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Jonathan Edwards Evangelist (John Gerstner (1914-1996)) Paperback – September 1, 1997
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Dr. John Gerstner painstakingly poured over dozens of Edward's sermons and writings. The result has yielded an extremely readable rendition of Jonathan Edwards and his unique approach to doing the work of an evangelist.
Gerstner discusses Edwards' view on the divine initiative, namely the first step in man's salvation is taken by God. "There is a `divine initiative' not only in regeneration, but long before that when the dead and sleeping soul is first disturbed . . . And this divine initiative, or this first divine call, which must always begin the process that may issue in salvation, is the Word of God." So Scripture is at the forefront of Edward's evangelistic scheme. Further, one must recognize that the invitation of God is universal and genuine (Matt. 11:28; 22:14). Men are therefore responsible to respond to the gospel call. He clearly distinguishes himself from the dreaded hyper-Calvinist.
Next, Gerstner seeks to justify the so-called "scare theology" of Jonathan Edwards. Indeed this Puritanical genius sought to paint vivid pictures of hell that would prompt sinful men to seek the Savior. One well-known line, "It would be just and righteous with God eternally to reject and destroy you" surely got the attention of the eighteenth century audience. However, an additional point must be clarified. Edwards never sought to merely scare people into heaven. Rather, he taught that one must have a deep affection for Christ. Gerstner rightly portrays the teaching of Edwards: "True faith in Christ is not a mere desperate or nominal acceptance of him, as a ticket out of hell, but a genuine affectionate trust in him for the very loveliness and excellency of his being."
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is Jonathan Edwards view on seeking, which Gerstner calls the "keystone" of Edwards. The New England preacher's view on seeking was much different than the so-called seeker sensitive approach. The modern-day approach wrongly assumes that men truly seek God. Jonathan Edwards view is as follows: "When men have been convicted by the Spirit of God, and are not hardened, nor neutral, nor holding back at one point or another, they are true seekers. They are those who are determined to find the God who has stirred them up to seek him." For Edwards, men are able to seek though they are not able to believe apart from grace. "The Calvinistic doctrine of inability refers not to men's inability to seek, but their inability to believe and/or to do any good." It is interesting to note that directions for seeking salvation are found in almost every sermon Edwards ever preached.
Gerstner discusses further elements of Jonathan Edwards such as preaching the gospel to children, back-sliding and assurance of salvation, all subjects that are beyond the scope of this review.
Many positive features permeate this helpful book. First, it is helpful to see the biblical Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards set in motion. Too many wrongly assume that Calvinism is all about abstract theology that results in an apathetic attitude toward the lost (Indeed some Calvinists wrongly carry this attitude, which clearly needs adjusting!) However, these critics do not really grasp the doctrines of grace for as Edwards teaches us in this work, a thorough grasp of these precious doctrines results in a love for the lost and a passion to preach Christ crucified. Second and equally helpful is Edwards view on soteriology that views God as the ultimate initiator of salvation. He alone draws the sinner to himself (John 6:44). However as Edwards points out, man is still a responsible agent and is responsible to believe. Further, Edwards discusses the fact that regeneration precedes faith. This truth, in dispute among many evangelicals needs to be rediscovered as we contemplate the evangelistic endeavor. Finally, this work gives modern-day evangelists a framework and a biblical system to carry out the evangelistic task. It is a breath of fresh air in a culture that is immersed with Pelagian thought.
This book is a helpful addition to anyone who strives to evangelize lost people and understand the mind of America's greatest theologian. It will certainly strengthen Calvinistic pastors and challenge pastors who fall in the Arminian camp. The biggest way this book will help me in the ministry can be state in one word: passion. The unbridled passion of Jonathan Edwards can be felt in almost every sentence he writes. He stirs my heart for evangelism and motivates me to obey the command of Christ.
One of the primary critiques of Puritanism and folks like Jonathan Edwards is a lack of evangelism and evangelistic appeal in their sermons. Is it possible that the greatest Calvinistic theologian may also be one of the most evangelistic preachers? In this work John Gerstner attempts to systematize the evangelistic methods of Jonathan Edwards.
The first four chapters are Gerstner's attempt to justify, as well as reconcile, the diverse views of Edwards. The major part of the book is comprised with the exploration of Edwards' doctrine of seeking. After fully developing Edwards' view of seeking Gerstner address other issues such as "faith alone", "backsliding", "regeneration", and "preservation of the saints".
What I Liked
If the reader desires a more full understanding of the Puritan (and Edwardsean) doctrine of seeking then this is an excellent resource. It is often difficult to grasp the relation between sovereign election and calling sinners to repentance. This book will give the reader a better (although still not complete) understanding of such doctrines. As it says on the back cover this is an excellent resource for those "desiring a theology of the greatest of all the Puritan divines". Gerstner does an adequate job of systematizing Edwards' doctrine of "steps to salvation".
It is also helpful that Gerstner brings in many quotes from Edwards, and does so in a manner that is still quite readable. It is an enjoyable read but also not a light read.
What I Disliked
At times Gerstner interacts with the Edwards' views. It is my opinion that the book would have been helped along with more interaction from Gerstner. The subjects are often so deep and seemingly contradictory that the reader would be helped by thoughtful interaction--as well as Scriptural defenses of Edwards' belief. This is, perhaps, due to the pointed focus of Gerstner and such a book was not his intent. Nonetheless, it would have been more beneficial to hear more from our collaborator.
Gerstner also uses the sermon more than the written text of Edwards. Edwards was a man of orderly thought. Every sermon was thought out, but perhaps not as thorough as the theological writings of Edwards. It would have been helpful to see the development of Edwards' theology. Footnotes and a bibliography are also not included in this work and would have been quite helpful.
Should You Buy It?
The student of Edwards (and Puritan theology) does not want to miss this work. It systematizes the thought of Edwards in a quite helpful way. It also gives help to the student in formulating his own views of the "steps to salvation". This is also a very difficult read. It may not be the most beneficial to the unlearned. Chances are that if you are reading this review you have some exposure to Edwards, if so then I would recommend this book. If you are reading this review and looking for an introductory to Edwards then look elsewhere; perhaps Iain Murray's A New Biography on Edwards or George Marsden's classic biography.