Isaac Watts

Reason, Passion and the Revival of Religion

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Graham Beynon
T&T Clark Studies in English Theology
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury T&T Clark
    , October
     2016.
     224 pages.
     $128.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780567670137.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Issac Watts: Reason, Passion and the Revival of Religion, Graham Beynon gives us an extraordinarily-thorough study of the life and thought of Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Watts is primarily known today as a British composer of hymns—he authored 750 hymns—thus earning him the accolade, the Father of English Hymnology. What is less well known is that Watts was a poet, theologian, and philosopher who contributed to the epistemology of religious belief as well as composing a logic textbook that was used in eighteenth-century logic courses. In seven chapters, Beynon defends what he sees as the integrated, mutually reinforcing elements of Watts’s work, correcting some past misconceptions of Watts by Arthur Davis, John Hoyles, and Sharon Achinstein among others. Watts was a Puritan non-conformist, or dissenter, who flourished outside the Oxbridge Anglican communities. He was very much influenced by John Locke, and Watts held a high view of reason as adjudicating our—sometimes wayward—passions, all the while recognizing, on the basis of reason and religious experience, the important authority of scripture. While Watts was wary of what, in his day, was called “enthusiasm”—a tendency to be overly, uncritically indulgent of the sentiments—Beynon points out that Watts was far more receptive to accepting divine mysteries in scripture that do not have independent justification from natural reason or natural theology. This book is not a work of arid secular reflection with chapters on passion, preaching, prayer, and other key themes interlaced with poetry and hymns. At the risk of impertinence, Watts might well be worthy of a different title: the Singing Philosophical Theologian. Beynon has produced an erudite, brilliant investigation into the work of Watts.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Charles Taliaferro is professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College.

Date of Review: 
August 23, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Graham Beynon is minister of Grace Church Cambridge, and Director of Free Church Training at Oakhill Theological College, London. A popular conference speaker, Graham is the author of several books including Mirror, Mirror and Emotions. He is married to Charis and they have three children.

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