That Tyrannical Theology!

Can you imagine rejoicing in the destruction of someone’s home? Probably not. Can you imagine making a chair out of the beams so that every time you sit down you will be able to rejoice and be reminded that this person is no longer teaching and preaching their particular doctrine? Well, maybe if the doctrine was particularly heinous. In Iain Murray’s wonderful biography of Jonathan Edwards, there is a record of just such an occurrence:

When it (Edwards’ old home) was demolished to make way for a ‘modern residence’ in 1900, a local author, R. DeWitt Mallary, obtained a chair made out of its oaken beams. ‘As oft as I sit in it,’  says Mallary, ‘I congratulate the world that it has escaped the tyranny of Edwards’s theology.’

jonathan-edwardsJonathan Edwards was one of the great Christian preachers and theologians of the 1700’s. He was a key figure in one of the greatest revivals that North America has ever seen, the First Great Awakening. He is widely acclaimed as one of the United States greatest intellectuals, and one of his books, The Life of David Brainerd, inspire thousands of Christian missionaries. Yet Mallary rejoiced that Edwards was no longer preaching God’s word and fulfilling the great commission! What was that tyrannical theology that Edwards taught? The doctrines of grace.  Gasp!

Now, I clearly believe in vehement debate between true Christians regarding various views that can be considered within the orthodox faith (the nature and use of the sacraments, the understanding of election, the views of the end times). But, heaven forbid that we should rejoice when God’s word and the true Gospel stops being proclaimed. As Jesus himself said, “for he who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50).



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6 responses to “That Tyrannical Theology!

  1. I would suspect (not being an Edwards expert at all) that the part of his teachings in which one would rejoice to see ended is not that he taught grace, but that he taught a God consumed with wrath, who seemed to take delight in the punishment of sinners, and stood poised to plunge them into hell at all moment. What was the phrase…? “God holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider”?

    • Edwards did not teach that God delighted in the punishment of sinners. Rather it was God’s great mercy that He patiently put up with and graciously saved undeserving sinners. The holy God could plunge all sinners into hell at the very moment and be justified in doing so. It is only by His mercy that he does not release that spider into the fire.

      • Certainly, it’s only by His mercy that we live from one moment to the next. But to me, it’s the difference between a merciful God who sustains us with His overabundant love, in the shadow of whose wings we take refuge (Psalm 57:1), whose right hand upholds us (Psalm 63:8) — and a malevolent God poised for the kill, dangling us over the pit of hell like a bully dangling a spider over a fire, who merely tolerates us, though we are insignificant to Him. I haven’t read the sermon in years — though I did scan it quickly before I commented — but Edwards’ tone and imagery does not convey a loving and merciful and graceful God to me.

        There is a passage in the Book of Wisdom, one of the deuterocanonical books, that I’ve really come to love, that describes just what we’re talking about:

        For thy all-powerful hand,
        which created the world out of formless matter,
        did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions, or newly created unknown beasts full of rage,
        or such as breathe out fiery breath,
        or belch forth a thick pall of smoke,
        or flash terrible sparks from their eyes; not only could their damage exterminate men,
        but the mere sight of them could kill by fright. Even apart from these, men could fall at a single breath
        when pursued by justice
        and scattered by the breath of thy power.
        But thou hast arranged all things by measure and number and weight. For it is always in thy power to show great strength,
        and who can withstand the might of thy arm? Because the whole world before thee is like a speck that tips the scales,
        and like a drop of morning dew that falls upon the ground. But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things,
        and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist,
        and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made,
        for thou wouldst not have made anything if thou hadst hated it. How would anything have endured if thou hadst not willed it?
        Or how would anything not called forth by thee have been preserved? Thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living.
        (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17–26)

        His peace be with you!

      • Looks like you had a typo in there. You wrote “deuterocanonical” but clearly you must have meant non-canonical. 🙂

      • All Christians held the deuterocanonical books to be canonical up until the time of the Reformation. And regardless of whatever Protestants think now, I think it’s a mistake to discard them as worthless. Whether one accepts them as God-inspired or not, they are the writings of holy followers of God. Jesus and all the Apostles were familiar with them as elements of the Septuagint and undoubtedly reference them. And the reasons for the Protestant Reformers’ rejection of them were arbitrary and prejudicial (basically, it seems, they didn’t like several of the doctrines they supported, so decided it was better to prune the tree of Scripture).

      • That sweeping comment that “all Christians” viewed those books as canonical is patently ridiculous considering the Roman Catholic church did not officially consider them to be part of Scripture until 1546. Joseph, you are so inconsistent it makes my head hurt. In one comment you fall in line with the current “big tent” Roman Catholicism in which all sorts of beliefs are considered as part of the current “Christian” landscape. Yet, here you want to say that there was absolute unanimity for over 1500 years on the Apocryphal books among all Christians. Ridiculous. You can find plenty of quotes from before 1500 from individuals who did not consider those books to be Scripture. Here is one from Jerome:

        As, then, there are twenty-two elementary characters by means of which we write in Hebrew all we say, and the compass of the human voice is contained within their limits, so we reckon twenty-two books, by which, as by the alphabet of the doctrine of God, a righteous man is instructed in tender infancy, and, as it were, while still at the breast.

        Spend a little time on Google and you can find lots of others. Jesus did not consider them to be canonical. The apostles referenced a lot of books, but that does not make them all Scripture. Now, this thread is not going to turn into a debate about the canon.