Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane C. Ortlund attempts to summarize the theology of Jonathan Edwards and pays special attention to his remarks on the Christian life. For Edwards, living the Christian life is about “enjoying and reflecting the beauty of God.”
The author successfully achieves his goal by directing readers to twelve questions which capture the essence of Edward’s God-entranced worldview. Consequently, the following themes emerge:Beauty, new birth, love, joy, gentleness, the Bible, prayer, pilgrimage, obedience, Satan, the soul, and heaven.
Each theme is surveyed from the perspective of Jonathan Edwards. Historical highlights are included in order to provide a much-needed perspective and many primary sources are cited. For the scores of people who believe that God’s wrath is Edwards’s controlling attribute, Ortlund provides a necessary corrective: “Not sovereignty, not wrath, not grace, not omniscience, not eternity, but beauty is what more than anything else defines God’s very divinity. Edwards clearly believed in these other truths about God and saw all of them as upholding and displaying and connected to God’s beauty. Yet none of them expresses who God is in the way that beauty does.”
Ortlund beautifully captures the theology of Edwards in this rather short volume. The work is accessible to a wide range of people but never at the expense of solid content. Of the multitude of secondary source books which explore the theology of Jonathan Edwards, Ortlund’s work is among the best.
Despite, the high praise offered above, I must take exception with one of Ortlund’s statements which takes aim at Steven J. Lawson’s book, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards. Ortlund charges Lawson of “succumbing to hagiography regarding Edwards.” Clearly, Ortlund has missed the intent of the Long Line of Godly Men Series where pivotal figures in church history are introduced and commended as pillars of the Christian faith. Anyone familiar with Steven Lawson understands his chagrin with the postmillennialism and paedobaptism that emerge in the Northampton preacher. But the series is merely designed as an introduction to these pivotal figures, not a detailed exposition. Taken seriously, Ortlund’s accusation should cast a dark shadow over every biographical account of figures in church history.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Ortlund’s book is his criticism which he directs toward Jonathan Edwards himself. The criticism here is rightly placed and balanced. His critique is timely and alerts students of Edwards to weaknesses in his theological infrastructure.
Edwards on the Christian Life is a well written book which should provide ample discussion for anyone interested in America’s greatest intellectual. The brief criticism noted above does not marginalize any of the rest of the book.