“Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity” is the last book in The Essential Edwards Collection, a five book set. And it is the first of many books I’ll be highlighting on the blog. I have just finished the entire set and would recommend it, however, as my blog site is only a few months old, I’ll only be highlighting the last book.
The idea behind these book highlight posts is to briefly walk through the book and show you where my highlighter fell. If you never read the book, then you can glean the parts I valued most here. Or even better, these posts can serve as a teaser to introduce you to a new book to add to your to-read list!
The Essential Edwards Collection really serves to introduce uninitiated readers to the work of Jonathan Edwards. In each volume Edwards is quoted extensively from various sermons, books, and journal entries, and then there is commentary interspersed between by the authors. The first volume is biographical, and the other four are all based on a specific theme. My highlights are a mix of the author commentary and Edwards himself. I have specifically noted when it is Edwards being quoted. Ok, into the book we go!
1. The Contemporary Problem of Nominal Christianity
Throughout the book, the term nominal Christianity is used to mean “Christianity by name only.” It means a Christianity that is merely professed, but is not in the heart. And we know from the teaching of Christ that to honor Him with our lips while our hearts are far from Him is not truly Christianity, but hypocritical (Mat. 15:8).
many of our churches have bought into the modern American consumer mindset in which we understand ourselves primarily as consumers and our churches as service-providers. Some pastors no longer preach prophetic, biblically robust, God-centered sermons meant to feed the people of God a delicious and healthy biblical “meal.” Instead, they offer the church short, airy homilies aimed at the practical and psychological “needs” of people. -Pg. 38
we have, perhaps unwittingly, redefined our God and what it means to know Him. He is a preference, a choice, who when we convert bestows upon us what we’ve always deserved. With little grip on a biblical understanding of the Almighty, we who are called to be shaped in His holy image have done the reverse: we have shaped Him in our image. As a result, He looks a lot like us. -Pg. 42
The book’s critique of what is typically considered preaching is very timely. When the church gathers together corporately to worship and hear the word of God, it should be Scripture saturated soul food. Too many sermons are spent preaching the same message as the world, but coated in religious language. While there are great promises and much comfort in Biblical truth, there is also that which is meant to challenge and prune us. With so little or no focus on Christ and the gospel, a lot of what’s sold in Christian book stores should be relegated to simply psychology/self-help. We should always have a humble, teachable spirit, being eager to learn. But even if it’s a highly respected leader or your best friend, examine the Scriptures to see if it is true. Be on guard for the kind of teaching that always tells you what you would already naturally want to hear!
2. The Problem of Nominal Christianity in Edwards’ Day
“Let your great concern be while in this world, so to improve your opportunity in God’s house in that world, whether you sit high or low, as that you may have a glorious and distinguished mansion in God’s house in heaven, where you may be fixed in your place in that eternal assembly in everlasting rest. Let the main thing that you prize in God’s house be not the outward ornaments of it, or an high seat in it, but the word of Christ, and God’s ordinance in it.” – Edwards, Pg. 59-60
In Edwards’ day, which pew you sat in at church was apparently a social status. Not necessarily because the church taught that, but that’s how people viewed it. This was an area that some people could become prideful in and would distract their focus from Jesus. Though expressed in the language of his time, the principal of Edwards’ advice is no less relevant today. Don’t prize your role or social status in a congregation or ministry over the word of Christ. Where the body of Christ is assembled, don’t look down on them if they don’t have cool music or a professional order of service.
Though we may possess theological knowledge and even a strong drive to know the Word, Edwards calls us to check our hearts and the hearts of our fellow church members. Is doctrine merely fodder for debate? Do we simply store up biblical concepts like impersonal data? Edwards prompts us to ask these questions in order that we might avoid a faith consisting only of believed but impersonal truths. -Pg. 63
3. Edwards’ Answer to Nominal Christianity
“There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man can’t have the latter, unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.” – Edwards, Pg. 83
I love the idea Edwards develops here. True Christianity, as opposed to hypocrisy, doesn’t just believe in Jesus, it loves Jesus as He is revealed in the Bible and counts Him as most precious. You can learn all the facts about Jesus without ever having met Him. The demons believe that God is one (Jam. 2:19), and even know that there is a time appointed for their torture (Mat. 8:29). They probably know even more theological truths, but they aren’t Christians. I know that’s kind of an extreme, because Christ died for men, not for angels. However, the point remains that being theologically correct does not equal salvation. True Christianity will manifest itself in a few basic ways. Primary among them are love for Christ, hatred of sin, and love for His people.
4. Powerful Examples of True Christianity
Many people can pretend to have love for God. They can say the right things and go to the right events. But far fewer nominal believers will express concern for the eternal fate of the lost. -Pg. 115
If we truly believe that heaven and hell are at stake in people’s lives, a lack of concern and thought for people’s eternal well being ought to give us some idea of where we’re at. This statement is really challenging me.
5. The Contemporary Call to True Christianity
“The Christian religion is the religion of Christ, or the religion that Jesus Christ came to teach. But the religion that Christ taught consisted mainly in true piety of heart and life. Indeed, the custom of the present day has called something else the religion of Christ besides this: ’tis customary to call the doctrines of Christianity the Christian religion.” Edwards, -Pg. 130
Edwards’ ministry centered not around pragmatic questions, but around a dominant concern that all that he would do and say would bring glory to God and advance His kingdom. God, not statistics or personal reputation, occupied center stage in his mind. -Pg. 134
We must set our sights higher than attendance numbers, likes on social media, how it looks, how it sounds, and so much else that is only temporary. Our worship, our ministry, is all to the glory of God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. People all around the world gather and worship in different settings. Whether with many or few worldly resources, may Jesus Christ be front and center in everything we do.