Helpful Books on Edwards

Founders Journal · Summer 2003 · pp. 31-33

Helpful Books

Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987. 503 pages + xxxi. 3 appendices, index.

No lover of Edwards should be without this volume. As has come to be expected, Murray includes a wealth of material from the era and provides helpful, but not obtrusive, theological engagement along the way. Though the book is weighted, and helpfully so, toward Edwards’s theological importance, it is still informative and interesting in demographics, details of social life in general, and interesting entrances into the Edwards family life in particular. Murray writes with an underlying challenge to the reader to consider seriously how Edwards might elevate our spiritual devotion, theological coherence, and Christian ministry. Some seem to chafe under Murray’s advocacy of piety, but many will enjoy this edifying feature.

George M. Marsden. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003. 615 pages, + xx; index, map, chronological chart.

Marsden writes easily and charmingly. He obviously has absorbed Edwards so thoroughly in thought and life that that the narrative flows out like a good story. Marsden writes as a historian of American culture and has in mind an audience that might not be familiar with Edwards or particularly enamored of his viewpoint. He does not therefore, drive home an Edwardsean world view polemically but weaves it skillfully into the progressive narrative. He certainly is not oblivious to the importance Edwards had in intellectual and Christian history, but he deals with this in such a way as not to put off those more interested in the overall cultural impact of Edwards or those who just like an interesting and highly pertinent biography. He assumes that every serious minded reader will want an accurate description of Edwards’s life and thought. Though told simply and prosaically, Marsden gives the content of Edwards thought with enchanting accuracy. He states his hope that “this account will be helpful to others, as it has been to myself, in thinking about what might be best appropriated from Edwards” [502]. He then suggests some tantalizing challenges. Those who benefit from this challenge will, in Marsden’s words, “be drawn from their self-centered universes. Seeing the beauty of the redemptive love of Christ as the true center of reality, they will love God and all that he has created” [505]. I recommend loaning this book to a thoughtful non-Christian who likes to read and enjoys good literary style. Gospel ideas are insinuated so naturally in the narrative that they will lead to many opportunities for discussion of the infinite importance of eternal things.

Richard A. Bailey & Gregory A. Wills, ed. The Salvation of Souls. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002. 189 pages, 2 indices.

Wills and Bailey have gone to the Edwards archives of the Beinecke Library and found nine previously unpublished sermons for inclusion in this volume. They survived the mind-numbing paleographic task of deciphering Edwardsean script. Each included sermon highlights a particular duty and/or privilege of Gospel ministry. Both pastor and congregation are addressed, as well as deacons. The sermons are arranged chronologically beginning in 1729 with the death of Solomon Stoddard, including sermons preached prior to the awakening, during the awakening, and subsequent to his removal from Northampton. The two longest sermons are The Minister before the Judgment Seat of Christ and The Work of the Ministry is Saving Sinners. Each sermons has a brief introduction setting it in context. I have three suggestions for use of this book. One, every preacher should read it and meditate on the privilege and responsibility of ministry as described by Edwards. Two, church staffs should read the sermons together one by one and set aside time for discussion in order to evaluate if their view of ministry is on target. Three, a pastor should lead his congregation in a study of the book and engage in a congregational dialogue on the meaning of pastoral ministry as an aspect of congregational life. These should be read along with Edwards’s farewell sermon to his congregation.

D. G. Hart, Sean Michael Lucas, and Stephen J. Nichols. The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Twelve different writers contribute essays. Both the number and different backgrounds of the contributors and the variety of subjects with which they deal show the amazingly eclectic appeal of Jonathan Edwards. Theology, philosophy, history, aesthetics, psychology, spirituality, preaching, politics, missions, apologetics–these are some of the subjects to which the Edwards corpus contributes and which are discussed in The Legacy. Not all the authors agree, and I certainly do not agree with all, but all provoke invigorating thought. Sam Storms unabashed confrontation with open theism through the medium of Edwards’s exposition of exhaustive divine foreknowledge is one of the most polemical of the articles and, probably on that account given the subject matter, among the most helpful. Darryl Hart presents a provocative essay proposing an alternative to the conversionism of Edwards that he posits as more true to historic Reformed faith. He presses Edwards into too tight a mold to make his point and Finney emerges as the image of Edwards. Baptist heirs of Edwards will wonder about Hart’s “covenant child who never knows anything other than that he or she is a child of God” [176]. They certainly will not respond to his positive appraisal and apparent advocacy of “sacramentalism, ‘which regards the Christian life as beginning with the bestowal of grace at baptism’.” [177] Can it really be that Hart is serious about a “churchly and covenantal pattern of inheriting the faith of one’s parents and church” [178]. Inheriting?! If Edwards is to blame for minimizing that notion , then all the more reason to congratulate Edwards. Sean Lucas’s essay, “He Cut up Edwardsism by the Roots,” has an interesting and stimulating twist when he suggests that southern Presbyterians, particularly Girardeau and Dabney, in dismissing Edwards’s supposed innovations left Baptists to be the Southern heirs of Edwards. Also Lucas’s final bibliographical essay discussing both popular and academic works on Edwards provides a marvelous map to guide and instruct an eager readership.