team edwardS* debriefing

*no, this has nothing to do with twilight. this references is from a hilarious tweet from fellow bethlehemer marc heinrich: John Piper gives up "Team Edward" fan club membership after finding out it's for vampires, not Jonathan Edwards. [i edited this a bit. :) ]

{image from monergism books}

puritan theologian jonathan edwards is very much beloved at our church. our pastor has openly declared how much edwards has influenced his thinking and preaching. quite a few people i know had taken classes on the religious affections (which you can read for free here!), and my mom especially encouraged me to do so, too. when it was offered as a women's Bible study this fall, i signed up.

even still, i was a bit skeptical about the edwards hype. i mean, i knew his writing was good, but would it be as good as everyone claimed? i had read sinners in the hands of an angry God at the u of m, and i did get a lot out of it. but still, would affections be that amazing and as life-changing as everyone said?

it was a loooooong read. we started in september, and we just finished this past monday. we took quite a bit of time off during the holidays, but it was a long and difficult read nonetheless. yet, i am so glad i finished it! (admittedly, i missed a chunk of about 60 pages in the middle. but i got to the end and i'm so happy i did!)

edwards wrote the book in response to all the people who "fell away" from the faith after the great awakening. (i put that in quotes because there is a theological answer to that concept, but that's for another time.) the first half of the book is devoted to unreliable signs—things people lean on as assurance that they are saved that are not assurances at all. it was incredibly difficult—not just in content, but in basic comprehension! his sentences are so long...his arguments so drawn out...his vocabulary so foreign. but when i did understand him (either through rereading numerous times or class discussion), i found that i myself have been banking on what he deems "unreliable signs." do i have violent emotions for God? yes, but that isn't a reliable sign. do verses seem to come to my head out of nowhere? yes, but that is an unreliable sign. to be honest, partway through the first half, i just wanted to finish the book and move on. i was discouraged. so if those things can't be trusted, what could i lean on for assurance?

but God still gives more grace! the second half of the book was so precious (as the first half was, in hindsight!). i think the Spirit truly did help give me understanding. what a blessing! edwards emphasizes obedience and "Christian practice" as the reliable signs. do i love Jesus? do i obey Him? do i choose him over worldly pursuits? if the answer to the last two questions is no, it might be grounds for rethinking salvation. edwards quoted so much Scripture, but often matthew 12:33: a tree is known by its fruit. the most convincing argument that a tree is a fig tree is that it produces figs. am i producing Christian fruit? anticipating objections, he spends some time at the end refuting arguments that emphasis on works promotes/implies legalism. it is a much lengthier argument than i can describe here. man, he knows how to defend the faith!

but there is so much more. my weak attempt to describe what i've been reading and praying through these last months is entirely inadequate. the book is chock full of amazing, soul-changing truth. although my book is heavily marked, here are some words that especially struck me. 

"free grace implies that kindness is shown to the unworthy and unlovely; that there is great excellency in the benefit bestowed, and no excellency in the subject . . . " 

"and there is what is called experience, that is without practice, being neither accompanied nor followed with a Christian behaviour; and this is worse than nothing."

"the proper evidence of gracious desires and longings, and that which distinguishes them from those that are false and vain, is, that they are not idle wishes and wouldings [love that: wouldings!] like Balaam's, but effectual in practice to stir up persons earnestly and thoroughly to seek the things they long for."  

he emphasizes action big time—action based on a love to Christ that came from God in the first place. he also says that holy practice, aka Christian obedience, is evidence of the following things: repentance, saving faith, trusting in Christ for salvation, gracious love (both to God and men), true fear to God, gracious hope, and Christian fortitude (he really likes the word "gracious." he uses it to show that God's grace is involved). 

the fact that i am proud of myself for finishing the book shows that i missed a lot of what edwards said about humility. the book points out sin, but it points to Christ—as a treasure, a savior, a God worthy of our affections.

i'm also reading stepping heavenward, given to me by my sister-in-law, Lauren. it reads like a spiritual biography in journal form, so it is much less intimidating than edwards. but those they really did treasure Christ, which means that had no tolerance for sin. God has certainly used their writing in my life. i have so far to go, yet the victory is certain!

i hope you are pondering Christ this Holy Week. He is the only One worthy of our praise. thanks for reading!

p.s. when we have kids and they are old enough, i'd love to try this