Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards for the Church

M. Schweitzer, ed., Jonathan Edwards for the Church: The Ministry and the Means of Grace (Welwyn Garden City, UK: Evangelical, 2015)

The Jonathan Edwards Center has invited Dane Ortland, senior vice president for Bible publishing at Crossway, to write this note for the Jonathan Edwards Center.

JONATHAN_EDWARDS_CHURCH_1024x1024The explosion of academic study of Jonathan Edwards over the past two generations has not been equaled by an appreciation of Edwards in the church. To be sure, evangelical pastors (John Piper, Sam Storms, and Josh Moody come to mind) have sought to commend Edwards to a general Christian population. But Piper and others have tended to latch onto a few key insights of Edwards’ and left many themes in Edwards untouched in their public ministries. The need to keep bringing Edwards’ contributions out of the classroom and into the pulpit and pew was the impulse behind the 2014 conference in Durham, England, “Jonathan Edwards for the Church,” focusing on what faithful pastoral ministry looks like. Those papers have become this book. A second “Edwards for the Church” conference in Durham is planned for 2016 around the theme of the glory of God.

While Piper and Storms minister within Baptist contexts (Moody, though baptistic, serves a more broadly evangelical church), the contributors to this volume tend to work out of a more explicitly Reformed context (note the appeals to the Westminster standards, e.g., [pp. 95, 105], or the assumed framework of teaching and ruling elders [p. 19]). This provides a complementary focus to the Baptist admirers of Edwards.

Some of the contributors are established Edwards scholars (McDermott, Sweeney). Others are younger American pastors (Batzig, Payne, Waddington). One striking aspect, unsurprising in that the conference took place in England, is the number of contributors living and serving in the UK (Bräutigam, Macleod, Mellor, Murray, Nichols, Schweitzer). What ties the contributors together is that they all (including scholars McDermott and Sweeney) are vitally involved in local church leadership. Together, the contributors believe Jonathan Edwards has something to say to pastors and churches today.

The key strength of the book flows from its genesis and purpose: the book is aimed to strengthen pastors and their churches. The papers accordingly display a warm accessibility; pastors unfamiliar with Edwards will not be frustrated at trying to follow the papers. The volume also has a general evenness of tone, which is commendable given the multiplicity and diversity of contributors.

The specific focus of the book is to help pastors see the ordinariness of faithful gospel ministry. Various contributors reflected on the means of grace—Word, sacrament, and prayer—as worthy of being cherished and exercised in their inherently non-flashy but God-given power to strengthen everyday believers. In an age of microphones, personal charisma, celebrity preachers, podcasts, and Twitter followings, this ris surely a word in season. Yet the possibility of and prayers for the extraordinary should never be lost in remembering the ordinary—which is surely reflective of Edwards’ own convictions, and which we find in William Macleod’s sermon on Psalm 85:6 that concludes this book.

Though I will not rehearse the terrain covered in each chapter, a few are worth noting. John Murray’s chapter on Edwards’ influence on the British church over the past three centuries was difficult to put down, with one fascinating historical anecdote after another. Nick Batzig’s commendation on Edwards’ treatment of Song of Solomon is particularly useful in light of the neglect of this book. Doug Sweeney commends Edwards’ hermeneutic through a rich reminder of the crucial need to read and understand Scripture as regenerate men and women under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A mildly frustrating aspect of the book is the clarity of its layout. The Contents pages (pp. 7–8) tell us that the book is broken into two sections—“The Means of Grace” and “The Means of Grace.” This confusing redundancy is carried over into the actual section beginnings of the book (pp. 27, 161). It was not until reading through the Introduction that I came to conclude that the first section intends to be “The Ministry,” which would fit the subtitle. It also would have been clearer to list the editor (William Schweitzer) on the cover instead of only on the title page, and to list him as the author of the Acknowledgments and Introduction (if indeed he is; neither the Contents nor these components themselves list an author). Such matters are trivial from one perspective, not affecting the rich content of the book, but they are also a bit irritating. An index of some kind would also aid the reader in seeing where certain topics or authors are broached.

For a bridging of Jonathan Edwards into the pastoral ministry from a distinctly Reformed perspective that holds high the ordinary means of grace, this book will prove useful to pastors who give it a thoughtful read.

Dane Ortlund
Crossway Publishing