This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2013 vol. 170 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan EdwardsCrossway, Wheaton, IL October 5, 2011
Lucas is senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and an Edwardsean scholar. In this book, written not for scholars but for educated laypeople, he summarizes and explains the eighteenth-century Puritan pastor-scholar’s theological perspectives on the Christian life. As such, Lucas is functioning in this time as Edwards did in his, as a shepherd of the flock under his care.
The lens through which Lucas reads Edwards and understands his theological vision is the Christian life. “By rooting his understanding of God’s purposes in his own Trinitarian being, and especially God’s passion to glorify himself by communicating his glory in creation and redemption and receiving back his glory in love and praise, Edwards set forth a vision of the Christian life that was deeply theological” (p. 13). The value of Edwards’s vision for the contemporary church is that “his patient description of what the Christian life is and is not continues to serve as an important guide for contemporary believers as they seek to live for God’s glory. He emphasized the means of grace—the ministry of the Word, sacraments, and prayer—as sustaining food in the wilderness and as means of continued communion with Christ. And his clear-sighted determination to speak to his people in every stage of their Christian journey was part of his desire that everyone reach heaven safely” (p. 15).
The book’s first major part, “Redemptive History,” examines Edwards’s understanding of the role of God’s glory in His work of creation and redemption. This is the grand plan of God that is cosmic in scope. Lucas asserts that “God’s mission was to unite all things in himself, things on earth, above earth, and under the earth. Only in this way would he be glorified; only in this way would the love and delight that characterized the triune God . . . grow and flourish. But the means by which God would unite all things in himself was redemption: through Jesus, God was redeeming a people for himself so that they might reflect his glory back to him and grow to enjoy him forever” (p. 61).
The second part, “Redemption Applied,” focuses on “God’s grace coming to individuals as a divine and supernatural life, immediately illuminating the mind, stirring the affections, and moving the will; the new sense of the heart and holy affections that lead to new Christian practices; the response of obedient faith that clings to God; the ethics of universal and disinterested benevolence to God and all his creatures” (pp. 14-15). In this section Lucas discusses Edwards’s sermon “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” devotes several chapters to an examination of Edwards’s view of religious affections, examines Edwards’s view of the sacraments, prayer, and the ministry of the Word as means of grace, and devotes a chapter to Edwards’s view of the Christian life as a journey to heaven.
The book concludes with two appendixes. “Where Do I Begin?” is an excellent annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources on Edwards. “A Man Just Like Us” uses Edwards’s early writings to develop principles by which to encourage ministerial students in preparation for ministry to follow the examples and admonitions of the young New England pastor. In this way Lucas encourages pastors today to learn from this pastor-scholar.
This work was not written by a novice but by a young historical theologian who has been engaged in Edwardsean study for several years. Nor was this work written quickly, for it reflects several years of reading, teaching, and reflecting on the works of Jonathan Edwards. Lucas views Edwards as a mentor and a model worth emulating. Nor does Lucas view Edwards idealistically and naively; instead Lucas respectfully and thoughtfully evaluates what he reads by Edwards. For these reasons this book is highly recommended for those who desire to understand the view of the Christian life held by one of the giants of American church history. It is particularly valuable for pastors and others involved in making disciples of Christ.
—Glenn R. Kreider