It is often said that former Princeton president Jonathan Edwards, the man credited with setting fire to the tinderbox that became the First Great Awakening, was a fiery preacher. His message was certainly incendiary, but by modern standards he was nothing of the sort.
According to minister Victor Shepherd, Edwards may have “thundered like a cataract into which there poured the streams of fathomless spirituality,” but he did so quietly and in a monotone voice. Edwards’ most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was read by the New England divine “word-for-word, hunched over the lectern, rarely lifting his head to look at the congregation.” Martyn Lloyd Jones rightly judged that “no man was further removed from the violence of a ranting traveling evangelist than Jonathan Edwards.”
If I read him correctly, there was a theological method to Edwards’ madness. He believed he was expounding God’s very Word, which needed no enthusiasm on his part in order to accomplish its purpose. Such distractions might even work at cross-purposes with what the Holy Spirit was trying to accomplish.
In this post-theological era, the one issue that can turn the most harmonious American church into a chest-thumping, hair-pulling, mud-wrestling wreck is worship. Whether or not to use an electric guitar seems, to...