As my readers know, I finished George Marsden’s excellent biography of Jonathan Edwards. In this post, I’ll talk about some of my experiences with Jonathan Edwards’ works, particularly when I was in high school.
If my memory is correct, I first heard of Jonathan Edwards when I was in the eleventh grade. We read Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. The sermon itself did not make much of an impression on me, to tell you the truth. I was from a denomination, Armstrongism, that did not believe in eternal torment in hell. My family took that doctrine in a rather generous direction, probably more generous than the church itself intended the doctrine to be. One of my relatives thought that no one in this life could be lost, since there was no solid evidence that one religion was superior to another, plus there was a lot of deception, and so how could God judge so many people for having the wrong religion?
Even though I did not take Edwards’ fire and brimstone sermon seriously, I did enjoy my eleventh grade English class’s unit on the Puritans. Eleventh grade was when we learned about American literature, and the Puritans were unit one. Or, actually, we started with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which was set in the time of the Puritans, and immediately after that we launched our study of Puritan literature. I could really identify with the Puritans, in a number of ways. The eleventh grade was a time when my own faith was really deepening. I read a lot of religious literature, even carrying my Bible to school. I rested on the Sabbath and the annual holy days. I took walks in nature as a way to get closer to God and to appreciate the beautiful world that God made. Similarly, the Puritans read their Bibles. The Puritans rested on a Sabbath—-only their Sabbath was Sunday, whereas mine was Saturday. And Jonathan Edwards enjoyed taking long walks in nature.
I’m not sure where exactly I first learned about Jonathan Edwards’ nature walks. Perhaps it was in our textbook’s introduction to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—-the part of the book that gave us background as to who Edwards was. But I obviously learned about it sometime in high school, for I participated in an essay contest in high school on what some aspect of American history can teach us about protecting the environment. I chose to write about Jonathan Edwards’ appreciation of God’s creation.
On a related note, when I was in the eleventh grade, I enjoyed other things by the Puritans that we read as well: Mary Rawlinson’s story of being captured by Native Americans, and Anne Bradstreet’s pious poetry. As an adult, at the place where I am now religiously, I doubt that I would enjoy living in Puritan times—-where people are evaluating where I am spiritually and are judging me negatively, where people get puffed up on account of their spiritual experiences, where having an alternative worldview is considered heresy, and where preachers use the fear of hell as a way to keep people in line. I much prefer living in today’s era. And yet, I do feel rather nostalgic, warm, and cozy when I read about the Puritans, as I did when I recently went through George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards.