I had Jonathan Edwards on my list because I’ve heard of him but I knew very little about him. And a little more about the Reformed church. And a little more about Calvinism. And a little more about New Calvinism.
Oh the joyful rabbit trail that is Wikipedia…
So according to my wandering, Jonathan Edwards was a part of the Reformed church which is the overarching denomination that includes Arminianism and Calvinism. And you can agree or disagree with whatever doctrine within those, but that is not the point here. I know I disagree with a lot of calvinists, however, that does not discredit everything they have to say. The goal for this series is to look at the Niche Convictions of the person of the day, and see what that might teach us about God or our own beliefs.
Because, as the church, we are the body of Christ.
God doesn’t care about our denominations. He cares about His glory being made known through church as a whole for the furtherance of his kingdom.
On with the work of Jonathan Edwards. (If you want a more complete rundown of his life and beliefs, please direct yourself to the wormhole of wikipedia. Or of course, you’re welcome to frequent a more credible source ;) )
It was hard for me to get a handle on what he really believed or where he stood. I came away with the thought that he was a complicated fellow and had beliefs just as complicated. Just like all the rest of us, I suppose.
In the work that I read, entitled Religious Affections (an abridged version on Scribd), it seemed that Edwards’ niche was concerned with figuring out what the Christian life looked like with emphasis on the necessity of works and outward examples of faith. It seemed like the writing was focused on drawing lines about who was in or out, or who was really saved. And that he leaned towards excluding people, possibly unnecessarily, from the group rather than accidentally including someone who was not really a Christian.
When people claim to love God, then as Christians it is our duty to welcome them with love. Yet even the best Christians can be deceived by appearances. In the end, though, these people who claim so glowingly to be Christians usually fall away and come to nothing. Counterfeit love and joy, as well as other spiritual emotions, are all too common. Only the omniscient God, the great Searcher of hearts, can separate sheep from goats. If we pretend that we can, we are only being conceited and arrogant. According to scripture, the state of another’s soul before God cannot be known by us (Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 4:3–4. [emphasis mine].
It seems a slightly pessimistic view of christians in general…and might encourage a less than welcoming attitude to new-comers, but at least there is the disclaimer that only God can know how we stand. That is good.
But then he goes on to discuss the works that will signify our standing…and my own base of Lutheranism flairs up in a negative reaction to the idea that our standing will be judged by our actions when our actions and attitudes are so unreliable and utterly human.
Here’s the quote:
“When the scripture speaks of good works, good fruit, and keeping Christ’s commandments, we cannot reasonably assume that it refers only to our external actions without including the aim or intention behind these behaviors. The obedience and fruit of which the Bible speaks are the obedience and the fruit of the entire person; not only the acts of the body, but the obedience of the soul, the acts and practice of the soul.”
“Therefore, we can undoubtedly infer that our works are the best indication of who we are. Since God places such absolute importance on them, we would do well to do the same (John 14:21).”
Then he goes on to talk about our intentions vs our actual works and comes to the conclusion that it is mostly only our works that matter. Which I found slightly contradictory.
The concluding paragraph is important, especially for our discussion here.
Because even if we don’t agree with the whole practice of judging other people’s actions or trying to figure out if they are Christians or not. We can most likely agree that there is importance in our actions, especially love and kindness, in backing up our beliefs and our words.
“If we make a habit of looking at things the way Christ and His disciples did, we will be able to judge ourselves and others realistically and reliably, freeing our religion from delusion.
If we were all to make this our practice, then perhaps it would become fashionable for us to show our Christianity with our love and kindness rather than with our loud and ostentatious stories. We might find we all practice our faith with more energy, serving God not with our tongues but by serving those around us. Christians who are intimate friends would talk together of their experiences and blessings with more humility and modesty; their tongues would not go running ahead of them, but instead their tongues would follow their hands and feet (2 Corinthians 12:6).”
So when I’m looking at this teaching of Jonathan Edwards’, even with all its shortcomings, I am challenged to consider my attitude about judging people in general. I am really not into judging people or offering unsolicited christianese advice about their situation (that is what I think of when I think of judging).
But if I think of ‘judging’ as actually being more like discernment and following God’s leading, I am left with a little more grace.
I can then consider their fruit through His eyes. And then take words from people I disagree with and look at the heart behind the words a little more.
Then when I look at these words from Jonathan Edwards, I see a picture of a God who is very much concerned with our actions, still within my favorite canopy of grace. And I can take that reminder and use it to round out my own faith that is full of caverns and mountains and canyons of knowledge.
Honestly this is really hard for me to do. Especially in this scenario. But God has called us to holiness. And maybe we balance each other out in the end.
So maybe instead of looking for points of conflict in doctrine we can look the fruit of His leading and see what happens. We might be more willing to engage and learn an opinion. We might learn more about God and His all encompassing plan.
But when we look for God’s leading in the actions of our fellow Christians we might be better able to join in the journey of following God together. And mayhap a little slower to look for the reasons why we disagree and quicker to see God’s glory shining through.
What do you think?