Wednesday, July 10, 2013

You Probably Don't Really Love Jonathan Edward's Treatise Concerning Religious Affections If You're a Conservative Evangelical or Fundamentalist

During and then shortly after what has been called the "Great Awakening" of the mid 18th century, Jonathan Edwards first preached sermons, then wrote articles, that turned into a full fledged book, Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (RA).  It's viewed by Christians, even by people in general, as a classic in American literature.  It is a classic Christian volume.  It is praised by evangelicals and fundamentalists as true, a must read, and an important work.

To start, Edwards addressed the Great Awakening while it occurred and those who opposed any criticism of it.  After it was over, and he observed its results, he evaluated what had happened.  He provided in RA a basis for analysis, listing distinguishing marks of genuine spirituality. His listed characteristics were either right or wrong.  If they were wrong, RA is not a helpful book.  It isn't a classic.  It isn't a must read.  It should be avoided at all cost.

To me, a chief irony of the "love" for RA among evangelicals and fundamentalists is the way they go ahead and violate it's major premise so freely.  In his introduction, Edwards writes:

And so it is likely ever to be in the church, whenever religion revives remarkably, till we have learned well to distinguish between true and false religion, between saving affections and experiences, and those manifold fair shows, and glistering appearances, by which they are counterfeited; the consequences of which, when they are not distinguished, are often inexpressibly dreadful. But this means, the devil gratifies himself, that multitudes should offer to God, under the notion of acceptable service, what is indeed above all things abominable to him. But this means, he deceives great multitudes about the state of their souls; making them think they are something, when they are nothing; and so eternally undoes them: and not only so, but establishes many in a strong confidence of their eminent holiness, who, in God’s sight, are some of the vilest hypocrites.

What Edwards says doesn't leave room only to be admired.  You can't really like Edwards's book and then go ahead and participate in what he so exposes as 'the devil gratifying himself' and the 'deceiving of great multitudes about the state of their souls.'  A vast, vast majority of evangelicals, including the conservative ones, and fundamentalists fall under the direct admonishment of Edwards in his book.  What he criticized in his era was far less damaging and dangerous than what transpired in what is called the Second Great Awakening, which was then even at least that much less so compared to today.

Conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists are rife with false spirituality either camouflaged or counterfeited by what were the "enthusiasms" of Edwards's day and the "new measures" of Finney's.  The worship of most evangelical and fundamentalist churches is the product of revivalist manipulation, defended by a perversion of sola Scriptura.  The defenders of today's contradictions to Edwards's work, who wrap (and rap) themselves in Edwards, attack the practice of Edwards as rigid and extrabiblical.  Edwards repeats words like "beauty," "excellency," "glory," and "lovely," elements that form an essential part of his presentation of Christian discernment.  Edwards wanted sola Scriptura, not accensi sensus or passio or emovere.  If it's going to be Scripture, you keep it to Scripture.

Edwards writes that true religion is "the result of holy affections," which "are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul," distinguished by "vigorous exercise of the inclination and will towards divine objects."  The will (inclinations) approves or disapproves of the objects (thoughts and ideas) beheld by the mind (heart).  Holy affections come from an inclination of the will, not the emotions or passions.  Revivalism and ultimately Charismaticism has left its mark on today's conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

Showing the distinguishing signs of holy affections, Edwards lists these first four:

1. Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.
2. The primary ground of gracious affections is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are in themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest.
3. Those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things.
4. Gracious affections arise from the mind being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things.

Much of what counts as true religion or spiritual worship is ginned up by the sensual and syncopated rhythms of the musical instruments.  Conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists fail.  Church activities are "holy" amusements.  Evangelicals and fundamentalists are some of the best experts on movies, the theater, and pop music.  And the latter has moved its way into the churches and with the addition of "Christian words" masquerades as a genuine spiritual experience.  That sweet, sweet spirit is the spirit of the age, not the Spirit of the Lord.

How can the affections be truly spiritual and gracious when they are in fact not spiritual, supernatural and divine?  They aren't gracious affections because they aren't transcendent.  They are not founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things, but on chords and runs and riffs and microphone handling.  It doesn't begin with the enlightening of the mind, but with the titillating of the passions.

You can't love RA and then directly violate RA.  You don't love RA.  You dumb RA down into an association with you that does not exist.

Let's say you're all in with RA.  You believe it and practice it.  But you yoke up with those who don't.  Remember.  Edwards said the false spirituality was Satanic and destructive.  You can't love RA and not cleanse yourself of its defilements.

Either really believe RA or take a stand against it.  If it's true, believe it and practice it.  If it's not, then publically repudiate it.  There really is not middle ground with that book. Edwards never intended there to be.  Those of you who know you're more sola Scriptura than Edwards because of his extrabiblical rigidity, stand against him.  Mark him the legalist you would if you lived in his day, just like those who enthusiastically did in his day.  Don't act like you believe RA, when you know you don't.

Edwards exposed earlier revelations of strange fire.  Today repudiators of strange fire embrace the strange fire Edwards rebuked in RA, while professing to love RA.  Is there some kind of middle ground on strange fire, a sort of modified, acceptable perverted flame?  Can you pick and choose various acceptable iterations of corrupt blazes that work for you, while pointing your extinguisher at others?  That seems strange.

You love your success too much to love RA.  You prioritize passion.  You traffic in emotion like a den of thieves with an exorbitant exchange rate.  You put on a show.  You market vain repetition.  You can't love RA, because you know how much people want the exact opposite.  Some of you crusade against what is closest to RA, so stop your fibbing that you like it.  You don't.  Just admit you're its enemy.  Stand against it.  You do today.  Just confess that you would in Edwards's day too.


George Calvas said...


What you wrote is so true and many have fallen in its pernicious way through the lust of the flesh and thereby being deceived. I am a little puzzled that McArthur has taken a step in that direction, but when he gave up the Holy King James Bible, I am never suprised of what can happen.

I have been preaching against that Charismatic chaos (roots found in CCM) for so many years for it is "sensual, not having the spirit". In our open air evangelism, I spend time preaching against this perverted Christianity, believing that many are really just lost and know not God, for they "worship" a different Jesus. There is so much confusion spoken by the heirling pastors of today and by them many are "being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine" to the destruction of their souls or never growing up to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but are at best just babes.

bhardecker said...

You are not going to get an invitation to speak at some Fundamentalist workshop or the Gospel Coalition if you keep writing stuff like this. C'mon, using Edwards against them. That's abuse. Write on!

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks. Hope you are well. I hope people know what I'm talking about. Edwards wrote a time when he saw the root of things that are in such bloom that most people don't know that they are violating the teaching.


I rejoice in the truth.

Anonymous said...

Edwards would have been amazed at what passes for worship in most pentecostal or charismatic churches today. Christian worship from the beginning was not a music concert at which to go and be entertained, wave your arms wildly and jump and down. It was always about reverence and devoted worship, organized,not spontaneous, and singing to be done with psalms and decorous humns; not the crazy stuff which passes for modern day worship in so many of our churches today.

Bobby Mitchell said...

I have been preaching on holiness for about two months here.

We are looking to see what Scripture says about holiness relating to:


This morning was my fifth or sixth message concerning holy affections. It really is powerful stuff. Of course, I've been looking at Edwards' RA and it has been a real help.

I think you are right that many will laud JE's book, but few really want to live that. They do the same with Spurgeon.