I started George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life. I'll be going through this book rather slowly, and my blogging through it will be off-and-on, which means that I may not blog about it every day. But I will be reading and blogging through it, for so far it's a good book.
One issue that stood out to me in my latest reading was
Jonathan Edwards' spiritual development when he was young. There came a
point when Jonathan was walking in the woods and had an ecstatic
recognition of Christ's beauty and love. Prior to that point, however,
Jonathan really struggled as he sought salvation. There were times when
he was interested in spiritual things, and he was excited at a revival
at his father Timothy's church (where Timothy was the pastor). But then
Jonathan's spiritual interest petered out. Jonathan also struggled
with relationships, for, even though he impressed adults with his
learning, he tended to alienate his peer-group with his shyness and his
seriousness. Jonathan also struggled with sexual lust. And, while
Jonathan did desire God, he thought that the doctrine of predestination
portrayed God as a monster, and he also did not care for his father's
After Jonathan was awakened to the beauty of Christ,
his spiritual interest became more sustained. Yet, even during some of
the time that he was a pastor, he still struggled. He kept extensive
notes about his spiritual condition each day, as he noted times when he
was irritable or lacked spiritual passion. He sought to retain his
spirituality through regular spiritual disciplines, which often helped
him to arrive at a state of equilibrium. Moreover, he tried to get
along with his parents, even though Marsden narrates that Jonathan's
father did not think that Jonathan's conversion was quite good enough
(though, ironically, at that time, Timothy wanted Jonathan to pastor a
certain church). Later in life, Jonathan looked back on his years as a
younger Christian and reflected that he was relying on himself more than
the Holy Spirit. And, while Edwards' spirituality can easily strike one as overly introspective, he did write a best-selling biography of David Brainerd, which "encouraged countless Christian to seek lives of disinterested sacrifice and missionary service" (page 2).
identified with many aspects of Edwards' spiritual journey: his search
for a consistent spiritual high (if you will), his excitement at people
becoming closer to God, and his struggles with himself and others, as
well as with certain religious doctrines.
that stood out to me was how Puritans sought to apply the Old and New
Testaments. The Old Testament presents membership in God's people as
something that Israelites are born into----which circumcision marks. In
short, the children of someone who is in God's covenant are themselves
part of that covenant. But the New Testament, in contrast, seems to
hold in a number of places that faith is how one becomes part of God's
people. There were Puritans who tried to have it both ways: to
uphold the covenant as something into which one was born, but also as
something that one entered through a conversion experience. But
suppose we had an infant from Christian parents who entered the
community of faith through his baptism, yet he grew up and did not have
an acceptable conversion experience? Should his
children be baptized, since the infant children of covenant members were
the ones who were to receive baptism, and this guy was halfway in the
covenant (due to his birth to Christian parents and his baptism as an
infant) and halfway out (since he did not have a conversion experience)?
Williams, if I'm understanding Marsden's discussion correctly, did not
treat the church as a Christian nation into which people are born.
Moreover, unlike many Puritans, Williams did not think that God dealt
with nations as God did in the Old Testament----judging them according
to their obedience or disobedience to certain laws. Rather, for
Williams, the New Testament communicated how God dealt with people in
this day and age----people entered the church by faith. But there were
many Puritans who sought to retain an Old Testament model and a New
Testament model simultaneously.
Jonathan Edwards grandfather,
Solomon Stoddard, argued against the requirement that a person have a
demonstrable conversion experience to become a church member. For
Stoddard, even if a person claimed Christ but was not truly converted,
his participation in the sacraments might lead him to become a
Christian. Stoddard's open-model was rather controversial.
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