Shocking Beliefs of Jonathan Edwards

My good friend Frank Viola is doing an interesting new series called “Shocking Beliefs of …”

His purpose is to show that the great Christians of the past all had blind spots, and we shouldn’t throw out their entire contribution just because some of their views were flawed. We all have flawed views in some areas and we are all growing in our knowledge and understanding.

His first post in the series was on the shocking beliefs of C.S. Lewis.

Recently, he wrote another post on the shocking beliefs of Jonathan Edwards.

Here’s a short excerpt.

1. Edwards believed that being a slave-owner was NOT incompatible with being a follower of Jesus.

While Edwards was an advocate of Indian rights and denounced the Transatlantic slave trade, he himself was a slave owner. Granted, Edwards believed that all humans were created equal by God and that slaves should be treated with respect. [1]

Many, if not most, evangelicals view slavery to be among the biggest evils and diabolical social ills in history. So for “America’s greatest theologian” to own slaves, is well, shocking. Even if he was simply acting in accordance with the times (Edwards was part of the aristocratic elite stratum of his society), it’s a testament to the fact that no human – however great they may be – sees every angle of everything.

2. Edwards didn’t believe Arminians were disqualified from ministry or the Kingdom of God.

Edwards took pains to defend a pastor who had anti-Calivinistic views. The pastor (Benjamin Doolittle) was being denounced by his own church – a church made up of Calvinists – for owning a slave and other things they had problems with.)

Edwards set aside the theological differences and rose to Doolittle’s defense, including his right to be a slave owner. [2]

This fact would only be shocking to hard-core Calvinists who believe that “unless you receive John Calvin into your heart, you cannot be saved” (at worst) or you’re a heretic (at best).

Regrettably, I’ve met a handful of Christians who regarded Edwards as “their guy,” yet they felt that Arminians shouldn’t be allowed near small children or pets.

Edwards’ defense of Doolittle reminds us that the proclivity by some to erect walls and continually narrow the boarders of who is “in” and who is “out” of the Kingdom of God isn’t something we should embrace.

3. Edwards believed that the Pope was the Antichrist.

Apologies to the Roman Catholic Church, but Edwards, despite his impressive mental acumen, actually believed this. This fact — along with his slave-ownership – sobers popular notions that Edwards always interpreted Scripture correctly. [3]


  1. Martin Luther published 95 shocking statements that began the Protestant Reformation. One day I decided to see if I could come up with 95 shocking statements for the 21st Century Church.

  2. Greetings;

    Mr Edwards also believed that he was depraved and possessed a wicked heart.
    From my paper on indwelling sin; fact or fallacy;
    “When I look into my heart and take a view of its wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell. And it appears to me, that, were it not for free grace, exalted and raised up to the infinite height of all the fulness and glory of the great Jehovah, I should appear sunk down in my sins below hell itself; far below the sight of everything, but the eye of sovereign grace, that alone can pierce down to such a depth. And it is affecting to think how ignorant I was, when a young Christian, of the bottomless depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy and deceit left in my heart” (1743 A.D.). Memoirs; chapter VII “Remainder of Personal Narratives”. Banner of Truth ed.

    See the complete paper here;

    Be prepared for a shock at what John Owen believed.


  3. Always love to see clear and thought and the pursuit of truth, humans are limited, but our greatest focus to our minds built by Christ 1 Corinth 1-4 KJ3, NEB,. Philosophy can always become more attractive over being spirit led, due to human desire, the very word usages of Paul epignosis verse gnosis in his letters imply deeper distinctions, in the source of the knowledge giver, over the Greek dependence of human insight alone, God led wisdom over human reason. Paul addressed the issues of Greek wisdom, Much of it came and was connected to the past of other pagan nations. I think at times distinctions get blurred by our limitations, just thinking.

    blessings to all.


  4. David Heesen says

    Believing that the Pope was the antichrist isn’t so strange; it’s a tenet of the 1689 Baptist Confession.

    • Surely there is a false gospel, also a false church. It seems that spiritualist have been dominating the church with mysticism. We are warned of the spiritualism that is very pervasive and is slowly steering it’s deceptive fangs into the sheep. WE are fleshly being and we to have to deal with our physical world. Just as Jesus did. We can pray in the spirit, but we must stay in the flesh. I have noticed many sites talking about the spirit. That is dangerous and it is more philosophical than Christian. We must deal with our reality and trust Jesus on spiritual matters not preachers or gurus who use the Bible as a mystical book to seduce the immature into their WAY of thinking, not Jesus’s or His disciples. These ”new” ways of rethinking is a New Age of perverting the old ..Nothing new about it. I see a trend and it’s disturbing. We must get back to sound doctrine, not mysticism cloaked in Truth.

    • I find it strange how the word anti Christ is being used. Are you suggesting that some Popes were NOT against Jesus? I know that you’re implying the big A in Anti Christ…that’s true..but small A certainly applies. Many were. They did evil things and certainly were not of Christ. Calvin also was a Catholic before the reformation, just like Luther. Point is. If we’re going to be honest let’s look at the ROOT of Catholicism and it’s past members. Many churches are not protestant..they never adhered to councils that created the Roman Church..or Catholic Church…They are simply believers groups who hid from the CC for centuries…We talk about slavery being so evil. Well, it is wrong in our eyes. I suggest that God works are mysterious and Africans were freed from horrible paganism and I would not venture into how the Lord pulled the precious Black people out from under the unknown darkness that pervaded the African continent,,,as with many other lands…Look at Moses….his people….Look at Sandwich Islands..Hawaii…they were cannibals….Most islands and nations were pagan and evil unbridled…….till the Gospel came into them…..Indians in this country were seen as savages… poorly as they were treated..the Gospel set them free…not man…just as any who were enslaved..Jesus was the only hope of any man understood the Truth about Jesus..the chains came tumbling down my point..all kinds of chains.

      • I think you are white-washing history a bit to make your point. I don’t think it’s as simple as you are making it sound. There were multiple sources/forces at work in the historical settings you list. In many cases it is fuzzy as to whether the “heathen” were learning of Christ or Western culture.

  5. Gordon Cumming says

    Successive popes have led a counterfeit ‘church’ that has bastardised just about every fundamental biblical truth as well as engaging in a pitiless persecution of the real Church throughout the ages.Neither is this simply a historical curiosity but a recent and very grim reality.Witness, for example, their genocide of Orthodox Serbs and Jews in Croatia in the Second World War.The Roman priesthood has been very actively involved in the systematic rape and abuse of countless children, both historically and presently, a crime that successive popes have assiduously sought to conceal.The Reformers were right to expose the evils of popery and the popish system, and were it not for their courage and fidelity , the dark age of Roman superstition would have blighted the minds and hearts of men for even longer.The main problem with the Reformers, arguably, is that they did not entirely expunge the contagion of popery from the Church, but this was no doubt was inevitable.Luther, in his earlier years, saw and embraced the principle of the believers’ Church, but,in the searing heat of the battle, sought security in the church territorial ; fortunately,most of us don’t have to face the horrors he did.The present, and previous bishops of Rome, are indeed lying spirits, like their father.That is not of course to imply that those in the Church of Rome must be lost.However can it be otherwise that if a man knows and believes what is taught by the pope and his crew, he cannot be saved ?The pope may not be the antichrist, but he is surely an antichrist.If any man preach any other gospel……

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