Book Review: The Essential Jonathan Edwrds

The Essential Jonathan Edwards:  An Introduction To The Life And Teaching Of America’s Greatest Theologian, by Owen Strachan & Douglas Allen Sweeney

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers/Net Gallery.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

When I was in high school, a classmate who happened to be not only a friend of mine but also a fellow member of my congregation gave a very realistic reading of part of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners In The Hand Of An Angry God” in English class as an assignment for “The Scarlet Letter” which required us to adopt the style of a Puritan divine in condemning the sins of our fellow classmates.  Somewhat unfairly, Jonathan Edwards has come to be known as a dour and humorous and somewhat ferocious minister.  Despite many areas of disagreement with the authors of this book [1] concerning different aspects of Edwards’ thought, this book does an excellent job at presenting Edwards in a very balanced sense.  If you disagree with Edwards’ thoughts and ideas and eisegetical views of scripture in his flights of imagination and in his mistaken hermeneutics about various matters, at least you will disagree with what Edwards actually thought and practiced, rather than a mistaken image of what he said.

This book is an ample one at over 400 pages, quite large enough for the authors to sample a goodly amount of Edwards’ voluminous writing for readers here.  This book is a best of compilation with both large amounts of excerpts from Edwards’ writings as well as thoughtful commentary on them from the point of view of generally favorable but mildly critical evaluators.  This book’s materials are divided into five parts.  The first part of the book gives a biography of Edwards that shows him as a lover of God (I) from his early childhood (1) to his conversion (2) and struggles as a young man to find a wife and a good place in the world (3) to his experience of seeing God’s grace in action (4), his work as a minister in Northampton (5), his preaching against Satan and his demons (6), his firing from that position and his work in the wilderness (7), and his death from a vaccination gone wrong before he was to fulfill the job as the president of Princeton University (8).  After this the authors discuss Edwards’ view of beauty (II), specifically the beauty of God (9), creation (10), Christ (11), the Church (12), and a reputed Trinitarian afterlife (13).  Next, the authors discuss Edwards’ view of the good life (III) including its nearness (14), distance as a result of human depravity (15), taste (16), pleasures (17), and shape (18).  Edwards’ views of true Christianity (IV) are then explored, with a look at the problem of nominal Christianity in his day (19), Edwards’ answer to this problem (20), some powerful examples of true Christianity (21), and the simultaneous dismissal of Edwards and his call to genuine holiness on the part of believers (22).  The final part of the book discusses the issue of heaven and hell (V) in the disappearance of the afterlife in later generations of believers (23), the frightening prospect of hell (24), the glorious prospect of heaven (25), and the transformative power of a heaven-focused mindset (26).  The book then ends with works cited and recommended further reading along with some acknowledgments by the authors.

Despite my disagreements with the authors, especially about the extent to which Edwards’ views of the nature of God and the afterlife were exegetical as opposed to traditional but nonbiblical, this book was certainly a worthwhile one.  In particular, I was relieved to hear that Edwards was a human being and that the authors were not trying to portray him as otherwise.  In particular, the authors do a good job at pointing out that the author was a man of his times when it came to casual racism despite his hostility to the Atlantic slave trade.  Likewise, the authors demonstrate that while Edwards did have some very strong views on the need for holiness on the part of believers that he also had some very strong views on the fact that living a godly life should lead to joy and an appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation, however marred it is by sin.  If this book helps people see Edwards as a human being with a concern for both the joys of believers in this life and in the kingdom of heaven as well as a concern for helping to encourage souls away from judgment, it will have done a great deal.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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