Balancing Edwards

It is appropriate and necessary for preachers to judge the needs of their congregation when they teach Scripture. I do it every time I preach, because my goal is to help the people use the Bible. As someone has pointed out, people don’t really understand a portion of the Bible if they can’t use it to meet their needs. Their true needs may be different than their perceived needs (Scripture can tell them); they may not.

In a previous post, Jonathan Edwards judged that his congregation and fellow New England Christians and their pastors needed more emotion to match the solid truths they were reading in Scripture. I believe he was right.

But it’s important to point out as that same someone has that "regeneration does not necessarily make us more or less emotional, any more than it makes us more or less intellectual or more or less decisive" (Frame, DCL, 371).

So a different Jonathan Edwards in a different Christian group might emphasize that emotion needs to be toned down overall because it isn’t really matching the truths being presented. People are getting carried away.

For example, Randall Balmer in his famous travels through American evangelicalism interviewed a young Pentecostal woman who had gotten incredibly worked up over a sermon which contained very little truth. Afterwards she could give no account of her intense emotion.

God gives us pastors—shepherds—in part because we need situation-specific guidance from people who know God’s Word. There are times when the sheep need prodding to move forward and times when the shepherd’s staff needs to gently tug them backwards.

I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet. 5:1-5)

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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