Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist unlike many of the other books that entertain the subject of evangelism, is not a “how-to” book. It describes Edward’s mindset toward evangelism, his theological presuppositions, and inner battles.
Dr. John Gerstner painstakingly poured over dozens of Edward’s sermons and writings. The result has yielded an extremely readable rendition of Jonathan Edwards and his unique approach to doing the work of an evangelist.
Gerstner discusses Edwards’ view on the divine initiative, namely the first step in man’s salvation is taken by God. “There is a ‘divine initiative’ not only in regeneration, but long before that when the dead and sleeping soul is first disturbed . . . And this divine initiative, or this first divine call, which must always begin the process that may issue in salvation, is the Word of God.” So Scripture is at the forefront of Edward’s evangelistic scheme. Further, one must recognize that the invitation of God is universal and genuine (Matt. 11:28; 22:14). Men are therefore responsible to respond to the gospel call. He clearly distinguishes himself from the dreaded hyper-Calvinist.
Next, Gerstner seeks to justify the so-called “scare theology” of Jonathan Edwards. Indeed this Puritanical genius sought to paint vivid pictures of hell that would prompt sinful men to seek the Savior. One well-known line, “It would be just and righteous with God eternally to reject and destroy you” surely got the attention of the eighteenth century audience. However, an additional point must be clarified. Edwards never sought to merely scare people into heaven. Rather, he taught that one must have a deep affection for Christ. Gerstner rightly portrays the teaching of Edwards: “True faith in Christ is not a mere desperate or nominal acceptance of him, as a ticket out of hell, but a genuine affectionate trust in him for the very loveliness and excellency of his being.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is Jonathan Edwards view on seeking, which Gerstner calls the “keystone” of Edwards. The New England preacher’s view on seeking was much different than the so-called seeker sensitive approach. The modern-day approach wrongly assumes that men truly seek God. Jonathan Edwards view is as follows: “When men have been convicted by the Spirit of God, and are not hardened, nor neutral, nor holding back at one point or another, they are true seekers. They are those who are determined to find the God who has stirred them up to seek him.” For Edwards, men are able to seek though they are not able to believe apart from grace. “The Calvinistic doctrine of inability refers not to men’s inability to seek, but their inability to believe and/or to do any good.” It is interesting to note that directions for seeking salvation are found in almost every sermon Edwards ever preached.
Gerstner discusses further elements of Jonathan Edwards such as preaching the gospel to children, back-sliding and assurance of salvation, all subjects that are beyond the scope of this review.
Many positive features permeate this helpful book. First, it is helpful to see the biblical Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards set in motion. Too many wrongly assume that Calvinism is all about abstract theology that results in an apathetic attitude toward the lost (Indeed some Calvinists wrongly carry this attitude, which clearly needs adjusting!) However, these critics do not really grasp the doctrines of grace for as Edwards teaches us in this work, a thorough grasp of these precious doctrines results in a love for the lost and a passion to preach Christ crucified. Second and equally helpful is Edwards view on soteriology that views God as the ultimate initiator of salvation. He alone draws the sinner to himself (John 6:44). However as Edwards points out, man is still a responsible agent and is responsible to believe. Further, Edwards discusses the fact that regeneration precedes faith. This truth, in dispute among many evangelicals needs to be rediscovered as we contemplate the evangelistic endeavor. Finally, this work gives modern-day evangelists a framework and a biblical system to carry out the evangelistic task. It is a breath of fresh air in a culture that is immersed with Pelagian thought.
This book is a helpful addition to anyone who strives to evangelize lost people and understand the mind of America’s greatest theologian. It will certainly strengthen Calvinistic pastors and challenge pastors who fall in the Arminian camp. The biggest way this book will help me in the ministry can be state in one word: passion. The unbridled passion of Jonathan Edwards can be felt in almost every sentence he writes. He stirs my heart for evangelism and motivates me to obey the command of Christ.