Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review - Jonathan Edwards and Justification

Book Review – Jonathan Edwards and Justification

A Great Doctrine and a Great Theologian

In a different book on justification called The Justification Reader, Thomas Oden writes of the great reformer Martin Luther’s opinion on the doctrine of justification: “Luther regarded justification as the “ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines” ” (4). Oden goes on to declare that justification is “central to the Christian teaching of salvation. . .So pivotal is it to Christian preaching that if unbalanced in any way, reverberations are felt in the whole edifice of faith” (4). Clearly, justification is a momentous doctrine. In similar high praise, Jonathan Edwards has often been labelled North America’s greatest theologian. Obviously what North America’s greatest (arguably) theologian has to say about Christianity’s greatest (arguably) doctrine is of considerable import. In Jonathan Edwards and Justification, Editor Josh Moody and several significant Edwardsean scholars deliver a book that reveals Edwards’ position on justification. The authors rebut some misconceptions that some have proposed about this Puritan pastor’s stance on justification. And in the process, the book reminded me of some powerful Edwards’ books that I had read previously.

A Position Revealed

The multiple authors of Jonathan Edwards and Justification cover Edwards’ position on justification quickly yet thoroughly. The authors are uniform in their assertions concerning Edwards’ doctrinal perspective on justification; this famous pastor-theologian believed justification in a manner that could only be described as a Reformation Protestant view.  Moody notes that he was creative in how he described this doctrine and its ramifications, but in its essence Edwards offered nothing new. Strobel emphasizes how Edwards locates justification as the hinge point of redemption and is found in Christ and brought by the Spirit. Bezzant shows how Edwards preached a gospel rife with Reformed notions of justification that “was designed to revive and to reform” (73).  Logan shows Edwards’ theology through how he would answer a question: What makes a person a Christian? And Sweeney fleshes out Edwards ideas on justification by looking beyond the most obvious of Edwards’ writings into understudied sermons and manuscripts.

It seemed that all of the authors touched upon the idea of union with Christ and how this doctrine heavily influenced Edwards on the doctrine in question. I found these explanations of Edwards’ opinion on the interplay of union and justification edifying and interesting.

A Proposal Rebutted

Throughout this book the authors address the numerous proposals made by many scholars that suggest Edwards had a less-than-traditional take on justification. Edwards, a staunch anti-Catholic, is even accused of holding to a Roman Catholic view of this great doctrine. One of the strong points of this book is how it chose to rebut these proposals. The authors recognize that Edwards could be very creative in how he articulated his views and justification was no different. Some unique terms and phrases are utilized by Edwards, but this creativity when viewed in light of the context of his writing, as well as the context of his living, still displayed a stance on justification that was “as thoroughly orthodox . . . as Calvin’s or Luther’s” (13). Though I was not familiar with the accusations against Edwards and his position on justification, the authors explained them clearly and defended Edwards ably.

A Powerful Reminder

One of the most valuable effects of this book on me was how it caused me to remember other books of Edwards that I had read. Particularly, Logan’s chapter entitled ‘Justification and Evangelical Obedience’ relied heavily on Religious Affections. I found this recap of Edwards’ best known book simply delightful. As I read through these current essays on Edwards I was willingly forced to reflect on more of Edwards’ corpus that had influenced me so positively before. This was an unexpected benefit in reading this work.

Concerning justification and this great theologian’s perspective on it, this book recognizes contrary-minded opinions but puts forth Edwards as traditional and within the bounds of Reformed Protestant theology. It explains why others might disagree with them, points to some creativity and contextual issues, but never concedes that Edwards was anything but orthodox is his beliefs and teachings about justification. This book references many Edwardsean writings, some of which have had a profound influence on me. I recommend this book.

I was given a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

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