Book Review - Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen J. Nicholas was at the same time excellent and disappointing. The disappointment was my fault and in no way reflects upon the book or the author, for I had begun reading it with unfair expectations. I had not read the cover carefully and thus I thought I was buying a short biography of Edwards and that is not what this book is. After I came to realize what the book was intended to be, I enjoyed it thoroughly. And in this way it was excellent. Despite not being a biography it contained all sorts of great information about Edwards and about the events and writings that shaped his life. It is, as it says in the title, a guided tour to his life and thoughts more than a chronological ordering of the events of his life. More than a biography, this is a gateway into the thoughts, writings and theology of this great man of God.
In the introduction Nichols writes that the book “is not an end in itself; it is not a substitute for reading Edwards. It is intended to help anyone who, like me, has wanted to read Edwards and even has tried to read him, but needs a little help.” It might also be said that this book is not a substitute for reading a thorough biography of the man. Later Nicholas says “My hope is that this book will help you to see the relevance and importance of Edward’s thought and that through these pages Edwards will help you, as he has helped so many others, to better understand God, his Word, his work in this world, and your place in it.” In this regard, the book and the author succeed admirably.
The format of the book is as follows. It is divided into four sections. The first section, comprising two chapters is dedicated to a short overview of his life, from his upbringing in a Christian home to his untimely death from a failed smallpox innoculation. The following three parts, each comprised of three or four chapters, examine his writings and sermons. Part two examines his writings on revival and church life, part three his writings on theology and philosophy and part four several of his sermons. Each is presented in the appropriate historical context and is examined in light of the impact it had in his day and in its ongoing relevance to the church today.
This book is a solid entry-level introduction to Jonathan Edwards, and in particular, to his contribution to Christian thought and theology. I give it my recommendation, not as an alternative to his writings or biographies, but, as it was meant to be, a supplement.