Most helpful critical review
on August 13, 2013
This is the third book I have read from the Jonathan Edwards series by Owen Strachan and Douglas Sweeney. There are a lot of good things that can be said about this book, but there are a lot of ways which it was not quite up to par with the other two that I have read. There were moments of quality insight, and there were moments where I felt that the book was relatively shallow and obvious. When I was finished I found myself hoping for more and I am uncertain whether it was the authors whose depth was lacking or whether it was Jonathan Edwards. I am leaning towards the former and wondering if they asked the right questions when thinking about this topic. I would like to go on record saying that the book was basically orthodox in its approach on the afterlife and I appreciated that. However, I think that there were things hinted on that could have been explored much further. Here are the negatives and positives about this book according to my opinion.
I liked the first section well; I think that Strachan and Sweeney really described the age that we are living in. Placing eternity in the context of our modern world was a nice big picture moment that made you stop and think. They showed how people think about the afterlife today and how Edwards thought about the afterlife. People don't think as much about death as they did in Edwards' time and partially because death is not as close as it was in Edwards' time. While I don't think that preparing for eternity is the only reason we are here in this life, I do think it is far more important than we often realize. It is true that the Christian must aim for heaven because that is the place that he or she goes at the time of death. Nevertheless, it would have been nice if there had been a more well-formed view of the role played by the New Heaven and New Earth. Heaven is not a retreat for washed up saints, but a reality that will someday invade the present realm in its fullness. I am surprised that in the extant writings of Jonathan Edwards there would not be more said about this theological concept.
The second chapter was on hell. Let me say from the beginning that I am a strong believer in the existence of hell. The bible makes it abundantly clear that there is a place where God will judge wicked men for their transgressions. This place is real, and it is eternal in its scope. Strachan and Sweeney stayed faithful to the declaration of those biblical truths. However, there were times when bringing out Edwards' perception of hell came across as an exercise in medieval thinking. Hell is real but one has to be careful how it is discussed or it can paint God as sadistic and petty. It is true that God is angry with the wicked and that his wrath is poured out. However, it is much sadder than that really and I think there is some internal things that happen where people are concerned that could be mined. How did Edwards see the inner state of those who spend eternity in hell? Is it fire and torture that really causes hell to be so catastrophic, or is it some internal mechanism? It is hinted that Edwards thinks that the worm spoken of in Mark 9 is actually misery. I think that could have been elaborated on much further.
The third chapter was on heaven. There was a great deal of overlap between the book on beauty and this section on heaven. The guys revisited the opus of Edwards called "Heaven is a World of Love." They focused on Edwards' Christocentric view of eternity in heaven and there is a lot of beautiful descriptions of heaven's wonders. It is certain that Edwards has thought a great deal about the subject. At a certain point the authors bring out the idea that Edwards saw the Christian progressing and moving from glory to glory throughout eternity. This is something I wanted to get at while reading this work. I thought that if anybody had something profound to say about this matter it would definitely be Edwards. However, after mentioning the thought the authors kind of glossed over what could have been a rich section of thought. I think this thought and its reverse polarity where hell is concerned would have deepened this book. How will God move us from glory to glory throughout eternity? How will we be enriched by his grace throughout the ages to come?
Something I would have liked to have seen developed was the purpose of our lives here in this realm. I agree that we are here in great part to prepare for the eternal condition. I also realize that the authors were focusing on the eternal aspects of life. However, it was easy to get the impression that all life was about was heaven and hell. I am sure that this is not the sentiments of the authors or Jonathan Edwards. I think that one of the books in this series is called "The Good life" and perhaps it will be here that they focus more on those themes. Eternal life doesn't start when one leaves the body but rather when one is regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit. I know that they believe this, but perhaps should have been more careful to express it. As I said, I still have two more to read and so perhaps I will encounter this in the books that left in this series.
The last chapter was on letting eternity shape our identity. There were good practical thoughts that have solid application. Again, I think this would have been a place for them to develop Edwards' eschatology concerning the new heavens and the new earth. If you are going to do a book on the eternal state, it strikes me odd that not so much as a whisper would be said about the final restoration. Surely, in the copious writings of Jonathan Edwards there is a few messages on Revelation 21 that could have served to paint a picture of his understanding of the resurrection of the dead. In fact, that is another thing that is never mentioned. Heaven is in a sense a temporary state that exists until the restitution of all things, Then, it joins with this present reality to create a new one. The believer is not going to stay in a disembodied state but will be raised from the dead. That is kind of a big deal and should have been tackled in a book on this subject. It was not a bad book but there is definitely room for improvement. I would recommend this book but it is certainly a work to start with and there is no doubt deeper works to be studied on the issue.