The blogs are abuzz with chatter over John Piper’s invitation to Rick Warren to the Desiring God National Conference in October 2010. It’s letting the barbarians in the gates, some have said. The sky is falling, and not with volcanic ash, others are saying.
But we must listen closely to John Piper’s rationale for the invite. Warren reads, in fact owns the complete Yale edition of, Jonathan Edwards. Yes, there are other arguments, but the clincher is that Warren reads Edwards, which is enough to convince Piper to let him in the gates.
While seated together on a platform during a funeral, Warren confessed to John Piper that he’s at volume 17 of the series, Mark Valeri’s edited collection of sermons. Warren, it turns out, spends a year with a theologian and this year it happens to be America’s Theologian.
What I find intriguing here is why I came to Edwards in the first place, and also why I have stayed with him all these years. Edwards brings people together. I started out with Edwards because he brought so many people together. Literary scholars, historians—even historians of science—theologians, politicians, pastors, and people in the pew all drink at the waters of Edwards. I’m not sure of any other figure who appeals to so many broad interests, barring Augustine (which is likely why we like to call Edwards America’s Augustine). To put the matter directly, if Edwards can bring Piper and Warren together, Edwards must be saying something remarkable. If Edwards can bring scholars, pastors and laity together, he certainly is saying something worth hearing.
This isn’t the first time Edwards served as a mediating force. Harry Stout and Iain Murray (Yale University Press vs Banner of Truth Trust) had a bit of a roe a few years back over Whitefield and historiography. Yet, and I don’t wish either to enter in that fray or breath life in the long died down embers of it, they both love Jonathan Edwards. Let that sink in. Banner of Truth Trust and Yale University Press both boast of a collected writings of Edwards on their back list.
Let’s go back further and consider the case of Miller and Gerstner. There’s Perry Miller, rank agnostic; and then there’s John Gerstner, defender of God until veins popped out. And there they were, sitting together at the table, brought together by Edwards. Remarkable.
All of this bringing together that Edwards has pulled off strikes me as remarkable for not only what it has done in the 20th and now 21st centuries. I also find it remarkable because of the conflict that so dogged Edwards much of his ministerial life. The harmony with others he so often wrote about—“When I imagine heaven, I imagine people singing,” because singing to Edwards was harmony and harmony was excellence, or we might say beauty, and beauty to Edwards was everything—seemed to elude him most of his life.
And now in death he brings us together. Poetic, really. Beautifully poetic.