Monday, October 15, 2007

Edward's Religious Affections Entry 4: A Venti-sized catalog of what may or may not be God at work.

Jonathan Edwards is nothing if not meticulous. Wrestling to define what true religious affections are, he first covers an enormous range of possibilities as to what may or may not be evidence of a genuine working of God in a person's life. He points out that the following may or may not be indications of true religious affections: voluminous display of physical and emotional phenomena; the fervor with which feelings are expressed; that such displays are accompanied by quoting of scripture; that they are accompanied by expressions of love; that they are varied in their presentation; that joy results; that religious experiences occur in a certain order; that religious experiences don’t occur in a certain order; zealous religious behavior; attention to religious duty; expression of praise; confidence; and finally, affecting testimonies.

Any of the above, he asserts, may accompany true religious affections, or they may not. In other words they are none of them determinative. I found this section tough going, because in each instance, as these markers were dismissed as being possibly, but not certainly indicative of a real work of God in a person’s life, I felt as if I was gaining no ground toward the understanding of what a true work of grace would look like. Looking back, however, I realize there is great practical benefit in knowing that these various manifestations are not conclusive evidence of God at work, but remain possible indicators. As a pastor working at helping people toward maturity in their Christian faith, I frequently find it necessary to first ascertain if the person I am dealing with is in fact a Christian in the first place. Though I don’t think it possible to make a certain determination, it is helpful to have a plausible assumption in order to fashion a place at which to begin. This is where Edward’s parsing should prove helpful. This section of The Religious Affections provides a matrix by which an initial evaluation of an individual’s spiritual standing can be formed. Though I may not achieve certainty in my assessment, getting within the ballpark is a step in the right direction toward becoming truly helpful.

Upon further reflection, I also realize Edward's observations have value as a checklist for the condition of my own heart. Am I considering some of the above mentioned behaviors as evidence for my own standing in Christ? As Edward's might say, these affections are no certain signs of having within me the nature of true religion.

Religious Affections Entry #1
Religious Affections Entry #2
Religious Affections Entry #3

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