A recent article by Jay Tolson in U.S. News has reminded me of one of the strangest and most rewarding friendships I have ever enjoyed—one that continues today.
He was a Puritan theologian who had been dead for several centuries and was still known more for his subtle and extensive work in academic philosophy than for his connection with America's first "revival"—the so-called Great Awakening.
I was a young, newly minted, twentieth-century Christian in a Pentecostal church, who had spent much of the previous year basking in a sequence of Spirit-led encounters with the living God.
But when I cracked open the Treatise on the Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards (celebrating his 300th birthday this year) and began reading his analysis of the religious revival sweeping his church, I felt like he was talking directly to me and my spiritually juiced-up congregation. Why hadn't anyone told me about this guy?
OK, his page-long paragraphs of convoluted eighteenth-century sentences didn't help. And, yes, his occasional Calvinist laments about how all humans are depraved worms were somewhat off-putting. But I felt any fool could see (because I could) that this was a wise man with a pastor's heart, who really knew and could explain, in brilliantly helpful detail, what happened when the Holy Spirit entered a human heart.
(By the way, if you want a less difficult first exposure to the ideas of Edwards's masterwork, check out Gerald R. McDermott's Seeing God: Twelve Reliable Signs of True Spirituality.)
Here, I thought as I devoured the book, was a person I wanted to know better!
Especially, I was impressed that a scholar, theologian, philosopher—indeed in his younger years a competent scientist who looked like he had a bright scientific ...1
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