Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Model of Preaching


John Carrick. The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth
Trust, 2008. 465pp.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

This is a very important book on one of America’s most important pastor-theologians. In the realm of Edwards studies, relatively little attention has been given to the theology and rhetoric of his preaching. Carrick’s work is significant, not only for its historical interest, but because it dissects Edwards’s preaching in a manner that sets him forth as a pattern of powerful rhetoric for contemporary preachers. In particular, Jonathan Edwards is an excellent model for blending together strong exposition, sound doctrine, and piercing application. This healthy mixture is conspicuous by its virtual absence in most modern preaching, making Carrick’s work not simply a useful read, but a necessary one in our day and age.

This large book is divided into twenty-eight chapters, which treat virtually every feature of Edwards’s sermons, including introductions, doctrine, application, illustrations, conclusions, and much more. The chapters on “God-Centeredness” (ch. 2), “Introductions” (ch. 8), “Different Categories of Hearers” (ch. 16), and “The Spirit of God” (ch. 27) are particularly helpful. The last mentioned of these reveals the heart of Carrick’s treatment of Edwards’s preaching. We must not simply view Edwards’s sermons from a literary standpoint, but from a homiletical and spiritual standpoint (444). As much as we have to learn from Edwards’s rhetoric and style of preaching, the greatest lesson that we have to learn from him is dependence upon and confidence in the power of the Third Person in the Trinity in our preaching. This leaves readers with a carefully maintained balance between developing effective rhetorical methods in preaching, while simultaneously placing all hope and dependence upon the Spirit of God rather than upon those methods.

Edwards’s use of application in his sermons is both gripping in its force and astonishing in its breadth and depth. One of the primary needs in modern preaching is to recover powerful and searching application that is deeply rooted in a thorough exposition of Scripture and a precise and clear understanding of theology. Edwards is perhaps one of the most preeminent examples of effective sermon application in the history of Christianity. This reason alone makes this book one that ministers cannot afford to pass by.

An interesting feature of this work is the manner in which the author has interwoven the historical context of Edwards’s life with his treatment of Edwards’s sermons. The result is that instead of reading as a bare list of citations and observations, the book presents a gripping narrative as well. It abounds with primary source evidence, much of which has been gleaned from the recently completed Yale edition of Edwards’s Works. The interaction with secondary literature is thorough as well, though it would have been useful to situate Edwards’s preaching in the historic context of Reformed Orthodoxy in general. There is little to no emphasis or comparison of Edwards to contemporary or previous Reformed preaching. Although Edwards lived during the transition between the era of Reformed Orthodoxy into the Enlightenment, several aspects of his preaching, such as “Confutation” (ch. 18) and “Objections and Answers” (ch. 22), have historical roots and precedents in Medieval Scholasticism as well as in subsequent so-called Protestant Scholasticism. That being said, the influence of theological methodology on Reformed Orthodox preaching is a topic that has been generally neglected.

The primary drawback to this book is the absence of subdivisions. In closely printed chapters that often reach twenty-pages, lacking divisions in the text can make reading cumbersome. The material is well organized and easy to follow, but clearly marked divisions in thought or argument help most readers read more effectively and retain a sense of progression and interest in the book.

Ministers who avail themselves of Carrick’s labor of love on The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards will do good service both to themselves and to their congregations. The author both loves his subject and exemplifies the principles gleaned from it in his own preaching. May the Lord use this book to help produce a generation of wise and Spirit-filled preachers!

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The review above was published previously in Puritan Reformed Journal in July 2011. To buy the Carrick book, go here.