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Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards's "Religious Affections" Paperback – June 27, 2007
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About the Author
Sam Storms (PhD, University of Texas at Dallas) has spent more than four decades in ministry as a pastor, professor, and author. He is currently the senior pastor at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and was previously a visiting associate professor of theology at Wheaton College from 2000 to 2004. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and blogs regularly at SamStorms.com.
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I am currently reading Religious Affections for the third time and actually purchased Storms' book because I was hoping for a more sermonic distillation of Edwards. That is not what Storms has written. But I still finished his book with profit and expect to use it in the future. The great strength of Storms' "interpretation" of Edwards is its brevity - 152 pages vs. over 350 in the Yale edition! The first time I read Religious Affections it took me four or five months to get all the way through. Storms' book can easily be read in several sittings.
The downside is that the cumulative weight of Edwards' argument is somewhat lost with the editing. For example, Storms summarizes much of Edwards' actual exposition of biblical passages and just includes the verses in brackets, whereas Edwards actually quotes the verses. I find these parts some of the richest portions of Edwards' original. I like reading Edwards himself because I value the effect his more lengthy explanation and argumentation has on my heart.
But there is a second benefit to Storms' book - and this is really the reason I want to commend it. The last third of Storms' book (p. 153-213) contains Edwards' Personal Narrative, with Storms' commentary interspersed throughout. The Personal Narrative is Edwards' own recounting of his conversion experience and early spiritual growth. It is simply breathtaking! And Storms' commentary on it is exceptionally edifying. I read all of this on a Saturday evening and it really helped sensitize my soul to the Lord and prepare my heart for worship the next day.
So, if are stirred up by those occasional quotes from Edwards that you hear from your pastor, and you want to read him for yourself but don't think you can tackle 350+ pages of unedited Puritan prose, get Storms! Even if you don't read all of the Religious Affections section (though I hope you will!), you will benefit so much from reading the Personal Narrative section.
Thank you Dr. Storms for this labor of love. What a wonderful gesture of putting the cookies where the kids can reach them. Signs of the Spirit is a should read for anyone struggling in a world of post modern evangelicalism and the empty life of man centered worship.
Even among books on theological subjects, this volume is just a bit odd. It is not a commentary on the work by Jonathan Edwards cited in the title. And, since Edwards' work was written in English, it is certainly not a translation. Like some renderings of the Bible, Storms' book is a paraphrase of Edwards' work, in modern English.
This effort is, or should be, immensely appreciated by our modern Christian lay faithful (I'm assuming a seminary trained person would be held responsible for reading Edwards' original words) as it answers a question which has puzzled me ever since I began attending congregational and synod-wide meetings. As I've put it, the question is `How do you tell the difference between someone who is truly imbued with the Holy Spirit, and a loose cannon?' My personal experience is as that of a loose cannon, so I'm not sure I can answer that question from my own experience.
Storms, a pastor and part-time professor of theology at Wheaton College in Illinois, has done us the service of making available to us an important piece of evidence showing what made Jonathan Edwards the foremost American theologian, and on the short list of the most important American thinkers. Our problem with Edwards may be that he preached and advocated a form of Calvinism which was very close to the strict, conservative, pre-destination oriented doctrines of John Calvin and the other early Swiss reformers. He did this at a time when his own New England Congregationalist pastors, several of whom were his cousins, were tending toward the Armenian variety of Reformed theology, (softened the doctrine of predestination by claiming that humans could reject election, which was also conditional on faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus Christ).
Religious Affections was especially topical, as it was written in 1746, following the two great rounds of religious enthusiasm which sprang up in 1735 and 1741--42, sparked by the preaching of Edwards himself (See Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) and George Whitefield, a travelling English Anglican revivalist preacher touring New England. The question at that time, amid the great number of people responding enthusiastically to this `fire and brimstone' preaching was, `who was really among the elect'? The question was especially acute in that Edwards' opponents were advocates of a very cerebral approach to belief.
While Edwards' theology was conservative Calvinism, he rebuilt the underpinning of predestination theology on the epistemology of John Locke (1632--1704) and the physics of Isaac Newton, both of which were radically new, totally beyond the ken of Calvin (1509--1564). This makes Edwards' theology far more modern than his Reformer antecedents. To the modern physics, Edwards adds an appreciation for the role of `affection' which went further than his contemporaries.
My first reaction to Edwards' discussion is that he seems to dismiss as not relevant virtually all the signs, twelve in all, we might take as symptoms of `affection' such as the fact that affections `are intense or are raised high in the heart of the person' or `when the affections of the heart have a great influence on the body'. The problem becomes more acute when we read his positive signs of `authentic affections'. Such as `The first objective ground of gracious affections is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are in themselves, and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest.' Things get a lot clearer when we get to the later (of twelve) authentic signs, as `When genuine, gracious affections are experienced in high degree, it serves only to intensify one's longing for more. False affections, on the other hand, rest satisfied in themselves.'
In fact, I was less impressed with these criteria than I was with some of Edwards early comments on the very nature of worship, such as `We are not to pray as if our petitions inform God of what he doesn't know or change his mind or prevail on him to bestow mercy that he was otherwise disinclined to give. Rather we pray "to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so prepare us to receive the blessings we ask." In fact, virtually all external expressions of worship "can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others."Consider, for example, the singing of praises to God, which seem to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.' I have yet to see the nature and purpose of prayer so well stated as this.
The author has stated that this book, in spite of its difficulty in the original, has been a manual for many contemporary evangelical preachers, and I can hope that with this paraphrase, it will find even greater use. I compared parts of Storm's text to Edwards' original and I have come to be especially grateful for his contribution, as Edwards genius is not in great English prose. You may wish to read the original, but finish and digest the paraphrase before jumping into Edwards' fire with him. My experience is that it is not easy to locate Edwards' source for Storm's paraphrase.