Wednesday, July 4, 2007

On Historical Theology and Grace

To clearly see the benefits of historical theology on cotemporary praxis, we need not hearken back to the reformers. We should, mind you, but it is not always necessary to do so. Our culture is so far removed from even our American forefathers that we can learn much by studying the early American proto-evangelicals (that’s going to cause some grief :>). The Puritans have much to inform us regarding the spiritual disciplines. And men like Jonathan Edwards should be listened to regarding among other things, soteriology and ecclesiology.

Take, for an example if you will, the famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.” You can read it here

I love this sermon for two reasons. First, it flies smack in the face of our Starbucks drive through, customer focused western churchiosity (yea, that should be a word) Secondly, because its true. It seems like the problem is that we have little tolerance for tension in theological constructs, we are ill equipped mentally to deal with them here in the west. Yet, most of the great theological structures of our faith are held together by some tension between its supporting components. There is the hypostatic-union of Christ, fully God and fully man. There is divine sovereignty and human responsibility; there is the very nature of the Trinity, One, yet three in relationship with each other. Many of the heresies regarding these topics come about because thier progenitors of fail to maintain the proper tension between the components that is indicated by specific revelation.

This brings us to the tension in Edward’s famous sermon. It seems to me that the tension between Justice and Grace is a crucial one that we are failing to provide in our Churches today. Test yourself, read this sermon and see if you are offended by it. I was. But then I paused for a minute and gave my elders their due, and read it again, looking for a biblical reason for offence. There was none. My offence was purely cultural. I was offended by someone being so insensitive as to tell people that without Christ, they are under a sentence of condemnation to hell, and that God’s justice, in fact, “calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins.” Why, that is not what our sensitive-seekers want to hear. They want to hear about their friend Jesus who loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. The problem with not offending them is evident. Without a proper understanding of the justice of God, which responds to sin with wrath, the sinner is left wondering what is so great about the grace of God, if in fact, they are better people than some of the really bad sinners they know. The thing that Jonathan Edwards did, was to paint a vivid picture of the unsaved, suspended over the pit of hell, with no requirement of God to preserve them from dropping to eternal punishment at any second. Insensitive and brutally honest and completely true. Said suspended person is truly in need of a savior. We dishonor Christ when we leave people not understanding S-A-V-I-O-R because they do not apperceive needing to be saved from anything. If you love the lost, then talk about sin. Talk about the wrath of a Holy God. Offend People. Unconform from our culture. Then share the message of Grace that is only ever properly understood in its context.

1 comment:

M. Jay Bennett said...

Amen! Great post!

How different were the sensibilities of early frontier-inhabiting American Puritans. Whatever happened to the doctrine of Original Sin?