematic-theology/.