Critical Review of God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

Summary

Sean Michael Lucas, in his book God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards argues Edwards believed that God delights in Himself Trinitarianly from eternity past. Thus, God sought to redeem a people for His glory through applying the finished work of Christ to them by grace through faith. God will eventually reconcile all creation to Himself for His glory and their delight in Him.

In Chapter 1, Lucas argues that Edwards believed God sought to communicate the fullness of His intra-Trinitarian delight through creating. His covenant of redemption was pre-temporal and intra-Trinitarian. God made a covenant of works with Adam that was with his posterity as well. Due to man’s sin, he could not meet the demands of the covenant. Thus, God made a covenant of grace that He would fulfill through the finished work of Christ.

Lucas then moves in Chapter 2 to discuss Edwards’s understanding of God’s purposes for creation. Edwards believed that all humans are fully corrupt, body and soul, due to participating in Adam’s sin. All humans experience Adam’s judgment as well, which is death. Yet, due to God’s providential purposes, He did not abandon sinners or His creation. He sought their redemption, which was His original purpose for creation, through Christ.

Then, in Chapter 3 Lucas points to Edwards’s emphasis on Christ’s Kingdom. Edwards taught that Christ’s redemptive death saved the elect and laid the foundation for crushing the Serpent’s kingdom. Christ reconciles all things to the Triune God.

Next, Lucas in Chapter 4 discusses Edwards’s understanding of the consummation of redemptive history. Edwards believed that God’s purpose of having creation reflect His glory back to Him will be fulfilled in the New Heavens and New Earth. Man’s relationships with one another and with God will be fully restored and glorified.

Lucas then moves in Chapter 5 to discuss Edwards’s use of light imagery in his theological communication. God the Holy Spirit spiritually illumines His people, communicating Himself, His love, His happiness, to them. They then reflect His light back to Him.

In Chapter 6, Lucas discusses Edwards’s understanding of “holy affections.” Holy affections are fervent, vigorous, and habitual movements of the soul that produce holy practices. They must conquer the desires of the flesh as Christians desire God more. Then, Christians can reflect the Triune God’s character.

Next, Lucas examines Edwards’s thoughts on “The Dark-Side of Religious Affections: Self-Deception” in Chapter 7. Edwards believed that through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, true believers will put to death the deeds of the flesh, including self-righteousness. They will depend solely on God’s grace for redemption and sanctification.

Then, in Chapter 8, Lucas interacts with Edwards on “genuine virtue.” Edwards argued that genuine virtue cannot be separated from individuals knowing the Triune God intimately. His indwelling power is the Source of their genuine virtue.

In Chapter 9, Lucas moves to discuss Edwards’s understanding of the word of God as a means of grace. Edwards believed that the preaching of God’s word serves as a Christ-like means to ignite the love and joy of His people for God and one another. God ignites His people through His word for the sake of reflecting His own Triune love and joy.

Next, in Chapter 10, Lucas interacts with Edwards’s views on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Edwards believed that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are means of grace that bless the participants and their families. Parents who have their babies baptized are committing to raise them up according to Scripture. By faith, Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper for the purpose of feasting on His spiritual blessings bought with His blood and body. Furthermore, Edwards believed that the Lord ’s Table is not open to those who are not repenting of sin and trusting in Christ.

In Chapter 11, Lucas details Edwards’s thoughts on prayer. Edwards believed that prayer is a means of grace that should be made on behalf of individuals. It also serves the advancement of Christ’s church and through it, Christians pursue the coming of Christ’s Kingdom.

Lucas, in the final Chapter, interacts with Edwards’s views of the Christian life as a “journey to Heaven.” According to Edwards, childhood, youth, middle age, and old age have differing temptations and difficulties, but Christians should keep their lives fixed on the goal of enjoying God forever in Heaven. Such pursuit of Heaven kills the Christian’s pursuit of the world.

Critical

Lucas is faithful to Edwards, allowing Him to speak for Himself. Lucas’s thoughts are well-organized, easy to follow, and divided logically. The title of his book God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards summarizes the book well. His two parts of the book, “Redemption History” and “Redemption Applied,” serve the thesis well and are true to Edwards’s theological vision.

Furthermore, Lucas is keenly aware of Edwards’s emphasis on God’s Trinitarian purposes in creating, which is primarily redemption, not creation. Edwards slighted God’s purpose in creation in and of itself, arguing that God’s purpose for creation is redemption (35). Of course, this reality is not true biblically and is a weakness in Edwards, for God really enjoyed His creation prior to the Fall. There is real purpose for God prior to the Fall for His creation even with His Divine decrees reaching far beyond His original creation. God has real relationship with His creation with mankind and apart from mankind. Even animals have “the breath of life.”

Moreover, Lucas surveys much of Edwards’s work and summarizes his thoughts well. Edwards is often difficult to understand, but Lucas helps summarize Edwards’s deep thoughts. For example, Edwards writes of God communicating love among Trinity: “The infinite essential love of God is, as it were, an infinite and eternal mutual holy energy between the Father and the Son, a pure, holy act whereby the Deity becomes nothing but an infinite and unchangeable act of love, which proceeds from both the Father and Son” (71). Lucas summarizes Edwards’s thoughts as, “Because God Himself is love and because God is an all-sufficient being, [he quotes Edwards here] ‘he is a full and overflowing inexhaustible fountain of love’” (71). Thus, understanding Edwards’s emphasis on God’s intra-Trinitarian love is essential for understanding Edwards’s theological vision and the Christian life, for this intra-Trinitarian love is what Christians participate in as creatures. Additionally, to consider that Christians, in a creaturely way, reflect the intra-Trinitarian love of God is staggering, and dare I say, beautifully regenerating and sanctifying.

Comments

  1. dr. james willingham says

    I especially appreciated Edwards views on the consummation of all things, his emphasis on the Gospel’s success among sinners. In particular his Humble Attempt stands as a salient work in the process of the origin and continuation of the Great Century of Missions or, what we often call, the modern missionary movement. Just consider his influence on William Carey and those who began to pray for the spread of the Gospel to other nations in 1785. From their Carey went on to become the father of modern missions. Such writings along with those of A. Fuller and Dr. John Owen, especially the latter’s The Death of Death in The Death of Christ, enabled me to consider the possibility that the Gospel must spread to Quadrillions of planets in the starry heavens and the populating of these in the next 20,000-900,000 years will provide the numbers suggested by Rev.7:9, the thousand generations of I Chron.16:15. Imagine a Great Awakening, the real Third Great Awakening which reaches every soul on this planet in one generation and continues to the spread with mankind in his journey to the stars. If the ability to travel to the stars in a brief period is upon us (some think we already have begun the journey – I do, for one), then we are going to see the greatest periods of history before us in all of the history of mankind. By the way, the physicist Alcubierre set forth his theory for faster than light travel in ’94, but in ’93 Ben Rich, the head of the Skunk Works of Lockheed which developed the stealth fighters declared to the graduating class of UCLA in ’93 (note the year before Alcubierre): “We already have the means to go to the stars.” I figured out in the ’80s that we had done so in the early ’50s. I asked a fellow involved in teaching interrogation techniques to the intelligence agencies what happened, and he replied, “Something happened.” Another fellow, a former Navy Liaison with the CIA, said, “When they launched the ship, they did not know there was a gravity warp between the earth and the moon. So they do not know where the ship went. And it was not the early 50s but the early ’40s.” There is more I could say, but our secrets leak like a sieve, if one is trained to logical extrapolation, making use of isolated bits of information, anomalies that leave one with only one explanation. And if that is the only one, well —?