In my latest reading of Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden talks quite a bit about a revival that took place in Jonathan Edwards' time (and Jonathan Edwards' account of that revival caught the attention of John Wesley, who, unlike Edwards, was an Arminian). On page 152, Marsden speculates about how Edwards would have responded to those who posited a social reason for the revival:
"Had some of
the specific social contributors to the awakening been pointed out to
Edwards, such as the extension of unmarried dependence for many of the
young, he would have acknowledged them without placing any strain on his
theological explanation of the awakening. God always worked through
means. Whether he sent an earthquake or a shortage of available land,
God was still acting to remind humans of their spiritual needs. Through
such forces God provided the soil for revival."
In Edwards' time,
young people were in some predicaments. Because there were
socio-economic changes, such as the movement from a communal economy to a
capitalistic one (and, to be honest, I don't know exactly what that
entailed), young people had difficulty striking out on their own, and so
people in their twenties were living with their parents. Many young
people also had difficulty postponing sexual activity until they were
married, and so they felt guilty when they violated that standard. And
Edwards was concerned about young people wasting their lives through
partying and empty socializing (and, believe it or not, a number of
young people actually valued Edwards' opinion).
probably look at these insecurities among young people and attribute
their participation in a religious revival to that. But, if there is a
secular explanation for the revival, does that mean that the revival was
not a work of God? According to Marsden, Edwards would say no, and the
reason is that Edwards thought that God used means to remind people
that they needed him, and that provided soil for revival. In short, God
could use the predicaments of young people to bring them closer to God.
I was in high school, I was perplexed by a question: Was I devout
because I truly loved God, or was I devout to compensate for my lack of a
social life? I wasn't a popular person (though, looking back, more
people probably liked me back then than like me now), and I withdrew
into devotional and religious reading, where I found a degree of peace.
But did that devotion count before God, I wondered, since I probably
would not be as devout if I were popular and everybody liked me?
I could go back and talk with my younger self, I could tell him (a la
Edwards) that God is using his unpopularity as a means to make him
recognize his dependence on God, but what would happen if he became
popular (which didn't happen, but let's pretend)? What would then keep
him from feeling that he didn't need God? In light of that,
what I would want to highlight to my younger self is that God is his
friend, and that's true whether he is popular or unpopular. If he is
unpopular, he can spend time with God because God is his friend. If he
is popular, he can still spend time with God because God is his
friend----and, even if he has other friends, God is the friend who
sticks closer than a brother. In my opinion, God is not grading me
about my motivation for my devotion, for God's happy to spend time with
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