February 10, 2010
I remember doing a quick study about Hell and fear and remembering that most of Jesus words on hell were shared with the pharisees and the religious leaders of his time. Also, John the baptist was overly aggressive with them as well. Though hell is a reality, it is something that is more deeply understood by those who have "tasted that the Lord is good". Jesus was really a great example of how to preach, teach and guide. If we read carefully, he was frustrated and angry when he was approached by the religious leaders and many of his most aggressive preachings and teachings were aimed their way. I'm not saying they don't apply to everyone (they should), but those "religious" people we know (and perhaps some of us are) have a deeper understanding of what hell is and it should scare us to death. However, most people who have never known Christ may shake it of as just a fable that some fanatics preach in the streets.
It was never accepted for publication, but I once wrote a dialog called "Jonathan Edwards in the Hands of a Merciful God." We should all be careful about what we threaten in the name of God. If God wants to say something, he finds his own way.
I think that fear, though effective in conversion, is ineffective in establishing long-term commitment and substantial fruit. If we think of the rhetorical theorist Walter Fisher and his understanding of humans as story-telling animals, we can see how our personal narratives/testimonials are truly the most long lasting and effective (and I would argue ethical) persuasion we can produce. To tell our story is to give others the opportunity to compare it to their own and see Christ's potential in their own lives.
I think it's a beautiful piece of literature, scary, disturbing even at times, but it must be read in context. It was not an appeal to unbelievers, but to believers to remember the wrath that they had been saved from. This is pre-Finney. Such emotional appeals to get someone to praying a sinner's prayer weren't even on the theological radar. There was surely emotional pleas, but they were mainly aimed at believers repentance or social concerns (after all the minister was often the social leader of the community). Finally, It should also be noted that Edwards wrote much more about the glories of heaven than the pits of hell as well.
I read that sermon again recently and I thought that it usually gets a bad rap. Edward's emphasis seems to be on the generosity of God in preserving the loathsome spider rather than let his disgust lead him to a natural outcome. I think what shocks modern readers is the idea that God would be anything but adoring towards us. Harold Bloom's assessment of American religion is the "God loves us and is just dying to get close to us." Edward's framing of the situation is such an oddity for us that I think we hear him wrong. <br><br>We far more easily connect with the story of Corrie Ten Boom struggling to shake the hand of a former concentration camp guard, probably because we cast ourselves in the place of Corrie and not the guard. <br><br>Edwards wants to magnify the graciousness of God expressed in constraining his holiness which is something few of us have little tangible experience of.
Regarding fear as a strategy for effecting change--I don't like it, I don't think it's effective, I don't think it's right. But the argument that it's not effective does beg the question of why his preaching WAS considered so powerful and effective in his day.
It is important to read the story of why Edwards wrote that sermon. In his day people believed in the Calvinist idea that revival was a totally inexplicable sovereign act. Therefore, they had a theory on how often revival would (They did not expect salvations to occur at other times) and when Edwards reviewed the ages of many unsaved congregants he realized that the next revival would not come until many of them had died without Christ. I believe he was very much lead of God to preach what he preached because it not only brought many to salvation but helped break the Church out of its passive approach resulting in the Great Awakening spreading over the New England states.
I say this when explaining to a person or people about the h1n1 virus i think that person should be familiar with the virus it and ready to answer every question in detail and have more information on hand. As human not understanding sends most of us into a panic. As in when making someone aware of the bible or our lord and savior we should be ready to answer any and all question according to god word and if not we should put on the whole armor of god meaning we should have our bible ready to go.Iv'e learn that some people will try to augure with you about the rule and regalation of the laws of god but if you turn to the scripture and let them read it for them selves they can't pretty much augure with god can they, and after they know the truth the rest is up to them cause you have done what thou saidest the lord and your work will have prevail so i will say if they beleive it on not it is up to them we all have the freedom to draw our own conclusion.In jesus name amen.
iv'e could not have put that in better words my self i thought that you had made that quite clear to everyone who has read this ty for the that very important piece of information in god's grace amen.
re: edwards, you guys are right that there is a lot more to that man, that sermon and that context than I mention here. Nonetheless, the vividness of his language leads nicely to a broader discussion of when fear might be an effective strategy, for whom and in what context.
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