The Nations Will Worship: Jonathan Edwards and the Salvation of the Heathen -- By: Greg D. Gilbert

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 23:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: The Nations Will Worship: Jonathan Edwards and the Salvation of the Heathen
Author: Greg D. Gilbert

The Nations Will Worship:
Jonathan Edwards and the Salvation of the Heathen

Greg D. Gilberta

Jonathan Edwards spent the last seven years of his life as a missionary to the Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. When he arrived at the church in 1751, Edwards was not in an entirely unreached area of the world. A church had been founded there in the 1730s with support from Edwards and his Northampton congregation. From his very earliest days as a minister, Edwards had been a strong supporter of English missions to the native Indians. Like his grandfather Stoddard before him, Edwards was always deeply concerned for the evangelization of the tribes that surrounded the European towns. The move to Stockbridge was, for him, a providential opportunity to contribute to that mission by preaching the gospel to a largely unconverted and non-Christian nation. From his statements in his public writings, it seems that Edwards understood his task of preaching the gospel to be of immense importance if the Indians were to be saved. Before he came to Stockbridge, Edwards preached that before the coming of the Europeans, “the devil had the nations that inhabited this part of the world, as it were, secure to himself, out of the reach of the light of the gospel and so out of the way of molestation in his dominion over them.”1 Had the Puritans not arrived with the gospel, the consequences would have been horrific, for “those that die heathen [the devil] will prey upon and Exert his Cruelty upon forever.”2 Edwards was unyielding in all of his public declarations about the heathen.3 They were lost nations and their salvation would come only through explicit knowledge of the gospel resulting in conscious faith in Jesus Christ as the only Redeemer.

Recently, however, some scholars have questioned Edwards’s resolve here. Perhaps while he was preaching such uncompromising Calvinism, Edwards was privately developing a more inclusivist theology that might actually provide for the redemption of unreached nations without explicit knowledge of Christ or sensible faith in him. Anri Morimoto first raised the question in his book Jonathan Edwards and the Catholic Vision of Salvation, where he concluded that Edwards did have such inclusivist tendencies and that his theology provided for the salvation even of those peoples who never heard one word of the gospel. His conclusions are often sweeping and strikingly unabashed in their language: Edwards’s “radically inclusive” soteriology, he writes, “envisions a n...

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