Tag Archives: Puritan

Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement (Review)

It is well known that some of Edward’s followers, sometimes known as the New Divinity, advocated for a view of atonement known as the “governmental theory” or according to Oliver Crisp, penal non-substitution.  This view (in its orthodox form) was first proposed by Hugo Grotius. He suggested that Christ acted as a penal example, demonstrating God’s aversion to sin and paying respect to God’s law. One Edwardsean, Amasa Park picked up this governmental theory and ran full speed with it, even outlining the theory in nine propositions.

Even though its commonly accepted that the New Divinity saw themselves as developing jonathanedwardsontheatonement__76739-1490203753-315-315their governmental theory in light of Edwards’s doctrine, academic debates rage as to whether Edwards’s followers were actually following Edwards’s trajectory in this area or whether they significantly departed from his thought.  For example, B.B. Warfield argued that the Edwardseans forsook Edwards’s teachings. John Gerstner argued that they though they followed Edwards but had no justification in saying so. Finally, and more recently, Oliver Crisp has argued that Edwards knew and approved of these Edwardsean ideas. Brandon Crawford, author of Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement, enters into this debate by offering an in depth account of Edwards’s theory of atonement. His hope is that by focusing on Edwards we will be in a better position to evaluate how his legacy was received.

In order to carry out his aims Crawford begins by setting the historical context of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He does this by surveying early and medieval accounts (ch. 1), Reformation and Puritan accounts (ch. 2), and alternative perspectives in the Reformation and Puritan eras (ch. 3). A few questions arose in my mind as I read this section. Did he try to survey too many perspectives? Probably. What makes “alternative perspectives” to be “alternative?” I’m not sure. I also had a few critiques of these sections. One major one is that I think he reads penal substitution too heavily into his early sources. Yes, PSA is there in some form, but not in the full blown sense Crawford wants it to be. I think his overemphasis on the presence of PSA is an important move for Crawford. He needs PSA to be the standard atonement theory in order to say that in downplaying or ignoring PSA the Edwardseans were being unfaithful to orthodoxy.

After three chapters of historical context Crawford finally gets to the heart of the matter: Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He begins with a chapter addressing Edwards’s theology of God’s glory. Although it is an accurate overview of the topic he hardly engages with any scholarship on the topic, he also doesn’t do a great job of connecting the topic of this chapter to the main topic of the book: atonement. The connection is there but it is not very explicit. The next two chapters present Edwards’s account of salvation history and his definition of sin (ch.5) and the Penal Substitutionary nature of Edwards’s doctrine (Ch. 6). This latter chapter was the most interesting. Here he shows that Edwards conceived of atonement mainly as 1) Penal Substitution and 2) Penal Example. Crawford says, “Edwards believed that Christ’s death also served as a penal example, publicly vindicating God’s honor and law, which God also required before sin’s penalty could be fully satisfied.” (119) Crawford concludes:

Edwards’s doctrine of atonement, then, included two prominent concepts: Christ as penal substitute and Christ as penal example. As the two concepts are placed side by side it becomes apparent that these ideas were not contradictory in Edwards’s mind, but complementary.

Crawford follows up on this chapter with a chapter addressing other themes in Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. However, chapter 6 sticks out as the most significant, at least in my mind, for addressing the debate about Edwards’s legacy.

Crawford’s conclusion about Edwards’s legacy is that Edwards was classically Reformed and that his followers deviated from Edwards’s reformed orthodoxy. According to Crawford, Edwards bears some responsibility for this, as he “may not have sufficiently guarded against the separation of the substitution and governmental components of his system… Yet Edwards does not bear all of the responsibility. He is not responsible for how his words may have been misunderstood by his successors after they took possessions of his manuscripts.” (140). This is a fair and even-keeled conclusion, which I think is argued for persuasively in chapter 6. However, I think it could have been argued for in a journal article rather than in a whole book.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.


Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition

Pentecostal Outpourings! That definitely doesn’t sound like the title of a book which has a major emphasis on the puritans in the reformed tradition. Nevertheless, it’s a term that’s quite appropriate for describing a number of revivals in the Reformed Tradition during the 18th and 19th centuries. After all, what exactly happened at Pentecost? Well what happened was that God the Father poured out his Holy Spirit onto the church. That’s not something that only Pentecostals, charismatics, or continuationists believe. And its not something that’s exclusive for people of those theological persuasions to seek out. Whether it’s the reformed churches of the “old world”, i.e. Welsh Calvinistic Methodistpentecostal__69435-1446558671-1280-1280s, Irish Baptists, Calvinistic English Baptists, Scottish Presbyterians or the reformed churches of the “new world”, i.e. Baptists, Presbyterians or Dutch Reformed – there is a long history of seeking out revival and more importantly seeking out a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His people.  This book – Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition – traces the history of precisely those things….

The book, edited by Robert Smart, Michael Haykin, and Ian Clary is divided into two parts: 1)Revival in the British Isles and 2)Revival in America. The first part covers revivals among Welsh Calvinists, Irish Dissenters, Calvinistic Baptists, and Scottish Presbyterians. Most people familiar with this sort of literature will be familiar with revival among the latter two groups, but as evidenced in these chapters there is much to be learned about revival in the first two groups. Also, and sadly, the former groups haven’t really carried that revival tradition into modern day ministry. The second part covers revival in America. Much of this consists of recounting what happened during the 1st great awakening among various groups including: Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and the Dutch Reformed. Again, many will be familiar with the happenings of revival among the first three groups, but revival among the Dutch Reformed will be new territory for many readers.


A picture of Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen – one of the Dutch Reformed Pastors who played a major role in the 1st Great Awakening.

Out of these chapters, (as I hinted at in my twitter feed – @Cwoznicki ) the chapter on revival among the Dutch Reformed was my favorite. Apart from the readability and depth of research of this chapter, I stepped away from it very encouraged and hopeful. The Dutch Reformed revival shows us that there isn’t a split between sound doctrine and revival, that revival can flourish in established churches, and that revival can open up fellowship among peoples of different theological traditions as well as ethnic backgrounds. The Dutch reformed churches not only received African-Americans into their membership, but they even permitted Native Americans to preach from their pulpits. That was truly surprising to me! But above all, what I drew from this chapter was a better picture of the Dutch Reformed ethos. Reading the words of these pastors, I felt as though they were speaking my heart. Let me list a few things that they stressed (231-233):

1)Orthodox Biblical Doctrine + Vital Piety

2)Experience that overflows from the heart in practical obedience.

3)Word and Spirit

4)An emphasis on Evangelism and Discipleship

5)Holiness in the ministry

Reading about our forefathers in the faith has encouraged me to pray for and seek revival along these lines. Revival, contrary to common opinion, is in fact possible among the Reformed churches. In fact, “Reformed ministers have exercised a central role in the major revivals since the Reformation.” (254) I hope that this book will encourage those like me who find themselves within the tradition to lead the efforts in seeking and promoting revival throughout the entire world, not just in our own churches but in all the churches who call upon Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior.

Jonathan Edwards, Sex, and the Trinity (New Paper)

Teens getting pregnant, bundling, and boys chasing around girls making fun of their periods – no its not your local jr. high – its Puritan Pastor Jonathan Edwards’s church. If you want to know what “youth” ministry was like in Jonathan Edwards day take a look at my latest journal article:  Bad Books and the Glorious Trinity: Jonathan Edwards on the Sexual Holiness of the Church

You can now read it for free over at the McMaster Divnity College’s Journal of Theology and Ministry website. Print copies of the article will be available through Wpif & Stock Publishers soon.



JETS Volume 58, No. 3

The latest volume of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society is now out and in it you can find my first published article! (Yay for me!)

Here are the contents:












If you are interested in reading this paper you can email me at christopherwoznicki@fuller.edu or…

Current members and subscribers can access current issues of JETS online.

Individual articles can be purchased, and copies of individual issues can be purchased while supplies last.

Universal Atonement & The Sin of Unbelief

In a recent blog I posted I summarized Oliver Crisp’s recent argument that there is significant room within some key reformed confessions for one to hold on to a doctrine of atonement that excludes limited atonement and is open to universal atonement. I.e. that Christ died no just for the sins of the elect, but for the sins of all humanity. Essentially the argument goes like this:

1-Atonement is sufficient for all of humanity.

2-Faith is a necessary condition to receive salvation.

3-God intends the work of Christ, i.e. atonement, to be effective for all those who have faith.

4-Faith is a divine gift.

5-God provides faith for the elect.

6-Thus only the elect, who have been given faith, receive salvation i.e. the effective work of Christ.

However another blogger made a great observation, he said that the argument logically makes sense, however it has one major fault, he said that I had ignored the fact that Jesus died for the sin of unbelief…

If you’re atoned for all your sins, that must include the sin of unbelief – which is the sin of rejection and hatred of God and everything that He stands for. If you’re atoned for everything except faith, then you still have pretty much everything left to be atoned for!

This blogger certainly brings up a good point! Essentially he is making an argument similar to one that John Owen (the Puritan) had made. Here is what Owen says…

Unbelief is it a sin or is it not? If it be not how can it be a cause of damnation? If it be, Christ died for it,or he did not. If he did not, then he died not for the sins of all men. If he did, why is this an obstacle to their salvation? Is there any new shift to be invented for this? Or must we be contented with the old, namely because they do not believe? That is, Christ did not die for their unbelief, or rather, did not by his death remove their unbelief, because they would not believe, or because they would not themselves remove their unbelief; or he died for their unbelief conditionally, that they were not unbelievers. These do not seem to me to be sober assertions. (Works, 144)

A Portrait of John Owen - author of the "The Death of Death in Christ"
A Portrait of John Owen – author of the “The Death of Death in Christ”

Or elsewhere, Owen says…

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men or all the sins of some men or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved… If the second, this is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe. But this unbelief is it a sin, or is it not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent punishment for it or not. If so why mus that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins. Let them chose which part they will. (The Works of John Owen, 173-74)

Essentially Owen is arguing that unbelief is a sin – therefore it is cause for damnation. If Christ died for the unbelief of all of humanity then all of humanity would be saved, because he would have atoned for all the sin of humanity (unbelief included.) However, not all of humanity is saved, therefore Christ could not have died for everybody’s unbelief – therefore we need limited atonement to make sense of why we don’t claim universalism.

This is exactly what this thoughtful blogger pointed out!

However one might want to say that even if unbelief is dealt with at the cross, under universal atonement, faith is still required for the application of the atonement that has been accomplished. If this is the case, then Christ has surely died for even the reprobate’s sin – unbelief included – however if they do not have the faith necessary to have the benefits of his death applied to them then they suffer the just punishment for their sin.

Faith is a necessary condition for appropriating the saving benefits of Christ’s death.

Book Review: Formed for the Glory of God – Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards by Kyle Strobel

When I heard that Kyle Strobel was writing a book on the spiritual disciplines of Jonathan Edwards I immediately went on Amazon and pre-ordered it. As you well know, I am an avid Jonathan Edwards fan, and have devoted much of my seminary writing to Edwards (and other Reformed theologians like Barth and T.F. Torrance). I haven’t been studying Edwards for a very long time, I was only in seminary for 3 years, nevertheless one of my first papers in seminary was actually on the spiritual disciplines of Edwards. I wrote a paper outlining his Spiritual Formation in a Puritan context, what “practices” he practiced (is there a better word?), and what we can learn from his rhythm of spiritual formation. It was in writing this paper that I fell in love with Edwards, mainly because it forced me to engage with George Marsden’s behemoth biography of Edwards. And now I’m in the process of preparing to do a ThM with a research focus on Edwards alongside of Oliver Crisp (we are waiting for him to come back from his sabbatical in Fall of 2014). So, all to say, that the spiritual disciplines of Jonathan Edwards hold a special place in my heart.

Having laid out the fact that I am biased, and have a keen interest in the subject of this book let me share some thoughts on it.


Kyle Strobel’s book, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, is broken up into two parts. The first is titled “A Journey into Beauty.” In this section of the book Strobel lays out the foundation of the Christian faith according to Edwards. He uses the metaphor of a journey or a path to illustrate Edwards God-centered theology. This journey is centered on the Beatific vision (something that contemporary evangelicals have either forgotten was a central part of our catholic faith or have simply chosen to ignore). Kyle says that the culmination of the journey  “is standing before the God of love and beholding him as my Father, seeing him clearly and growing in knowledge of him for eternity.”[1] In the next chapter he cashes out what the beatific vision is really about, knowing God as glorious and knowing God as beautiful. And we only know God in these ways because we are “in” Christ. Knowing God in these ways, through Christ, is ultimately relational. It is no mere academic exercise. This is extremely important for understanding Edwards’ theology because Edwards’ practical theology is centered on “affections” (and by this I don’t mean the warm fuzzys). Edwards’ thoughts on affections are best captured in the truism “people are not simply thinking beings, but loving beings.” Our hearts will always gravitate towards something. When our hearts do that our will attempts to grasp it because we are vigorously captivated by it.[2] In turn our entire way of living is changed because our will is now centered upon that one object or person.

Part two is titled “Tools for the Journey.” In this section of the book Strobel assesses the “tools God has given us on this journey, asking what they are for and why we should practice them.”[3] He begins by explaining the fact that spiritual disciplines are means of grace. The means of grace are practices or actions given to the church which are not efficacious on their own right, rather they are actions through which we receive the Grace God has already given to us. In other words they are “spiritual postures to receive God’s grace.” This notion of putting ourselves in a posture of dependence is key for understanding Strobel’s discussion of Edwards’ disciplines. Again and again Strobel emphasizes that we don’t create grace or earn it through this disciplines; the Grace is already there, we simply put ourselves in a posture to receive the gift that God has already given to us, namely the gift of himself. Having laid this foundation Strobel explains some of Edwards’ practices. For instance he devotes an entire chapter to examining our own lives and an entire chapter to Mediation/Contemplation (which are slightly different). He concludes with a chapter on Sabbath, Fasting, Conferencing, Soliloquy, Silence and Solitude, and Prayer.

Thoughts on the Book

I want to highlight a couple of things that I believe Strobel did really well, and then make some constructive criticisms of the book.

Here are some of the things that Strobel did well:

  • The Discussion of the Christian Life: Strobel says that “we refuse to talk about spiritual practices until we have a firm grasp of the picture of the Christian life.”[4] Most people writing on spiritual disciplines these days don’t take the time to place the disciplines within the larger context of the Christian life. It almost seems as though these disciplines become the end of the journey, instead of the tools for the journey. Placing them with the context of our spiritual journey keeps us from falling into that trap. On top of this, Strobel did a great job explaining the Christian life from an angle that most people will not be familiar with. In my own experience working in ministry, I have never heard congregant explain their walk with Christ in the way Strobel explained it. Most people describe their journey as growth in becoming better people or something else like that. Strobel explains the journey as a journey towards the beatific vision, which can only occur in Christ. He says that the Christian life is a journey to see clearly.  “It is a journey inaugurated with a sight of faith and a journey whose destination is perfection of that sight.”[5]
  • The Discussion of the Means of Grace: “Means of Grace” is a very reformed phrase, that most people aren’t accustomed to. Nevertheless, Strobel does a great job explaining what Means of Grace are. In my opinion this is the strongest part of the book. Where most people will see spiritual disciplines as self-help tools, or tools that will help them get closer to God so that God will love them more, the notion that disciplines are a means of grace combats these temptations. The disciplines that Edwards practiced, and Strobel recommends are the places that we come to receive the wonderful gift of grace that God has already given to us through his son Jesus. Spiritual disciplines are not a way of wrenching God’s arm into giving us more of himself. God has already fully given himself to us in Christ!
  • The Appendix: For people who will want to practice what Kyle preaches, this is an invaluable tool. Its clear and well organized. Anybody can turn to this section of the book and begin to lead themselves and others into the disciplines that Edwards practiced.

Its hard for me to really criticize this book because I loved it so much, and found it to be spot on with Edwards’ theology, nevertheless here are some constructive criticisms:

  • A Lack of Interaction With Edwards’ Historical Context: I would have liked to see Strobel interact with Edwards greater Reformed and Puritan context a bit more, especially in regard to how spiritual disciplines were regarded by continental reformed pastors and theologians and also by Puritans in the new world. What role did spiritual disciplines play in the lives of puritan pastors? Were spiritual disciplines a big part of reformed piety? Or is Edwards unique in this regard? The fact that Strobel didn’t include this sort of discussion in the book doesn’t hurt my opinion of the book, but I believe the book could have been strengthened by it. Perhaps he could have included it in the chapter about the means of grace.
  • A Lack of a “Spiritual Biography”: I also would have liked to see Strobel pull all of these practices into a short (perhaps chapter long) biography section. Strobel does a good job of picking apart these disciplines and giving Edwards’ theological postitions behind them, but it would have been a stronger book if Strobel would have written about how these practices shaped Edwards’ life and ministry.  I can imagine a chapter where Strobel starts off by talking about Edwards’ periods of prayer and solitude (as well as group prayers) when he was a kid in the woods. Then he could have written about the key role these disciplines played while he was a Presbyterian pastor in New York. And so on… I think you get the point. I would have liked to see how these disciplines fit into the big picture of Edward’s life.


As you can tell I (mostly) have only good words for this book. Edwards and spiritual disciplines are two subjects that I absolutely love to study, and this book brilliantly combines both. If you are looking for an easy introduction into the practical theology of Edwards I highly recommend this book. If you are looking for a reformed take on spiritual disciplines, I recommend this book. If you are interested in spiritual disciplines and want some practical guidance on practicing them, I recommend this book. Basically, whoever you are and whatever you are interested in I recommend this book.

Formed for the Glory of God

[1] Strobel, 34.

[2] Strobel, 59.

[3] Strobel, 16.

[4] Strobel, 16.

[5] Strobel, 34.

Edwards and Franklin (Pt. 3)

Last time we took a look at the difference between Jonathan Edwards’ and Benjamin Franklin’s religious upbringings. Today we will take a look at the difference in their attitudes towards tradition.

Jonathan and Benjamin on Tradition

Benjamin Franklin is known for being a progressive thinker. His progressivism and tendency to break from tradition is especially seen in his attitude towards morality. Like most people of his day, he still placed a high emphasis on virtue, however most of his virtues were individual virtues rather than communal virtues. This is where Benjamin sticks out as a progressive for his age. He was known to reconstruct virtues based upon what was best or most pragmatic for him personally rather than what was virtuous in the eyes of the community. Consider for instance his take on chastity: “Rarely use venery (gratification of sexual desire) but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or injury of your or another’s peace or reputation.” This basically sounds like “sex is between two consenting adults, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else its fine.” His very words could be placed into the mouths of most Americans today. The point is that Franklin still held on to virtues, but they were not religiously based virtues, they were pragmatically derived virtues

Jonathan Edwards on the other hand lived a life of tension between tradition and “modernity.” Edwards grew up in a traditionalist community, which looked back at its Puritan forefathers, for inspiration and guidance. However Edwards was also hungry to learn from the eminent scientists and philosophers of the day, with Locke holding an important position in his mind early on. Edwards was attracted to cosmopolitan, progressive authors, nevertheless he was versed in the Puritan Divines, especially Ames. Edwards never deviated from Orthodoxy, but was constantly at work translating Orthodoxy into terms that were intelligible for the people of his day. He never abandoned his Reformed Theology, but rather he was always reforming in light of what was going on in culture. Edwards could be considered a pioneer of what people today called “theological retrieval.” He worked and did his theology in dialogue with the theological traditions that came before him so that he might effectively address the issues of his own day. He was very aware of the fact the he was part of a tradition and part of a community whose roots were founded upon a certain tradition.

Check out what Josh Moody (Senior Pastor of College Church in Wheaton and PhD from Cambridge) has to say about Edwards interaction with tradition and “modernity/The Enlightenment”:

Edwards neither ignored nor capitulated to the Enlightenment’s materialistic/mechanistic view of life and the universe. Instead he “re-formed” the Enlightenment on specifically biblical terms and constructed intellectual bridges to cultural attitudes, along which the orthodox gospel could more readily transverse.

Or you could imagine his engagement with Enlightenment thinking as sending Trojan horses full of gospel truths into contemporary minds. He carefully used “sense,” “idea” and “light”—Enlightenment buzzwords—in sermons and his more erudite works, and he invested those terms with biblical material and content.