Narcission: The Root Of All Hypocrisy In The Theological Psychology Of Jonathan Edwards -- By: Bruce W. Davidson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 57:1 (Mar 2014)
Article: Narcission: The Root Of All Hypocrisy In The Theological Psychology Of Jonathan Edwards
Author: Bruce W. Davidson

Narcission: The Root Of All Hypocrisy In The Theological Psychology Of Jonathan Edwards

Bruce W. Davidson*

* Bruce Davidson is a professor at Hokusei Gakuen University, Nishi 2-chome, 2–3-1 Ohyachi-Nishi, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo, Japan 004–8631 and a board member of the Jonathan Edwards Center Japan.

I. Introduction

Nowadays there is a naïve tendency to accept uncritically all accounts of spiritual experience as authentic. Many books capitalize on this and relate their authors’ supposed experiences with God. For example, in the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love and the movie based on it, the protagonist encounters God as an entity who simply ratifies her own personal inclinations and pursuit of self-actualization. This god apparently also has no objection to her divorcing her loyal husband as an obstacle to those goals.1 Such accounts are widely believed and even admired. Probably as a result of the influence of some forms of psychology and the general neo-Romantic Zeitgeist, contemporary people are apt to put a lot of faith in religious experiences as forces that can change their characters and behavior.

Likewise, recent developments in the Christian world promote a style of belief that downplays the rational component of faith and urges instead a more experiential approach. Elements of the charismatic/Pentecostal movement, the Spiritual Formation movement, and the Emergent Church reframe Christianity as primarily experience-centered, including the pursuit of altered states of consciousness, voices, and visions from God. However, along with many others in the Puritan tradition before him, Jonathan Edwards was not so easily impressed by spiritual experiences. A traditional believer in radical human depravity, he knew the human heart to be a wellspring of subtle deception and hypocrisy, even among professing Christian believers. Therefore, “the root and cause of things is to be looked into” rather than just the phenomena of experience.2 The root of much of it he traced to narcissism.

Essentially, Edwards saw religious hypocrisy as the outgrowth of narcissism. He identified various signs by which one might be able to recognize it in individuals and groups professing religious belief. All of them are telltale signs of self-centeredness. In Edwards’s view, true converts manifest marks of love for God that do not spring solely from self-interest. Here I will examine Edwards’s fundamental ideas about the nature of human evil as well as the historical reasons for his concern about religious hypocrisy. After this, I will look at some prominent attributes

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