Book review: Jonathan Edwards and the Church

NEWS | Chris Porter

Monday 21 September 2015

Jonathan Edwards wrote and preached on an exceedingly wide variety of theological subjects, yet many scholars declare that he did not have any independent ecclesiology. In Jonathan Edwards and the Church Rhys Bezzant demonstrates that Edwards actually held a robust ecclesiology that took into account both social and theological drivers. Bezzant sets out to expound Edwards on his oft-repeated model of the church as a “focused domain where God’s promises, presence and purpose are to be discovered.” In doing so he opines that Edwards’ ecclesiology was ultimately “a revivalist ecclesiology within a traditional ecclesiology of nurture and institutional order.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 3.59.13 pmBezzant traces Edwards’ reflections from his less-conventional conversion narrative through his early life, developing theology and burgeoning ministry – the period heavily influenced by the Great Awakening – and then into his mature ecclesial ministry and global focus. These chapters mine the depths of Edwards’ own writings as well as the copious secondary literature.

Bezzant helpfully shows how wider theological and social concerns impacted upon the fledgling colonies and does not seek to divorce Edwards from his historical milieu. This dual focus assists in understanding Edwards’ ecclesiology as well as how it has shaped evangelical patterns in the following generations. Although there is little room for sustained modern theological reflection and application, the passion for the church of Bezzant and Edwards shines through and any astute reader will be able to draw concrete links and applications with ease. Brief observations gleam from the text such as buy the bookwhen Bezzant observes “the church is an expression not just of pastoral or apocalyptic functions but of prophetic aspirations too.”

Bezzant draws the themes of the book together to highlight the weekly ecclesiological routine of Northampton and the broader New England church. He focuses upon worship, discipline and polity and assists the reader in seeing how Edwards’ ecclesiological vision played out at a broader scale – even if imperfectly. Finally Bezzant reflects upon the ecclesiological tensions and pressures present within Edwards’ ministry and concludes that his ecclesiology ‘highlights the orderly processes but not the ordinary origins of the church’s life.’ This organising theme of “orderly but not ordinary” plays out throughout the book and helps to strike a balance between the extremes of each theme.

While Jonathan Edwards and the Church is aimed at an academic audience, the book will appeal to academics, clergy and intent readers of all stripes.

The original version of this review was first published on the Victorian and Tasmanian EFAC website.

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