Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards and Justification edited by Josh Moody

If you follow Jonathan Edwards studies, it’s no secret that Edwards’ doctrine of Justification has been under fire since the 1940s. Examples abound, even in popular Reformed writings. R. Scott Clark has written in an online forum that “At best, Edwards was at times confusing about justification. At worst he was contradictory and unconfessional re the same.” J.V. Fesko devotes a few pages of his otherwise wonderful book Justification to Edwards and concludes: “It does not seem possible to argue that Edwards’ construction is within the confines of Reformed orthodoxy…at minimum, a cloud of ambiguity hangs over Edwards’ doctrine of justification” (39). There are others who argue that Edwards was unambiguously Reformed in his view of justification and that there is no question of the quality of Edwards’ orthodoxy.

In this latter category belongs a new book from Crossway, Jonathan Edwards and Justification. Josh Moody, the editor, as well as the other contributors are all convinced that Edwards has been fundamentally misunderstood by a wide swath of scholars, beginning with Perry Miller during his much lauded rediscovery of Edwards in the 40s and 50s.

Central to this misunderstanding, they argue, is the misreading of much of Edwards' terminology.  Among the most “troublesome” aspects of Edwards’ expression of justification is his usage of the word “infusion.” Moody helpfully explains the misunderstanding:
When Edwards talks about infusion and the like, what he is referring to is not the infusion of righteousness that the Westminster divines spoke against, but rather the experience of the new creation, the experience of having Christ in us, and us being in him. This supernatural event takes place when someone becomes a Christian – that is what Edwards is describing… (14)
Moody ably defends this thesis in his own chapter, and also helpfully lays out Edwards’ understanding of justification based on Edwards’ quaestio, his Justification by Faith Alone, and some of his Miscellanies. There is also discussion of Edwards’ ordo salutis. The charges of “confusion” and “ambiguity” are hard to be sympathetic with once one understands that Edwards absolutely does not root justification in personal holiness. Rather, Moody points out that there is a strong emphasis in Edwards on union with Christ as the ground of our justification.

[At one point Moody warns that anything from Edwards’ Miscellanies ought to be regarded as less significant than his printed writings. Moody helpfully quips, “If I am held to the stake for every semiformulated idea I have ever penned in private journals, I had better get rid of some of them before I pass through the veil.”]

Intrinsic to Moody’s case in defense of Edwards is that there is not always a 1:1 relationship between Edwards’ terminology and historic Reformed terminology. The above mentioned reference to “infusion” is a prime example of this. Moody admits that Edwards was a creative thinker and was writing in a context of apologetic against enlightenment thinkers. As such, he offered up-to-date arguments and not simply dogmatic restatements. He was writing for a creative an sophisticated era, and so he often used created and sophisticated language in addressing the challenges of his time.

In Kyle Strobel’s chapter, he argues that “Edwards’ development of soteriological loci under his analysis of the person and work of Christ and the nature and gift of the Spirit.” This is a significant chapter for coming to understand Edwards’ view of the roles of the Trinitarian persons in planning, accomplishing, and applying salvation. In the end, Strobel concludes that Edwards does not deny or undermine the forensic nature of justification because, “For Edwards, the only true ground for forgiveness is Christ himself. Because salvation, in its entirety, is found in Christ, union, we could say, grounds the application of redemption.”

Rhys Bezzant’s chapter, “The Gospel of Justification and Edwards’ Social Vision” explores the ministry context in which Edwards was writing and explores his doctrine of justification within those related pastoral themes. One comes away quite convinced that the portrayal of Edwards as a preacher of subjective change is an unfair caricature, to be sure. His chapter is interesting and contributes to the wider discussion of Edwards’ views.

Samuel T. Logan Jr. spends his chapter discussing what it meant for Edwards in terms of obedience, for someone to be justified. What does a justified person act like? He bases his answer largely in an overview of Edwards’ Religious Affections. It is clear from Logan’s chapter that for Edwards (echoing the rest of the Reformed tradition) there is no justification where there is no growth in the Spirit. This is because “The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him; the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it…” This “relish for more relish” is something which, according to Edwards, only the regenerate person understands. Likewise, where this is missing, justification is also missing. This is hardly a crypto-Catholic understanding of justification.

The book ends with Doug Sweeney’s chapter, which is simply put, my favorite part. It is a joy to read, and I highly recommend that others actually skip to this one after reading Moody's excellent first chapter. In the fifth chapter, Sweeney spends a great deal of time establishing Edwards’ Reformed bonafides.  He discusses the fact that yes, Edwards does point to faith as “the qualification which God has a primary Respect to in Justifying men.” However, Sweeney helpfully points out that “godly love is implied in saving faith and so is spoken of in Scripture as a condition of salvation – not a condition that secures justification before God, but a condition without which one does not have genuine faith” (143). Sweeney also points out the emphasis within Edwards on union with Christ as the ground of the believer’s righteousness before God. This is very much in keeping with the Reformed tradition of Calvin.

I would like to think that Jonathan Edwards and Justification is a solid step towards answering the concerns of men like Fesko, Clark, and others. This is not a substantial volume in terms of size, but it very clearly makes a strong case for the orthodoxy of Edwards’ teaching on justification. Edwards was a creative thinker who used less than conventional language at times to clarify his doctrine. This does not place him outside of Reformed Orthodoxy, but it does mean that he needs to be read more slowly, with an eye to the apologetic context in which he wrote and preached.

You can find Jonathan Edwards and Justification here.

[I received a copy of Jonathan Edwards and Justification for review purposes from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review as a condition for my receiving it.]

Walker to Speak at ETS 2012

On November 14-16 the Evangelical Theological Society will be gathering in Milwaukee, WI for their annual meeting. Our own Josh Walker will be delivering a paper, "Δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, The New Perspective, and Romans 1:16-17: A Linguistic Approach."

Below is an abstract for the paper that he will be delivering:
Within the current Evangelical discussion of the New Perspective on Paul, the two leading voices, N. T. Wright and John Piper, have many areas of disagreement. One fundamental disagreement in this debate relates to the way the Greek phrase δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is understood in the Pauline corpus. Wright argues that this phrase refers to God’s faithfulness to his covenantal promises, while Piper interprets this construction as describing God’s commitment to his own glory. By defining δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in these ways, both scholars commit the exegetical fallacy known as illegitimate totality transfer by forcing their particular definitions into every instance of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in the Pauline texts. One important example where both of their definitions do not fit is Rom 1:16 –17. It is argued that in this passage, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ refers to “a righteousness from God” and not a characteristic of God, as both Wright and Piper contend. The primary reason for understanding δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Rom 1:16–17 this way stems from the fact that Paul cites Hab 2:4 to explain this Greek phrase. When the Habakkuk text is understood as referring to a person who is righteous, and not to a characteristic of God, it then becomes evident that Paul employs δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Rom 1:17 to mean a righteousness from God.
He will be delivering it at the Frontier Airlines Center room 202 C on November 15th from 3:00 to 3:40pm. For more information check out the program schedule. Once he is done, it might not be a bad idea to stick around and listen to Frank Thielman present.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bible Translation for the Glory of God

Bill Mounce has a very moving story about the most amazing Bible translator he has met (here). I would highly recommend giving this brief post a read.

The thing that struck me the most about this post is that God is in control of this world in such a way as to ensure that his word reaches the people he intends it to reach. There is nothing, humanly speaking, that can stop the word of God from going to a group of people that God wants to hear his word. This is why Paul can write in Romans 10:15, quoting Isaiah 52:7, "“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" The feet that come bringing the good news, the very words of God, are the feet that have been sent by God to deliver his word. God ensures this is done so that his name might be proclaimed and glorified among the nations. Thus, Bible translation is not a mere academic work; yes, it takes hard work and study to accomplish, but it is ultimately done that God's gospel of forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ may go forth to every tribe of humanity!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Free Jerry Bridges eBook for Kindle

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia by Jerry Bridges has gone free, temporarily at Amazon.  This is a fairly new book that only just came out in August.  I haven't read it yet, but this is from the publisher's description:
Fellowship among believers is more than just talking over coffee after church service. Biblical fellowship in New Testament times—or koinonia—had rich and varied meanings, including covenant relationship, partnership in the gospel, communion with God and others, and the sharing of earthly possessions.
In True Community, best-selling author Jerry Bridges guides you through koinonia and its implications for today’s church. With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, this book will help you dig deeper into what Christian community in the twenty-first century should look like. You will come away with a new appreciation for fellowship, the church, and what God intended the body of Christ to be.
Grab it over at Amazon while you can.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ke$ha's False Premises

In the past I have highlighted foolish worldly pop-culture 'thinking' before, and I propose to do it again.  I encountered a song on the radio the other day by a 'singer' (quotes emphasized) named Ke$ha.  I'm guessing this spelling was an unfortunate error on the part of the nurse filling out the birth certificate.  Anyway, I wanted to share some lyrics (though you'll thank me for not quoting all of them) from one of her songs:
I hear your heart beat to the beat of the drums
Oh what a shame that you came here with someone
So while you're here in my arms
Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young
We're gonna die young
We're gonna die young
Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young
What's of interest to me, and ought to be of interest to everyone is the conclusion drawn.  For Ke$ha, the prospect of dying young entails hedonistic premises and leads to hedonistic conclusions.  And yet the assumption here is that questions of the meaning of life, of why we're here, of what true and lasting pleasure are, of death and the afterlife are all secondary.  For Ke$ha, death is just an obstacle to more pleasure.  And I fear for many of us, and for her enthusiastic listeners, this is often the case.

I know it's just a really dumb song, and the people who listen to it claim not to care about the lyrics, but they deserve a contrast from the opposite end of the seriousness spectrum.  I have previously compared music lyrics to Edwards, and I'm about to do it again.  Jonathan Edwards was the picture of a man who wanted desperately not to waste his life.  I quote now from his resolutions:
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.
For many, music functions for us as a way to escape the responsibilities of existence.  It is a means to forget about work and family and life and just lose oneself in the beat.  If music is used in this way, it becomes a tool of self-destruction because, like a drug, it deadens the soul to our deepest and most desperate needs, while at the same time leaving those needs completely unaddressed.

Lets take Ke$ha's advice and live like we're gonna die young.  But let's do something different because of it.  Don't waste your life, people.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Puritan Worship and Shakespeare

Puritan worship resembles the plays of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was content with the scantiest of stage props and built scenery and imagery into the text of the plays themselves. In a similar way, the Puritan got rid of the 'stage scenery' of the Catholic/Anglican worship and relied on the verbal imagery and symbolism, most of it based on the Bible... Once we grant the validity of the verbal image it becomes clear that the Puritan worship service did not starve the imagination or even the senses of the worshipper.

-Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, 125.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The First Puritan Systematic Theology - 50% Off!

There have been rumblings and rumors for years that Joel Beeke was at work on a Systematic Theology of English Puritanism.  It's so exciting now to see that it is out, and almost more exciting that for the next week Westminster Books will be selling it at 50% off.  Weighing in at nearly 1200 pages, the size of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life is only outweighed by the reputations of the men whose doctrines are explored in it.  As Sinclair Ferguson says in the introductory chapter, "As one returns to the world of twenty-first century church, one cannot help feeling that there were giants in the land in those days."

Indeed.  If you go to check out the book at Westminster, you'll also find that you can read the introduction, preface, and a sample chapter on union with Christ.  Normally, the book sells for $60, but for the next week you can get it for $30.  So go and do the right thing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

John Owen's Argument for Limited Atonement (Syllogism)

Either Christ died for:
1. All of the sins of all people
2. Some of the sins of all people
3. All of the sins of some people


1. If Christ underwent punishment for all of the sins of all people, then no one will be in Hell.
2. Some people will be in Hell.
Therefore 3. Christ did not undergo punishment for all of the sins of all people.

1. If Christ underwent punishment for only some of the sins of all people, then all people will be in Hell.
2. Not all people will be in Hell.
Therefore 3. Christ did not undergo punishment for some of the sins of all people.

1. If some people will not be in Hell, then Christ underwent punishment for all of the sins of some people.
2. Some people will not be in Hell.
Therefore 3. Christ underwent punishment for all of the sins of some people.

Owen anticipates a response:
1. Christ underwent punishment for all sins
2. Unbelief is a sin
Therefore 3. Christ underwent punishment for the sin of unbelief

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Announcing New Puritan Press - and a Free eBook

James T. O'Brien is a PCA minister who has started an exciting publishing company called New Puritan Press.  They specialize in translating and modernizing lesser known works by the Puritans and selling them in eBook format.  These are books you can't find for free online - unless you read latin, that is.  O'Brien made this announcement earlier today:

We are celebrating the launch of our e-publishing ministry, New Puritan Press. Our mission is to translate classic works by Puritans and other Reformed authors into 21st century English, so that God's people can profit from them again. To celebrate we are offering a wonderful and rare book, John Preston's The Fullness of Christ, (an exposition of John 1:14) for free today through Thursday only. Click the link or search for the book on Amazon. While there browse the other titles we are offering... 
Would you like to know about the new books we will be publishing each month? You can by signing up for our once-a-month Newsletter at: Pam and I want to thank you for your support on this exciting day!
For the next three days, they are giving away John Preston's book The Fullness of Christ for free on the Kindle Store.  This is an original translation, and I would encourage you not only to get it, but to look at their other books.

They are currently also selling Seeking God by Thomas Vincent and Overcoming Worry by David Clarkson.

[Update: New Puritan Press has a website here.]

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Comments Policy

Here is our comment policy.

All comments must adhere to the following guidelines or they will be deleted, without any warning or notice. As long as comments do not contain profanity, it is not our policy to delete them. We are not, however, interested in operating an anonymous forum where individuals can make any and every comment that comes into their heads without accountability.

As such, if you are commenting under a pseudonym, nickname, or anonymously, your comments will be deleted. You are free to disagree with us, but you are not free to make anonymous comments without identifying yourselves. We are accountable to our own churches and Presbyteries for the comments that we make here, and it must be possible for our commenters to be held to similar standards. Thus, all comments must contain the author's first and last name.

Thanks for reading,
Bring the Books

Forthcoming from Brill

We have exciting news about a forthcoming volume that is edited by Stanley Porter from McMaster Divinity School.  The book in question is Paul and His Social Relations, published by Brill.  The expected publication date is December of this year.  So instead of going to see the Hobbit or celebrating Christmas, you should plan on spending the winter season holed up and reading this cozy volume.

Our own Joshua Walker has contributed one of the chapters with Andrew Pitts, "The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship."  Some time back, Pitts and Walker did an interview (very interesting and worth reading if an argument for Paul's impact on Hebrews is of interest to you, as it should be to everyone) where they gave the basic thesis of their chapter:
The evidence we examine suggests that Hebrews likely represents a Pauline speech, probably originally delivered in a Diaspora synagogue, that Luke documented in some way during their travels together and which Luke later published as an independent speech to be circulated among house churches in the Jewish-Christian Diaspora. From Acts, there already exists a historical context for Luke’s recording or in some way attaining and publishing Paul’s speeches in a narrative context. Luke remains the only person in the early Church whom we know to have published Paul’s teaching (beyond supposed Paulinists) and particularly his speeches. And certainly by the first century we have a well established tradition within Greco-Roman rhetorical and historiographic stenography (speech recording through the use of a system of shorthand) of narrative (speeches incorporated into a running narrative), compilation (multiple speeches collected and edited in a single publication) and independent (the publication of a single speech) speech circulation by stenographers. Since it can be shown (1) that early Christians pursued parallel practices, particularly Luke and Mark, (2) that Hebrews and Luke-Acts share substantial linguistic affinities and (3) that significant theological-literary affinities exist between Hebrews and Paul, we argue that a solid case for Luke’s independent publication of Hebrews as a Pauline speech can be sustained. We don’t claim to have “solved” the problem of authorship in terms of absolutes or certainties, but we do think that this is the direction that the evidence points most clearly.

Monday, October 1, 2012

King and Servant Show 32 - Contentment

Blubrry player! 

Jonathan returns to the studio after a long break to bring a devotion on the blessing of finding contentment with God in life's circumstances.