Yesterday, Ridley launched its Jonathan Edwards Center. It was a great evening, paying tribute to a man who is regarded as “one of the greatest minds in North American history, and has had an enduring legacy in theology, philosophy, politics and social engagement” to quote the founder of the center in Australia, Rhys Bezzant. During the lecture, a great deal was made of Sarah, Jonathan Edwards’ wife and it got me thinking.
My understanding of the Sarah-Jonathan Edwards marriage was that it was a harmonious and joyful one. Jonathan held his wife up as a paragon of spiritual maturity and the lecturer made much of the fact that she complied with his teachings, both in theory and in practice, such that she was his first exhibit.
I was quite shocked to hear Sarah referred to in this way. First of all I had understood her to be a significant minister in her own right, not just as Jonathan’s showpiece. Perhaps it was just the wording that was wrong here – I hope so. But I wondered what it was like to be the ‘first exhibit’. Listening to the description of her, I despaired of my ability ever to live up to such a woman. Indeed, as I listened to the lecture, I despaired that there would ever be anyone of Jonathan Edwards’ character either!
I mentioned this to a friend who’s read much more extensively on Edwards than I have and he noted that Edwards was quite proud, preferring to do his thinking alone, at times even looking down on those who were not as sophisticated in their thinking. (My friend wondered whether Sarah was less of a ministry partner with Jonathan than I had pictured.) He also pointed out some of Edwards’ pastoral gaffes.
Regular readers of this blog will see a pattern emerging here, but I was again given to wonder why Edwards’ failings were not also pointed out during the lecture. (Granted, they did mention that he wasn’t a particularly charismatic speaker.) On one hand, of course, the center is being named after him, so perhaps it was not appropriate to drag out his dirty laundry. On the other, I take it that Edwards was not Jesus 2.0 and, being just as fallen as the rest of us, needed Jesus to intercede for him, even in his most sublime moments.
Even as we aspire to be like the great people of the past, I trust that one of the characteristics we will develop (and that I hope they also had) is dependence on Christ. Exemplary character is a wonderful thing to aspire to, but no human, not even the Edwards couple, has ever reached it! I think that this is worth acknowledging, not to sledge them, but to see a God who uses not just the shiny white, but also the filth, who, perhaps, might even use me!
What do you think?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.