NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, December 4th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Well, it’s the first Tuesday of the new month and that means Emily Whitten is here with her Classic Book of the Month selection. Good morning, Emily!
EMILY WHITTEN, BOOK REVIEWER: Hey, Mary, glad to be here!
REICHARD: I’m glad you’re here too, because I always appreciate a good book recommendation, especially around Christmas time. What gift ideas do you have today?
WHITTEN: Well, instead of a classic book per se, I’ve brought along a fairly new introduction to a classic author. I’m talking about 18th century theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards.
REICHARD: Ah. Inimitable. Tell us more!
WHITTEN: Well, confession time, Mary: I haven’t read any of his books—YET. I must have read his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” at some point in an English class. But beyond that, his books have always seemed a little intimidating. Until now. Our book today offers an accessible way for busy moms, dads, grandparents, and even teens to get to know this heavyweight Puritan author. The book is called The Essential Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to the Life and Teaching of America’s Greatest Theologian. It’s by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney.
REICHARD: What makes this book different from other presentations of Edwards?
WHITTEN: First of all, format. Strachan and Sweeney use plenty of quotes from Edwards throughout the book, so you get a taste of his writing style. But you won’t be reading page after page of 18th century verbiage. These are short quotes framed with clear summaries of Edwards’ life and theology. Beyond that, each chapter ends with practical application for believers.
REICHARD: Sounds like a good way to get to know such an important writer.
WHITTEN: Oh I definitely agree! And here’s another great quality. The book highlights important themes of Edwards’ writing. For instance, in the book’s foreword, pastor John Piper describes Edwards as a “God-entranced” man. That theme plays a big role later on. Let’s listen to a short clip of Piper talking about that:
PIPER: Nobody that I know, nobody that I’ve ever heard of is more God-entranced than Jonathan Edwards was. And no one has helped me more than Edwards to see and experience the relationship between the supremacy of God and the satisfaction of the soul like Edwards.
WHITTEN: So Piper sees “the glory of God” at the heart of Edwards’ theology. And that glory is not just something to think about, something intellectual, but affects our whole being, including our emotions. Here’s Piper reading from Edwards on this point:
PIPER: God glorifies himself toward the creature in two ways. One by appearing to their understanding. Two, in communicating himself to their hearts. And in their rejoicing in, and delighting in and enjoying the manifestation which He makes of himself. God is glorified not only in his glory being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.
WHITTEN: So, Edwards wants us to know about God, yes, but also to love Him. To rejoice in Him. To take pleasure in his beauty and goodness! In contrast to what often comes to mind when many of us think of Puritan writers, Edwards shows us a warm, vibrant, even joyful vision of the Christian life.
REICHARD: An interesting contrast there. That point really resonates with me. I’ve heard the line that when we see the color purple, for example, God would like us to stop and appreciate that! Emily, what else should we know about Edwards?
WHITTEN: Well, Strachan and Sweeney also give a concise overview of Edwards the man. We learn of his birth in 1703 in Connecticut Colony. He grew up as the only boy in a family of 11 children.
REICHARD: Wow, that’s a lot of sisters!
WHITTEN: Believe it or not, each of his sisters were six feet tall! So that’s 60 feet of Edwards girls!
REICHARD: That’s some some good trivia.
WHITTEN: Isn’t it though? Back to this book, we also learn about Edwards’ work as a pastor in Northampton during the Great Awakening. We hear about George Whitefield’s visit, and later troubles with his congregation that led to him being ousted from that job. Finally, we see his latter days as a minister to Native Americans among others. During that time he wrote many of his most important books, including The Freedom of the Will and The Nature of True Virtue.
REICHARD: And I guess we get to sample some of those works in our book today?
WHITTEN: Exactly. One important point: Strachan and Sweeney don’t wink at Edwards’ biggest failings. For instance, they don’t hide the fact that he owned slaves and defended slaveholding. While it’s tragic to read about, that kind of honesty makes the rest of their biography more trustworthy.
REICHARD: That lends credibility for sure. Acknowledge all of it, good and bad. Emily, what else is important to know about this book?
WHITTEN: Much of the rest of the book delves into Edwards’ writing. The book divides into topics like beauty, the good life, and true christianity. In each area, Edwards lifts our thoughts to God and teaches us to see in a new way. I found some interesting audio regarding Edwards’ biography of David Brainerd, a work mentioned several times by Strachan and Sweeney. In this audio, Joe Tyrpak trades comments with Douglas Sweeney, coauthor of our book today:
SWEENEY: I think it’s safe to say that outside the Bible Jonathan Edwards’ publication on the life of David Brainerd is the most influential book on missions in modern history. He says God has two main ways of commending true religion in the world. One is by doctrine and precept, he wrote, and the other is by instance and example. Edwards wasn’t publishing the life of (David) Brainerd to show what a an exemplary missionary looks like, but what an exemplary Christian looks like….
WHITTEN: Along the same lines, I hope this book will entice our generation to get to know America’s greatest theologian a little better—and pick up something of his God-entranced vision.
REICHARD: Well, that does sound enticing.
WHITTEN: And for those who might be interested, Owen Strachan created a companion set of five books called The Essential Edwards Collection. That collection along with our book today might make a good gift for the young pastor in your family or church family…or even the book reviewer in your life. (ha)
REICHARD: And don’t forget radio hosts! Thanks for the recommendation today, Emily.
WHITTEN: You’re so welcome.
REICHARD: Our classic book for this month is The Essential Jonathan Edwards by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney. For more Christmas gift book ideas, see our online book pages at wng.org. And don’t forget to follow Emily on Twitter @emilyawhitten. That’s spelled W-H-I-T-T-E-N.