One of the reasons I teach in a seminary setting is because of my desire to help form a generation of seminarians into pastor-theologians. Teaching in the field of church history lends itself to this emphasis. As I never tire of telling my students, many of the most important theologians in the history of Christianity were either pastor-theologians or theologians who also served as pastors. There is no shortage of historical role models for the seminary student who wants to put theological rigor in service to a local congregation.
My friend Sean Lucas is a pastor-theologian. He is a trained church historian who has previously served as a seminary professor and academic administrator. But he is first and foremost a churchman. A few years ago, Lucas left an administrative post at Covenant Theological Seminary to become the senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg, MS. Lucas has continued his productive writing ministry since trading the lectern for the pulpit. (His authorial productivity makes some full-time professors jealous … but enough about me.) Lucas’s most recent book is God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway, 2011).
Lucas argues that Edwards was, first and foremost, a theologian of the Christian life who sought to direct his own life and the lives of his parishioners Godward. Edwards’s theology of the Christian life was simultaneously cosmic/eschatological, Trinitarian, and experiential—all to the glory of God. It was this God-centered vision that permeated all of Edwards’s writings, from theological and philosophical treatises to revival polemics and personal journals. This was also the vision at the center of his influential preaching ministry. In highlighting these themes, Lucas has provided a wonderful introduction to the man who is, with little doubt, the most influential pastor-theologian in American history.
Following the emphases of Edwards’s own literary corpus, Lucas divides his book into two main sections. Part I is dedicated to “Redemption History” and includes chapters on God’s glory, creation and fall, Christ’s saving work, and the consummation. Part II is titled “Redemption Applied” and digs deeper into key themes that emerge from Edwards’s sermons and writings. Lucas demonstrates that Edwards has much to offer to many of the controversial discussions among evangelicals today, including biblical hermeneutics, the relationship between revival and the ordinary means of grace, balancing personal spiritual experience with biblical authority, the role of preaching in individual and congregational spiritual formation, the relationship between indicatives and imperatives, and the influence eschatology should have on Christian living. In addressing these topics, Lucas engages the best editions of the primary sources as well as the arguments of the leading Edwards scholars, but he writes at a level that will connect with most any thoughtful reader.
In addition to the book’s main body, Lucas includes two helpful appendices. The first is a useful introductory bibliography to the massive amount of literature devoted to Edwards (including the highly acclaimed Works of Jonathan Edwards, a critical edition of Edwards’s writings published by Yale University Press). Lucas is one of the dozens of historians and theologians who have written about Edwards in the past generation; his bibliographical appendix is a great place for students and other newcomers to begin their own study of Edwards. The second appendix, dedicated to Jonathan Edwards and the spiritual formation of would-be pastors and other ministers, is especially helpful for seminarians and younger ministers. It offers useful gospel application for any reader tempted to get bogged down in the discussions of Edwards’s theology.
God’s Grand Design is an excellent introductory resource for those interested in Edwards’s theology. Lucas deftly uses his scholarly training to write a winsome book that will help many students, pastors, and other readers get excited about Jonathan Edwards. It would make a great supplemental textbook in a church history survey course or even a class on pastoral theology. I’d also recommend it as a good book for a church ministry staff to work through together. For those who want to combine Lucas’s book with a good biography, I’d recommend reading God’s Grand Design alongside George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003). Newcomers might also consider reading Lucas’s book alongside an anthology of Edwards’s writings; I’d recommend A Jonathan Edwards Reader (Yale University Press, 2003).