Jonathan Edwards and Religious Affections

[Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on February 27, 2013.]

I recently came across a wonderful, brief introduction to the life and literary legacy of Jonathan Edwards by Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson. The essay, which is available online, is reprinted from Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage, 2007), which Beeke and Peterson co-authored. In the essay, the authors provide a basic summary of Edwards’s biography and theological convictions. They also provide an annotated bibliography to reprinted editions (scholarly and popular) of Edwards’s written corpus.

My chief interest in Edwards concerns two interrelated topics: his spirituality and his theology of revival. For this reason, my favorite of Edwards’s works is A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). I have frequently required Religious Affections in my Church History II class. More than one student has told me that being required to read Religious Affections for my class changed his or her spiritual life. Read what Beeke and Peterson have to say about Religious Affections in the aforementioned essay:

This work is often regarded as the leading classic in American history on spiritual life. Edwards here presents a more mature reflection of revival than in his Faithful Narrative, reflecting upon the strengths and weaknesses of the Great Awakening after it crested. Fundamentally, Edwards grapples with the questions: What makes a person a Christian? What is it about a person that would move others to recognize him as a Christian? What is the difference between true and false Christian experience? Edwards first considers the nature of affections and their importance in religion, answering the charges of Charles Chauncy. He views affections as the desires of the heart based upon intellectual reflections, and argues that true religion consists in the affections.

In the second part of his work, Edwards describes twelve signs of gracious affections that may not necessarily indicate saving faith. These include intense feelings; experiences that produce physical effects; fluency in spiritual matters; not causing one’s own affections; having verses of Scripture impressed upon the mind; the appearance of being loving; experiencing a variety of affections; being moved by affections to spend much time in religious matters; affections that move one to praise God; affections that lead to a strong sense of assurance of salvation; affections that lead one to act in ways that are accepted by the godly. Edwards goes on to argue that external signs motivated by religious affections neither deny nor confirm genuine religious experience. He takes a middle position between those who claimed the phenomena that took place in Northampton proved the revival true and those who said the phenomena showed it to be false.

In the final section, Edwards explains the true marks of genuine conversion, noting that they all arise from the illumination of God’s Spirit. He describes twelve true signs of gracious affections:

• A new birth, or regeneration
• A new transcendental perspective in daily life that focuses on God’s glory
• A love for the loveliness of divine things
• A “new taste” that combines “heat with light”; understanding is essential but insufficient by itself
• A deep conviction of an immediate sense of divinity and total control of self by the truths of the gospel
• An evangelical rather than legal humiliation
• A radical change of nature that results in conversion
• A genuine love for and meekness toward others
• A Christian tenderness toward others
• A kind of symmetry or proportion of all the foregoing affections
• A desire for a growing relationship with God
• A gracious love that manifests itself in behavior

If you haven’t read Religious Affections before, I would encourage you to do so. A paperback of the Yale University Press critical edition, which includes a scholarly introductory essay by John Smith, has recently been published at a very affordable price (pictured above). You can also read the critical edition for free online at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. There are also many popular reprints of Religious Affections available on the market. The one I read while in seminary (my first introduction to Religious Affections) was the edition published by Banner of Truth. It’s also fairly easy to find free PDF versions of Religious Affections on the internet.

If the idea of reading Edwards scares you a bit, check out Sam Storms’s Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Crossway, 2007), which is a wonderful modernization of the original work (pictured left). Another helpful modern updating of Religious Affections, this one written by Gerald McDermott, is titled Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment (Regent College Publishing, 2000). Craig Biehl has also written a study guide to the book titled Reading “Religious Affections”: A Study Guide to Jonathan Edwards’ Classic on the Nature of True Christianity (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2012).

(Note: This post was first published at Christian Thought & Tradition on February 25, 2013.)


On Trying to be a Missional Family

The Finns want to be a missional family. Leah and I desire for our family ethos to reflect a key truth that is helpfully summarized in the “Missional Manifesto“: “God is a sending God, a missionary God, who has called His people, the church, to be missionary agents of His love and glory.” We want our words and deeds to point others to Christ. We want our family to be a lighthouse for the kingdom to our neighbors, friends and extended family.

In recent months, Leah and I have been talking more and more about practical ways that we can proclaim Christ, serve others and promote shalom in our context. We want to be good missional stewards of our blessings, including being a part of a thriving congregation that gathers in one of the most ethnically diverse and culturally eclectic cities in the South and being a part of a seminary community that is focused upon equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. Our current season in Jackson, Tennessee, where I am on sabbatical for six months, has proven to be a helpful time for us to reflect on how we can be more intentional in cultivating missional priorities upon our return to North Carolina this summer. We have loads of ideas, some of which might even come to fruition! But I thought I would share some of the initial steps we have begun to take.

First, like most Christian parents, we want to form our children in such a way that we point them to Christ and teach them a biblical worldview. But we also want to build mission into our family’s DNA so that, Lord willing, it one day carries over into each of our children’s spiritual DNA. I blogged several weeks back about how we are teaching our children to pray for the fulfillment of the Great Commission as part of our daily family worship time. We want the Finnlings to feel the burden of the world’s spiritual lostness, even as we pray that they would recognize their own lostness and need for the saving work of Jesus Christ in their own lives. Perhaps as they learn more and more about the world that God so loves, they will also come to understand his love for them and his desire that they be saved. AnnieLottieJar

More recently, we have designated a mason jar to be our “Annie and Lottie Jar”  for missions. Like many Southern Baptist families, we give every year to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for global missions. But this has always been a decision that Leah and I make: “So, how much do we want to give this year?” But beginning with 2014, we want to also collect money year round in our Annie and Lottie Jar. Money collected between January and Easter will be added to our Annie Armstrong giving, while money collected between Easter and December will be added to our Lottie Moon giving. This will allow us to give more and also encourage the Finnlings to give toward Great Commission advance. You can see a picture of our Annie and Lottie Jar to the right.

Like many families, we have recently begun sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Our children were involved in this decision and are excited that the Lord will use our gifts to help with Sonjita’s education and physical health, introduce her to the gospel and sound biblical teaching and protect her from those who would exploit her in various ways. The latter is important because Sonjita lives in a nation where child slavery and human sex trafficking are perennial threats. As an added bonus, Sonjita is around the same age as our two oldest children, so they already feel a connection with her. We look forward to watching Sonjita grow up, from a distance, and we are eager to pray for her physical and ultimately spiritual wellbeing. (By the way, if you are skeptical of child-sponsorship ministries like Compassion International, I would recommend you read this helpful article from the June 2013 issue of Christianity Today.)

Lord willing, these are the first steps toward a much more intentionally missional lifestyle for our entire family. It is our hope that our family’s future is an increasingly missional future filled with regular gospel hospitality, family service projects, family mission trips, generous giving of time and resources (both planned and spontaneous) and ongoing evangelistic conversations with non-Christians. I’d love to hear from readers how the Lord is leading your family to live out a missional vision in your context.

(Note: This post was previously published at Christian Thought & Tradition on January 31, 2014. It has been very lightly edited for publication at Between the Times.)

How To Stay Christian in Seminary

How To Stay Christian in SeminarySatan is alive and well. One of the ways the enemy wreaks havoc in seminaries and Christian colleges is by causing young men and women to grow personally numb to the spiritual truths they are studying in their classes. We’ve all met seminary graduates who felt like they had to recover something that had become stagnant in their spiritual walk during their time in school. While I believe the prevalence of these stories is sometimes exaggerated–I know far, FAR more students whose spiritual walks have blossomed in seminary–there is no doubt that many seminarians have left school with hearts that have grown cold toward the Lord, his church and the lost.

I am very grateful that David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell have written their new book How To Stay Christian in Seminary (Crossway, 2014). David and Jonathan both work for Desiring God Ministries; John Piper wrote the book’s foreword. Jonathan is a graduate of The College at Southeastern, so we know him well around here and are awfully thankful that he has co-authored this book. The idea for this book first came a couple of years ago when David and Jonathan blogged on this topic for Desiring God. They also asked a number of folks, including yours truly and Bruce Ashford, to weigh in on the topic. (You can read the compilation of all the posts here.) I had the privilege of reading a draft of How to Stay Christian in Seminary last year and I can tell you that this is a book that every seminarian (or prospective seminarian) should “take up and read.”

What follows is an image of the Table of Contents that I shamelessly copied from my friend Andy Naselli’s website. I hope you’ll purchase a copy of this short, inexpensive, soul-stirring book and take it to heart.