A few more thoughts on the Duncan, Nevin, Helm, Edwards discussion.
The proponents of Edwards and the First Pretty Good Awakening (hereafter FPGA) are worried about nominal Christianity – that is, people who go through the motions of worship or Christian practice. Although this is an understandable concern – who would ever commend hypocrisy unless you are a vice paying tribute to a virtue – it is also an impossible concern. How does anyone know if another person is faking anything? Only God knows the heart. So the effort to eradicate going through the motions is a lot like a quest to be God (and wasn’t that what got our first parents into trouble?).
At the same time, why is it that insincerity only goes in one direction? Why is it only possible for Christian profession and practice to betray unbelief? Why can’t unholy actions betray a believing heart? Of course, I’m not trying to justify sin or worldliness. But if the heart is as fickle as pietists believe it is, why isn’t it possible for the duplicity to go both ways? Why can’t a believer’s impious actions actually betray real belief? What if someone is faking unbelief but really believes? If you think this seems preposterous, consider Peter’s thrice denying his Lord. And he became Pope!
Those skeptical about Edwards put less emphasis on the first word of “faking it” and worry more about the it. That is, they (okay, I) worry that the words or actions in question are actually fitting or biblical – fitting within the Reformed tradition or having a warrant from Scripture. Since we can’t know the human heart, at least we can take precaution that the things we do as believers and the things we say actually conform to what Scripture teaches. Let the Spirit take care of the heart, along with pastoral counsel in the privacy of one’s home.
So, for instance, when churches have Thanksgiving Day services where people stand to give testimonies, the Edwards proponents might be very much moved by the woman who stands to give thanks that she recently found a job afer a year of unemployment. And if the woman cries, the Edwardsean might be especially inclined to think this testimony spiritual and genuine. After all, the pro-FPGA saw lots of tears (and more) as evidence of the work of the Spirit. Never mind that sometimes people cry when speaking in public because they are nervous. If affections appear, then hallelujah, we have piety.
Edwards skeptics may also be moved by the emotion, but will also be sitting there going postal internally because of the impropriety of letting people, even saints, stand up and say things without any sort of screening by the pastor and elders. In other words, whether or not someone fakes a testimony, the issue in this case is that testimonies are wrong. The noun (“it”) matters more than the gerund (“faking”).
But Edwards rooters are rarely as worried about the “it” as Edwards skeptics and the reasons are that those who are interested in holy affections often take liberties with the “it” of Christian piety. That is, in order to cultivate and give expression to those genuine affections, pietistically inclined establish new practices, sometimes not having biblical warrant or foreign to the Reformed tradition, in order to fan real spirituality into aflame. The best example of this is the phenomenon of hymns. Prior to the FPGA, Presbyterians all sang psalms (or other biblical songs). But these songs were not as conducive to the revivals of Whitefield, Wesley, and Edwards as were the hymns being written expressly for revivalistic purposes by the likes of Watts and Wesley (Charles, that is).
Now maybe you are a hymn-singing kind of Presbyterian. I myself enjoy a good hymn now and then. But the historical record is remarkably undeniable that hymn singing prevailed among a group of believers previously committed to psalm-singing because those biblical songs weren’t cutting it in the effort to create believers who did not fake singing psalms but really sang hymns.
And now to bring it full circle, hymn-singing Presbyterians in the 1980s were besieged by praise-song singing Presbyterians because the old hymns weren’t up to speed with Jesus people piety.
So once you start down the road of the quest for genuine piety, it’s hard to get off before it turns into the charismatic highway.
I seem to recall Scott Clark writing a book about this.