Sinners in the Hand of a Not-so-Angry American God
Reading: Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards
Could any pastor today really get away with this sermon? Maybe a few televangelists, but I suspect precious few of the bricks-and-steeples variety. Is this because our post-modern evangelicalism is so watery, or because this kind of fear mongering has never really been considered appropriate? Yet, Edwards has not really said anything that is not, in fact, true. (As an aside, if I teach Logic again I think I will have the students diagram Edward’s argument.) Perhaps more interestingly, I wonder if I really want to hear this kind preaching on Sunday morning. Maybe I could handle the occasional Fifth Sunday Fire-and-Brimstone Sermon so long as it were followed by a congregational potluck.
My suspicion is that most of us have long since become acquainted, and comfortable, with an American God who isn’t nearly so angry as the wrathful God Edwards speaks of…vengeful anger being in today’s culture something worthy both of medication and therapy. Indeed, that seems to be today’s theologically liberal American conception of God: a former alcoholic, known for being an angry drunk, who because He has gotten Himself off the booze by virtue of a ten step program, is welcome in polite company so long as he continues to attend his weekly support group. (Since I’m from West Virginia, I’m also pondering a fun Robert C. Byrd clan analogy here.) In too many congregations, one might observe, it seems that the purpose of the weekly worship is to remind God of His place in the scheme of things, and not the reverse.
It is probably worth noting that for those who profess salvation in Christ, this sermon is actually a big “fwssssh” [reader imagines the back of his hand trailing across the forehead whilst making the sound]. It’s the lost who need to be afraid, be very afraid. After all, C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity that in order for folks to come to the conclusion that they should embrace the God of Christianity, they needed first to have instilled the fear which comes only by recognizing that there is an immutable and divine moral law in the universe, and that we have transgressed it. I suppose if we weighed the sensibilities of folks in this life versus the eternal tragedy faced by a lost soul in the next, are we not tempted, even just a bit, to allow that in this case, maybe the ends justify the means?
For Further Discussion:
Is the God portrayed by Edwards America’s God?
What is the appropriate role or use of fear in evangelism?
Does Edwards represent an affirmation of early Puritan belief, or a rejection of it?
How do/should 21st century Christians respond to Edwards?
To what extent should we affirm Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God as significant to answering the central question “What is an American?”