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Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards Paperback – June 2, 2013
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"A sobering book, a book which focuses the mind and heart on the 'means of grace,' and a book which is practical, it stands recommended." (Christine Farenhorst, Christian Renewal, December 11, 2013)
"In a time when so many 'spiritual but not religious' seekers turn away from empty religious formalism, seeking instead a stirring vision of glorious transcendence that captures the heart, who would have suspected that Jonathan Edwards would emerge as a man for such a time as this? Strobel's book deserves a wide readership for establishing Edwards' place at the table of great spiritual guides of the church." (Andy Nagal, Presbyterian Outlook, August 2013)
"We read Augustine, Calvin, Edwards and a host of other great theologians as if they wrote theology only to inform us, failing to realize that they wrote their works, as they preached their sermons, to form us, too. We thus do them an injustice if we see their books as providing us with nothing more than information. Kyle Strobel addresses this essential problem in the way he wrote about Jonathan Edwards. Formed for the Glory of God is not a practical book about Edwards's spiritual practices, nor is it a theoretical book about Edwards's theology. It is both at the same time, which is just as Edwards would want it. Strobel thus writes about Edwards as Edwards himself wrote. His attention to Edwards's theology of glory and beauty and love informs and shapes his exploration of Edwards's spiritual practices, which in both cases orient us toward God. This book did more than teach me; it awakened longing for God. It introduces Jonathan Edwards as the luminous, pastoral, passionate and deeply Christian man that he was. I heartily commend it to you." (Gerald L. Sittser, professor of theology, Whitworth University, and author of Water from a Deep Well)
"We sometimes imagine that spiritual formation--the Spirit's work of conforming us to the image of God's Son--is something accomplished on our own. But in reality, God has graciously given us the gift of teachers and the community of saints. These wise guides can lead us and help us, through their teaching and example, pointing us to Christ. We could not ask for a more profound guide than the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. In these pages his gifted interpreter Kyle Strobel shows us a better way--a way less traveled--for how to live the Christian life bound to the Son in love. A feast awaits all those with eyes to see." (Justin Taylor, managing editor, ESV Study Bible, and coeditor (with John Piper), A God-Entranced Vision of All Things)
"If you are among those either unacquainted with Jonathan Edwards or simply afraid to read him, this book is for you. As best I can tell, what Kyle Strobel has done here is largely unprecedented in Edwardsean studies. With Edwards as tour guide, he has taken us on a journey, both deeply theological and eminently practical, into what it means to live Christianly. If biblical spirituality is something you cherish and long for, you can do no better than join Strobel, together with Edwards, in this profoundly life-changing exploration. Highly recommended!" (Sam Storms, Ph.D., lead pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
"Jonathan Edwards was the most brilliant mind America has ever produced. I once took an entire year to read through his complete body of work. The wisdom was staggering. Now, another brilliant mind, my dear friend Kyle Strobel, has made Edwards accessible to everyone, on the critical issue of spiritual formation through godly habits and attitudes. This is an important book that can change your life." (Dr. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church)
"In too many minds, Jonathan Edwards's reputation has been associated with a single passage in a single sermon: Jonathan Edwards in the hands of angry sinners. Kyle Strobel has written a deeply thoughtful and informed primer on spirituality that is based on Edwards' theology and life. From the 'sovereignty principle' to an Edwardsian retreat, Kyle has given a gift that will be a means of grace for many." (John Ortberg, senior pastor, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church)
"Through a careful study of the spirituality of Edwards's sermons and various tracts, Kyle Strobel has produced a rich distillation of this remarkable American divine's spiritual vision. The end product is an extremely helpful volume that delineates what a distinctively evangelical piety has looked like in the past and why that pattern is still of great value today." (Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
"We can learn much from Edwards, and Kyle Strobel is an excellent guide to have along with us." (Rev. Prof. W.D.J. McKay, The Covenanter Witness, September 2014)
About the Author
Kyle Strobel (PhD,University of Aberdeen) teaches spiritual theology for Talbot's Institute for Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Formation Focus programs. Strobel has published Jonathan Edwards' Theology: A Reinterpretation and Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards. He has also published in the Harvard Theological Review, Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care and Relevant magazine.
Top customer reviews
Kyle Strobel’s book, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, is broken up into two parts. The first is titled “A Journey into Beauty.” In this section of the book Strobel lays out the foundation of the Christian faith according to Edwards. He uses the metaphor of a journey or a path to illustrate Edwards God-centered theology. This journey is centered on the Beatific vision (something that contemporary evangelicals have either forgotten was a central part of our catholic faith or have simply chosen to ignore). Kyle says that the culmination of the journey “is standing before the God of love and beholding him as my Father, seeing him clearly and growing in knowledge of him for eternity.” In the next chapter he cashes out what the beatific vision is really about, knowing God as glorious and knowing God as beautiful. And we only know God in these ways because we are “in” Christ. Knowing God in these ways, through Christ, is ultimately relational. It is no mere academic exercise. This is extremely important for understanding Edwards’ theology because Edwards’ practical theology is centered on “affections” (and by this I don’t mean the warm fuzzys). Edwards’ thoughts on affections are best captured in the truism “people are not simply thinking beings, but loving beings.” Our hearts will always gravitate towards something. When our hearts do that our will attempts to grasp it because we are vigorously captivated by it. In turn our entire way of living is changed because our will is now centered upon that one object or person.
Part two is titled “Tools for the Journey.” In this section of the book Strobel assesses the “tools God has given us on this journey, asking what they are for and why we should practice them.” He begins by explaining the fact that spiritual disciplines are means of grace. The means of grace are practices or actions given to the church which are not efficacious on their own right, rather they are actions through which we receive the Grace God has already given to us. In other words they are “spiritual postures to receive God’s grace.” This notion of putting ourselves in a posture of dependence is key for understanding Strobel’s discussion of Edwards’ disciplines. Again and again Strobel emphasizes that we don’t create grace or earn it through this disciplines; the Grace is already there, we simply put ourselves in a posture to receive the gift that God has already given to us, namely the gift of himself. Having laid this foundation Strobel explains some of Edwards’ practices. For instance he devotes an entire chapter to examining our own lives and an entire chapter to Mediation/Contemplation (which are slightly different). He concludes with a chapter on Sabbath, Fasting, Conferencing, Soliloquy, Silence and Solitude, and Prayer.
Here are some of the things that Strobel did well:
1-The Discussion of the Christian Life - Strobel explains the journey as a journey towards the beatific vision, which can only occur in Christ. He says that the Christian life is a journey to see clearly.
2-The Discussion of the Means of Grace - Spiritual disciplines (Means of Grace) are not a way of wrenching God’s arm into giving us more of himself. God has already fully given himself to us in Christ!
3-The Appendix - For people who will want to practice what Kyle preaches, this is an invaluable tool. Its clear and well organized. Anybody can turn to this section of the book and begin to lead themselves and others into the disciplines that Edwards practiced.
Here are some constructive criticisms:
1-A Lack of Interaction With Edwards’ Historical Context: I would have liked to see Strobel interact with Edwards greater Reformed and Puritan context a bit more, especially in regard to how spiritual disciplines were regarded by continental reformed pastors and theologians and also by Puritans in the new world.
2-A Lack of a “Spiritual Biography”: I also would have liked to see Strobel pull all of these practices into a short (perhaps chapter long) biography section.
As you can tell I (mostly) have only good words for this book. Edwards and spiritual disciplines are two subjects that I absolutely love to study, and this book brilliantly combines both. If you are looking for an easy introduction into the practical theology of Edwards I highly recommend this book. If you are looking for a reformed take on spiritual disciplines, I recommend this book. If you are interested in spiritual disciplines and want some practical guidance on practicing them, I recommend this book. Basically, whoever you are and whatever you are interested in I recommend this book.
The second way the book is helpful is it captures the devotional life for us as not just what we do in private but how a vital faith is lived out. Edwards was not only a brilliant thinker but his Christian faith was deeply devotional. While much of modern Christianity tends to split good thinking and emotions (head/heart split) Edwards seems to seamlessly connect the two. The life of the mind is important because it serves to help us make good distinctions in order to live well. As Kyle rightly emphasizes, the devotional life is a life of wisdom.
The book is helpful in a third way - it's not just an exposition on Edwards. It actually led to an exploration of my heart. I've had that same refreshing experience with a book I read recently about Mother Teresa. As Kyle spends the first three chapters laying the foundation of Edward's devotional life, I sensed my own heart stirring in a like manner. It's one thing for a writer to merely explain. It's a whole different thing for the reader to be taken into the narrative, to have his/her heart stirred. This book is a great example of not only explaining Edwards but also offering us an "ethos", an emotional connecting to Edwards' spiritual thoughts and practices that leads to a transformed heart.
There are a few details I appreciated followed by two quick suggestions. The first detail I appreciated, Kyle gives us a clear picture of Edward's foundational beliefs in the first three chapters - God's glory, God's beauty, and the sense on the heart in affection where one's heart is gripped by and rests in the gospel of Christ. This is absolutely critical because rather than beginning with the actual practices, Kyle begins with the gospel as it must get into the deepest recesses of the heart rather than one jumping immediately into the practices.
Second, I agree with Kyle that the disciplines/practices are not the way to be good or to fix ourselves or to even try and do something/anything. This is an important distinction to make contra how many of the basic "disciplines" are presented today. The "disciplines" or "practices" are means of grace - ways to open more deeply in honesty to our own depravity and the immense love of God. Bravo for keeping everything in the right order!
Two quick suggestions are in order. The first is (and I could be wrong), I couldn't find any description of biblically what the immaterial heart represents. Just as concepts like "glory", "beauty" and "affection" are explained, I think it's important to unveil a robust picture of the heart, as Edwards understood it. There's a reason why Edwards focuses on the heart, particularly in Religious Affections that I think is important to the discussion. Maybe Kyle included it and I just didn't see it...
My last suggestion would be to offer some devotional exercises after each chapter. Particularly as the chapter "Spiritual Disciplines as Means of Grace" begins to examine some critical practices, it would be very helpful to have something like a daily exploration of how Edward's spiritual theology would work itself out in one's life. So in addition to having three exercises in the appendices (which are very helpful), having some questions to reflect on with God at the end of each chapter would actually help readers engage even more with the material.
In summary, this book does what it proposes to do and it represents the best of what the written words of others should offer: Holiness that is not a five-step plan to a better life. My recommendation? Read it. Then re-read it. Then give it away to others. As a pastor of spiritual formation, I fully intend to use this resource in the future. Kudos Kyle!
Here is all I think you need to know about this book:
It is beautiful. It is humble. It is easy to read. It is immensely profound. It veers away from the style of what I call christianized "self-help/solution oriented advice" that nearly all books on the christian life have gone in recent years. Not a whiff of pragmatism here. Just a clear vision of God as fully sufficient and fully ours in the gospel.
Edwards was deeply wise. His beliefs found true outlets in his daily life. His vision of God as the perfect, self-giving, beautiful one effected and affected every nook and cranny of his daily existence. Strobel guides his readers to the same life-changing God-vision.
If you're tired of christianized solutions to you problems that leave you tired, defeated, guilty and ashamed, let Strobel and Edwards bring you to see God and see THAT God Himself is the solution.