Why do some members believe churches would empty if a preacher periodically used Edward's types of messages reminding us we are under God's mercy?
The Bible contains many different messages one can use to preach, but to ignore God's Holiness, His Judgemnt and Sovereignty and the end result He has proclaimed throu HIs Word. The genuine seeking Believer is thirsty for all of His Word, not just the nice parts.
Perhaps another take on this would be to bring out the notion of human fallibility. One of the challenges of Edwards' sermon is not whether he is right or wrong, or whether his tone is scary of inviting, but rather how any individual can claim with such authenticity to speak in absolute terms. I am not advocating relativism or anything like that, but part of the reason why some might turn away from such a message is that they have been betrayed by former people who claimed to have such a strong and absolute level of "authority." Edwards holds little in way of ambiguity, and when addressing issues such as faith, the feelings of divinity, and human role in a cosmic design, there seems to be more areas of doubt, reflection, and ambiguity than there are of totalizing notions of the good. This might be a reason why people might turn away from Edwards' message, for individuals have seen the result of those who claim to have an answer, but really do not. Salem during its Witch Trials is but one of many examples. Yeats might have said it best with, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity."
I am not a churchgoer myself, nor am I a Christian, so my viewpoint may be different than yours, onlytheword. Yet, I believe the point of church service is to show the congregation how to grow in the love of the Lord, not simply avoid burning in hell for eternity. Thus, sermons should be focused on how to become a better person through Christ, and how the Bible teaches us that this is possible. Many people also believe that Edward'skind of sermon fosters a Puritanical attitude that can be counter-productive to Christianity's overall message. I live with someone who practices the Christian faith, whose father is a preacher, and they both abhor the kind of self-righteousness thatpasses for spirituality in many cases today. Instead, they want to encourage everyone to seek God for themselves, and use the Bible as a tool to achieve this kind of understanding.
Simply put (perhaps too simply), you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. People respond to discussions of kindness and love with a deeper understanding than people who are scared into coming to church. You may think it's better to keep a congregation in line with fear, but then you miss a greater portion of the people you could reach through preaching God's love. Also, is the point of church to simply "keep people in line?" I hope not. I'd like to think that every Christian church's goal would be to spread the gospel of Christ to each member, not simply scare them so badly they don'tdare skipa service.
I'm not sure that you gain anything by labelling anyone who doesn't agree with you as something other than a "genuine seeking Believer." That's name-calling, not discussion.
For me, the reason Edwards' ideas (as portrayed in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") are unpalatable is simply this: I do not believe in the idea of an angry, vengeful God.
I do not believe that the average human being is worthy of being looked at by God as we would look at a loathsome insect. I do not believe that God is angrier at us than a prince at his most unfaithful subject.
The theology that holds that we are all evil and deserving of hell does not work for me because I believe that most people are basically good.