Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Edwards versus modern thought

If there really be a hell of such dreadful and never-ending torments, as is generally supposed, of which multitudes are in great danger... then why is it not proper for those who have the care of souls to take great pains to make men sensible of it? If I am in danger of going to hell, I should be glad to know as much as possible I can of the dreadfulness of it. If I am very prone to neglect due care to avoid it, he does me the best kindness, who does most to represent to me the truth of the case, that sets forth my misery and danger in the liveliest manner.
-- Jonathan Edwards

We didn't think it was going to look like this. We were praying for God to move, and our assumption was, when God moves we'll see more people saved and more people healed, and there would be the excitement that that would generate. We didn't think he would come and throw a massive party.
--John Arnott

These two men present starkly different models of evangelism. Edwards demonstrates in countless sermons a sense of the dreadful nature of hell and the dire need human beings have for the saving grace of God through Jesus' blood. Edwards' use of words to direct his audience toward a spectacular realization of human depravity requires no "drumming up" of emotions, no mood music, no ushers or volunteers waiting to urge people forward in an altar call. Rather, Edwards merely pointed sinful souls away from certain doom and unto sweet freedom and salvation. The quote from Edwards above can be summed up in this way: "The person who clearly shows a sinner the depravity of his own soul and the certain damnation that awaits has done him a great service in pointing him away from death and toward the Light."

Arnott believes that effective evangelism can be accomplished through inviting non believers to a huge party-- what better way to be attracted to God than through a wild party?? The problem with this idea is that excitement fades quickly in the face of reality. Arnott and others like him believe that evangelism and encouragment Believers can be accomplished by basking (or partying) in the "fire" and excitement of God. I contend that a young Christian can only ride the waves of excitement in his new faith for so long. A Christian at any age needs to be fed and equipped through teaching of God's word-- the Bible should make more than a cameo appearance during any given church service. By steering away from emotion and using reasonable presentation of the tragic fate of mankind, Edwards leaves a much longer-lasting impression, one based in cold-hard, biblical facts. A God-party is weak at best in its attempts to build up Believers for anything other than an emotional high because it often relies on worship songs and testimonies of other humans to accomplish the same purpose as the Word.

It could be argued that Edwards uses a bit of a scare tactic in his presentation of hell to non-believers; I contend however that a bit of a scare is not a bad thing. I do believe however that the "party" approach utilized by some modern churches is a bad thing-- it fails to leave a lasting impact. A person who relies on "experiences" of God will falter when experiences no longer bolster his faith-- at best, the Believer who receives dose after dose of party will stagnate; at worst, he will flail and fall. Edwards, scare-tactic or no, equips believers to grow in faith and spurs non-believers toward becoming believers. Edwards appealed to the mental faculties of his audience through effective reading of the Word. Abbot and Co appeal to the emotions their audience through various levels of emotional manipulation. In my opinion, only Edwards' model holds potential for lasting and effective exhortation of saints and sinners alike.

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