Edwards on Evangelism

I very much enjoyed an article in the Anvil journal by Peter Sanlon.  Let me quote three paragraphs, where the middle one is a quote from Jonathan Edwards –

The primacy of the affections has implications for our ministries.  We should see that prayer, sacraments, singing and preaching are all given by God ‘to excite and express religious affections.’ Perhaps one of the areas of ministry where we understandably, but erroneously, fail to appreciate the primacy of the affections, is evangelism.  It makes sense intellectually that an unbeliever needs to understand that of which they were previously ignorant.  This is indeed necessary (Rom.10:14) but Edwards would affirm that the main point of spiritual work in conversion is in the affections.  To engage in mission which takes seriously the primacy of the affections would involve a radical overhaul of our present day reliance on programmes, courses and rational explanations:

There is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of that holiness and grace.  There is a difference between have 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.

A compelling case could be made that much evangelical ministry today is geared at giving people an opinion and rational judgment about God which falls far short of the sense of sweetness Edwards encouraged people to taste.  In a time when people are starving for lack of the pleasure of tasting the sweetness of God, we should not denigrate emotions but rather seek to stir up any emotion which tends towards inculcating the emotional heart-felt plea, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’ (Luke 17:13). We must do this in evangelism, because, ‘the way to draw men and women into Christ’s kingdom, Edwards believed, was through his listeners’ affections.’

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From Peter Sanlon’s article, “Bringing Emotions to the Surface in Ministry,” in Anvil, vol.26, nos. 3&4, 2009, p238.

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