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Archive for September, 2015

Jonathan Edwards for the Church: June 2016

This conference promises a rich presentation of Edwardsean theological resources for the Church. It is titled “Jonathan Edwards for the Church: The Glory of God.” This conference will feature talks from several scholars and churchmen including Iain H. Murray, Gerald McDermott, our own Douglas Sweeney, and Guy Waters.

Theme: Edwards and the Glory of God
Date: June 9-10, 2016
Location: Durham, England



Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards’ Exegesis of Genesis

Doug Landrum, Jonathan Edwards’ Exegesis of Genesis: A Puritan Hermeneutic? (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing and Enterprises, 2015) 

9781681421377medThis brief study began as a doctoral dissertation at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary. Its author, Doug Landrum, is a church-planting pastor and executive director of Catalyst Missions in Memphis.

Landrum identifies three, related objectives of his book: 1) to share intensive research on Edwards’ interpretation of Genesis; 2) to give “a categorical answer regarding Edwards’s exegetical adherence to a Puritan literal hermeneutic within his study of Genesis”; and 3) to provide a definition of Edwards’ place in the history of exegesis (p. 19). His overriding concern seems to have been to determine whether Edwards offers a trustworthy model of exegesis for conservative evangelicals in the twenty-first century (for whom the Puritans, presumably, are reliable interpreters). Did his typological work involve “exegetical license” (p. 121) and interpretative “excess” (p. 147 and passim)? Or did Edwards, rather, demonstrate “an acceptable hermeneutic” (p. 79)?

In a nutshell, here is Landrum’s answer: “Edwards maintained an adherence to Puritan exegesis within the natural sense. Within the extended meaning of Scripture, Edwards, while not frequently creating another sense of Scripture, did evidence typological excess. Though utilizing the analogy of faith, the author carefully concludes Edwards’s placement within a category of inferred typologists” (p. 6).

In order to understand this statement, one needs to know that Landrum measured Edwards’ exegesis “according to two general criteria: natural meaning, which includes recognition of original languages and common intention in the utilization of idioms, and overall context and extended meaning, which includes an adherence to the analogy of faith and typological restrictions” (p. 25, emphases mine). In other words, Landrum measured Edwards’ work against his favorite forms of grammatical-historical exegesis and the most cautious kinds of canonical and typological reading—and concluded that while Edwards followed the best of the Puritans when it came to the former (they all discussed authorial intent largely in terms of the intention of the Spirit), he played somewhat fast and loose when it came to the latter (though the Puritans, he grants, disagreed amongst themselves when it came to typological exegesis).

As the quotations above indicate, this project could have been written more clearly and compellingly. It could also have been researched more extensively. Landrum ignores Edwards’ manuscript “Defense of the Authenticity of the Pentateuch as a Work of Moses and the Historicity of the Old Testament Narratives,” available online, which would have helped him make his case for Edwards’ commitment to literal-historical interpretation. He also ignores nearly half of Edwards’ sermons on Genesis, available in manuscript, which would have helped him to present Edwards’ views more comprehensively.

Nonetheless, Landrum’s book features several practical insights for present-day interpreters and grounds them in a careful study of Edwards and the Puritans. It is encouraging to see a growing number of younger scholars studying Edwards’ exegesis—even better that a few of them are real parish pastors seeking to use what they learn in the church today.