My spiritual journey has been largely shaped by the same historical figure to whom Gerald McDermott gives much of the credit for his own: New England pastor and theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). McDermott, currently the Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, is in the opinion of many (myself included), the leading Edwardsean scholar of our day.
One of the more important, but largely neglected, of Edwards’s many treatises, Images of Divine Things, serves as both the background and the controlling dynamic behind McDermott’s latest book: Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 212 pp. Edwards’s work is now included in the eleventh volume of the Yale series of his writings and sermons, titled Typological Writings, edited by Wallace E. Anderson and Mason I. Lowance, Jr. (1993).
Edwards, says McDermott, “believed that every last bit of the cosmos is a sign that speaks and shows” (8). “I am not ashamed,” wrote Edwards, “to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas … be full of images of divine things … [so much so] that there is room for persons to be learning more and more of this language and seeing more of that which is declared in it to the end of the world without discovering [it] all” (9).
According to Edwards, as stated by McDermott, “the purpose of imprinting the entire creation is for the sake of God’s glorifying himself, but that happens only when his creatures find their greatest joy in seeing his beauty” (9). McDermott, following Edwards, believes that God has embedded types of himself and his glory in virtually everything, even “in religious systems that are finally false” (11).
This book, then, is a fascinating (and largely persuasive) case for the notion of general revelation, that gracious work of God by which he has declared or made known his own glory in “the heavens” and in “the sky above” (Ps. 19:1). Indeed, as Paul so clearly stated, God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20).
In this wide-ranging treatment of what may be called a theology of creation, McDermott explores the reality and truth about types or images of divine things in the Bible, in Nature, in Science, in Law, in History, in Animals, in Sex, in World Religions, and even in Sports! He wants us “to see all the world as full of God-implanted images” (185). But Gerry also knows from Scripture itself,
“that only the eyes of faith can see all this. The skeptic cannot see most of the types and will rightly understand none of them. He or she needs the spectacles of Scripture, which alone contains the grammar for the language of types. Apart from that grammar, the language of types is gobbledygook. So the seeker or skeptic needs an eye operation to be able to use the spectacles. That operation must be accompanied by a heart operation that transplants what is there with something made in another world. Only with that new heart can the eyes properly see so as to learn the language of types. That’s why believing is seeing” (193).
For those who struggle to see how God has revealed himself in sports, McDermott agrees. They are, he concedes, “marginal to the Bible, but they are there nonetheless” (152). In fact, McDermott chooses not to speak of “types” in his treatment of sports; instead preferring the terminology of “images”. “There is little doubt,” he concludes, “that we can find images or reflections in sports that remind us of things in God’s kingdom, but Scripture says precious little about the world of games” (160-61).
I should also point out that Jonathan Edwards is not the only theologian cited by McDermott in support of his thesis. John Calvin, Origen, Augustine, Thomas, Bonaventure, John Henry Newman, among others, together affirm what the less well-known fourth-century theologian Ephrem of Syria (306-73) believed, namely, “that the universe is an immense trinitarian symbol, with every corner of the cosmos bursting with divinely given meaning” (7). Simply put, the world itself is “full of God-implanted images” (185) that open up for the one has eyes to see a never-ending vista of truth about the character and greatness of God.
Much to his credit, McDermott does not ignore contrary voices. In an enlightening Appendix he responds to Martin Luther and especially to the broadside assault on virtually all forms of natural revelation in the theology of Karl Barth. McDermott’s verdict on Barth is that he “departed from the majority view of the Great Tradition that while nature affords no saving knowledge of God, nevertheless true knowledge is available to the unregenerate, and that the regenerate have available to them a near-infinite panoply of revelations in human beings and the world testifying to the truths of redemption by the Triune God” (206).
I thoroughly enjoyed McDermott’s book and I believe every Christian can likewise profit from his insights. It is both substantive and engaging, and yet entirely accessible to the educated adult lay reader.
Dr. Sam Storms is Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of Desiring God, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is a past President of the Evangelical Theological Society, and currently serves on its Executive Committee.