Kyle Strobel is the co-founder and director of Metamorpha Ministries and the editor (along with Jamin Goggin) of Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics. 1You can connect with him online at his website or on Twitter. This volume, Formed For The Glory of God: Learning From the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards is part of Strobel’s ambitious Jonathan Edwards Project, and represents the “201” level of reading Edwards. To see how that fits into the overall project, here’s the breakdown:
- 101: Charity and Its Fruit: Living in The Light of God’s Love (Strobel’s edited and annotated edition of Edwards’ work)
- 201: Formed For The Glory of God: Learning From the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (keep reading)
- 301: TBA
- 401: The Ecumenical Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and The Theologians (forthcoming)
- 501: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology) (Strobel’s Ph.D dissertation, save $100 and pick it up on Kindle if you’re up for the heavy lifting)
If you haven’t read Charity and Its Fruit, you can still jump into this work. It is helpful to see how Strobel intends for readers to progress, and if you want to read Edwards himself, Strobel’s edited volume is a great place to start. If you’re interested in spiritual disciplines and learning from Edwards, this book is great place to start..
As Strobel notes in the introduction, “Wisdom entails sitting at the feet of those who have walked with Christ before us. This book is an opportunity to accept that call.” (12) Edwards can be a daunting figure to sit under, but Strobel provides able guidance in Part One of the book Edwards’ overall understanding of what spiritual practices are for. Labeled “A Journey into Beauty,” these three chapters flesh out what Edwards was aiming to do with his spiritual disciplines.
Chapter 1 explains Edwards’ understanding of the Christian life as a journey. It is journey toward something, and that something is a vision of God, or as Strobel puts it, “Life is a pilgrimage of faith that dissolves into sight. That sight is the beatific vision.” (24) He later explains,
True religion, as Edwards termed it, or spiritual formation as we have called it, has to do with the divine life given by Christ in His Spirit.
Spiritual formation is about learning the way of heaven (or the “song” of heaven) and coming to see reality with one’s heart set firmly in the heavenly country. (33)
This orients readers to the goal Edwards had in mind so that chapter 2 can “map the way of love.” Here Strobel helps exposit Edwards understanding of how this beatific vision should be pursued. As he concludes, “To know God as glorious, one must know and love God personally. To know God as beautiful, one must know God and love him personally.” (53) In sum, the goal is to know and love God more fully as he is seen more glorious and beautiful.
Chapter 3 rounds out the first part of the book by introducing Edwards’ thoughts on affections. Specifically, his thoughts on religious affections, and this chapter is a kind of rough cliff notes on that more lengthy work. That is perhaps the most important work of Edwards that everyone should be read, but it’s not exactly light beach reading. 2 With Strobel’s help though, readers can walk away from this chapter with the general contours of Edwards thoughts on the topic.
Chapter 4 begins Part Two, “Tools for The Journey.” First, we see how Edwards understood spiritual disciplines to be a means of grace. Then, in chapter 5 we are introduced to the link between knowing God and knowing ourselves. Here we see the importance Edwards rightly placed on self-examination as a spiritual discipline. For Edwards it was foundational, not so we could just know ourselves better, but that in knowing our own depravity we would see God to be more glorious. This leads naturally to the subject of chapter 6, meditation and contemplation which are “at the heart of the Christian life.” (158) Chapter 7 then rounds out the section with a rundown of Edwards particular practices, which since you’re curious are:
- Silence and Solitude
The two that might not be self explanatory, conferencing and soliloquy, caught my attention. The former is a kind of one on one accountability, but extends more to opening about all of your interior life with another close trusted friend. In that sense, it is far more than simply accountability but is a very intimate form of sharing life on life. Soliloquy on the other hand is “a practice designed to integrate prayer and self-examination” (155) which in the flow of the book is actually introduced in the chatper on meditation. Modeled on many psalms,
Soliloquy is speaking directly to your soul as you hold it open before the Lord. Soliloquy is a key component in meditation because meditation is not merely focusing one’s mind on God but entails wrestling with God’s truth as you really are. It entails holding open the truth of yourself and speaking into that truth. Soliloquy is a way to pray “Without you I can do nothing,” with a specific aspect of your heart that needs healing. Soliloquy is not an attempt to come up with an action plan to solve your “sin problems.” Rather, soliloquy is prayer. Soliloquy seeks to stand under the Word of God that leaves us “naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). Soliloquy is the opposite of Adam and Eve’s hiding from God in the garden, seeking to expose one’s heart to God rather than hiding in guilt and shame. (155)
If meditation and contemplation are the heart of the Christian life, the soliloquy is perhaps the aorta.
After that Strobel wraps up the rest of the discussion on Edwards’ spiritual practices. He finishes with a short conclusion followed by several appendices designed to help readers integrate these practices into their life. The first walks readers through how to pray like Edwards; the second how to conference with another person; the third on how to take a spiritual retreat. 3
All in all, I enjoyed this book and will probably return to it frequently. If you’ve payed attention on Twitter recently, you may have seen several well known Christian leaders and others geeking out a bit over this book. That reaction is not entirely unwarranted. Edwards is a towering figure over American theology in particular and Reformer/Puritan theology in general. His spiritual life is very instructive, but there are not many books like this that take the fruit of Edwards’ practices, explain them in context, and then pluck them down off the tree so they’re more readily enjoyed by a wider audience. Strobel does that well and that’s what makes this book a valuable addition to your library. If you’re interested in Edwards, but have been too daunted to really dig into his wisdom, then I would give this book a try. Likewise, if you’re interested in a book on the spiritual disciplines and how to practice them well, I might put this book toward the top of my list.
[UPDATE: There is a study guide that goes along with this book that I’d highly recommend checking out here]
- Author: Kyle Strobel
- Title: Formed For The Glory of God: Learning From the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards
- Publisher: IVP Books (May 2, 2013)
- Paperback: 192pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in learning more about spiritual formation from the Edwards
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of IVP Books)
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- Which I’ll be reviewing soon ↩
- It’s worth noting here as an aside that most of the life-changing books that I’ve read have been difficult reads. John Owen’s works are simultaneously difficult and life-changing. This reminds me of Piper’s sage advice, “Raking is easy but you’ll only get leaves; digging is hard but you might find diamonds.” ↩
- The fourth explains the Jonathan Edwards project, but I’ve done that for you already at the beginning of the review ↩