Tag Archives: Jonathan Edwards

Religion online

You’ll find today’s sermon is now up on the Web site of First Unitarian in New Bedford. [Note: no longer on Web site.] I ad libbed more than usual this morning, so if you were here to hear the sermon, you’ll find the written version is significantly different.

I remain ambivalent about making sermons available in written form, because I don’t think of them as a written genre, but rather as an oral genre. I found a little booklet of a sermon series preached here at First Unitarian in 1943 by Duncan Howlett, and they are prefaced with this note:

Through the generosity of one of our members, the series was taken down stenographically. As theses sermons were delivered without notes or manuscript, it has been necessary to rework the material for printing. The spoken word rarely makes good reading.

The last sentence expresses my thoughts exactly; I’d only except a few of Jonathan Edwards’s sermons. Nor do I feel audio recordings do justice to sermons. There’s something about a sermon which requires you to be there, to be a part of the congregation. You’re not just listening to a sermon, you’re sitting there with other people, you’re singing hymns together, the sermon is just one little piece of an entire worship exeperience.

Yet at the same time, there is a long American tradition of sermons serving as a means for exchanging theological ideas. Maybe that’s why I am ambivalent about reading contemporary sermons: too many contemporary sermons do not address theological issues at all.

How could I have forgotten?

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.


Mr. Crankypants is baaa-ack. Today, he will be ranting about theology. No fluffy lightweight stuff today, campers — theology.

Other UU bloggers have been taking a quiz that purports to tell you which theologian you most resemble. You can find it at http://quizfarm.com/test.php?q_id=44116 — but really, don’t waste your time, the quiz simply ignores all of Mr. Crankypants’s favorite cranky theologians.

First of all, you know a theology quiz is suspect when they use the term “man” instead of “humanity” — that automatically means that they are not considering cranky feminist theologians like Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Reuther, or Rebecca Parker. (Actually, Rebecca Parker is too nice to be called cranky, but she is righteous.)

But it gets worse. The quiz has lots of talk about “Christ,” but very little about “Jesus” — so you can be pretty sure that you’re not going to be compared to Howard Thurman, who tended to use Jesus’ name, not the title later applied to him. The quiz goes on and on about retribution, with nothing about universal salvation, so you know cranky ol’ Hosea Ballou wasn’t considered. No mention of racism or oppression, so you can forget the cranky theolgians who fight oppression like James Cone, Anthony Pinn, or Gustavo Guttierrez.

Not even anything about the struggle between the secular and the religious, so rule out Harvey Cox (who’s not cranky), or Stanley Hauerwas (who has described himself as “the turd in the punchbowl,” and is definitely cranky).

Before Mr. Crankypants was even done with the quiz, he knew the quizmakers hadn’t even considered any of his favorite theolgians — that they were going to try to say Mr. Crankypants was like some dead male German. Sure enough — they said Mr. Crankypants was a 33% match for Jurgen Moltmann. John Calvin was a close second, and Jonathan Edwards was in there somewhere.

Mr. Crankypants can tolerate Edwards (who, although wrong, was plenty cranky, and could write reasonably well besides). But this was one online quiz that was so badly designed.

Now that you know you can skip the quiz, take that time to go and read some good, cranky, paradigm-shattering theology. But not Moltmann….for gosh’s sakes….

((Moltmann. Moltmann?! Grrr. Bet those idots haven’t even read A Black Theology of Liberation.))