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Jonathan Edwards as Failure

An older article on Jonathan Edwards was passed along to me, and I thought it was worth sharing. Chris Armstrong’s Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church is informative and engaging. Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that Edwards was essentially fired from his church at the age of 46, and he never retained any sort of prominence in his lifetime.

Throughout the article one cannot help but get the feeling that Edwards probably was a bad pastor. Notice this:

In the infamous “bad book” episode of 1744, some teen boys in the church distributed a midwife’s manual, using it to taunt and make suggestive comments in front of girls. When the culprits were summoned before the church, their response, according to documents of the proceedings, was “contemptuous … toward the authority of this Church.”

Edwards chose to read before the church a list containing, indiscriminately, the names of both the young distributors as well as the purported witnesses. Some parents were outraged at Edwards.

Another issue was Edwards’s personality and style as a minister. At the outset of his ministry at Northampton, for example, he decided that he would not pay the customary regular visits to his congregants, but would rather come to their side only when called in cases of sickness or other emergency. This made him seem, to some in the church, cold and distant.

Additionally, the matter of increased discipline, the thing for which he was eventually ousted, is not an obviously desirable or biblically-required stance. It has a precedent within Puritanism, to be sure, but that seems an unwise reason for which to fall upon one’s sword.

And at the same time, reading of Edward’s failures and subsequent, posthumous, triumph ought to be a genuine encouragement. Luther and Calvin both had similar “falls” and yet made immense contributions to Christendom. The same is true of Edwards, and knowledge of his weaknesses does not take away from his stature in the least.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.