Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Another Great Awakening? Why Not?

The professor of my Old Testament survey class recently referenced Jonathan Edward’s great sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." He mentioned it in the context of the Great Awakening that took place circa 1730-1755. Edwards was an American theologian and he preached the sermon on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut. Similar to Edwards' other sermons and writings, it combines vivid imagery of Hell with observations of the secular world and citations of scripture. It remains Edwards' most lauded work, and is widely studied both among American Christians and historians.

According to sources close to Edwards, he hoped that the imagery and message of his sermon would awaken his audience to the horrific reality that he argued awaited them should they continue to live without ever knowing Christ as their personal Savior. His underlying point was that God has given humanity a chance to rectify their sins and that it is the will of God that keeps wicked men from the depths of Hell.

As I thought about Edwards sermon, I was reminded about how little we hear about Hell today even among Christian pastors and teachers. Admittedly, it is not a subject that has anyone running to the pulpit to preach, but it was the topic of Hell and judgment in part, that brought about the first Great Awakening in this country. The reality that a revival was spawned due to preaching that stressed God’s judgment of sin seems hard to believe given our society today which emphasizes the rights and happiness of individuals above all that is moral and good. Even sin is not called sin anymore as we have euphemized the word by referring to it as a personality shortcoming, an addiction, or a social quirk. It is no wonder that this mindset has seeped into our churches as sermons focus solely on the honey and not the bitter herbs of scripture.

Of course, the Bible is clear that the same gospel that saves men and women from their sins is also the same gospel that will judge them for all eternity. The same God who loves the world is also the same God who will one day judge it. The same Christ that told people who thirst to come to Him for living water is the same Christ who will proclaim to those who reject His salvation, "I never knew you, depart from me, you that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:23).

Pastor David Jeremiah recently stated that the preacher who only preaches the positive messages of the Bible and not the whole counsel is not only unfaithful to God but has violated God’s Word. I often wonder if we reverted back to preaching the way Edwards and his contemporaries did, if we would not see another revival surface. I know what you are thinking. People do not want to hear about sin, judgment and Hell, but as we watch our world turn itself upside down and plummet further into national debt and lawlessness, perhaps a gospel message that underscores the sovereignty of God and emphasizes divine justice is exactly what people need to hear. After all, this is not a numbers game. We are not trying to grow churches just to say we are the biggest, but are interested in reaping the fields that Jesus Himself said are white unto harvest (John 4:35). Maybe we just need to use a different reaping tool to reach the lost. A pitchfork perhaps, instead of a rake. A plow instead of a spade. A tractor instead of a sickle. We need to get the root and the root is sin and a gospel message that only emphasizes God’s love and mercy fails to instill any accountability to its listener.

All of God’s Word is powerful. God has told us this through His prophet Isaiah, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Let’s not be afraid to speak it. Even the portions that are unpleasant or make us sad. It may be these very passages that bring a person to salvation.

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