Review: Jonathan Edwards on Biblical Hermeneutics

Jonathan Edwards on Biblical Hermeneutics and the “Covenant of Grace” by J. David Gilliland

Jonathan Edwards on Biblical Hermeneutics and the “Covenant of Grace”

Jonathan Edwards vs. Westminster Covenant Theology

This short booklet is written from a New Covenant Theology perspective (published by New Covenant Media), and is a critique of one of the central components of Covenant Theology, the “one covenant of grace – two administrations” system. (from the forward) Gilliland shows from Edwards’s writings that his view of the covenants was different that that of the Westminster view, and the implications of this difference for “the nature of the local church, the meaning and significance of the ordinance of water baptism, the relationship of law and grace, and the extent of the atonement.” (fwd.)

Gilliland’s main source of material is Edwards’s Concerning The Qualifications Requisite to A Complete Standing and Full Communion In The Visible Christian Church, written in the midst of the controversy surrounding the “half-way” covenant, though he also quotes from A History of the Work of Redemption, Gerstner’s The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, and Bogue’s Jonathan Edwards and the Covenant of Grace. Gilliland shows that for Edwards the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace regard the same people – contra the Westminster view. The traditional Covenant view allows for unregenerate members to enter into the CoG via infant baptism, at odds with the CoR which is toward the elect only. Edwards explicitly resists this, though he never comes to the necessary conclusion for himself – scuttling the entire Covenant Theology formulation.

Gilliland is strict on the extent of the Atonement. Even “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” is the “first step in the easy descent of error” towards Amyraldianism. (5) This formulation, which the traditional Covenant theologians deny, is nevertheless implicit in their system, which puts the CoR at odds with the CoG.

Gilliland also explains Edwards’s hermeneutic – interpreting the OT in light of the New, and uses Edwards’s own answers to objections to argue against infant baptism.

He concludes by saying that Covenant Theology fails to deal with Edwards’s hermeneutical distinctives, emphasizes external religion to justify infant baptism, and that Reformed Baptists in particular are wrong to follow the same “One CoG – Two Dispensations” formula as their paedo-baptist brethren.

He concludes with this:

“There is no exegetical evidence for the “one covenant of grace – two dispensations” system. Edwards, although giving us the hermeneutical principles that expose its error, left the system intact. He successfully confronted the errors of the Half-way Covenant with answers that can only be provided by a biblical hermeneutic. He laid the foundation, we need to build upon it – for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of the Church. Sola Scriptura!” (37)

Thankfully, the recent resurgence in “Biblical Theology” and Biblical hermeneutics is doing just that. I recommend this booklet is a fascinating look at how Edwards relates to these big subjects.

Review: The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style Illustrated by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White, Maira Kalman

“English rhetoric on the head of a pin.”

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good writer, and I wanted to get some of the basics down. Stunk and White is the classic text, so what better place to start, though this edition (2005) has updated certain anachronisms from the original.

E.B. White is famous, and has helped make his former teacher famous as well. White’s introduction is worth the price of the book, like eating the frosting off the cake before delving into the substance. He describes Strunk’s original book, which White has edited and expanded: “Will himself had hung the tag ‘little’ on the book; he referred to it sardonically and with secret pride as ‘the little book,’ always giving the word ‘little’ a special twist, as though he were putting a spin on a ball.” (p. xii) I would quote the introduction entirely, for the sheer enjoyment of White’s treatment of Strunk, but I’m striving to “Omit needless words!” and I must resort to pleading that you read it for yourself, simply for the pleasure of it, a student’s fond memories of a beloved teacher.

Part one is “The Rules,” part 2, “The Principles”; after “A Few Matters of Form” is a list of “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused,” a quite lengthy section, then White’s contribution, “An Approach to Style,” and finally, a spelling list.

I found this book to be helpful. I have started to actually think about what I write, and not just settle for whatever spills out. A few ambiguous matters were settled once and for all (“‘s” for a possessive after a name that ends with “s”). Strunk’s humor is understated and witty, and in all the book is enjoyable as well as rigorous.

Some have decried Kalman’s contribution, but I found it an entertaining diversion, especially to extended grammatical lists.

If you intend to write about anything, or if you simply wish to read a delightful book about writing, pick up this book. It’s a classic for a reason.

Review: Beside Still Waters

Beside Still Waters: Words Of Comfort For The Soul by Charles Spurgeon (ed. Roy Clarke)

Comfort for my soul

I got this book from my wife’s grandfather, and I judged it by its cover. “Timeless Wisdom, Updated in Today’s Language,” edited, with an impressionistic watercolor design. Looked shallow and lite. “But,” I thought, “it is Spurgeon,” and I wanted something not quite as thick as Hawker’s The Poor Man’s Morning and Evening Portions. This book was so much better than I expected.

There are 367 single page selections, so it functions as a once-a-day devotional, and that’s how I read it. The emphasis is on “comfort for the soul” and Spurgeon is the perfect man for that. He experienced so much suffering in his life (see Spurgeon: A New Biography), both physically, mentally, and spiritually. The grace that God gave him to get through his trials makes him a perfect source of comfort for others. “God, Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Cor. 1:4)

This last year was the most difficult year of my life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Time after time I would read my page of Spurgeon, and he was exactly what my soul needed. Spurgeon has a rare “relatability” that I haven’t found in anyone else. He has experienced deep things in his soul, and he knows how to relate it to the common man (as well as the uncommon). (see The Complete John Ploughman.) Oftimes we just want to know that someone understands what we’re going through – not advice, not a lecture, just true sympathy – “feeling with” – and Spurgeon does this so effectively. Several times he speaks directly to the working man and the particular struggles that he faces, and this came when I was facing those particular struggles and uncertainties. Other times, he does exhort and lecture, and displays God as tried and true, and worthy of all our trust. It means so much, coming from a man who knows for himself.

I came through this last year, not unscathed, but not defeated, and the Lord used this small, unpromising-looking, pastel-covered devotional by Spurgeon to help me.

I recommend it highly.

Review: The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor

The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry by John Piper and D.A. Carson (ed. Owen Strachan, David Mathis)

“with all your heart, and with all your mind”

On April 23, 2009 John Piper and D.A. Carson each gave a talk at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Those talks were then edited and expanded into this book, with an introduction by Owen Strachan and a post-script by David Mathis (of Desiring God).

This book was of particular interest to me: first, because of my own interests in both pastoral ministry and scholarship, and second, because of the example and impact of these two men in these areas. The book did not disappoint.

Piper’s chapter is largely biographical, and it is amazing to see how God took a young man who physically could not speak in front of people, and made him into one of the most useful preachers of our day. He really loves to take the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and to glorify His power in so doing. After the autobiography, he lays out “from the Scriptures that God’s purpose for right thinking (scholarship) is to awaken and sustain satisfaction in God that glorifies him,” (p. 52) and does so in nine points.

D.A. Carson’s talk starts with a 5 point introduction, with a 12 point body. He too tells some of his own story, from the chemistry lab to the pastorate, and how God then pulled him into scholarship. He retitles his portion “The Scholar as (Frustrated) Pastor.” After his autobiography, he lists his 12 “Lessons for the Scholar as Pastor.”

The strength of Piper’s chapter is in the telling of his story. The strength of Carson’s is in his 12 Lessons. On display here are two different men with different gifts that God has used greatly for His own purposes. What an example! Throughout, both men exalt Christ as supreme above scholarship, accolades, or anything else. They expose false dichotomies between “head” and “heart” and propose rigorous use of the mind in the care of souls, each according to his gifts.

If you have a chance, track down the audio to this event. The audio from Piper’s talk is bursting with energy that doesn’t come through in his chapter. There is also a Q/A session not represented in the book.

I recommend this book as an encouragement to love and serve Christ with “all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”

Review: Shepherding a Child’s Heart

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

I need help raising children!

This book came recommended from my father-in-law as the best book on parenting he’s ever read, getting to the heart of the issues like no other child-raising methodology does. I finally read it, with 2 children of my own, ages 3 and 1, and I concur – this is the kind of parent I want to be.

Tripp sets forth a high standard for parenting: “One of the most important callings God has given parents is to display the greatness, goodness, and glory of the God for whom they are made.” (p. xii) A most insightful penetrating paragraph explains it like this: “Parenting is your primary calling. Parenting will mean that you can’t do all the things that you could otherwise do. It will affect your golf handicap. It may mean your home does not look like a picture from Better Homes and Gardens. It will impact your career and ascent on the corporate ladder… It will modify the amount of time you have for bowling, hunting, television, or how many books you read. It will mean that you can’t develop every interest that comes along. The costs are high.” (97) We will answer to God for how we exercised our responsibility to raise our children according to His commands. This is the bedrock truth of parenting. One of the most challenging parts for me, was the truth that we can’t just tell them what to do, we have to model it in our own lives. We must be a display for them of someone who loves and delights in God from the heart, and is devoted above all things to His glory. Otherwise we end up raising hypocrites just like we.

Tripp then lays out his thesis. The heart is more important than the behavior, because behavior flows from the heart. One of the keys is this: “You must help your child ask the questions that will expose that attitude of the heart that resulted in wrong behavior.” (5) On the other hand, you must also have your goal to win their heart to Christ (again, not just conform their behavior to christian standards).

The two main methods for this are Communication, and The Rod. For me, the chapters on communication were incredibly helpful. “The finest art of communication is not learning how to express your thoughts. It is learning how to draw out the thoughts of another. Your objective in communication must be to understand your child, not simply to have your child understand you. Many parents never learn these skills. They never discover how to help their children articulate their thoughts and feelings.” (73)

“Honest, thorough, truly biblical communication is expensive. Insightful and penetrating conversations take time… Children do not pour their hearts out or open themselves up on a demand schedule… In those times, when their conscience is stirred, you need to talk. This may require dropping everything else to seize a critical moment. You must become a good listener.” (90)

Elsewhere in the book he discusses: the sinful nature of all children; the nature of a parent’s authority; exposes and details bad parenting goals and methods; how to properly use the rod in discipline; and finally lays out specific “objectives” and “procedures” for three stages of a child’s development.

This was by far the most helpful book on parenting I’ve ever read. I will be revisiting it again as my children grow and the challenges increase. My father-in-law said one of the most helpful things was to have his wife read it, so they could be on the same page when discussing their children. Interestingly, a pastor also told me that he found this book helpful in shepherding the hearts of the people in his church.

I will definitely be reading this book again in the future. I highly recommend it to anyone with children.

Review: Blood Work

Blood Work by Anthony J. Carter

A good book on salvation from a Reformed African American

I got this book at the Desiring God conference last fall. It contains 13 chapters, each focusing on a verse that speaks about the blood of Christ.

It basically reads like a collection of sermons (I don’t know if it was or not). There is a basic exposition of the text and the doctrine that Carter is bringing out, and then the rest is sprinkled with illustrations, anecdotes, and personal application. There are lots of references to songs and hymns that reference the blood of Christ, and a list of such songs in the back.

Throughout the book the doctrine is biblical and sound, and the illustrations fresh and relevant. At times, I couldn’t quite relate completely, as the illustrations were geared more toward the African-American community:

“We were once ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise.’ We flew the flag of an enemy power. We wore the colors of a defiant and rebellious people. During the gang wars between the Crips and the Bloods that ravaged parts of Los Angeles in the 1980s, a person could lose his life simply by wearing a red scarf or a do-rag in a blue neighborhood, or a blue scarf or do-rag in a red neighborhood. The rapper Ice-T captured this ethos when he described his hometown as:

South Central L.S., home of the body bag;
You wanna die, wear the wrong color rag.” (p. 55)

This is not a criticism at all! Just a note, that though the illustrations may be relevant to a broad spectrum of people, they will hit home particularly well within that community.

I’m grateful for the resurgence of sound doctrine in the African American community. I’m thankful for guys like Thabiti Anyabwile, Shai Linne, Anthony Carter, and the Reformed African American Network. This is a good book on what the Bible teaches about salvation, and I recommend it.