Book Review: Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: a model of faith and thought

jonathan edwardsOver the years I have developed an interest in the work of Jonathan Edwards.  It all started when a got cheap damaged copy of Religious Affections.  From then on I was hooked.  I began reading as much Edwards as I could, and then I started reading about Edwards.  Of course, it is not hard to find material on Jonathan Edwards.  From bible teachers to secular scholars it seems like everyone has a book out about the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards.  In fact, there is so much material on Jonathan Edwards that you have to watch out for some “false information” (i.e. Edwards showed no emotion in the pulpit, all he did was read from a manuscript).  For this reason I was pleased when I saw that Douglas Sweeney had written a book on Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: a model of faith and thought.

Sweeney is a Church History professor at the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School–in other words he is really smart. In my estimation it is safe to say that Sweeney is an expert on Edwards.  He is not just some guys who has read a lot about Edwards and wants to weigh in (like I would be if I wrote an Edwards Bio).  Sweeney has read Edwards!  His letters, sermons, books, laundry list…  You name it and Sweeney has read it.  And this certainly comes out as you read this book.

At this point some of you may be a little put off by my introduction to this book.  You just want to read about Edwards, you don’t want to have to be a scholar.  Well, don’t worry.  This is the perfect book for you.  Sweeney’s content is accessible to all readers.  This book serves as an excellent introduction/overview into the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards.  Sweeney provides biographical details, family history, academic contributions, and even mixes in some fun stories to resurrect the life of Edwards for his readers.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is Sweeney’s own interpretation of Edwards.  Everyone has a different interpretation of Edwards’ ministry.  Some see him as an dictator of a pastor that typifies the evils of puritan New England.  Others see him as the almost infallible American theologian.  Sweeney is a bit more balanced than either of these views.  He presents Edwards as a brilliant man who was used by God despite his evident failures.  Sweeney is not afraid to present the good and the bad (he even tackles the issue of Edwards owning slaves, which is something that most biographers do not tackle).  It is also interesting to note that Sweeney sees Edwards’ most significant contribution to the theological world as his work on the Holy Spirit.

I loved every page of this book because it helped me to better understand Jonathan Edwards and how God used him.  It also challenged me.  In Sweeney’s words:

The task that faces those who would look to Edwards for help today is not to search for a time machine that we can use to live in his world, but to live in our own world thoughtfully, appreciatively and lovingly, and to ask ourselves how we can apply his insight in our time. (31)

Title: Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: a model of faith and thought.
Author: Douglas Sweeney
Reading level: 3 out of 10 – Only a few difficult words or concepts; accessible to all
Pages: 208
Citation: Footnotes
Publisher: IVP
Year: 2009
Price: $14.00 at IVP