“Edwards for me is totally unhelpful…”

I’ve been processing John Piper, Daniel Fuller, and Jonathan Edwards for awhile.  This past week I listened through the messages of Desiring God’s 1994 Pastor’s Conference, where Fuller was the featured speaker.  His three messages are loaded with everything he teaches in his book Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum?, (which I reviewed).  Of particular interest to me is the influence of Jonathan Edwards on Fuller, of Fuller on Piper, of Edwards on Piper, and how those influences have changed over the years, especially regarding the doctrine of justification.  Here is a quote from Fuller’s talk titled “Sanctification by Faith Alone: the Nuts and Bolts of Living,” almost near the end, during the question and answer time.

I’m not satisfied with Edwards’s understanding of what a person must do to be saved.  I haven’t been helped at all from Edwards’s understanding of soteriology.  Edwards has helped me in God’s purpose in creating the world, and understanding that election is not arbitrary and yet not because of any merit on the part of anybody.  But Edwards is for me totally unhelpful when it comes to soteriology.  I sometimes wonder if Edwards knew what to tell a person to do to be saved.  He was so afraid of telling them to do something by works.  In fact he has that one sermon where he says, “you gotta wait for God to zap you.  and we don’t know how long it’s gonna take.  but if you try your best to keep the law, even though you’re unregenerate and a total rebel against Him, just try.  I think after 20 years or 30 a the most,”  this is Pressing into the Kingdom sermon, “30 years at the most, I’m sure by that time God will have zapped you.”  That’s awful.  Awful. Much as I love Jonathan Edwards, and his picture hangs in the study of the pastor here… (laughter) …and you see what a large debt I owe him in my book The Unity of the Bible, but none of us takes non-canonical writers as infallible.  If we do, we’re in big trouble, my word.

I haven’t read Pressing into the Kingdom, yet, but I plan to soon, and will comment on it when I have.  From briefly glancing at it, I’m not sure Fuller does Edwards justice.  Interestingly, we call that period of time “The Great Awakening,” in which hundreds of people found Edwards to be quite “helpful” when it came to being saved.  In fact Pressing Into the Kingdom” was one of the sermons that was so used in Northhampton.  All that said, I’m pretty sure I’m with Edwards and present-day-Piper, and not with Fuller and then-Piper.

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