Ask Augustine: Do You Think the Most Dangerous Sermon in America Was Jonathan Edwards’ Sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?”

Paul Tambrino, EdD, PhD
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Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino


Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.

Question #13 – Do You Think the Most Dangerous Sermon in America Was Jonathan Edwards’ Sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?”     

 

Without a doubt the most famous sermon in America was preached by America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards on July 8, 1741. The title of his sermon was, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

While most unfortunately see that sermon focusing on the fires of hell representing the wrath of an angry God, Edwards focus was really on the gracious hand of God which keeps us sinners out of the fires of hell.

I would contend that the most dangerous sermon was the famous one preached by Harry Emerson Fosdick at First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York on June 10, 1922. The title of his sermon was, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”“When Christianity is defined apart from Scripture God is always less than God, man is not as bad as we thought since sin is reduced to dysfunction and grace becomes an excuse to live as we please.”

Fosdick was a Baptist minister with no creed; he held weak convictions. He preached in opposition to the conservative Presbyterians of that day who were known as “the fundamentalists” because they affirmed these five “fundamental” beliefs:

1. The inspiration of the Bible by the Holy Spirit and the inerrancy of Scripture as a result of this inspiration.

2. The virgin birth of Christ.

3. The belief that Christ’s death was an atonement for sin.

4. The bodily resurrection of Christ.

5. The historical reality of Christ’s miracles.

In response to Fosdick and his liberal Presbyterian supporters J. Gresham Machen, a professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote his famous book “Christianity and Liberalism;” a book that today’s church leaders (clergy and laity) should read.

Machen argued that liberalism was not merely a different emphasis within Christian faith, but a different faith altogether.

When Christianity is defined apart from Scripture God is always less than God, man is not as bad as we thought since sin is reduced to dysfunction and grace becomes an excuse to live as we please.“The redefinition of God, the Church, and the Christian faith in our day comes from ministers and theologians who may claim a fundamental faith but deny that same faith in both word and deed.”

In our post-modern era, American Christian liberals build on Fosdick’s sermon and redefine what it means to be Christian.

The redefinition of God, the Church, and the Christian faith in our day comes from ministers and theologians who may claim a fundamental faith but deny that same faith in both word and deed.

Specifically they preach and teach that:

1. The Bible merely contains the Word of God but is not the inerrant and inspired Word of God (so we are told to listen “for” the Word of God instead of listen “to” the Word of God in Scripture).

2. That human beings are basically good rather than dead in trespasses and sin.

3. That Jesus died on the cross as a mere example of self-sacrifice and not as our atoning Savior because His resurrection was only spiritual and not physical.

4. That God is only an immanent personal god rather the transcendental and immanent holy God of the Bible.

5. And that the purpose of the church is to change society rather than make us disciples for Christ.

Therefore, we have a God who merely winks at sin because man is not as bad as we thought because sin is reduced to dysfunction and thus grace becomes an excuse to live as we please.

Indeed this is the most dangerous message.

In contrast, Edwards in his sermon spoke of Christ who “has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to Him, and pressing into the kingdom of God . . . (who) are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to Him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in His own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”

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Image Credit

The Bay of New York and Governors Island Taken from Brooklyn Heights (1820–25) by William Guy Wall (Irish, Dublin 1792–after 1864 Ireland (active America)). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 54.90.108.

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