Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones
Reviewed by: Michael W. Bobick
Date posted: 01/19/2014
A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones. Published by Reformed Heritage Books, 2012. Hardback, 1060 pages, list price $60.00. Reviewed by OP pastor Michael W. Bobick.
When David was poised to cut down the proud timber Goliath, Saul encumbered his warrior with armor and sword. They seemed to be Israel's best weaponry. But "I cannot go in these, because I am not used to them," replied David. And so unbelief was felled, not by the sharp edge of man-shaped metal, but by God's round stone. A rock smoothed in nature's brook, launched in faith, was mightier than the anvil's product. The weapon must fit the work.
Smooth stone versus sharp edge: this is a lively debate about the history of Reformed theology. Did seventeenth-century "Reformed Orthodoxy" cast aside the smooth stone of the pristine Reformed faith? In his Institutes, Calvin is the popular preacher, not the scholastic logician. But Thomas Goodwin, for example, argues for three stages in justification, while distinguishing between God's work "by Christ" and "in Christ." Does this keen logic blunt the force of truth? Calvin knew that smooth and simple thoughts are not only biblical, but also more powerful in battle. Did others burden a vibrant Calvinism with unwieldy Philistine philosophy?
Joel Beeke and Mark Jones contend that Calvin and his descendants stand together. They insist that essential confessional unity prevails over any minor differences, even among the Puritans themselves. All the Reformed troops rallied to the same clarion call of divine grace. They might even remind us that the stone slinger finished the job with the enemy's own blade! Smooth and sharp can work together.
Some scholars will question the confident assertions of Beeke and Jones. Some pressing questions of theological method go unmentioned. And surely there are more Puritan warts than we find identified here. But the academy is not their first audience. Instead, as preachers, the authors aim to serve the well-read person in the pew. Beeke and Jones cite many primary sources while making their case for essential unity. This promotes a deeper study (and application) of Puritan theology. Thus, this volume has the feel of a standard systematic theology, joined to an anthology of specialized topics. From this perspective, the accolades this book has received are well deserved. The chapters that are strong on application (like "Providence") are solid food for the soul.
At over a thousand large pages replete with footnotes, this book may be read from cover to cover by few readers. But as a compendium of mainstream Puritan thought, as David said of Goliath's sword, "there is nothing like it." If you would prefer a less technical survey of Puritan-era doctrine with application, go to Wilhelmus à Brakel's The Christian's Reasonable Service in four volumes—or download some of the many free Puritan books available in PDF from www.internetarchive.com. Thank you, Drs. Beeke and Jones, for putting so much mind-stirring material within easy reach. You have worn your armor well.