Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Edwards on the Christian Life

Edwards on the Christian Life. Dane C. Ortlund. 2014. Crossway. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Edwards on the Christian Life is a wonderful book. Have you wanted to read Jonathan Edwards yourself but been a bit hesitant?  Have you always thought he was too difficult to understand? If you find the thought of reading Jonathan Edwards intimidating, this is the book for you. Even if you've never considered reading Jonathan Edwards, this still may be the book for you. Why? It's a book on the Christian life, on what it means to be a Christian, how to live and love, etc.

It is a good introduction, in my opinion, because it provides CONTEXT for understanding and appreciating Edwards. It is rich in quotes so it gives you a taste, a sampling. But it also gives you a framework. It is great at explaining Edwards' theology, great at illustrating his theology through the use of quotes. The commentary on his theology is wonderful! Every chapter seeks to prove why Edwards is still relevant and worth reading.

The book is well written and well-organized. I loved the flow of the chapters, and how in its entirety it gives readers a way to make sense of Edwards. I also loved the preface. It is very straight-forward. It tells you EXACTLY what to expect from each and every chapter. As I was reading, I found myself having many "favorite chapters." And as I was preparing to review this one, I found myself rereading whole chapters. This is something that I rarely do. The book is EXCELLENT.

The book has thirteen chapters. I LOVED almost all of them. I believe I learned from all of them. I am not sure that I completely agree with all four of the criticisms in the final chapter. But overall, the book is so wonderful. It is NOT intimidating. It IS relevant.

Beauty: The Organizing Theme of Edwards's Theology of the Christian Life
To become a Christian is to become alive to beauty. 
Sinners are beautified as they behold the beauty of God in Jesus Christ. That is Edwards’s theology of the Christian life in a single sentence.
A Christian is a human being beautified— decisively in the past, progressively in the present, perfectly in the future. In the rest of this book we will consider Edwards’s distinctive emphases in his theology of the Christian life. Throughout, we will never be far from his vision of divine beauty. The remaining chapters of this book do not add to but explore different manifestations of Edwards’s vision of divine beauty.
New Birth: The Ignition of the Christian Life
Jonathan Edwards believed that the Christian life is of God. Having set his love on every one of his elect children before the foundation of the world, God then makes this election an experienced reality in the person’s life. Salvation is doubly of grace: grace planned in the past, grace activated in the present.
New birth does not simply change us by giving us a new power to do the same things we always wanted to do. It changes us by getting down underneath even the very level of our desires and changing what we want.
Love: The Essence of the Christian Life
Augustine has been called “the theologian of love,” and rightly so. But Jonathan Edwards could equally lay claim to that title. One scholar called Edwards the “theologian of the Great Commandment.” If there is one mark of the Christian life to which Edwards returns more than any other, it is love. Love, Edwards says, is “the life and soul of all religion.” It is definitive, not merely descriptive, of authentic Christianity. What is the essence of the Christian life? Tunneling down, drilling in, to the very heart and pulsating core of what it means to be a follower of Christ, what do we find? Edwards answers: love.
To be a Christian is to love. Love is neither optional nor peripheral. It is not required of only certain personality types. A Christian is one who has been welcomed into the great dance of mutual delight within the triune Godhead, having had the very love of this Godhead implanted in his own soul.
Joy: The Fuel of the Christian Life
The difference between a Christian life with or without joy is the difference between a boat being driven along by a tired oarsman or by a sail full of wind. Without the winds of joy we may make progress, at least on calm days— but it will be slow, painful, and exhausting. And on a day when the waves of circumstances are against us, we can only be driven backward, no matter how resolved the will. For Jonathan Edwards, joy is not the add-on to Christian living it seems to be for many believers.
Edwards therefore saw what many writers and preachers today do not: that the way to cultivate joy in God’s people was not to talk about joy but to talk about God.
Jesus Christ gives meaning to all priorities, not only heading the list but coloring every one with new and exciting meaning. To become a Christian is to make all of life sacramental.
The more one sees of the beauty of God, the more one longs for it— yet the seeing and the longing are themselves joy-generating. Indeed, such longings not only generate joy; they themselves are a joy. The wanting is the having. To long for God is to enjoy him.
Gentleness: The Aroma of the Christian Life
It may seem odd to include a chapter on gentleness in a book on Jonathan Edwards’s view of the Christian life. Are there not more central, more significant virtues to focus on? Edwards didn’t think so. He wrote that “a lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper” is “the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians.” And he has something to teach us. We give a chapter to gentleness here because it is a neglected virtue both in what others have unearthed in Edwards’s writings and more generally in the Christian church today.
A major way Christians wage war is by being gentle. We do not leave gentleness behind when we take up arms against the Devil. Gentleness is itself a way we take up arms against the Devil.
Scripture: The Treasure of the Christian Life
Communicating the role of the Bible in Edwards’s life and theology is something like capturing the role of food in a chef’s life. Scripture was in him. He ate it; and when he spoke, his words were filled with it. But not only that, Edwards’s lifelong calling was to feed others with it. The Bible was both his own life source and his vocation. When we immerse ourselves in Edwards’s writings, we do not find him speaking of Scripture so much as speaking from it. The Bible was not only what he looked at but also what he looked with.
Jonathan Edwards stands in a long line of Christian leaders who handled the Bible out of the conviction that the entire Scripture testifies to Christ. The Bible, while rich in diversity, is fundamentally, for Edwards, a message of salvation. He believes that to read the Bible without seeing the saving person of Christ throughout is not merely to omit an important portrait from the hallway of saints, but to fail to turn on the light that illumines the entire hallway. Christ is the key that unlocks Scripture. Without him, Scripture remains a disparate collection of mini-stories, pithy sayings, and moral exhortations, all empty of power.
Prayer: The Communion of the Christian Life
We would be hard-pressed to find a thinker across twenty centuries of church history with a higher view of the sovereignty of God than Jonathan Edwards. To hear Edwards teach on prayer is not to hear mainly how we are to go about it, but who God is, in all his shining beauty, drawing us to pray from a heart freshly moved.
His enduring legacy with regard to prayer is his lifting up of the beauty of God, drawing us to pray indirectly, with a special focus on God’s unfettered delight in showering his people with gifts— the greatest of which is himself.
Much contemporary evangelical exhortation to pray fails to land on us with power because it holds out before believers the urgency of the task and how practically to go about it more than the beauty of the One with whom we are communing and the greatness of what he promises. But the way to motivate praying is not to focus on praying but to focus on God.
Pilgrimage: The Flavor of the Christian Life
Christianity is hard. One reason for this is the jarring tension between what we say is true of us now that we belong to God and what we experience day in and day out emotionally, relationally, physically, and all the rest. If we are God’s children, we wonder, why is there so much senseless adversity in our lives? Such pain is disorienting for those seeking to walk faithfully with God. 1 The difficulty is not just that life is painful, but that life is painful despite the spectacular redemptive realities we believe have washed over us. One answer Jonathan Edwards would give to this disconcerting experience is the believer’s pilgrim status. A Christian is someone who has undergone a transfer of citizenship.
Obedience: The Fruit of the Christian Life
Of all the ways Jonathan Edwards can help us today, understanding true obedience may be the most pressing. And yet my guess is that when scanning the table of contents at the front of this book, readers would not be drawn most readily to the chapter on obedience. It wouldn’t be my first choice. But Edwards is helping me here. Maybe he can help you too. What is obedience? Doing what we love to do, out of a heart alive to beauty. Sin is doing what we love to do out of an unregenerate heart; obedience is doing what we love to do out of a regenerate heart. Sin is living out of our natural impulse; obedience is living out of our new impulse, what Edwards calls the new sense of the heart.
The heart of obedience is not summoning the will to do what it loathes. Rather, obedience is fruit— it is the outward manifestation of internal health. We naturally blossom because we are planted in the soil of the gospel with the sun of divine grace shining down on us. Obedience does not come out of a new raw power to now do what we don’t want to do; obedience comes because we now delight to do what we hated before. To obey is thus not to mechanically force our behavior into line with God’s moral law so much as it is living out of a new delight in God.
Satan: The Enemy of the Christian Life
To be a Christian is to be loved and loathed. New birth introduces a new and powerful love from heaven that defies our categories. And new birth introduces a new and powerful loathing from hell that makes human hatred look tame in comparison. Christianity is therefore not only a journey and a worldview and a religion. It is also combat. A battle. And Satan is our great enemy.
The Soul: The Great Concern of the Christian Life
In the 1959 novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller, a character utters the well-known words: “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body.” 1 Central to Edwards’s vision of the Christian life, and foundational to all that is covered in this book, is his agreement with this. Beauty is perceived and enjoyed with the soul; love is expressed and received in the soul; Scripture and prayer feed the soul; and so on. The soul is the organ of beauty.
Heaven: The Hope of The Christian Life
The joy that will be experienced by Christians in heaven, says Edwards, “is exceeding great and vigorous; impressing the heart with the strongest and most lively sensation, of inexpressible sweetness, mightily moving, animating, and engaging them, making them like to a flame of fire.” We tend to view the joy of heaven in abstract and unappealing ways, but Edwards squeezes all that he can out of the language at his disposal to upend this mistake.
Four Criticisms
We will focus in this chapter especially on one question— whether Edwards sufficiently brought the gospel to bear on the hearts of his people. We will then more briefly consider three more weaknesses: his neglect of the doctrine of creation and the goodness of an embodied human existence, his use of Scripture, and his view of the regenerate as compared with the unregenerate.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Thanks, Becky, for bringing this compilation/commentary on Edwards to my attention. I think I would like to read it. I have read some of Edwards writings, but I have found him a bit intimidating. This introduction sounds like just the thing.