From the JEC Blog

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans

David S. Lovi and Benjamin Westerhoff, eds., The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013) 

This is a handy reference book in the form of an Edwards commentary on the biblical book of Romans. It includes most of what of Edwards wrote on Romans in his treatises, biblical manuscripts, and the textual parts of sermons (i.e. the first of what were usually three parts to Edwards’ sermons–text, doctrine, and application—not the latter two parts). A little un-transcribed material from Edwards’ sermon manuscripts has been omitted from this volume. But most of what he wrote about this famous biblical book has been organized by chapter and verse.

The editors, both of whom are students here at Trinity, asked me to write their foreword. This is what I said:

The book you now hold in your hands is a labor of love—love for the biblical book of Romans, love for the preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), love for the teacher John Gerstner (1914-1996), and love for the Christian church today.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is one of the most beloved writings in the entire biblical canon, especially for Augustinians and Protestants. It is the subject of thousands of commentaries, many by the most important doctors of the church: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Hodge, and Barth, to name a few. It offers the doctrines of sin, the gospel, and salvation in a nutshell. It is the basis for the structure of the first Protestant textbook in what later came to be categorized as systematic theology, Philip Melanchthon’s Loci Communes (1521). It is a frequently-cited sourcebook of the Reformation solas, which teach that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone because of the work of God through Christ alone. It is the site of the “Romans road,” a standard tool for sharing the gospel used by myriad evangelists in the evangelical movement. It is a central text of scripture, in short, employed by many readers as a key to the whole Bible.

Jonathan Edwards never published a major commentary on Romans. He did, however, preach about and write about Romans at numerous times throughout his life. Though he is highly regarded today as a great literary artist, natural scientist, philosopher and psychologist of religion, he was chiefly a biblical thinker, a minister of the Word. And inasmuch as he remains one of the most important thought leaders in all of Christian history, it is high time that someone has put together a major collection of his writings on the biblical book of Romans.

John Gerstner once attempted to compile a similar volume. A famous conference speaker and faculty member at Pittsburgh Seminary as well as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, he was enjoined by Perry Miller to edit a volume of Edwards’ sermons on the epistle to the Romans for The Works of Jonathan Edwards published by Yale University Press. He never finished this undertaking. But he did spend many summers poring over Edwards’ manuscripts. These labors bore fruit in several other publishing projects and, perhaps more importantly, in the pioneering work Gerstner did to promote Edwards among evangelical Christians during the mid-twentieth-century Edwards renaissance.

David Lovi and Ben Westerhoff are two of the evangelicals inspired by Gerstner’s work. It is fitting, then, that they are the ones to complete what Gerstner started: a major compilation of Edwards’ work in the book of Romans. This is not a volume of sermons. Unlike Gerstner’s own project, it contains biblical commentary from many different sources, including sermons, published treatises, and exegetical manuscripts. It is ordered canonically, much as a commentary would be. And it is aimed at Christian preachers and other ministers of the Word. Dr. Gerstner would be proud. In fact, if Edwards was correct about the lives of saints in heaven, Gerstner is looking down in gratitude for the work of Lovi and Westerhoff, joyful for its place in God’s eternal plan of redemption.

Whether or not Edwards was right about the lives of those in heaven, I am confident that the saints on earth will profit from this book. May it inspire and inform future ministers of the Word, helping them unlock the treasure chest of scripture for those they serve.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Travel with Jonathan Edwards

Travel with JE CoverMichael Haykin with Ron Baines, Travel with Jonathan Edwards: A God-centered life, an enduring legacy (Leominster, U.K.: Day One Publications, 2013)

This is a wonderful travel guide to the world of Jonathan Edwards. It is historically-informed, biographically-detailed, and designed for use by church historical tourists. It is part of series of travel guides by Day One Publications, a British Christian publisher.

In eight short chapters, this little vade mecum printed on beautiful, glossy paper describes numerous places of interest, offering contact information (mostly street addresses and phone numbers), 150 color photographs, maps and other helps. It is a must-have for any serious Edwards fan. When used in tandem with the Jonathan Edwards Tour on Yale’s website, it is sure to get you just where you need to go as you journey in the footsteps of Edwards.

I recently lent this to a former student visiting from Korea who was headed to Edwardsland. He returned it full of gratitude for the guidance it provided. Highly recommended.

Dissertation Notes: “‘So Much of the Gospel … Shining in It’: Jonathan Edwards’ Redemptive-Historical Vision of the Psalms.” PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2013.

David Barshinger. “‘So Much of the Gospel … Shining in It’: Jonathan Edwards’ Redemptive-Historical Vision of the Psalms.” PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2013.

Over the past sixty years scholars have thoroughly examined Jonathan Edwards the man, the philosopher, the revivalist, and the theologian. But little has been written on Edwards the interpreter of the Bible. David Barshinger’s dissertation seeks to address this lacuna through a careful, in-depth study of Edwards’ exegesis and theological interpretation of the book of Psalms. This is the first publication of any kind to focus on Edwards’ interpretation of the Psalms and the first book-length treatment on his approach to a full book of the Bible. It is the fruit of a thorough study of Edwards’ writings on the Psalms across his vast corpus, including 104 extant sermons, “Miscellanies,” the “Blank Bible,” “Notes on Scripture,” his revival writings, theological treatises, and many biblical notebooks.

After placing Edwards’ use of the Psalms within historical context – the history of interpretation, worship, and preaching of the Psalms – the bulk of the dissertation demonstrates how Edwards used the Psalms in his development of several theological themes (God, Scripture, humanity, sin, Christ, gospel, and Spirit). Edwards’ use of the Psalms proves to be an excellent lens through which to look at his understanding of the unity of the Bible, the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, the nature of biblical inspiration, typology, prophecy, and historical criticism.

This study portrays Edwards as modestly critical, an interpreter who brought many historical-critical questions to the Psalms, but maintained a traditional doctrine of inspiration. Barshinger places Edwards firmly in the Reformed exegetical stream through frequent comparisons with the writings of predecessors like Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, John Trapp, David Dickson, and John Calvin. The result is a convincing argument against Stephen Stein’s claim that Edwards regularly broke from orthodox exegetical controls. Barshinger demonstrates that Edwards operated within exegetical boundaries formed by the history of redemption, analogy of faith, and analogy of Scripture – boundaries much more consistent with his Reformed predecessors than with medieval Catholic interpreters (contra Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott).

Edwards did find more types in the Psalms than previous Reformed exegetes. However he did so always within a redemptive-historical framework, which Barshinger argues was the governing interpretive grid in his reading of the Psalms. More than merely Christocentric, Edwards’ interpretation was shaped by the whole Bible’s revelation of the Triune God’s work of redemption in history. This redemptive-historical reading allowed Edwards to find in the Psalms truths regarding the Holy Spirit, regeneration, the nature of Christian faith, and many more aspects of God’s saving activity.

Edwards’ unique interpretations flowed not from a novel interpretive approach, but instead from his familiarity with new scholarship and the needs of his own pastoral ministry. For example, the revivals prompted Edwards to see new types for the Holy Spirit in the Psalms and to search the Psalter for help regarding bodily manifestations of the Spirit.

Barshinger’s dissertation also makes an important contribution to our understanding of Edwards as a theologian. By digging deep into how Edwards used the Psalms across his corpus, we learn much about Edwards’ theological method. As Barshinger concludes, “Edwards was a theological interpreter whose theology directed his exegesis, which in turn informed his theology” (166). Those who know Edwards’ writings will not be surprised that the Bible played a major role in his theology. But Barshinger helps us see more clearly how the Bible actually functioned as he did theology, dealt with pastoral problems, and preached the gospel. As a result, this work should be of interest not only to Edwards’ scholars, but also to theologians, Bible scholars, and pastors who are interested in the relationship between theology, ministry, and the biblical text.

Well-researched, clearly written, and compellingly argued, Barshinger’s work is essential reading for anyone interested in Edwards’ exegesis and theological interpretation.

– Mark Rogers, PhD
Crossway Community Church

Dissertation Note: The Reformed Tradition Always Reforming?

Jonathan Ray Huggins. “The Reformed Tradition Always Reforming?: A Historical-Theological Study of the Doctrine of Justification in the Works of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and NT Wright.” PhD diss.,  Stellenbosch University, 2012. (note: Full-Text is available.)

Jonathan Huggins’s recent dissertation enters into highly controversial territory. As the title suggests,  he manages to to prepare a study that combines the debate over justification with Calvin, Edwards, and Wright along with the debate over what it means to be Reformed. It seeks to place John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and NT Wright in conversation on the doctrine of justification showing as Reformed theologians in continuity and discontinuity with one another. He writes as an historical theologian and forthrightly identifies himself as an evangelical theologian and a former PCA pastor. Observing recent debates among Reformed theologians and especially within the ranks of the PCA, he writes in order to better understand for himself what it means to be doctrinally Reformed and a member the of Reformed tradition. He asserts that the Reformed tradition is a living tradition, and its doctrine is an ongoing conversation subject to correction and improvement under the sole authority of Scripture. He writes critically yet sympathetically as he discusses all three of his main figures.

For those who are especially interested in Edwards, Huggins discusses in detail Edwards’s master’s Quaestio (thesis) and his two sermons on justification in 1738. He also details the recent literature concerning Edwards’s supposed Roman Catholic views of justification.

Readers who are interested in the recent dialogue concerning the doctrine of justification will have ample material to chew on. In the end, Huggins suggests that all three of these figures are arguably members of the Reformed tradition on justification even as they articulate their views quite differently. This study demonstrates (as others have done so recently, notably, Richard Muller) that the Reformed tradition is much more diverse than many have supposed. Being Reformed is not synonymous with rehearsing and repackaging John Calvin’s theology. Each of of the figures is shown to be Reformed and shown to work with a level of independence from the traditional confessions. Huggins has offered an admirable study on a terribly important subject. Even readers who disagree with Huggins should find his work useful for thinking through important issues of defining boundaries of theological traditions.