Book Review: The Infinite Merit of Christ, by Craig Biehl
The rich and prolific theological legacy of Jonathan Edwards is one of modern American Christianity's greatest treasures, and interest in the great eighteenth century scholar and pastor is currently quite high. It is no surprise, then, that theologians of all persuasions have attempted to use Edwards to support their own points of view. What Augustine was to the sixteenth century doctrinal conflicts, Edwards has largely become to present day theological battles â€“ everyone wants him on their side, and so all are quick to wrest bits and pieces of his vast output to the service of their own agendas. He has been touted as an inclusivist, essentially a Catholic, and a proto-neo-orthodox, among other things. But what did Edwards actually teach, what was the real heart of his theology? In The Infinite Merit of Christ, Craig Biehl has undertaken to let Edwards speak for himself on a topic that colors everything else in his theology; and the admirably-researched product is sure to lend a lot of sanity and clarity to the muddled state of modern Edwards scholarship.
Biehl's study is most notable for its well-accomplished purpose of letting Edwards speak for himself. After a brief introduction, in which he provides a quick survey of contemporary interpretations of Edwards, Biehl compiles an enormous thematic compendium of Edwards own teachings on the specific topic of the merits of Christ's perfect obedience, as it relates to his over-arching theology of the atonement. The well-structured discussion, with literally hundreds of quotations from Edwards, is highly enlightening. The picture that emerges is of a theologian to whom nothing is more central than the eternal trinitarian conception, voluntary undertaking, and perfect accomplishment of the covenant of redemption. And central to this covenant is the flawless obedience of Christ in his infinitely propitiatory and meritorious working out of his Father's will.
By the end of his work, Biehl has not only managed to place Edwards convincingly within the parameters of traditional Reformed orthodoxy, he has also set forth a very compelling case for traditional covenant theology, and the historic Protestant teaching on the imputation of Christ's perfect obedience for justification. This book will be of immense value, not just for setting the record straight on Edwards himself, but likewise for laying out a clear scriptural defense of the Reformed doctrine of justification.
In the conclusion of the book, Biehl restates his thesis, which he has by that time inarguably demonstrated: â€œThe center of Jonathan Edwards' theology is the person and meritorious work of Christ in redeeming sinners, in perfect and free obedience to God's unalterable rule of righteousness, in the accomplishment of the ultimate Trinitarian purpose of the display and communication of God's glory. Such is both the foundation and unifying thread throughout his writingsâ€ (page 249).
I highly recommend this book to Edwards scholars; but not to them alone. For anyone engaged in the modern debate on justification or covenant theology, this will likewise be an invaluable resource. Few theologians (if any!) have as hot a passion or as brilliant a mind for the systematic unpacking and reveling in the broad scriptural testimony of the person and work of Christ as Edwards had; and this book displays Edwards at his best and most central. It is a feast for both the mind and the soul.
Available at Monergism Books.