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Book Review – Signs of the Spirit

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Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the writing of prominent Christians of days past. Christians have turned with renewed interest to church Fathers, to Reformers and to Puritans. One of the chief benefits of this interest has been the many “interpretations” and contemporary adaptations of classic books. Taylor and Kapic, working with Crossway, have edited two volumes of John Owen, giving us updated versions of Owen’s classic texts on the Holy Spirit and on Sin and temptation. Also from Crossway comes Signs of the Spirit, Sam Storms’ interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections.

The book begins with a Preface serving as a brief apologetic for the book. Expressing his debt to Edwards, Storm writes of all the times he has recommended Edwards’ works only to hear that people have given up, unable to plow their way through the dense texts. “Nothing grieves me more than to hear that yet another has started reading Edwards only to give up, frustrated by his style or overwhelmed by the complexity of his argumentation.” Finally giving in to the need to create an interpretation of Edwards that can extend his reach to those unable to face his books on their own, and having read the Affections at least ten times, Storms wrote Signs of the Spirit. What he offers is something more (or perhaps something less) than a contemporary rendering. Instead, it is a succinct summary. Where Edwards may take five or six pages to make a point, Storms will try to make it in just a few paragraphs. And he will do so without much of the difficult sentence structure and archaic prose that marks Edwards’ original.

The format of the book is straightforward. After the Preface and an Introduction that sets the context in which Edwards wrote The Religious Affections, Storms simply follows Edwards, offering one chapter for each chapter or section of the original. Sometimes summarizing and sometimes quoting directly, Storms captures the essence of each of the book’s sections. At the end of it all, he does the same for Edwards’ Personal Narrative, a book he says provides a “penetrating gaze into [Edwards’] own soul, together with his spiritual struggles and triumphs.”

I read Signs of the Spirit alongside The Religious Affections and benefited from it. Where I found the original obscure, far more often than not I found help in Storms’ book. It makes for a valuable companion to The Religious Affections and one that would be at home in the hands of anyone who seeks to read, enjoy, and benefit from the writings of Jonathan Edwards.

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