How could I have forgotten to celebrate on October 5? I mean, that’s such a big day in the history of American religion, it seems impossible to forget.
What’s that you say? You’re not quite sure what October 5 has to do with American religion? Why, it’s the birthday of our greatest native theologian! It’s the birthday of a minister and theologian and president of Princeton College, a man who seriously worked to integrate the latest scientific insights of his day into his theology, a man who was also a great prose stylist (it’s probably that you read some of his sermons in an English class at some point in your life) — and a man whom we can credit as being one of the major inspirations of Universalism.
Yes, I’m talking about none other than Jonathan Edwards, the man who wrote “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (that’s the sermon you may have read in English class), a man whose depictions of hellfire and brimstone set such high standards that many preachers felt they weren’t worth anything until they, too, had scared the living daylights out of their congregations with such a sermon — thus prompting people like Caleb Rich and other early Universalists to really read their Bibles and discover that hellfire and brimstone are not Biblical at all; to discover that the Bible actually depicts a loving God, not an abusive hate-filled God who takes pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Edwards, both for being such a good prose stylist, and for making it clear to the next generation that his theology of hellfire and brimstone went way too far.