Jonathan Edwards and Social Issues
Social issues per se, or culture, are not prominent in Edwards' writings. Discussions of social issues and public policies and programs have about as much place in his writings as they do in the New Testament. Which does not mean that what he wrote was irrelevant to public life and culture, any more than that the New Testament is irrelevant. It was relevant - and is relevant - the way physics is relevant to space travel and bridge building. And the way microbiology is relevant to a ten-day round of tetracycline or the purification of drinking water.
It mattered to Jonathan Edwards, just as it should matter to us, whether a culture is diseased and scarred by fraud and bribery and wife-burning and witchcraft and foot-binding and marital unfaithfulness and teenage promiscuity and pervasive pornography and vigilante justice and rape and murder and theft and sloth and misogyny and pedophilia and dozens of forms of insolence and arrogance. Jonathan Edwards could not imagine a Christian being indifferent to the morals and manners of his own city or country. He said,
The spirit of charity, or Christian love . . . disposes a person to be public-spirited. A man of a right spirit is not a man of narrow and private views, but is greatly interested and concerned for the good of the community to which he belongs, and particularly of the city or village in which he resides. . . . And a man of truly Christian spirit will be earnest for the good of his country, and of the place of his residence, and will be disposed to lay himself out for its improvement.
That quote from a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a glimpse into the cultural scope of Edwards' concern for the world. But even that quote doesn't come close to the scope he really believed in. Edwards knew something that many social activists and culture-watchers in America - evangelicals and others - don't seem to know or care about, namely, that cultures and societies and peoples who have no Christian presence at all in them cannot even begin to experience social or cultural transformation. In other words, Edwards was deeply committed to world evangelization and cared as much (or more) about the advance of the kingdom among unreached peoples of the world as he did about the morals of Northampton, Massachusetts. He wrote to the evangelist George Whitefield in 1740,
May God send forth more Labourers into his Harvest of a Like Spirit [with you], until the kingdom of Satan shall shake, and his proud Empire fall throughout the Earth and the Kingdom of Christ, that glorious Kingdom of Light, holiness, Peace and Love, shall be established from one end of the Earth unto the other!
Transformation Requires Penetration
In other words, if you had asked Edwards, What is the really pressing, crucial issue of culture transformation in the world?, I think Edwards would have said, "The really pressing issue is penetration of a culture with the glorious God-centered gospel of Christ, because without penetration there is not the slightest hope of transformation."
I think Edwards would have considered it astonishing how many Americans say they care about social justice and cultural issues, but who don't seem to have the slightest concern for, say, the 579 people groups listed by the Joshua Project 2000 who "do not have a known church planting effort in their midst" - that is, 2000 years after the giving of the great commission by the Lord of the universe, there is not a single church, or a band of disciples or a solitary missionary in their midst. Not to mention several thousand other peoples with a barely discernible Christian presence and witness. Such peoples cannot even begin to trust Christ for the power and wisdom and love to transform darkness into light.