Book Review: Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Dane C. Ortlund)

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The supreme value of reading Edwards is that we are ushered into a universe brimming with beauty. Edwards walks us through the wardrobe into Narnia. We are given glasses — not sunglasses, which dim everything, but their opposite: lenses that brighten everything” (13).

Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series is a marvelous resource for gaining helpful insight from multiple perspectives. It is a truly helpful collection of works to help pastors, students, and laymen alike learn from the greats that went before us and learn how to better live the Christian walk, with a wonderful balance between biography and theology. I look forward to owning and using every book in this series to help me become a more effective student and leader, and follower of Christ.

Dane Ortlund had the huge undertaking of dissecting the great theologian Jonathan Edwards, and he delivered a gem of a read. I had yet to steep myself in much of Edwards’ teaching prior to this book, and I felt this was a great place to start. Whether you’re a novice in Edwards or you’ve read all his works, Edwards on the Christian Life exposes the great teachings and writings from the acclaimed Massachusetts pastor. More importantly, Ortlund provides us a thesis-based approach to Edwardsian theology. He helps us define and succinctly explain Edwards. This is a great help, especially those like me who had much to learn from Jonathan Edwards’s teaching.

Edwards has given us the beauty of the Christian life — first, the beauty of God, beauty that comes to tangible expression in Christ, and second, the beauty of the Christian, who participates in the triune life of divine love” (21). This is the center of Ortlund’s approach to Edwards, as it was central to Edwards’s teachings of God. This book develops what beauty is, why and how God is beautiful, and how that beauty fuels our response to the beauty of God and the Christian life itself.

Inside this beauty is a whole host of categories Ortlund draws out through Edwards, such as love, joy, gentleness, heaven, etc. Ortlund saturates his work with Edwards’s words which helps us not just learn about the great theologian, but from him. Ortlund realizes his words are near-secondary to the pastor’s, and happily obliges. Ortlund also makes some clarifications and criticisms that are helpful, to keep us in balance of not simply taking every word for granted. This honest approach to Christian biography is not commonplace, unfortunately, but I am grateful Ortlund took the time to explain not just why and where Edwards is right, but where he may be off-center as well.

Here’s some gems from Edwards that are further expounded inside the book:

God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him” (30).

A lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper [is] the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians…A virtue, which I need in a higher degree, to give a beauty and luster to my behavior, is gentleness. If I had more of an air of gentleness, I should be much mended” (94).

The holy Scriptures do everywhere place religion very much in the affections; such as fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal” (100).

The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort—it is to want Him” (146).

I definitely recommend this work to others, especially those who want to get to the core of Jonathan Edwards’s teachings. It has helped me read Edwards’s sermons and works better, and I’m thankful for the clarity Ortlund gave me to read Edwards through a lens, allowing me to see how and why his teaching is important and necessary. There was so much highlighting I did, and I’m sure I’ll continue to refer back to this book in my future studies of Jonathan Edwards. Thank you Dane Ortlund for your great labor.

Stars: 4.5 / 5.0

Also thank you to Crossway, who provided this book in exchange for my review.

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