Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, theologian, philosopher, and …. “fire and brimstone” preacher

Most Americans know very little about Jonathan Edwards, except for the 18th century sermon he preached, “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God.” I remember reading it, as it was an assigned reading for an English class, back in my public high school.

Yes, it is a classic “fire and brimstone” sermon, filled with talk of God’s treatment of the unrepentant sinner, as though God is holding “a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, [who] abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

Wow. I remember thinking, as I finished reading that high school homework assignment, that this guy Edwards must have woken up on the wrong side of bed, the day he preached this tirade. What a sourpuss!!

But such a judgment of Edwards is not deserving, as a more balanced understanding of Edward’s life shows. Contrary to popular opinion, Jonathan Edwards only preached a handful of sermons, on the disturbing topic of hell, during his multi-decade preaching career. By far, most of the hundreds of sermons that Edwards preached were about the love and beauty of God. One of his favorite topics included speaking about the “sweetness” of God, a theme that he returned to, over and over again.

If you want to read a helpful introduction to Jonathan Edwards, that corrects a lot of the gross misunderstandings in popular culture about his life, I would highly recommend A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, by George M. Marsden. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is not an abridgment of Marsden’s grand, academic biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (which is excellent, too, but a lot longer!). Rather, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is a fresh, revealing description of Edwards, showing him to be a profound advocate of the overwhelming love of God. Plus, it is short, at about 140 pages. I listened to A Short Life as an audiobook, in about 5 hours, and loved every minute of it.

What made “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God” so indelible in the American imagination was the effect this sermon had, during one particular Sunday morning, while filling in, for another preacher, at another church. Sometime prior to his famous preaching in Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards had preached this sermon to his own congregation, where it had little impact on his flock of church-goers. Edwards was not known to be an exceptionally dynamic public speaker, as he was bookish, and noticeably shy. He rarely took his eye off of his sermon notes.

Justin Bieber he was not.

But when he was asked to step in that one particular Sunday, in the Enfield church, a wave of emotion took over the room, as he made his way through his prepared text. Despite Edwards’ un-theatrical delivery, wailing and weeping filled the assembled hall, as many were overcome by the weight over the grief of their own sin. The sounds of terror among the people became so great, Edwards had to cut his sermon short, and dismiss the crowd, preventing him from delivering a message of hope, that he had saved for the climax of his prepared text. Edwards’ sermon had sparked a revival, and many Connecticut colonists made professions of Christian faith, during the following weeks.

It was a profound moment, during the First Great Awakening in America, a phenomenon that shaped America as a nation.

Ralph Green is a re-enactor, who has delivered Jonathan Edwards’ most (in??)famous sermon, as a dramatic production. Below is a 45 minute recording of that sermon.


Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle (A Review)

Filmmaker Tim Mahoney is a man on a mission, to find out the real history of the Exodus. Recently, I viewed a Fathom theatre event, showcasing his latest Patterns of Evidence film: The Red Sea Miracle. The Red Sea Miracle is part one of a two part set of films, the second to be scheduled for theatre release on May 5, 2020.

In general, The Red Sea Miracle was ambitious, even for a 2 1/2 hour movie, but the storyline held together better than his last film, The Moses Controversy, which explored the possibility of how Moses might have been able to write the first five books of the Bible. Like the original film, The Exodus, which considered the chronology of Moses, and the timing of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, this first part of the third film series, The Red Sea Miracle, looked at yet another controversial question, regarding the historicity of the Exodus, namely where the crossing of the “Red Sea” might have taken place. Overall, I found the newest film quite fascinating and encouraging, despite a few noticeable drawbacks.

First, let us consider the good parts of the film. The Red Sea Miracle does a very good job at giving a helpful overview of the questions that archaeologists, Old Testament specialists, and other scholars are asking, when they try to determine where Moses might have led the Israelites across the “Red Sea.” The amount of data to work through, both biblically and archaeologically, is quite a lot, and numerous interpretation challenges remain. So for a 2 1/2 hour film, Tim Mahoney is to be commended for his honesty, his warmth, his sincerity, and his determination, in helping viewers understand the complex issues involved. He also produced a cinematically pleasing movie to look at, a highly professional piece of film making that helped me to focus on the topic being addressed.

Tim Mahoney also rightfully exposes viewers to a wide range of scholarship, in considering the question of where Moses might have parted the Red Sea. Anyone who has shown serious interest in Bible archaeology will know that the majority of archaeologists today are highly skeptical about the presence of Israelites in Egypt, much less who believe the traditional account of the Red Sea crossing. Mahoney interviews some of these scholars, but interestingly, he interviews one scholar, Manfred Bietak, one of today’s leading Austrian Egyptologists, who now believes that there is at least some evidence, that is consistent with the story of Israelites being slaves in ancient Egypt. When Mahoney interviewed Bietak, over a decade ago, for the first Patterns of Evidence film, The Exodus, it was Bietak’s skepticism regarding the historicity of the Exodus story, that first discouraged Tim Mahoney in his film making journey.

In addition to some skeptical scholars, Mahoney also interviews a wide range of evangelical Christian scholars, who hold various, and even conflicting views, as to where the Red Sea crossing might have occurred. Mahoney divides these scholars into two broadly-defined camps: those who favor the “Egyptian” view, and those who favor the “Hebrew” view. The “Egyptian” view, generally speaking, favors a crossing of the “Reed” Sea, through the shallow lake region, within a few dozen miles of Egypt, with perhaps as few as 20,000 or so Israelites. The “Hebrew” view favors a crossing at the Gulf of Aqaba, over 200 miles away from Egypt, on the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula, with over 2 million Israelites. The “Egyptian” view favors the traditional location of Mount Sinai, on the Sinai peninula, whereas the “Hebrew” view favors Mount Sinai being in Saudi Arabia.

I was surprised to discover, that unlike the two previous Mahoney films, Mahoney is now less enamored with the ideas proposed by Egyptologist David Rohl, who Mahoney tends to elevate highly in the first two films. David Rohl, who considers himself to be an atheist, is a genuine, peer-reviewed scholar, but his unconventional revision of Egyptian chronology has yet to gain significant support from his other historian and archaeologist colleagues, from within the scholarly guild. This is important, for a viewer of the first two films might be erroneously drawn to conclude that David Rohl’s proposals carry far greater weight, in academic circles, than is actually the case. One can not simply dismiss David Rohl’s ideas out of hand, but a lot more work needs to be done before Rohl’s proposals gain broader acceptance. Interestingly, I found it quite telling that David Rohl is highly skeptical of the “Hebrew,” Gulf of Aqaba crossing view. He tells Mahoney that he would need to see an actual chariot wheel dug up from the floor of the Gulf of Aqaba, before he would accept a “Red Sea” crossing, at that location.

I was also glad that Mahoney did not mention Ron Wyatt in the film, the late adventurer and fringe archaelogist, who made a big splash years ago by reportedly spotting such a chariot wheel on the bottom of the Gulf of Aqaba floor. The shenanigans of Ron Wyatt have brought a lot of Christian attempts at archaeology into ill-repute, making for an unnecessary stumbling block for some regarding the Gospel. Thankfully, Mahoney did his best to interview top, well-regarded scholars in the field instead.

Despite the film’s many strengths, there was one aspect that stuck out as a major criticism of The Red Sea Miracle. Mahoney clearly favors the “Hebrew” over and against the “Egyptian” view of the crossing. He believes that a shallow lake crossing, with a relatively smaller number of Israelites, is somehow less “miraculous” than a Gulf of Aqaba crossing.

This is really peculiar, as it assumes that the bigger the miracle, the more miraculous it would be, and therefore, the more Scripturally faithful it would be. I get the point that Tim Mahoney is trying to make, but it is not necessary to make such a point, in the interest of defending the Bible. Sure, if Moses took over 2 million Israelites across the Red Sea, Cecil B. DeMille-style, even somewhere relatively deep, like the Gulf of Aqaba, then God can do anything. Who are we to put limits upon God?

But a smaller event is still a miracle. To conclude that today’s shallow lake region near Egypt is unsuitable for a crossing, assumes that Pharoah’s army could not have drowned in only a “few feet of water.” Nevertheless, storm surges can still kill a lot of people, even in relatively shallow areas. Just consider how at least 6,000 died during the 1900 hurricane to hit Galveston, Texas, with an 8 to 12 foot storm surge.

Yet even if a more naturalistic explanation could be found for the Red Sea crossing, the timing of such an event, such as a large wind separating the waters, at just the right time, is still miracle enough, and thoroughly demonstrates the power of God. Did Moses simply get lucky that the sea parted, just when he got to the water’s edge? Or was this, too, evidence that points to the providence and power of God?

Consider the story of the Risen Jesus: If God really wanted to show a grand miracle of Resurrection, he could have Resurrected thousands upon thousands of people on Easter morning. That would have been a much more impressive miracle. But it was sufficient for God to demonstrate his overwhelming power and victory over sin and death, by Resurrecting the one God-Man, Jesus Christ. Does not God have the right to demonstrate his miraculous power, however God wishes to do so?

Unfortunately, Mahoney did not adequately address some of the weaknesses of the Gulf of Aqaba crossing proposal, that is rejected by a greater number of evangelical scholars. Alas, there is only so much you can do in such a long film, and still hold people’s attention, even with an intermission midway through the theatre showing. Dr. Michael Heiser, for example, notes that a Gulf of Aqaba crossing presents a number of problems when trying to reconcile certain chronological aspects of the journey through the Wilderness, such as where the Israelites obtained water from a rock. In other words, the issues are a lot more complex than most realize (which is partly why the controversy over the location of the Red Sea crossing continues to perplex even the best evangelical scholars).

To be fair, while Tim Mahoney still appears to favor what he calls a “Hebrew” view, he rightly acknowledges that different evangelical scholars hold some widely differing perspectives, in good faith, on this most interesting topic.

The last half hour of the film was a panel discussion, held at the Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter, in Kentucky, where some Christian leaders reflected on the film, including Truett McConnell University Old Testament scholar Jeremy Lyon, radio talk show host Janet Mefferd, Precepts founder Kay Arthur, and Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham. What was interesting about this panel is that all four participants interviewed are all Young Earth Creationists. Yet perhaps the larger majority of scholars interviewed in The Red Sea Miracle do not hold a Young Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible. Is this perhaps a sign of a rapprochement between advocates of Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism? It made me curious.

All in all, I enjoyed The Red Sea Miracle, despite what I detected to be noticeable flaws. The exact location of where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is not a critical matter of faith, nor is the exact size of the Israelite nation as they crossed it. At the same time, considering these issues would help believers to gain a greater interest in studying Scripture, as well providing helpful conversation points, when engaging with skeptics. As a bottom line, I would tend to agree with Dr. Michael Heiser, “Although we can’t determine the precise location of the crossing, the various possibilities in no way rule out God’s providential intervention on behalf of his people.”

Keep an eye out for The Red Sea Miracle, Part 2, coming May 5th.


Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on George Whitefield

Before Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber, or Taylor Swift, there was George Whitefield. In the 18th century, George Whitefield was the most well-known person in the American colonies. Whitefield was truly the first American celebrity.

Whitefield made 13 trips across the Atlantic Ocean, between England and America, to give preaching tours along the Eastern Seaboard, starting from 1739 until his death in 1770. At times, as many as 10,000 people would travel for miles, on foot or on horseback, to hear the evangelist share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Though an Anglican minister, George Whitefield was known as an intinerant evangelist, preaching most of his messages in the open air. Along with John Wesley, the name of George Whitefield was synonymous with the First Great Awakening, in the English speaking world, one of the greatest periods of revival in world Christian history.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most well-known British Bible teachers, during the 20th century, and a great admirer of George Whitefield. In the following documentary by the MLJ Trust, Dr. Lloyd-Jones tells the story of George Whitefield, in 14 minutes:


Sarah Osborn’s World #3

Our third installment blogging about Sarah Osborn’s world (previous postings #1 & #2).

Within a few years after experiencing her conversion to Christ, Sarah Osborn completed her set of diary entries that would serve as the basis for her published work. Harvard Divinity School religious historian, Catherine A. Brekus, weaves these diary entries into her biography of this remarkable woman: in Sarah Osborn’s World. Sarah Osborn continued to write other letters and other diaries, that Brekus also highlights in her research, giving us insight into the life of this 18th century, American, evangelical Christian woman.

Sarah Osborn lived an exceedingly difficult life. One of those difficulties was having to bury her one and only son. When her son, Samuel, was only twelve years old, he had been sent off to learn a trade, serving as an apprentice to a tailor, which was a typical way of providing an education for young boys at the time. However, Samuel contracted what was most probably tuberculosis. In an age before the development of contemporary medicine, Sarah Osborn held the hand of her pale and dying son, for several days. Unfortunately for Sarah, who had only a few years previously come to faith in Christ, she agonized over the spiritual state of her son, as he had never given his own testimony as to having a faith in Jesus. Continue reading


We Believe in Dinosaurs: A Film Review

Dinosaur at Toronto Airport

Veracity founder and blogger, John Paine, shows where he found a dinosaur at the Toronto airport….. Many Christians never bother with the thought of dinosaurs, but some Christians lose a lot of sleep over the existence of dinosaurs. Do you believe in dinosaurs?

We Believe in Dinosaurs is an independent documentary chronicling the story of the Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky, and will be featured as part of PBS’ Independent Lens programming in February, 2020.

Ten years ago, the world’s most well-known Young Earth Creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis (AiG), announced that they would build a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark, as a Christian theme park, in Kentucky, deep in the heart of the American Midwest. Ken Ham, the president of AiG, envisioned that along with the AiG Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter would inspire a new generation of Christians to rethink how they read the Bible, to show how the story of a global flood, as taught in the Bible. according to Ken Ham, provides a better explanation of earth history, as the most Scripturally faithful alternative to a secular worldview, the latter which is currently undermining morals and other Christian values in the Western world today.

A full size replica of Noah’s Ark!!? Many Christians look to the work of Answers in Genesis as a way of supporting their belief and confidence in the Bible, whereas other Christians have the opposite reaction, and struggle with doubt, as to how accurately Answers in Genesis portrays science and faith. Others are curious and not sure what to think.

In February 2014, Ken Ham publicly debated famed TV personality Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” which has since garnered millions of views on YouTube. The debate gave Answers in Genesis the exposure needed to make the Ark Encounter a success. Once the Ark was completed, Nye even returned to the Ark Encounter, for yet another impromptu, casual debate with Ken Ham, as they walked together through the exhibit.

Ken Ham has envisioned the possibility of “seven billion people” coming to the Ark Encounter. Given the record breaking attendance, over the past few years, Ken Ham maybe on the way to see this vision becoming a reality.

Humans existing side-by-side with dinosaurs, at Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum, in Kentucky, in stark contrast with the narrative nearly every public school educated child learns from the modern scientific consensus, namely, that the dinosaurs died out millions of years ago before modern humans entered the scene.

Since the opening of the Ark Encounter in July, 2016, I have known dozens of my Christian friends who have visited the museum. Regardless of how my friends view the Scriptural accuracy of Young Earth Creationism, everyone I know who has seen the exhibit has walked away overwhelmed with the top quality and workmanship of the park. The Ark Encounter makes for quite an impressive visit, though it does represent a significant development away from the version of the Young Earth Creationist story that I learned during my years in college, at my college church.

Back some 35 years ago, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) was one of the premier Young Earth Creationist groups in the world, as the American version of Answers of Genesis, did not exist in those days. The Young Earth Creationists at ICR could not imagine how evolution could work, to account for the biological diversity we see today, except at the micro-evolutionary level, a biological process generally found within species. For example, Young Earth Creationists readily accept that the flu virus mutates every year, requiring a new flu vaccine on a yearly basis. This is a type of micro-evolution, which is compatible with a biblical view of history. The version of Young Earth Creation I was taught in my college church, as promoted by ICR, did not allow for any case for evolution beyond that.

So, what has changed over the years? Well, one big challenge for the Young Earth view of Creation, is in demonstrating how the placement of the animals on the Ark, in a global flood model, can adequately explain the great wealth of biological diversity we see in our world today, less than 6,000 years after the global flood occurred. Today, at Answers in Genesis, the solution has been to propose that Darwinian natural selection took place after the great flood event, but at a greatly accelerated rate.

Instead of the standard Darwinian view, which sees all of biological life within a tree of life, where all living organisms share a common ancestor, the Answers in Genesis view proposes an orchard of life, whereby the diverse animal populations on-board the ark, represent different trees within the orchard, that are responsible for generating all of the future diverse animal populations we find on planet earth today.

Old Earth Creationists do not accept a global flood, but rather say that the message of the Bible is consistent with a large local flood. Such Old Earth Creationists, who accept the standard view of a 4.34 billion year old earth, as being compatible with Scripture, are skeptical of the Answers in Genesis orchard of life proposal, in that it assumes that the animals on-board the Ark, were somehow genetically supercharged to accomplish this amazing feat. But Old Earth Creationists maintain that such genetic “supercharging” could never have been sustainable, in such a short period of time, in less than a few thousand years. That is part of the reason why a large local flood makes more sense, wiping out only a part of the earth’s creaturely world, at least from a scientific perspective, compatible with Old Earth Creationism.

While biology informed by the scientific consensus affirms a “tree of life,” the Christians with Answers in Genesis believe in an “orchard of life.” Yet other Christians believe in a “lawn of life.” What diagram of life do you affirm, and why?

But Old Earth Creationists are not the only ones who find the ideas offered by Answers in Genesis, to visitors of the Ark Encounter, to be less than convincing. The Institute for Creation Research, (ICR), whose material I read back in the 1980s, argues that Darwinian natural selection, in any form, including Answers in Genesis’ version, is completely incompatible, not only with science, but with the Bible as well. But if natural selection is off the table, as ICR proposes, what then actually is the mechanism that could result in today’s biological diversity? One should note that Answers in Genesis founder, Ken Ham, once worked with ICR, eventually splitting off to form the U.S. version of Answers in Genesis, in 1994.

It all makes for a confusing situation, for those who try to examine the details of Young Earth Creationist views of the Bible, and how they relate to science. Which version of Young Earth Creationism is correct?

One of those avid Young Earth Creationist thinkers, who has since had serious second thoughts about Young Earth Creationism, is David MacMillan. MacMillan was interviewed by independent filmmakers, Monica Long Ross and Clayton Brown, to create the documentary We Believe in Dinosaurs. MacMillan was interviewed by Christian apologist, Randal Rauser, detailing how he got involved in the making of the film.

One of the strengths about We Believe in Dinosaurs is that there is no narrator in the film. The film is made up of interviews with people deeply invested somehow in the Ark Encounter project.  On the side sympathetic towards Answers in Genesis, is the talented Doug Henderson, who headed up the sculpture team, who produced all of the animal representations found in the Ark Encounter exhibit. Outspoken critic of the Ark Encounter, Dan Phelps, a geologist with the Kentucky Paleontological Society, is also interviewed in the documentary.

Though several Christians are interviewed in the film, Christian viewers of We Believe in Dinosaurs might feel uncomfortable about the film’s secularized approach to the topic of Creation. The film sides clearly on the side of promoting evolutionary science, but its stance towards biblical Christianity is undecided, offering multiple Christian viewpoints in the film’s interviews.

Yet regardless as to how Christians might think about this documentary, one think is for sure: Christians themselves today are divided about how to think about the relationship between Creation and the Bible, and this division threatens to have a profound impact on the Christian witness for the Gospel, in an increasingly non-believing world.

Some Christians are quite content to believe in a 6,000 year old earth, and never give it that much thought. Other Christians have wrestled with the Scriptural text, and have come to different conclusions as to how God might have created the world, and how long that process took place. Even other Christians are aware of such problems, that face the Christian believer today, but who are wholeheartedly convinced that the scientific argument is still there, waiting for us to discovery it in nature, and that argument will eventually win over, even the most skeptical scientists, towards a more traditional, six-24-hour day interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis. And yet, sadly, there are also others, for whom the cognitive dissonance between the Bible and science is so great, and so disturbing, that they walk away from the faith, in disbelief.

As a Bible-believing Christian, with an interest in sharing my faith with others, I tend to steer clear of such topics, like the age of the earth, or evolution, unless the discussion of such topics would provide an opportunity to talk about Jesus. I want to stay focused on the Gospel, and not get sidetracked by conversations, that would leave Jesus off to the side. Nevertheless, science-based topics can be a real stumbling block for those, who wonder how the Bible and science fit together. With that in mind, We Believe in Dinosaurs might give some good food for thought.

We Believe in Dinosaurs would be a helpful discussion starter, for Christians to view, to help gain a more balanced perspective, as to why the topic of Creation and the Bible, is so divisive in Christian communities today. Is Christianity and science fundamentally at odds with one another, or are they in harmony? Watch We Believe in Dinosaurs to explore that question. We Believe in Dinosaurs will be broadcast on PBS television stations, on February 17, as part of their Independent Lens programming.


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