It would be very easy for me to spend a lot of my time and energy talking about the importance of having teaching theologians in our midst, and about how valuable their studies, writings and teachings are to the continued life of the church.
Such a dissertation would include a listing of the incredible contributions to our individual faith lives, the development of our faith leaders, and the effects that their lives and writings have had on the church and society.
As a student of theology I am most directly influenced by the teaching theologians that I learn from in our seminary classrooms, and it is my professors of theology who are intentional about bringing the wisdom and philosophies of their predecessors to the classroom and our attention.
They are gently insistent that we learn from those whose dedication to the study of God, the examination of the word, and reception of Christ continues to impact the world around us. By doing so they remind us that it is important to continue to pass along such wisdom and knowledge to future generations, and it encourages us to be so bold in our own investigations and writing about the Divine as well.
Each year on March 22 the ELCA honors one such teaching theologian, Jonathan Edwards. It is from the likes of Edwards that we have been gifted with old and new understandings of salvation and with an example of commitment to telling the story of Christ in the world to the world.
There are two very real reasons that I personally appreciate Edwards. Though it is tough for me, a “missionized” Indian, to write positively about many missionaries who worked to make Christians of Indian people, I can say that Edwards’ work to defend the Housatonic-Mahican Indians against those who wished to take advantage of the people is important to note about his character.
This is seen in Edwards’ later years when he was a pastor in Stockbridge, Mass. His congregation had many Housatonic-Mahican members. A powerful Stockbridge family continually tried to antagonize and swindle those members, according to Rachel Wheeler, an assistant professor of religious studies at Indiana University. And Edwards often came to their defense.
“In fact, over the course of his tenure at Stockbridge, Edwards proved to be a diligent advocate for Indian rights, as his dozens of letters to mission backers and Massachusetts officials attest,” she writes in an article about Edwards in the journal Church History.
The second reason I appreciate Edwards is his commitment to nature and Creation. His writing gave so many people permission to find God in the natural gifts that surround us in our world. Such a take on nature and theology surely influenced how he understood the indigenous people with whom he worked.
So it is on this day that we honor the Rev. Jonathan Edwards for his contributions as a teacher, a theologian, a missionary, for the impact that he had on the Great Awakening, church governance, the Reformed churches, for his defense of the rights of Native peoples, the rights of women, and the rightness of God in all matters.
The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University contains a wealth of information on this theologian.