Lessons Learned from Jonathan Edwards part 2 (from Doug Sweeney’s book: “Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word”)

There are many strengths and some weaknesses that I’ve learned from the life of Jonathan Edwards.  He lived from 1703 to 1758 and was the pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, then he served as a missionary in Stockbridge, and just before he died he moved to be the president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University.

(This is part 2. See part 1 for “Lessons from Jonathan Edwards’ Strengths”)

Lessons from Jonathan Edwards’ Weaknesses

The weaknesses I’ll seek to avoid from his life are the following: (1) he owned slaves, (2) he held to a Presbyterian polity, (3) he negotiated much on a tough financial situation with the church, and (4) he handled a pastoral situation poorly and did not fix it.

Edwards owned slaves.  He treated them well from what I read and he shared the gospel with them which was treating them significantly better than most in his day.  But he still owned them and did not see how this was sinful from the Scriptures.  It’s easy for me to avoid this slavery in this country since my parents were both born in the Philippines, so I’m a minority (though in LA, everyone’s a minority).  Plus, slavery has been abolished so the desire to oppress someone would also have to create a desire for me to break the law and heap on warranted public and social criticism.  But racism is weakness and I hope to avoid it.  The bigger weakness which in some measure is absolutely unavoidable is being unable to see cultural blind spots.  Doubtless in 300 years someone will look back on our time in church history (if the Lord tarries) and say, how did those pastors and Christians believe the gospel and do that?  The best way I know to avoid this as much as possible is to pursue humility, be open to critique personally and corporately from others, and study history.

Presbyterian polity is another weakness I will avoid (unless I eventually am convinced it is the biblical polity).  I am a congregationalist in that I believe in the autonomy of the local church though churches should associate/network with other gospel churches.  I believe in a plurality of elders too.

Edwards made a mistake in handling the bad book controversy [1] where boys saw a manual for early modern midwives (which would be the closest thing to pornography in that day).  Some of the boys used it to harass several adolescent girls.  Edwards attacked the problem publicly from the pulpit embarrassing the families involved and calling names of some boys for questioning but making no distinction between witnesses and culprits.  He then further made the mistake of failing to facilitate a reconciliation.  The lesson to be learned here is to publicly repent as a leader when I sin.  And before that, have a plurality of elders speaking into my life and holding me accountable and helping my wife in that.  Edwards didn’t seem to have a plurality of elders in his church because that was not the ecclesial culture of his day.  This allowed for his mistake to go uncorrected and for him to go on unadmonished.  Setting up accountability with other men in the church and a culture of review like Mark Dever’s service reviews at Capitol Hill Baptist Church is an ideal I’d like to implement in months to come when we have other leaders and a more established base of leaders in CrossView Church.

Edwards also had initiated a long negotiation with the town about his salary (139).  He had to for the sake of providing for his children and the cultural context was different (you couldn’t just pick up another part-time job in this day).  So I can understand his negotiations.  But in my context I’ll raise support outside or find other work to make ends meet before I make the church stubbornly pay me what I need to support my family apart from seeking other options.

The last weakness of Edwards that I will avoid is wearing a wig when I preach.  That is horrible.  Edwards probably wore a wig when he preached, at least sometimes.  Actually, he was contextually sensitive, so it may have been a strength.  So contextualize to not distract or unnecessarily stumble, yes.  Wear a wig because I think it looks cool, no.

[1] Douglas Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 138-9.  All other page number references in parentheses in this blog post is from this book.


About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
This entry was posted in Books read, books recommended, church history, Jonathan Edwards, Pastoral ministry. Bookmark the permalink.

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