So, in my American Literature class the last week we’ve been looking at Jonathan Edwards and the inevitable Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Something the (very atheistic) prof mentioned was that when Edwards delivered this sermon, it was done in almost a monotone. He likely read it directly from his notes and hardly made eye-contact with his audience at all. It’s a little mind-blowing that it had that effect it did when you consider that. Then again, there was another factor he mentioned that might help explain it.
To the modern reader, Sinners is filled antiquated language and illustrations and obscure Biblical references. To the congregation Edwards preached to, it was completely different. That was their everyday English, slang and all in one or two places. The illustrations of arrows and rotten coverings over deep pits would have hit very close to home for an American congregation in 1741. And the way the Puritans, even at that point when they were (in Edwards’ mind) backslidden, puts this Bible college graduate to shame. The audience was familiar with what Edwards had to say. He was speaking their language right at their level.
Then it hit me that the same thing probably answered something that had confused me about my classmates. You see, despite how the professor was teaching it- basically analyzing the style and surface meaning and breaking down the concepts of the sermon- it had a far deeper impact on me. From prayer and self-examination to intense conviction about the need to be witnessing, the study affected me like a sermon. For my classmates, they were just bored with it. I couldn’t understand at all how they could miss the significance of what Edwards was saying to us from hundreds of years ago. And then it hit me. They were totally unfamiliar with the ideas being discussed.
I may not be a Puritan, but I have enough of a background in the church that Edwards’ preaching impacted me much as it did them. It was at a level that I could understand and grasp easily and that effected me because of that. But for my classmates, it went right over their heads. They didn’t have the tools they would need to really understand it.
Which brings me back to my own conviction in the whole thing. Witnessing isn’t as simple as it sounds. I remember one of my teachers back at CCBC saying that if you can’t explain the Gospel in terms that someone with absolutely no religious background could understand, you probably weren’t being much of a witness at all. Telling people the truth in a way that I feel is powerful isn’t good enough. If it doesn’t reach them at a level that they can truly grab onto and understand, then they’re no better off than my classmates: people who can have an educated conversation about the idea that we could die and go to hell and any moment without ever wondering if they should do something about it.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 1 Corinthians 9:19-22