Tag Archives: Jonathan Edwards

Deeds over words: a Jesus priority?


Francis and leper

Love this reflection on the relationship between right action and right belief by Franciscan Richard Rohr. It is available here.

Orthodoxy over Orthopraxy

A Christian, or any holy person, is someone who is animated by the Holy Spirit, a person in whom the Spirit of Christ can work. That doesn’t have to mean that you consciously know what you are doing, or that you even have to know, or that you even belong to the right Jesus group. As Paul said to the Athenians, “The God whom I proclaim is in fact the one you already worship without knowing it” (Acts 17:23).

In Matthew 25, the dead say, “When have we seen you hungry? When have we seen you thirsty?” And the Christ says in return, “Because you did it for these little ones, you did it for me.” In each case, they did not know, at least consciously; that they were doing it for God or Jesus or even love. They just did it, and presumably from a pure heart, without any obvious religious affiliation or other motive.

It never depends upon whether we say the right words, or practice the right ritual, but whether we live the right reality. It is rather clear to me now that the Spirit gets most of her work done by stealth and disguise, not even caring who gets the credit, and not just by those who say, “Lord, Lord!” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus seems to be making this exact point in his story of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). The one who actually acts, even if he says the wrong words, “does the Father’s will,” and not the one who just says the right words.

Adapted from Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go, p. 193, Day 206

Before you Reformed types dismiss the thrust of this reflection as universalist, check out this article on Jonathan Edwards’s willingness to think of the Stockbridge Indians as “noble pagans,” where Edwards scholar Gerald McDermott insists that “Edwards praised these Indians not for the truth of their ideas but the quality of their lives, just as Luke had commended Cornelius for the quality of his practice.”

And once and for all, NO, Francis of Assisi never said “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” Or at least, there is no evidence that he did. See here.

Yes, even New Years resolutions have a Christian history


New Years sparklers 2013

Early in my training as a church historian, I learned the important fact that here in the West, pretty much everything has a Christian history. So I wasn’t surprised to find that New Years resolutions are rooted in old Christian practices too. Here’s what I discovered about the subject. Enjoy, and Happy New Years!

Religion of the heart – part I


Augustine and his symbol of a heart, in a Victorian stained glass window

What is “the religion of the heart”? Where did it come from among Christians? And why have there been Christians of this sort ever since the earliest days of the church? 

I had the pleasure this past weekend of talking about this topic with a group of senior saints who are committed to the history of the Swedish Baptist Pietists; this is the denomination of my seminary, Bethel, in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you’re interested in the role of emotion in spirituality or have wondered about this pre-evangelical movement of “Pietists” that began during the period of the Enlightenment, then you may enjoy these remarks. Here’s part I:

Some remarks on Pietism and Heart Religion, in a historical key

The modern critique of heart religion

The first thing to say, perhaps, about heart religion, is that just as it got a bad rap in the 1600s, when Pietism was born, it still does today. Now, decades after the heyday of the charismatic movement brought heart religion to Main Street, the vaguely disreputable aura of an emotionally expressive religion lingers. Emotional commitment to, and expression of, one’s religion still seems, even to many evangelicals, somewhat uneducated and ‘un-necessary.’ Continue reading

God in flesh and bone: Medieval devotion to the embodied, incarnate, human Christ


For the complete story of the mill and brewery operator, mother of 14, and “lay mystic” Margery Kempe (1373 – 1438), see my Patron Saints for Postmoderns or the fascinating website “Mapping Margery Kempe.” Why should we care about Margery? Lots of reasons, but here are a couple that particularly struck me, excerpted from the chapter on Margery in Patron Saints:

God in Flesh and Bone

At the start of the chapter I made a connection between Margery and
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. What was it about Gibson’s
movie that has galvanized so many modern (or if you like, postmodern)
Western Protestants? After all, of representations of Christ’s life there
has been no end. Why did this one, in particular, speak so deeply to so
many? I think there are two answers to this question, and that both of
them can help us understand and benefit from the life of this odd English
mystic, Margery Kempe. Continue reading

Evangelicalism–a basic summary–part II


This is a continuation of this article. Part III may be found here.

Edwards and the Awakening

The Great Awakening began in November of 1734, when Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts pastor-theologian, became concerned by a spreading tendency among Connecticut River Valley Christians to rely on their own abilities in seeking salvation from God. In response, Edwards preached a two-sermon series on “Justification by Faith Alone.” And in what Edwards believed was “a surprising work of God,” the people in Northampton and the surrounding area were, he said, “seized with a deep concern about their eternal salvation” so that “scarcely a single person in the whole town was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.”

Edwards organized small groups to encourage those experiencing such concern, and soon hundreds were converted and renewed. The revival spilled over into 1735, touching some 25 Massachusetts and Connecticut communities before its intensity began to wane that spring.

Meanwhile, back in England, several students at Oxford University, including the brothers John and Charles Wesley and their friend George Whitefield, founded a group that the undergraduates derisively called the “Holy Club.” Continue reading

Evangelicalism–a basic summary–part I


The following is adapted from the excellent Dictionary of American Christianity (Intervarsity Press). Part II of the article can be found here. Part III is here. The whole thing was given as a talk to a group of psychiatric residents (doctors-in-training) at a Twin Cities hospital. The talk’s final and, for me, most interesting part, on “Evangelicals and psychiatric services,” can be found here.

What is evangelicalism, in distinction from other Christian movements? It is not a single denomination, with its own organization. Rather, it is a movement in Christianity emphasizing the classical Protestant doctrines of:

•           salvation

•           the church, and

•           the authority of the Scriptures,

and characterized by

•           stress on a personal experience of the grace of God, usually termed the new birth or conversion.

There are well over 50 million self-described evangelicals in the US and Canada today.

The movement has been shaped by: Continue reading

“I laughed, I cried, I changed”–sentimental narrative in early evangelicalism


Here is the fourth of my Christianity Today history website series “Grateful to the Dead: The Diary of Christian History Professor” For the rest of the series, click through the link in the first paragraph, below, to the previous installment. You’ll find links to the first two articles in the series are embedded early in that article:

#4: “I laughed, I cried, I changed”
Chris Armstrong

Dear folks,

In the last installment, I promised to tell you about a tradition in Western philosophy and literature that highly valued our shared nature as emotional beings and affirmed that reading about other people’s experiences and emotions can be a powerful transformational tool.

My “Exhibit A” is the 1764 book An Authentic Narrative of some Interesting and Remarkable Particulars in the Life of John Newton. As I prepared a discussion for our Patron Saints class at Bethel on this spiritual autobiography of the author of “Amazing Grace,” recently reissued by Regent College Publishing, I realized something: Newton‘s book is a clear example of a popular 18th- and 19th-century literary genre: the sentimental narrative.

What was a “sentimental narrative?” Continue reading