Book Review: Why Heaven Kissed Earth by Mark Jones
J. V. Fesko
Mark Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Puritan Reformed Orthodox Theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600-80) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010). 255pp. Hardcover. $115.00.
If you do a search for books on or about the well-known Puritan theologian, Thomas Goodwin, one is hard-pressed to find very much. In this respect Jones’ work fills a much-needed gap. Goodwin was famous in his own day—one of his more famous contributions to the history of theology is that he was a divine at the Westminster Assembly. He was also one of the most productive theologians of the period, perhaps only surpassed by John Owen. If we are to have a better understanding of what the Westminster Standards teach, then one way to do so is to study the theology of some of the documents’ authors.
Jones’ work is part of Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht’s Reformed Historical Theology series, edited by Herman Selderhuis of the Theological University of Apeldorn, Holland, and co-edited by Emidio Campi, Irene Dingel, Wim Janse, Elisie McKee, and Richard Muller. Jones does a very good job setting Goodwin in his historical and theological context. So often examinations of theologians of the period proceed with little to no attention to the political tumult that surrounded the life and work of a theologian; in this case, it was the English Civil war, the execution of the king, and the eventual reestablishment of the monarchy that impacted Goodwin’s life and theology. Jones also sets Goodwin in his theological context; Jones carefully avoids the common mistake of making Calvin the sole canon by which a theologian’s contribution is to be measured. Jones invokes the names and references to a host of Goodwin’s contemporaries so Goodwin’s own contributions can be appreciated in context.
Jones offers a convincing argument that one of the key building blocks to Goodwin’s christology (indeed, his theology as a whole) is the pactum salutis—the pretemporal covenant agreement between the Father and the Son to bring about the redemption of God’s people. If one starts with Anselm’s question, Why the God-man?, then the doctrines of Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and the covenant, all coalesce in the doctrine of the pactum. Jones’ treatment, therefore, is quite helpful because the reader gets a full-orbed portrait of Goodwin’s theology, one that treats his understanding of the covenants, his doctrine of Scripture, the Trinity, christology, as well as the application of redemption.
Just one of the particular issues that Jones handles well, for example, is Goodwin’s understanding of the pactum and in particular, the criticism that the formulation is sub-trinitarian (139ff). Critics argue that the pactum is to be rejected because, as the doctrine is sometimes argued, there is no stated role for the Holy Spirit. Jones draws attention to Edward Fisher (fl. 1627-55) and Peter Bulkeley (1583-1659) as examples of those who might be genuinely liable to the charge of sub-trinitarianism. Jones highlights that for Goodwin, the work of the Trinity is indivisible (141) and that Goodwin assigns an important role to the Holy Spirit in all of the intratrinitarian transactions (142). In other words, Goodwin cannot be charged with a sub-trinitarian view of the pactum.
However, on a side note, one has to wonder whether this characterization fully takes into account the very nature of the texts that most proponents of the pactum explore. Jones, for example, shows that Goodwin drew upon 1 Peter 1.20, John 14.31, 17.6, Isa 49.1-4, 53.10-12, Psa 2.8. In all of these texts the role of the Son in his appointment as mediator, his obedience to his Father’s will, his dialogue with the Father, as well as his suffering are in view. In other words, expressions of the pactum center upon the interaction between the Father and the Son, not because there is a desire to marginalize the role of the Spirit, but because they simply echo the biblical text. Whether this is dogmatically right or wrong is a question for another context, but it is a matter that should be considered in the analysis of expositions of the pactum.
One portion of the book that could use greater exposition and clarification is the appendix on Goodwin’s views on eternal justification. For the most part, Jones ably and concisely explains that Goodwin does not hold a view of eternal justification that would earn him the classification as an antinomian. Jones explains that Goodwin’s views do not easily fit into such a broad category; his views are complex but nevertheless within the bounds of accepted orthodox norms, such as the Westminster Standards on justification, or in Goodwin’s own ecclesiological context, the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration. However, there are several statements that leave the reader looking for more information, such as when Jones writes that Goodwin believed that union with Christ is the ground of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers. Jones then goes on to dissect Goodwin’s three stages of union with Christ: union in the pactum, the representative union, and the existential union (236). Jones cites Goodwin explaining that all three unions are necessary. Jones also mentions Owen’s views as being somewhat similar, but Owen specifies that the proximate source of a believer’s justification (hence imputation) is the existential union with Christ, but the ultimate source is the union of pactum (see, e.g., Owen, Works 5.218, 179). In other words, it would have been helpful, having mentioned Owen’s views, to elaborate further and explain the similarities and, if any, dissimilarities between Owen and Goodwin.
My quibbles about the appendix on eternal justification aside, Jones’ work is an excellent resource for understanding the theology of Goodwin specifically and more broadly the theology of seventeenth-century Reformed Orthodox theology. If I do have one massive complaint, it is the price of the book! Vandenhoeck & Rurprecht has quickly established their series on Reformed Historical Theology as one of the best on the market, but the prices are very high. Perhaps there might be a way in the future that they can make these excellent works more accessible to the reading public.