In this podcast, Rebekah and I introduce you to one of the central figures of the Great Awakening: Jonathan Edwards. Why is he such an important figure to discuss? He is what many people would classify as a “fire and brimstone” preacher who lived in the mid 18th century (i.e. mid 1700’s). In preparing for this podcast, I read his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, and was really surprised at my own reaction. While there was a part of me that was repulsed at this God of wrath that he described, there was another part of me that recognized how much truth was in his words, and I was in awe that he could proclaim so boldly and so articulately a topic that would nowadays make you quite unpopular. (I still can’t totally recommend it though as a balanced approach. I think he goes too far, but we’ll discuss that in the podcast.)
My mixture of revulsion and awe was so extreme and caught me so off-guard that I had to get to the bottom of it. One should never let such an extreme visceral reaction go unanalyzed. J What I realized was this: I don’t hate sin like God hates sin. Jonathan Edwards did. Jonathan Edwards understood (as much as I think a man can) what sin does to us and to those around us, and it was his reviling of sin that led him to take such an extreme position on purity (hence, “the Puritans”).
In this two part series, Rebekah and I will first take you through an introduction to Jonathan Edwards, the time period he was writing in, and the audience he was speaking to. Only then can his famous “resolutions” make sense – which we will take you through in part 2 – a Mama Bear-ized version of course. Ain’t nobody got time for 18th century language. (Except Rebekah. She loves that stuff.) If you don't understand the context, you'll completely miss the relevance. Click To Tweet
Summary of topics discussed:
- Who was Jonathan Edwards?
- 18th century American revivalist preacher
- Central figure of the Great Awakening
- Graduated with a masters from Yale at 19
- Most known for “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” sermon
- Really soft spoken, but known for “fire and brimstone” content in his sermons
- This man understands sin and hates it like God
- “Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of a man is a thing that is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature, and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into a fiery oven or a furnace of fire and brimstone”
- Translation: Sin is an all-consuming, all-devouring, and all-destructive force. The heart of man is boundless in its propensity for sin. If left unrestrained, it will destroy everyone and everything in its path and make us more miserable than we can ever begin to imagine.
- Edward’s understanding of sin is what led to his borderline obsession with rooting it out of his own life
- We as humans are like a pendulum that swings back and forth, overemphasizing different aspects of God – like law and grace.
- I compare it to epigenetics. All our cells have the same DNA, but each cell only “reads” a portion of the DNA depending on its function. (I.e. An eye and a liver cell have the same DNA, but each only manifest its own part of the code.)
- Analogy: it’s possible that – though we all have the same Bible – certain people overemphasize certain parts. While we might criticize each other for not being balanced enough, it is possible that there might be a role in the grand scheme of things. There might be a role that we play by overemphasizing different aspects of scripture that only makes sense in the grand tapestry of time.
- How is this important for apologetics for kids?
- 1) Jonathan Edwards is a great example of chew and spit, and how there is good and bad to most everything. We need to sift through it all to find what is scriptural and what is Biblical and what is not. Very few things are all good or all bad.
- 2) There is an aspect to “legalism” that is not really legalism, but a healthy developmental stage. We cannot assume that being an avid rule follower is always bad.
- How does “legalism” manifest itself in developmental stages:
- Children – go through concrete, black and white thinking with no grey areas.
- Artists – you have to learn the rules of art, or writing, or music before you can start breaking the rules. Ballet dancers have to learn to dance before they learn to choreograph.
- Spiritual formation – you are always most judgemental on where you just came from
- When you see people going through a hyper legalistic phase, look at where they came from. It is possibly a phase and they will grow past it if they are truly pursuing Christ. We have no room to judge people going through the same developmental steps we went through.
- It’s good to write out our goals.
- Remember when these resolutions were written:
- Mid 18th century (I said 1800’s, I meant 18th century)
- America was a baby country who had just founded freedom of religion.
- When you have always been told what to do and when you suddenly have total freedom, you go hog wild.
- Jonathan Edwards was writing in response to a country gone hog wild, and people were responding to it, because they probably needed structure.
People and resources mentioned:
- Jonathan Edwards
- He is NOT Jonathan Edward, the contemporary psychic medium who hosted “Crossing Over with Jonathan Edward”.
- Most famous work: Sinners in the hands of an angry God (Not a pleasant read. Read with a grain of salt AFTER listening to the podcast.)
- Matthew Ryan Martin’s thesis “Jonathan Edwards’ Life: More than a Sermon“
- Jesus’ “fire and brimstone” sermon against Chorazin and Bethsaida in Matthew 11
- Legalism – We threw this word around a lot and didn’t define it, so I actually wrote an entire blog post to help give more background. Classically, it is understood to be an unhealthy spiritual practice where one thinks they can earn salvation through works. (i.e. see Jesus’s rant against the Pharisees in Matthew 23) Contemporary usage: any person who is overly focused on rules.
- Natural Philosophy – early word for “science.” We would call someone like Sir Isaac Newton a scientist, but back in the day, he was known as a “Natural Philosopher”.
- Naval gazing – being overly introspective to the level of absurdity. Constantly thinking about your thoughts and feelings and overanalyzing your entire human existence.
- God’s love does not make sense apart from God’s wrath.
- “Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of a man is a thing that is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature, and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into a fiery oven or a furnace of fire and brimstone” – Sinners in the hands of an angry God
- “Preparing for this talk, I was giggling while reading his writing, not because it was so funny, but because it was so intense that my mind could not quite continue without emotional release. I weighed my feelings of revulsion of the God he described with the knowledge that most of what I was reading is absolutely true. It’s just not the full story. We have gotten so wrapped up in God’s love that we have forgotten who God is. In the Old Testament it is clear that in our fallen state we are unable to see God as He is. In our current PC culture, I feel like we’ve gone a step further and we are not even capable of talking about God as He is. It is too frightening.“ – Hillary