Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Religious Affections - 6: Inconclusive signs

The title of the Part 2 of the book, The Religious Affections is this: SHOWING WHAT ARE NO CERTAIN SIGNS THAT RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS ARE GRACIOUS, OR THAT THEY ARE NOT.

In this part, Jonathan Edwards shows several examples of signs of which many people seemed to naively think are certain signs of gracious affections, then refutes that they are certain signs.

Here are the first seven of the twelve Edwards shows and refutes that they are sure signs of saving grace or not (copied from an online version).
I. That religious affections are very great, or raised very high, is no sign.
II. That they have great effects on the body, is no sign.
III. That they cause those who have them to be fluent, fervent, and abundant, in talking of the things of religion, is no sign.
IV. That persons did not excite them of their own contrivance and by their own strength, is no sign.
V. That they come with texts of Scripture, remarkably brought to the mind, is no sign.
VI. That there is an appearance of love in them, is no sign.
VII. Persons having religious affections of many kinds, accompanying one another, is no sign.

For each one, Edwards helpfully provides Scriptural bases, and also provides other grounds for his arguments from his experience and observations of others. He also gives enough examples both from Scripture and experience as often as possible that, as I read on, I am convinced by Edwards about all of the seven, that they are no certain signs. I also realised that I have naively believed or commended too many occasions and people based on these unreliable signs that I observed in them. I need to think more critically, and biblically in the future.

Now, as I reflect on what I've read so far, I see how relevant and important these arguments of Edwards is in this time we live in, even more so than when Jonathan Edwards actually penned this thesis.

Two reasons I can think of:
1) We have a more far-reaching medium for the messages of the uncertain signs of the religious affections. When these uncertain signs are made known to many with little discerning analysis, most often as a sensationalistic news, those who hear these are only left to themselves to decide whether these are truly the saving work of God. In the time of Edwards, the reach of those (people with) uncertain signs of affections, and hence the influence of them I think, was very much minimal when compared to what is happening now. With the advent of the mass media and the internet, the messages of uncertain signs and the message from the people who are not discerning can reach the young and the old so much further, so much easier, and so much faster.

2) For those who are affected by the post-modernism, these experiential signs of affections work as the most powerful authenticator of their beliefs. Since we now have a great suspicion about the existence of coherent, logically validatable truths, or the methods of extracting such truths, more and more people resort to their experience as the most authoritative validator of their faith. Experiential element of our Christian faith is important and significant to be sure, but this only calls us to be even more vigilant about our understanding, acceptance, and approval of these signs. Hence, we can see that this analysis of signs of religious affections by Edwards is greatly valuable to us.

In fact, the above two reasons are related. The uncertain signs reach more people because of the first reason, but a lot of the people they will reach are infected with post-modernism and will be greatly impressed by those uncertain signs. And (potentially) more people will claim that they have witnessed and experienced saving grace of God based on uncertain signs because of the second reason, but then their message will reach even more people because of the first reason. The two are feeding each other and rolling everyone to even more dire situation than before if not checked by biblical discernment.

I am thankful to God about this book, and enjoy reading it, even though I'm often met with slightly difficult turns of sentences and few unfamiliar words.
Oh, and thank you Tim for an extra motivation.


lmokenyon said...

I linked here from Challies, and thought your remarks were very helpful, particularly as this pertains to the post-modern mindset. Due to my son's appendix, I'm behind in my reading, so probably won't be able to contribute to the discussion until next week, hopefully

Timothy Wonil Lee said...

Thank you for your comment Imokenyon.
I hope you'll get some medial finance, and of course, the full recovery of your son.