Jonathan Edwards on the New Reformed Movement
A posthumous Out of Ur interview.

If he hadn't died from a tainted smallpox vaccination in 1758, Jonathan Edwards would be celebrating his 306th birthday today–Monday, October 5. When Edwards died, at the relatively young age of 55, he was one of the best known pastor-theologians in the English speaking world. Interestingly enough, the Calvinist pastor is making quite a comeback. There's been lots of talk on Out of Ur recently about the so-called New Reformed movement—folks that are proud to call Edwards "homeboy."

But would Edwards be proud to claim the New Reformed movement? Well, I just couldn't pass up the chance to ask him. Using skills learned on my many travels and my finely tuned interviewing skills, I sat down with Brother Edwards to ask him how well he thinks the new Calvinists are representing the old time religion.

Url: So, I've read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." You're pretty intense.

Let me guess: high school English class.

Yep. Some of the New Reformed folks seem to like that hellfire and brimstone stuff. Did they learn that from you?

They might have. I preached my fair share of those sermons. But back then, you had to. Everybody was religious—it was against the law to skip church. So my greatest challenge as a pastor was combating spiritual apathy. I did everything I could to make sure people took their spiritual lives seriously, because it was really easy for them to take God for granted.

Do you think that sort of preaching is still effective today?

I suppose it can be, though I wouldn't say it's the only way to preach. Really, it depends on the audience. If you're preaching to religious people, you have to rattle their cages. But near the end of my career, I ministered to Native Americans. I took a different approach when I preached to them, because they weren't spiritually apathetic religious types.

The New Reformed folks talk an awful lot about doctrine. Do you think every church member ought to be a theologian?

Sure. Theology is fun. And the deeper you journey into the mysteries of God, the more rewarding the work becomes.

Plus, I think the more you reflect on God and Scripture, the more you understand your faith, the more likely you are to be transformed into the image of Christ. Dwelling on the things of God makes us aware of how beautiful and lovely and glorious God is. The more we recognize the beauty and glory of God, the more we can reflect that beauty and glory. Does that make sense?

Sure. You're saying that preaching doctrine leads to spiritual growth.

Actually, I would say that preaching doctrine can lead to spiritual growth. But I think it's a big mistake to assume that people will necessarily love and follow Jesus just because we preach sound doctrine. People's hearts have to be touched. As I like to say, there's a big difference between knowing that honey is sweet because you've read about honey in a book and experiencing the sweetness of honey by tasting it for yourself. The Devil has sound doctrine, and it hasn't done him any good. We should help our congregations taste the sweetness of God. That's when transformation happens.

October 05, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments

Derek Ashton

November 29, 2009  6:30pm

Hey that's great, LOL - a posthumous interview with Jonathan Edwards. Seriously, he seemed to have the right balance of doctrinal certainty and affirmation of mystery. We could sure use more of this kind of wisdom today, but paradoxically we seem to have it least when we need it most. Blessings, Derek Ashton

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Derek Ashton

November 29, 2009  6:26pm

Ha ha, that's great - a posthumous interview with Jonathan Edwards. From what I've read of his writings, I almost think you nailed it. I have to say "almost" because it's a good qualifier that allows me the freedom to change my mind later. Not very Edwards-like of me, eh? Try as we might, almost none of us are in his league. Doh, I said it again. Blessings, Derek Ashton

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Dan S.

October 07, 2009  1:24pm

Very clever and balanced post. For those of us who do not identify with the contemporary New Calvinist movement, we must remember that Jonathan Edwards was the most influential pastor/theologian in American evangelical history. We should study his work. For those of us who are New Calvinists, we must remember to "share" our beloved Edwards with the rest of the wider evangelical community. We do not have monopoly on him.

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October 06, 2009  4:27pm

I've admired Edwards for years, and this is a fun and pretty accurate (as best I can tell) portrayal of what the man would be saying today. Thanks, Brother Edwards (and Url).

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Mark Hollingsworth

October 05, 2009  7:59pm

Interesting post and I sort of like your approach. I do agree with your conclusion that there is a Biblical balance without compromise for most matters in the Word and ministry as well. Thanks for sharing. Blessings, Mark

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October 05, 2009  6:56pm

Thanks for this inventive and brave post. I'm sure some will be bothered by it, but it gave me something to chew on.

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October 05, 2009  2:00pm

it seems to me that CT, and by extension this blog, is becoming more reflective of its staff preferences than actually the wideness of the evangelical stream. it seems you just go back to the same wells. (and, no, those wells aren't the same thing as the Bible.) why do i get the impression that among some of the "neo-puritans/neo-calvinsts/whatever the heck that whole thing is" that if "evangelical" came to be an interchangeable term with their particular perspective they would be quite happy? more and more CT speaks less and less to the things that matter to me or my community. makes me sad. sad for the publication, sad for its readers, and sad for the world.

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October 05, 2009  11:20am

I think I just puked in my mouth. Edwards would be appalled at the neo-calvinist movement. Afterall, once he went to heaven, he found out he was wrong...and that choosing God by his own free will was a good idea!

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Barry Wallace

October 05, 2009  11:05am

I think this may be a hoax. Jonathan Edwards would have answered your questions with much more complex sentences.

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October 05, 2009  9:13am

Rev. Edwards, of course hindsight is 20/20, but had you lived to see the American Revolution of 1776, would you have changed the messages or tenor of your sermons as the conflict drew near?

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