Thursday, July 22, 2010

Revolutionary Theology

"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt 7:12)

One of our favorite heroes of the faith, perhaps even pre-eminent, is Jonathan Edwards. And we were reminded again by Marsden's shorter biography that we love to learn from Jonathan Edwards because his robust grasp of God's Word gave him convictions with which he stood against the innate corruptions of his own culture.

Perhaps this is most clearly seen during his ministry at Stockbridge and his dealings with the Mahicans and Mohawks. Edwards was having none of the abuse of the Native Americans in which many English settlers indulged for personal profit. Marsden describes one such encounter:
During Edwards's first summer in Stockbridge, some of New England's leaders met with an assembly of Mohawk chiefs to discuss the matter [of building a school for Mohawk children]. Edwards preached to the Indians, presenting the gospel in simple terms. What he said revealed his view of the Indians. Although he believed the Indians to be religiously deprived and hence culturally inferior, he did not see them as naturally or intrinsically inferior to Europeans. Alluding to the time during the Roman Empire when the ancestors of the English had been 'barbarians' prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries, Edwards assured the Indians, 'It was once with our forefathers as 'tis with you.' They had been in great darkness, but then they received the light of the gospel. 'We are no better than you in no respect,' he continued, 'only as God has made us to differ and has been pleased to give us more light. And now we are willing to give it to you.' Edwards believed that any nation might include true believers who, however humble their circumstances, might be spiritually superior to the greatest men anywhere. He also expected that one day there would be notable Indian theologians. First, though, Mohawks needed to asccept the simple rudiments of the gospel of God's love, and for that they needed God's revelation in the Bible. The French Catholics, said Edwards, kept Indians in the dark by withholding the Bible from them. Even many English failed to support missions because 'they choose to keep you in the dark for the sake of making a gain of you.'

- A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, p. 120.
Edwards'scriptural vision of God's glory and enabled him to see beyond the selfish prejudices of his own people and call it for what it was... sin. Edwards' theology made him a revolutionary, a gentle, humble, and loving one (see 2 Tim 2:24-26), but a revolutionary nonetheless. Risking his own political protection and economic provision, Edwards confronted those English settlers who took advantage of the Indians with unjust dealings. He would go on to create no small stir during his ministry at Stockbridge, and created some influential enemies, by taking the side of the Indians in land-brokering, insisting that the settlers deal honestly and pay fairly.

Edwards' heritage continued in his son, Jonathan Jr., who played frequently with the Indian children as a boy and became an accomplished linguist in many of their languages. As an adult, Jonathan Jr. became a significant leader in the early abolition movement in the U.S. (see his sermon on Matt 7:12, "The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and the Slavery of Africans")

We are instructed by Edwards that our studies in the ivory story are for the purpose of pounding the asphalt with the glorious truths of the Gospel and confronting our own culture with its corruption... even to our personal loss. The most revolutionary act in the world is to see ourselves and our communities through "the Law and the Prophets."

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