Review: Puritan Theology (Beeke and Jones)

Beeke, Joel.  and Jones, Mark.  Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.  Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

This is one of those “game-changer” books.  Beeke provides decades of pastoral reflection from the Puritans (and admittedly, there is a lot of repetition) while Jones brings clear Christological reflection from giants like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.  The book is structured around the standard loci.  While we perhaps would like more from some chapters, the overwhelming amount of primary sources, and the clear mastery of secondary literature, allows us to continue the research if necessary.

My review will reflect my biases and what I like to study.  That can’t be helped, otherwise an exegetical review of this book would take ten pages.  This book is a Christological masterpiece.  I learned more from the chapters on Christology than I did in my week-long seminary class on Christology.  I agree with Carl Trueman, this book is both doctrinal and devotional.

Christological Supralapsarianism

In regard to the end, Goodwin viewed mankind as unfallen in His election of human beings, but fallen in His decrees as the means to that end” (155).

“Means” — what Christ, as redeemer of God’s elect, performed for his people.  It has reference to Christ’s redemptive work, which presupposes a fall.

Key point: “whether God’s decree regarding both the end and the means was pitched ‘either wholly upon man considered in the mass of creability [potential human beings] afore the Fall, or wholly upon the mass of mankind considered and viewed first as fallen into sin” (Jones, quoting Goodwin 156).

The decree to elect falls under a twofold consideration: a) regarding the end, the fall was not a necessity…but an impediment; b) the decree to elect may be understood also with respect to man fallen, which God foresaw, as the means.

Election has reference to the end.  Here God decrees to give men eternal life without consideration of the fall.  But when we look at predestination, we view man as fallen.  Predestination involves the means to the end.

Covenants

While some have noted concern on the section of the Covenant of Works, the section on the Covenant of Redemption is fantastic. Differences between Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Redemption

(1) CoR sprang from grace in both parties (Father and Christ), whereas the CoG sprang from grace only from the Father.
(2) Though both are everlasting, only the CoR is eternal.
(3) The parties in the CoR are equal; the parties in CoG (and CoW) are not.
(4) The parties differ in both covenants.
(5) There is no mediator in the CoR
(6) The promises of the New Covenant (such as a new heart and forgiveness of sins) cannot be applied to Christ.
(7) Christ was not threatened in the CoR, whereas those in the CoG are (Heb. 2.3; 1 Cor. 16.22).
(8) The conditions in each covenant differ.
(9) The CoR did not require man’s consent.

Taken from Patrick Gillespie, Ark of the Covenant Opened, 113-117, quoted in Beeke and Jones, 254.

On Coming to Christ

The chapter on preparationism, while correct in rebutting the “Calvin vs. Calvinists/Preparationists” thesis, didn’t quite address the reality of those covenant children  who hear the covenant promises from earliest days and trust in the Christ of these promises, yet don’t appear to go through the preparationist stages.  

Owen on Justification and Union

For Puritans like Owen and Goodwin, there is a Three fold union

Immanent: being elected in union with Christ from all eternity
Transient: union with Christ in time past; to wit, his mediatorial death and resurrection
Applicatory: experience of union in the present time.

Christ “apprehends” and gives his Spirit to the believer.

Owen: Christ is the first and principal grace in respect of causality and efficacy” (20:150). Union is the cause of the other graces.  It is the ground of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers.  Such is the logical priority of union regarding justification.  The act whereby Christ unites himself to the elect is the same act whereby he regenerates them (3:464).

Witsius: the elect are united to Christ when his Spirit takes a hold of them and infuses a new principal of life.  Yet, there is a mutual union whereby the soul draws near to Christ by faith only.  From this follows the other benefits of the covenant of grace.

Charnock: justification gives us a right; regeneration gives us a fitness (3:90).

Conclusion

This review did not cover all, or even much of the book.  Indeed, it could not.  But not only does it encourage you to read the Puritans, it points one to a number of crucial studies on the Puritans.

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About Ephraim's Arrow

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism
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