Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Proper Understanding of Affections

The Great Awakening was perhaps the second most important era in American history after the founding of the Jamestown colony in 1607. The Great Awakening describes a period in the mid 1730s to early 1740s in England and its colonies that resulted in a massive number of conversions and increased devotion to God's Word. In America much of it centered on the open air preaching of George Whitefield. Whitefield preached to very large crowds with many turning from sin to Christ. Many of the new believers found they must leave their dead churches to submit to scriptural baptism into the multiplying number of independent Baptist ones.

Jonathan Edwards, a Christian, graduated first in his class at Yale in 1720. He continued studies in theology and became full-time pastor in Northampton, CT in 1729. The Great Awakening began at Edwards' church in 1733, including his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. This revival subsided and then surged again with the arrival of Whitefield a few years later.

Toward the end of the Great Awakening, Edwards became concerned about the genuineness of the conversions in this revival. He wrote various books to point out the problems and potential ones that he witnessed. His concern solidified into a series of sermons he preached in 1742-43 at his church from which came a book he authored in 1746 entitled, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. In it he provided a means by which the validity of conversions could be tested. Edwards thought that much of the Great Awakening was real, but some was not, as seen in its lack of certain distinguishing marks.

In his treatise, Edwards centered the problem of false conversions on the means by which men responded to the preaching of the gospel. To explain, he wrote of the difference between responses that were either too intellectual or too emotional. He showed how that genuine salvation was centered in man's affections. Edwards in essence used the term "affections" to describe scriptural love, distinguishing it from something oriented to man's feelings or passions. These affections were part of the inward working of man's soul in contrast to the functions of his body. Jonathan Edwards presented a pre-enlightenment understanding of love, unspoiled by rationalism or romanticism and even worse perversions in contemporary culture.

Edwards portrayed the soul as understanding and deciding. Man knows and then chooses based on that knowledge. However, underlying the mind and the will of a man is his affections. His affections are his inner yearnings that are informed by his understanding. Edwards taught an internal anthropological order fleshed-out from scripture. Man receives revelation in his intellect, which interacts with his affections. Nature reveals a good, loving God and man is either grateful or unthankful. The proper response of the affections to the right understanding of God is faith. Belief is a choice (volitional) informed by knowledge (intellectual) and affection. Man will not choose God without affection for Him. The right knowledge and the right affection and the right choice results in a genuine conversion.

We can see Edwards' teaching in Scripture. Knowledge without love is not a true salvation (1 Corinthians 16:22; John 14:15-23; Romans 8:28; all of 1 John but especially chapters 3 and 4; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; etc.). The greatest commandment is to love the Lord. The true believer loves the Lord. The truth of salvation impacts a man's affections resulting in a life-changing choice, beginning a life of love for God.

The rest of Edwards' treatise provides indications as to whether this is genuine in an individual. There are certain signs that are not trustworthy as a basis of knowing this. They may indicate someone is saved, but not necessarily. Edwards gives twelve of these. He follows these signs with twelve manifestations of real salvation in a person. These twelve show genuine conversion that center on the affections of a man. On every point, Edwards comes from the Bible as his authority.

We can learn much from Edwards' teaching. He provides an accurate basis for a proper analysis of someone's salvation. He reminds us of the importance of preserving the right view of love. We see the priority of protecting a proper function of our affections. In so many cases today, we have replaced affections with passion, emotions, or lust. We are fooled into thinking that feeling produced by external, bodily means is affection, when it is in fact just the opposite. It has been choreographed by man. Men, even professing Christians, mistake love for a cheap, worldly imitation. Churches and other religious groups all over participate in the process in their contemporary music and marketing techniques. We find from Edwards' exegesis that the affections are closely related to the mind and the will. We do great damage in whatever manner we use to separate love from intellect and volition. We must nurture our affections by what what we see and hear---our literature, art, and music especially.

Edwards' expositions relate to the nature of our gospel presentation. We must properly inform the minds of men toward a love for God, so that they do choose the Lord from their affections. Salvation isn't just intellectual. It isn't merely volitional. A proper view of God is vital. Men are greatly affected in their view of God by how we worship Him. The worship must match up with His nature. If we love Him, it will. We will choose the manner of worship out of scriptural understanding. Our affections for Him will demand it. Faith in Christ is man's first act of worship, presenting our soul to God as a sacrifice, our mind, affections, and will. God's saving grace will enable believers to persevere in the faith in a life pleasing to God until the day they see Him.

I will be continuing my epistemology series soon. However, this does much relate to epistemology.

1 comment:

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Kent:

"We do great damage in whatever manner we use to separate love from intellect and volition."That is an important truth for hair-splitting theolgians to remember!

How can I have love (affection) for a person or being I have no knowledge of?