Friday, January 27, 2012

Jonathan Edwards—A man who fell in love with a 13 year-old

Ahhh….young love. Now it might disturb you that Edwards was 20 when he wrote this about his future wife, Sarah. Yet keep in mind that it was four years before they married and the age of Sarah was normative for females to marry in the 1700’s.  The words below were written on a leaf on one of Edwards’ student books.
“They say there is a young lady in New Haven, who is beloved of that Great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on Him that she expects after a while to be received up where He is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that He loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from Him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with His love and delight forever.
Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and anything wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this Great Being. She is of wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”

That was impressive. I don’t know if I am more taken by the theological depth of Edwards at 20 or the apparent godliness of his 13 year-old future bride.

For the interest of those reading this blog post, I will write about the apparent godliness of a 13 year-old.

I have two daughters, Maddy, who is 11 and Ensley, who is 8. Both daughters have professed a commitment to trust in Christ alone for their salvation. Yet it is hard to imagine this degree of piety from either of them in the next two to five years.

Please understand I am not demeaning the current degree of godliness of my daughters. Their piety certainly exceeded mine at their age. And I am not na├»ve to the fact that blossoming love often sees the cup as perpetually “half full”, rather than “half empty”. Yet even if Edwards’ assessment was only half true, this was an exceptional young woman.

Here are a couple thoughts:

Edwards never mentions her external beauty.

I understand there could be many explanations for this. Maybe Edwards thought it but never said it. Maybe he struggled thinking that he shouldn’t care about it. Maybe she really was ugly. Here is the point: Edwards cared more about her inner, spiritual beauty. This is what ALL MEN SHOULD FIRST care about.  

1 Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adorning be external- the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing- 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.

It is hard to do this today. Our media elevates physical beauty. The idols of girls today are airbrushed, perfectly portrayed on teen magazines. Teenage plastic surgery is at an all-time high. The images on the internet leave a lasting imprint on the minds of young (and old) men and when they can’t find it in the natural world, it is there waiting for them in the fantasy world of their laptops.

And yet I am quickly reminded that there is “nothing new under the sun”. Proverbs 5 speaks of the dangers of the “forbidden woman”.

Proverbs 5:1-5 My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, 2 that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. 3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, 4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; 6 she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.

Crazy. Not much difference between 950 B.C. and 2012 A.D.

Edwards spent time observing her life.

Though his account may initially cause you to wonder if he had voyeuristic tendencies, the reality is that he truly knew her because he patiently watched her.

Is there wisdom in Edwards’ approach? I think so. How well do you truly know someone on a date? Two dates? Three dates? The reality is that “you know them as well as they want to be known”. Edwards saw something within her that had NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM, but HAD EVERYTHING TO DO WITH her relationship with the “Great Being”.

Now unfortunately, Edwards did not leave any additional information about their four-year courtship, so we don’t know how this practically played out. Did he ask questions of the family? Did their families hang out together? Did Edwards make it a habit to walk by their property? Again, those details are unknown. But what is known is that Edwards was convinced of her love for God and maybe….some young men will find this to be a helpful paradigm as God leads you to your chosen mate.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Who is Jonathan Edwards?

Jonathan Edwards was born into a Puritan evangelical household on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. He was the fifth of eleven children born to the Rev. Timothy and Esther Edwards. His childhood education immersed him not only in the study of the Bible and Christian theology but also in classics and ancient languages.
Undergraduate Years
During his undergraduate years (1716-1720) and graduate studies (1721-1722) at Yale College, Edwards engaged all manner of contemporary issues in theology and philosophy. He studied the debates between the orthodox Calvinism of his Puritan forebears and the more "liberal" movements that challenged it, such as Deism, Socinianism, Arianism, and Anglican Arminianism, as well as the most current thought coming out of Europe, such as British empiricism and continental rationalism.
Becoming a Pastor
In 1726, Edwards succeeded his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, as the pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, the largest and most influential church outside of Boston. Turning his attention from the theoretical pursuits of his Yale years to more practical matters, he married Sarah Pierpont in 1727. Jonathan and Sarah had met in New Haven eight years earlier, when she was just thirteen years old, but they were not married until eight years later. The two of them would go on to raise ten children in Northampton.
First Great Awakening
In 1734-1735, Edwards oversaw some of the initial stirrings of the First Great Awakening. He gained international fame as a revivalist and "theologian of the heart" after publishing A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1738), which described the awakening in his church and served as an empirical model for American and British revivalists alike.
The widespread revivals of the 1730’s and 1740’s stimulated one of the two most fruitful periods for Edwards' writings. In this period, Edwards became very well known as a revivalist preacher who subscribed to an experiential interpretation of Reformed theology that emphasized the sovereignty of God, the depravity of humankind, the reality of hell, and the necessity of a "New Birth" conversion. While critics assailed the convictions of many supposed converts as illusory and even the work of the devil, Edwards became a brilliant apologist for the revivals. In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival (1742), A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections(1746), and The Life of David Brainerd (1749), he sought to isolate the signs of true sainthood from false belief. The intellectual framework for revivalism he constructed in these works pioneered a new psychology and philosophy of affections, later invoked by William James in his classic Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).
"The dismissal of America’s Greatest Theologian”
In 1750, Edwards’ church dismissed him from Northampton after he attempted to impose stricter qualifications for admission to the sacraments upon his congregation. Concerned that the "open admission" policies instituted by Stoddard allowed too many hypocrites and unbelievers into church membership, he became embroiled in a bitter controversy with his congregation, area ministers, and political leaders. His dismissal is often seen as a turning point in colonial American history because it marked the clear and final rejection of the old "New England Way" constructed by the Puritan settlers of New England.
A Mission Post
From Northampton, Edwards went to the mission post of Stockbridge, on the western border of Massachusetts, where he served from 1751 to 1757. Here he pastored a small English congregation, was a missionary to 150 Mahican and Mohawk families, and wrote many of his major works, including those that addressed the "Arminian controversy." Foremost among these was A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will..." (1754), in which he attempted to prove that the will was determined by the inclination of either sin or grace in the soul. This book, one of the most important works in modern western thought, set the parameters for philosophical debate on freedom and determinism for the next century and a half. Also written during this period were The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758), in which Edwards asserted that all humankind has a natural propensity to sin due to its "constitutional unity" in Adam; and two major statements on ethics, The Nature of True Virtue and The End for Which God Created the World (published posthumously in 1765).
Though Stockbridge provided something of a haven for Edwards, he could not avoid the limelight. In late 1757, he accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). While at Princeton, Edwards hoped to complete at least two more major treatises, one that would show "The Harmony of the Old and New Testaments" and the other that would be an experiment in narrative theology, a much expanded treatise on "The History of the Work of Redemption." However, he did not live to complete these works. After only a few months in Princeton, he died on March 22, 1758, following complications from a smallpox inoculation. He is buried in the Princeton Cemetery.
**This biography was taken and revised from The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Final Thoughts from Charles Hodge

"Original sin is the only rational solution of the undeniable fact of the deep, universal and early manifested sinfulness of men in all ages, of every class, and in every part of the world."
Many people think this concept is a Roman Catholic “thing”, but actually this doctrine is a biblical “thing”.

Here are some key passages:

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Ephesians 2:3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

These verses made it clear that every human inherits not only the sin of Adam, but the guilt that comes with it. This fact, though mysterious (regarding the means of transmission), is nevertheless truth and the denial of it opens the door for a “salvation by works” or at least a “salvation by grace plus works”.

For Hodge, this truth helped explain why evil exists and naturally, exalted the necessity for Jesus Christ, the only hope for every human, no matter where they are or who they are.

"The Church is everywhere represented as one. It is one body, one family, one fold, one kingdom. It is one because pervaded by one Spirit. We are all baptized into one Spirit so as to become, says the apostle, one body."
As I wrote in a previous blog post, Hodge loved being a Presbyterian, but he loved being a Christian more. This quote reflects God’s desire (and Hodge’s) for a unified, Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-filled universal church. The reality of being “one body” begins and ends with what we believe

Please understand I am not speaking solely about the adherence to the orthodox doctrines of Christianity, but more fully to the adherence to an unadjusted gospel and the subsequent proclamation of that gospel, which can and should blur denominational boundaries.

"The ultimate ground of faith and knowledge is confidence in God."
I am begging you to not miss the implications of the word confidence in this quote. Now would the above quote be theologically correct without the word confidence? Absolutely. But the inclusion and placement of the word forces the reader to ask the simple question, “Do I really place my trust in this truth?”

See, if the reader is being honest and this quote is true, then mere assent is not enough. And if assent is all that depraved humanity can accomplish without the help of God, it is more damming than healing.

Oh, how we need our eyes opened to accept this wonderful, but often offensive truth, which is this: We are helpless and deserve eternal separation from God because of our inherited sin and willful rebellion against God. This is why we must repent and believe that Jesus is the only answer to our hopeless problem.

It is in that state where salvation is found, where the gift of faith opens our eyes to the beauty of God and it is where (through the Holy Spirit) we finally see what God created us for, which is to eternally worship Him, as those whom He created to be the pinnacle of His magnificent creation.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Charles Hodge—A man who loved being a Presbyterian

Is it wrong that Charles Hodge loved being a Presbyterian? I don’t think so. Many great men have come from the ranks of Presbyterianism. The better question is, “What does it mean to be a Presbyterian?”

Well, this may be too simplistic, but in my opinion, historic Presbyterianism is a blend of church polity, Reformed theology and a general adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Church Polity

It is likely that most Presbyterians would describe their polity (i.e. church government) as moderate, a middle ground between High church (Episcopalism) and Low Church (congregationalism). The governmental structure is typically broken up into four categories: 1) Sessions (elected leaders by the congregation, both lay and teaching elders); 2) Presbyteries (local Presbyterian churches in a certain region form this group); 3) Synods (an additional step of accountability for regions with an excessive amount of local churches); 4) General Assembly (this is the highest court in Presbyterian polity).

If this means anything, I will tell you that if I had to choose between Episcopalism, Congregationalism or Presbyterianism…I align best with Presbyterianism (though I still prefer self-governing, independent local churches).

Reformed Theology

For the sake of clarity and brevity, historic Presbyterianism comes from the lineage of John Calvin and John Knox. Both these men affirmed the five solas, which I would assert is the defining and central characteristic of Reformed Theology.

“Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone)
“Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone)
“Sola Fide” (Faith Alone)
“Solus Christus” (Christ Alone)
“Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory)

To be clear, I am fully in agreement with the five “solas”, primarily because I believe strongly that each “sola” is found within the pages of the Holy Scriptures.

Westminster Confession of Faith

The assembly's Confession of Faith, completed in December, 1646, is the last of the classic Reformed confessions and by far the most influential in the English-speaking world. Though it governed the Church of England only briefly, it has been widely adopted by British and American Presbyterian bodies as well as by many Congregational and Baptist churches. It is well known for its thoroughness, precision, conciseness, and balance. Notable elements are: (1) The opening on Scripture, called by Warfield the best single chapter in any Protestant confession, (2) The mature formulation of the Reformed doctrine of predestination; it teaches clearly that God’s will is the ultimate cause of all things, including human salvation. (3) The emphasis on covenants as the way in which God relates to his people through history. (4) Its doctrine of redemption structured according to God's acts and human response, thus underscoring its "covenantal" balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. (5) Its Puritan doctrine of assurance—a strong affirmation, yet more sensitive than other Reformed confessions to the subjective difficulties believers have in maintaining conscious assurance. (6) Its strong affirmation of the law of God as perpetually binding the conscience of the believer, even though certain ceremonial and civil statutes are no longer in effect, balanced by a careful formulation of the nature of Christian liberty of conscience. (7) Its Puritan view of the Sabbath, regarding the day as a perpetual obligation, contrary to Calvin's Institutes and other Reformed writings. (8) The first clear confessional distinction between the visible and invisible church.   (Written by John M. Frame)

As a whole, I appreciate the thoroughness of this confession and its strong Calvinistic position, especially with regards to salvation.

***Yet there are a few parts of the Confession of which I disagree (#3, #6, and #7).

Here are some final thoughts:

It has been good for me to revisit the issue of "denominationalism". Personally, I have always been on the side of elder-led, independent local churches that seek purposeful accountability and fellowship with "like-minded" local churches.

Yet the reality is that independent churches rarely pursue this type of accountability or fellowship. Therefore, independent churches are often accused of being "aloof" or "isolationist" in their philosophy of ministry. Though "unfair" to generalize to all independent churches, their assessment is not without merit.

What is the answer? Presbyterianism? No, I am not willing to go that far. But I can say this: Church government should NEVER be a test of Christian fellowship. If a local church or a denomination has the "gospel" right, fellowship should be encouraged. Our "secondary" differences are clearly trumped by the priority of "gospel unity".

Ephesians 4:1-3 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

I am ALL about differences, distinctions and preferences. But there is a clear reason why "denominationalism" is becoming less popular.....these denominations are known and defined by "secondary" issues, rather than the love, affection and commitment to the "gospel".

Denominations, at their best, can promote greater accountability, a clearer focus and wider impact in local and global spheres. Charles Hodge believed this and fought hard to contain the purity of Presbyterianism. His biographer writes:
“Hodge believed that since each denomination had its own theological system and form of government, each should perpetuate its ministry in conformity with those standards. He stated that denominations devised various means by which they extended the gospel, and he emphasized that ‘of these means beyond all comparison the more important are the education of ministers, and the organization and support of churches’”.
This statement shows that though Hodge would defend Presbyterianism (as a secondary issue) on scriptural grounds, he also believed in the absolute priority of Christian unity. He states:
“If all Christians really believe that they constitute the mystical body of Christ on earth, they would sympathize with each other as readily as the hands sympathize with the feet or the feet with the hands. If all churches, whether local or denominational, believed that they too are one body in Christ Jesus, then instead of conflict we should have concord; instead of mutual criminations (i.e. accusations against each other) we should have mutual respect and confidence; instead of rivalry and opposition we should have cordial co-operation. The whole visible Church would then present an undivided front against infidelity and every form of Anti-Christian error, and the sacramental host of God, though divided into different corps, would constitute one army glorious and invincible.”
Hodge fought hard for the purity of historic Presbyterianism, but I want to believe that he would have rebuked anyone that called themselves a "Presbyterian", "Lutheran" or "Baptist", rather than saying, "I am a Christian.....and I attend the Presbyterian Church down the street".

Monday, January 9, 2012

Charles Hodge—A man who believed in catechizing children

No one catechized me growing up. If anyone or any institution did, it is likely during my years in the para-church program, A.W.A.N.A. (Approved Workman Are Not Ashamed). This program drove me to memorize countless scriptures, which I did, but unfortunately I was not driven by a love for His word, rather I was driven by a love for prizes and recognition.

Reflecting back on those years and now having children of my own, I often ask myself, “Was that spiritually profitable at any level or did it just feed my insatiable pride?”

Charles Hodge grew up, not in A.W.A.N.A or some other para-church program, but being personally catechized by his pastor.
“Green’s (Charles’ childhood pastor) catechizing of his young charges in Philadelphia formed just a small part of his ministerial duties in Presbyterian confessional polity. His pastoral efforts reinforced in the congregation what the parents practiced at home in teaching the Shorter Catechism by systematically expounding its meaning from the pulpit. Upon successfully learning and repeating answer to the 107 questions, Charles and Hugh then attended a weekly Bible class taught by the pastor in his study.” (p. 35)
Part of me reads the above excerpt and sees the obvious value in such training. But then I also remember how many “Christian” friends wound up rejecting the local church, historic Christianity and some even the existence of a deity. To be clear, these were individuals who were in the same programs, memorized the same amount of scripture and/or went to the same Christian school that I attended.

I guess the core issue is, “Does the instrument of catechism help or just foster a false security of their salvation? Does the ability to beat everyone in bible trivia (at 6 years old) mean anything if that 6 year-old is trusting in his own “works-righteousness”, rather than the righteousness of Jesus Christ?

I believe it can be profitable, but the issue is whether the gospel is seen and reinforced, not only by word, but mainly by deed (i.e. a visual, gospel lifestyle at home). Children need to see that the answer to life is WHO, not WHAT. If for one moment, my children believe that question #4 of the Shorter Westminster Catechism is the answer, rather than the gospel, they are being set up for failure.

Here are 5 things to remember if you are going to catechize your children:

#1—Memorize a verse with a catechism question.

This helps the child see the authority is the word of God, not some man-made list of questions and answers. The goal is to foster a love for Christ and a love for His word. If their eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit, the child will grow up able to ‘give an account for the hope that is in you’ (1 Pet. 3:15).

#2—Explain the reason for the catechism question and the meaning of the corresponding memory verse.

There have been times I have been overcome by guilt when my children can rattle off memory verses, but are clueless of their meaning and its connection to the gospel. I ask myself, “How could I have been content with rote memory, when my child’s heart seems unmoved by the beauty of God?” Now at this point, parents must be careful. We are prone to either take too much responsibility for the spiritual indifference of our children or too much credit for it (i.e. being prideful if they seem to “get it”). It is vital that parents remember that the actual acceptance of truth as what it is (i.e. God’s inspired Word), can only happen through the work of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

To be clear, this verse is not meant to relieve parents of their responsibility of proper, consistent, gospel-driven instruction, but simply to remind them to be “seed-planters” and then pray for God to cultivate a large yield of spiritual fruit in the child’s heart.

#3—Interact with the current worldviews and philosophies of the day.

At first glance, some parents may consider this integration as unwise or even harmful to the spiritual development of their child. Isn’t the goal to protect them from these worldviews and the secular, humanistic philosophies of the day? Actually, the goal is to prepare them to live as followers of Christ, which means they must be grounded with the proper worldview and a zeal for the mission of ‘making disciples of all men’ (Matt. 28:19-20).

Does this mean you force them to “drink the Kool-aid” of today’s media, which is liberal and anti-Christian? No, of course not. But our children need help in seeing how the gospel and the Christian worldview are the only real truth. For example, I was watching an episode of the History Channel’s popular show, American Pickers, with my 11 year-old daughter. During the show, an individual told the camera that the only reason he went to Sturgis (an annual motorcycle rally, located in Sturgis, South Dakota) this year is because of a rock that he found in his garden, which looked (to him) like a motorcycle. I proceeded to use this as an opportunity to help my daughter identify the subjectivity in this individual’s decision and remind her that the only objective truth is found in the pages of scriptures, which comes the mouth of God (2 Tim. 3:16).

#4—The most profitable times are often the informal moments, rather than formal.

This does not mean the formal moments should be neglected. Rather, I would assert to you that consistent, realistic formal moments lead to more productive informal moments. Just as a reminder, God instructs parents to both formal and informal training.

Deuteronomy 6:6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children (formal), and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (informal).

#5—Make it fun, not drudgery.

For those who know me, I am not known as a “fun” guy or a “fun” dad. Even my children would tell you that I am not “fun”, but I have “fun” moments.

So how do you make this time enjoyable? Well, incentives always work. Furthermore, if done in balance, you may get some quality father-child time out of it (i.e. ice cream, candy run, etc.).