A Walk through Northampton

It’s not often when a family of five with three kids five years and under decide on the spur of the moment, on a crisp Saturday morning in November, to drive nearly two hours for a history lesson.

That’s exactly what we did yesterday. And it was completely worth it.

Around 8am, my wife, half serious, half joking, said, “Let’s go to New Haven” (in Connecticut, where Yale is located). A two hour and 40 minute drive—a bit ambitious. I suggested we drive to Northampton, MA, a bit closer. That’s where Jonathan Edwards lived and ministered from 1726-1750. As a pastor and someone who has read and benefited from the life and ministry of Edwards, I’ve wanted to visit for some time. “Really? Are you serious?” Bailey, our five year-old, asked with a hesitant, yet anticipatory smile. Yes! Fifty minutes later, snacks were packed, all were dressed and in the van. Day trip here we come.

We spent the entire afternoon walking (with a little bit of driving…lots of little legs in our crew) around Northampton. Relive the journey with us here.

Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center
We were clueless about where to go and what to see. We thought this museum was a good place to start. It’s small and quiet with no visible Edwards artifacts. “I’m a fan of Edwards. Is there anything you can point us to?” I asked the curator. She showed me two original printed copies of sermons from Edwards. Bingo.

Below, on the left is his farewell sermon after he was dismissed (i.e. fired—yes, Jonathan Edwards was fired by his congregation). It was preached in 1750 and published in 1751. On the right is A Divine and Supernatural Light (which I had the pleasure of reading a few years ago). It was preached in 1734.


The curator then showed us a guide for a walking tour throughout the town. Bingo #2.

The Bridge Street Cemetery
We began at the end. On resurrection ground.


Jonathan and Sarah Edwards are buried at Princeton Cemetery in New Jersey, but their cenotaphs are located here. You can see the surname “Edwards” at the bottom of the large monument (left). It has their names and birth/death dates on the front and the names and dates of their eleven children on the other three sides. Jonathan Edwards’ individual cenotaph is on the right.


There were other graves we wanted to see. I couldn’t find Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather, the prominent Northampton pastor who preached at the church before Edwards. Carly, not even realizing who she had found at the time, took this photo. She said later that she had a sense, probably given by God, that “this was an important man.” She was right.


We found the gravesite of David Brainerd, a missionary to Native Americans, who died at age 29. His stone could have said, “Here lies a man who did not waste his life.”


We told our kids today, as we often do, that those who know Jesus will rise with new bodies someday. On Resurrection Day. As I walked this cemetery, set in the birthplace of the Great Awakening, I couldn’t help but wonder, How many of these souls first trusted in Jesus during that revival? How many of their family came to Jesus in the years following? How glorious will the celebration be in this place when Jesus returns?

On to the meeting house.

Meetinghouse Hill
The Meetinghouse is where the town gathered for all sorts of things, including worship. The First Meetinghouse stood from 1655-1661. Edwards preached in the Second and Third Meetinghouses. The Fourth Meetinghouse was destroyed by fire. Pictured below, still standing today, is the “Fifth Meetinghouse,” built in 1878.


Walking in to the house, we stood on a semi-circle step (you can see it in the picture on the left) which was one of the original steps of the Third Meetinghouse. Sunday after Sunday, Edwards walked over this slab as he went to preach the gospel to his congregation.


Inside, a memorial tablet of Edwards that was unveiled in 1900.


Near the front of the room, just to the right of the pulpit, rested a door with several notes tacked to it. They are affirmations of what “I do not believe [in].” To say that these notes are in this location is ironic is a massive understatement. Edwards, who proclaimed the sovereignty, supremacy, and goodness of God in all things (including evil), the definite atonement of Christ on the cross, and the judgment of God on unrepentant sinners, would have been appalled.

It grieved and angered our hearts, too.


On to the Edwards’ home.

Edwards’ Homestead
The Edwards’ actual home no longer exists. The adjacent street was renamed Edwards Square in his honor (top).  The homestead was made up of dozens of acres on King Street in Northampton. A Catholic church (more irony) now stands where his home was located (bottom left and center).


Across the street was a cafe and bakery. It had been a long day. We needed a snack. Jonathan probably never had the pleasure of enjoying a chocolate chip cookie. We enjoyed a few for him.

On to The Edwards church.

The Edwards Church
Founded in 1833 when the number of people outgrew the First Congregational Church’s  “meetinghouse,” this church was named in honor of Edwards. The current version was built in 1958 (left). On the side of the building is a stone tile of Edwards, one of four tiles depicting scenes of early religious life in the area (right).


We had to walk along Main Street to get here. I later told Carly that while we walked, “I felt alone. Like we—the five of us—were alone.” It’s difficult to describe. We are heirs of the theology and heart of Edwards. It became evident on our walk that Northampton, the cradle of the Great Awakening, is not. Carly, in her wise, clear, and concise way articulated it: “I know what you mean. It felt oppressive.” 

One more stop. On to the library.

Forbes Library
In the rear of the library was another semi-circle stone—a granite doorstep from the Edwards’ homestead.


After Edwards was dismissed from his church, he became a missionary to Native Americans. I’m no Edwards—not even close. But for me, as pastor and soon-to-be missionary in an area with many Native Americans, to have my family stand on the stoop that Jonathan and Sarah and their eleven children would have walked on hour after hour, day after day, was perhaps the most serene and wonderful moment of the day.

As we drove home in the dark, overlooking a faint orange and purple sunset hovering above the Berkshires, I said to Carly, “Today made him a bit more real to me. I’m thankful for that. I can’t wait to meet him.” She agreed.

And someday, on Resurrection Day, if not before, we will.


God Made You to Work and This Is Very Good

Eusebius of Caesarea was a bishop and a church historian during the time of Constantine (late 3rd to early 4th century). One of the indelible marks Eusebius left on the church was the idea that there were two kinds of callings in the Christian life. The perfect life and the permitted life. The perfect life was that spiritual, contemplative life reserved for those who worked as priests, monks, and nuns. He said this life was “above nature, and beyond common human living” (Proof of the Gospel, Bk. 1, ch. 8)

The permitted life, on the other hand, was that physical, active life reserved for those who worked a farmers, soldiers, merchants, and even those raising families. Eusebius went so far to say that those who live the permitted life have “a kind of secondary grade of piety (Proof, Bk. 1, ch. 8).

For the last 17 centuries, this dualistic view of work has plagued the church. We have divided work into sacred and secular, higher and lower, varsity Christian and JV Christian. Don’t get me wrong—it is a significant thing to be a pastor or a missionary. But it is not better or more holy or more important than being a surgeon, a mother, an architect, or a garbage man. Few of us would ever admit that there is a perfect life, of course. We would never say, “My pastor is living the perfect life. He’s a walking slice of heaven on earth!”

Yet the dualism Eusebius created is so ingrained into our culture (and Christian sub-culture) that we affirm and perpetuate it it when we say things like, “She’s going in to full-time ministry.” (As if there is part-time ministry for a disciple of Jesus.) “Those missionaries are doing God’s work.” (As if a mom changing diapers is not.)

Obviously some people earn their living by teaching the Scriptures, shepherding, and spreading the gospel. But that does not mean all other work—“permitted work,” as it were—is lower class.

Rather, the Christian perspective on work (labor, occupation, etc.) is holistic, robust, and profoundly empowering no matter what you do for your occupation. In fact, the beginning of the biblical story is abundantly clear that all work when done to the glory of God is sacred.

In Genesis 1-2, we see that God made human begins to “have dominion over” every created thing (1:28). Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” In these two chapters we learn at least three potent truths:

  1. We are image bearers of God. Our inherent worth and value comes from being like God in some way. Our primary calling in life is not to something but to Someone—namely God. We were made to worship him and find our joy, meaning, significance, value, and purpose in him.
  2. A result of being made in God’s image is that, like God, we work. As image bearers of God, we reflect him. Therefore, God made humans to work. Adam and Eve were under-lords, charged with exercising dominion on God’s behalf by using their intelligence, creativity, organization, and diligence. The difference between God’s work and ours, of course, is that we aren’t creating from nothing. Human work takes the raw material of creation, brings it order and makes something beautiful. But work is not our identity—that comes from being made in the image of God. Still work in the beginning was the primary way human beings praised and glorified their Creator. Adam and Eve weren’t having church services all day long. They walked with God and worked in God’s garden.
  3. Work is very good. After each day of creation, God saw that what he made was good. But it wasn’t until he made human beings, male and female, and those human beings to work that everything was “very good” (1:31). Adam’s work was worthy and valuable and good! And get this: Adam was not a pastor or missionary or monk. He was a farmer (and, as my wife pointed out, a zookeeper, too)! If Eusebius was right—that there is a perfect life and a permitted life, then God was wrong because Adam’s occupation was working and keeping the Garden. But God was not wrong. Work, all work, when done to the glory of God, is very good. It is sacred and beautiful.

Most of us, Christian or not, get glimpses of Genesis 1-2 in our lives from time to time. Have you ever worked to create something or put something into order—a budget, a bridge, a song, a tomato plant, a sandbox, swept a floor, organized a pantry, unloaded a delivery truck—and had a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction? Have you ever said about your work, I was made for this? You felt this because you were made to work. In that moment, whether you admitted it or not, you believed God’s original design was very good.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a Genesis 1-2 kind of world. We live in a world where sin has degraded everything, including our work. In the next post, I’ll consider Genesis 3 and what sin does to work.



Why Must Jesus Be God?

Over the course of church history, every heresy finds its end in one of two places: the person of Jesus (as God and Man) or the Trinity. A truly historic, orthodox faith holds to both Jesus being fully God and fully Man and a Trinitarian God who is one yet three: Father, Son, and Spirit.

In two brief posts, I want to address these two doctrines. My goal is simply to summarize why Jesus must be God and why God must be Trinitarian. Let’s start with Jesus. Why must Jesus be God?

If Jesus is not God, then he cannot die in our place on the cross. It simply boils down to this. There can be no substitutionary atonement if the substitute has to pay for his own sins. Jesus must be God because only God can satisfy his own wrath and pay the wages of sin (death). No mere human could. Yet at the same time, Jesus must be human because only a human deserves to die, for humans are the ones who have sinned against God.

If Jesus were not God, he would be another sinner (by definition) dying for sinners. Thus his death on the cross would be a wonderful example of love, but all it would be is an example! It would not be efficacious (i.e. it couldn’t produce the desired result, namely the redemption of sinners). Christ’s death would be stripped of any working power. It would be a great lesson in how we should live our lives. But that would actually not be loving, because it would crush us. No one can live up to that example (at least not me)! And what is it if a mere sinner dies for another sinner? Nothing. But this is not the essence of the gospel story. The essence of the gospel, indeed the whole Bible, is that everything in this world (including the world itself) is so messed up because of sin that only God himself can redeem you, me, and the whole cosmos. God himself must do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

That’s what we get when we meet Jesus. This is why Jesus must be God.

Scriptures to consider: Genesis 3:1-24 (esp. v. 15); John 1:1-18; 10:22-42; Colossians 1:15-23; Hebrews 1:1-14; 7:11-28

Reviews Theology

Review: Awakening Faith

James Stuart Bell, with Patrick J. Kelly, Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. $18.68 (Amazon). 400 pp.

The average American evangelical knows little of church history. I am certainly no expert in this area, but I do feel the need and desire to be acquainted with the community of faith that spans the past two thousand years. For that reason, it is always a pleasure for me to read about the early church or read the words of the Church Fathers themselves. Therefore, I’m delighted to let you know about Awakening Faith by James Stuart Bell and Patrick J. Kelly. This new year-long devotional provides a simple, bite-size introduction to a number of spiritual giants in church history.

What’s intimidating about the early church writers is that their writing is heavy. There’s teeth to it. Reading the early church is not like picking up the latest Christian best seller at Barnes and Noble. These writers make you think because they are (1) not American and (2) lived outside our century. These two things make reading the early church valuable.

Yet you do not need to be intimated because in Awakening Faith you’ll get rich doctrine and wholehearted devotion in small bites. Each day has a simple layout. There is an introductory verse or two from Scripture followed by a few paragraphs from an early church pastor or theologian. There is a consistent focus on Christ, the gospel, spiritual formation, and the duty of Christians to be salt and light in the world–everything a good devotional should be.

Bell pens a helpful introduction to why the early church matters. Another particularly nice feature is the index of authors. The index provides the list of authors, which days contain their writings, and a short bio of their contribution in church history. I have one critique that is really a suggestion for future editions: I would like to know the source of each devotional. That would no doubt help curious readers who want to dig deeper into any particular author. 

In the end, I’m excited about this devotional. My caution when considering any devotional is to remind people not to let it replace regular Scripture reading. At the same time, if you are looking for a solid Christ-centered devotional as a complement to your personal worship in the word or if you want to introduce yourself to the early church, I would highly recommend Awakening Faith!

Life Theology

How Martin Luther Interpreted the Bible

History is full of giants of the faith who have immensely helped the church interpret the Bible properly. One giant in particular stands out: Martin Luther. Along with John Calvin, Luther is perhaps most loved for his radical Christ-centeredness when it comes to Bible interpretation. He’s prominent because God used him at such a vital crossroads in church history. As one of the driving forces of the Reformation, Luther helped Christians refocus biblical hermeneutics back to the text of Scripture and away from the authority of the church. Let’s briefly look at his hermeneutical method.

Luther’s method for interpretation, if named anything, may be termed “historical interpretation” because he rejected allegory.[1] More accurately, Luther’s method may be labeled Christological. He believed that the sole content of Scripture is Christ. Christ is the incarnate Word of God, therefore the Bible can only be God’s word if it deals with Christ.[2] Luther further held that “all Scripture is interpreted by its relationship to the gospel.”[3] In other words, every text must be seen in light of God’s redemptive work in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus every text relates to the gospel either by promising, foreshadowing, proclaiming, or reflecting upon the person and work of Christ. The modern interpreter is helped by Luther’s Christological hermeneutic because the gospel is timeless. Since Christ lived, died, and rose for believers past, present, and future, the gospel is immediately applicable to the modern reader. The gospel, therefore, is the applicational bridge from the ancient text to the modern reader.

Luther led the charge for what is called sola scriptura (Scripture alone), the “key foundational premise of the Reformation.”[4] Sola scriptura holds that only Scripture holds divine authority for the life and conduct of Christians. Scripture authenticates itself and the church, not the other way around as the papacy supposed. Because Scripture is the final authority for Christians, its message is not regionalized or relegated to a certain time period. Modern interpreters must acknowledge the Bible is authoritative for their life even in the twenty-first century.

As Augustine taught more than a millennium before, Scripture interprets itself which implies that Scripture is clear in itself.[5] Here Luther leads the modern interpreter to be confident that Scripture is living, active, and harmonious.

Finally, one valuable element of Luther’s method of interpretation is that he accounted for the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the interpreter. The Holy Spirit enables Christians to understand accurately what a passage teaches about Christ.[6] Because of this, just like Luther in the 1500s, readers today can be confident that God has provided through his Spirit the ability to objectively understand and subjectively experience the truths of Scripture.

[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 47.
[2] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006), 185.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Klein et al. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 47.
[5] Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 185.
[6] Klein et al. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 47.