Here is a question I get all the time… Edwards wrote so many things — where should I start reading? I recommend starting easy by starting short. Then work your way up to longer and harder works as you get to know the famed preacher.
By Matthew Everhard
Suppose you step into the entrance of an enormous library. Like many, you feel enchanted by the possibility of learning. A bibliophile, your soul thrills at such unfettered access to human knowledge. Even the smell of books delights the senses. Each volume represents some small bit of knowledge or experience in a given field; one writer’s obsession for years or even a lifetime. But which books should you choose?
You reach out your hand, attracted by the look and feel of one volume, or provoked merely by the title of another. You are forced to make choices. You can take several books with you, perhaps even an armful. But the limitations of time and energy will force you to make some selection. You cannot read them all.
The Mountain Climber: Reading Broadly
In some sense, all theologians choose between reading broadly and reading deeply. We could choose, for instance, to read quite widely from the whole range of Christian history: a little Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther here, and then a little bit of Warfield, Lewis, and Packer there. In fact, I would see great value in that sort of enterprise. I personally want to be well-read, and I think most other scholars, theologians, and pastors feel the same. I recently listened to a podcast with a theologian who took earned degrees in mathematics and law before engaging in the formal study of theology.
We call such scholars “polymaths.”
Reading broadly is a wonderful–and even glorious–choice. The polymath sees things from a high vantage point. She makes connections across fields; drawing sight-lines from one subject to another. She takes the way of the mountain climber to see things from an advantageous vista point. Yet choosing the high road of the polymath is still limiting and restricting in certain ways. One would have to skate quickly across the surface of some writers’ best works, and ignore many other primary contributors entirely. That library we imagined in paragraph one is enormous after all, and the broadly interested reader chooses books from multiple shelves, up and down the galleys, mastering no section completely.
ME: EdwardsStudies.com is chatting today with Rev. Barry Woolner, longtime PCA pastor in the Ascension Presbytery, and the guy who helped me find our new house in Pennsylvania! Barry is also a former student of Dr. John Gerstner, whose legacy still impacts many in the Reformed and Evangelical world to this day. Barry, before we talk more about Gerstner, give us a quick rundown on your own ministry career for those who don’t have the pleasure of knowing you.
BW: I was converted soon after I flunked out of Rutgers University. I then attended Philadelphia College of Bible. They expelled me. I then attended Berkshire Christian College. They threatened me with expulsion. I met Kathy at Berkshire; she had transferred from Wheaton College in 1971, before our Junior year. We were married in 1972. We graduated in 1973 with B.A.’s in Theology. I attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary from 1973 through 1976. I finished the standard M.Div. degree and most of the work for my Th.M. (in Jonathan Edwards studies). I was the pastor of Glade Run United Presbyterian Church in southern Butler County, interim pastor at Meridian Presbyterian Church in Butler; I left the mainline Presbyterian denomination in 1982. I was assistant to the pastor and ruling elder at Calvary Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Butler, founding pastor of Westminster Reformed Pres Church (became OPC) in Johnstown, and then, assistant pastor at Gospel Fellowship PCA.
ME: So when did you first come into contact with Dr. Gerstner, and what were some of your first impressions about the man? How did he strike you as a person?
BW: I did not meet him until seminary classes started. The course that I took was a class on Jonathan Edwards’s book, The Freedom of the Will. Dr. Gerstner was intense. He taught in a way that terrified some students. It was called ‘dialogture’. He would lecture and then ask questions directed to the class. He would then interrogate a “victim” for minutes at a time. Once, when he pressed me intensely for several minutes, I interrupted the verbal assault on my poor brain and asked if I might be excused to go to the bathroom. I was not allowed.
Dr. Gerstner was consumed by the idea that he needed to be as godly as God called him to be. He would push us to be as consistent in our walk with Christ as we could be. He opened to us a world of both Godly and academic rigor that was, for many of his students, truly challenging.
ME: Tell us a little bit about what he was like as a professor, and what it was like to be in his Reformed Study Group.
BW: Dr. Gerstner was a teacher who expected you to master the material presented. He hoped that you would agree with him. However, your grade did not depend upon agreeing. One day he stated that he prayed for all of the students in his classes. He also stated that he prayed that we would all become as Reformed as he was.
The Reformed Group was a ‘secret’ group that was intended to include only those who were Calvinists and members of the United Presbyterian Church. The group was intended to educate, provide fellowship and support for those in the struggle against liberalism. (A few others outside the mainline church were included, like Dr. Jack White, President of Geneva College). We were asked to produce serious papers on assigned topics. One’s paper would be presented and then discussed. Given the number of people in the group who had earned Ph.D.’s in a wide variety of subjects from theology to nuclear physics, the discussions were academically challenging.
ME: What do you think are some of the most lasting and important impressions that Gerstner made upon you as a Christian and as a minister?
BW: By his life and written thoughts, he convinced me that God’s calling involved the totality of who I am, every nano second of my time, every thought that drifted through my head. He was consumed by trying to understand the full meaning of the glory of God. His respect and love for Edwards came from the fact that he had found a fellow traveler, one who pressed on to know, love and live God’s Truth. On a different and somewhat more practical note, I appreciated his view of debating. He insisted that the basic rule of debate was that you must state your opponent’s view in a way with which he or she would agree. You could not erect a straw man and then feel good by knocking it over.
ME: Did you have a chance to read the new biography on John Gerstner by Jeffrey S. McDonald, part of the Princeton Theological Monograph Series? If so, what were some of your impressions? Did McDonald capture the whole man or did he miss anything?
BW: As you know, it is impossible to please everyone in the audience. I read both his doctoral dissertation and his book. I thought that the book was well planned. It discusses Dr. Gerstner’s influence and life decade by decade. I believe that McDonald’s critique of Dr. Gerstner’s published books was accurate. My major complaint had to do with his depiction of Dr. Gerstner as anti-social, withdrawn, cold, etc. This is an utterly false portrayal. I contacted McDonald and we spent over an hour chatting. I have written, and, along with others, will be disseminating our memories of Dr. Gerstner. It will be, on a smaller scale, similar to Luther’s Table Talk. I will send McDonald my notes in hope of changing his mind.
ME: Since this website is devoted to Jonathan Edwards studies, did you find yourself becoming more and more interested in the Northampton revivalist yourself through Gerstner’s influence? Gerstner, as we know, dedicated much of his writing and lecturing to the famed Great Awakening preacher.
BW: If you met Dr. Gerstner, you met Rev. Edwards. My interest in Edwards pre-dated meeting Dr. Gerstner. I had read some of Perry Miller’s works. I also read Sydney Ahlstrom’s great book on religion in America. When I was briefly homeless during college years, I slept in the Stockbridge (Massachusetts) Congregational Church building where Edwards pastored. Surely a pure pedigree! Dr. Gerstner did dedicate his life to bringing Rev. Edwards’s thought to the modern world. Mrs. Gerstner thought he spent a bit too much time interpreting Edward’s ‘goose markings.’
ME: This area of the country (Western PA) is probably the main hotbed for Gerstner’s teaching and influence. Of course, Ligonier Ministries was founded not far from Pittsburgh and Gerstner himself eventually became part of Ascension Presbytery, where you and I are ordained. Is he in any danger of being forgotten here in this area?
BW: As you know Matt, we will all be forgotten. “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” The hope is that the Reformed thought that he espoused will more and more grow for the glory of God. Dr. Gerstner did not want his name attached to any type of movement. That is why several of us had to vow, to Dr. Gerstner, not to write his biography.
ME: Do you have any recommendations for some of Gerstner’s own works? Are any of his books still important to you?
BW: I really like his practical books. His short books on Edwards, his Reasons For Faith, Primitive Theology,Theology of the Major Sects, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, and his Theology in Dialogue are quite excellent.
ME: Barry, thanks for checking in with us and for sharing your thoughts on the late Dr. John Gerstner. It sounds like he had a great impact on your heart and your life.
BW: Thank you for allowing me the privilege of discussing Dr. Gerstner with you. He is one of the great gifts of God to His Church. As R.C. Sproul said at his funeral, when Dr. Gerstner died, he entered heaven and was greeted by Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther and Edwards. “Finally among his peers.” Amen.
Editor’s Note: Adam Newcomb Boyd recently published a new book entitled Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals published by JESociety Press. This book can be purchased on Amazon here. What follows is a recent interview with the author about his faith and life, as well as a synopsis of the new book.
Adam, give us an introduction to your own life and work for those not familiar.
I became a Christian during my freshman year in College through an enthusiastically charismatic ministry. After growing up with an under-applied faith, I was ready to be all in. I didn’t want to miss anything, and there were a lot of things going on with the charismatic movement at that time. At some point my brother Bobby handed me a copy of the Westminster Confession and I finally ended up at RTS in Jackson. If you look at the school directories from those years you will see written in the description under my picture in year 1, “Assemblies of God;” year 2, “Non-Denominational;” year 3 “PCA.” It was a gentle, gracious education thanks to men like Knox Chamblin and Ligon Duncan.
I grew up with my family running summer camps, first in Atlanta and then in North Carolina, but Ann and I were not interested in that. It was hard work, and we frankly lacked vision for the impact camps could have. Instead the plan was either missions or campus ministry until we were both struck by an oddly undeniable call back into camping. What we found was that a seminary degree was the perfect training for leading staff and developing a mission that was surprisingly effective for the gospel. We feel like we found a niche where Christians can learn to be a blessing to the world and unbelievers can see the beauty of the gospel.
Tell us about the camps you run. How do you like doing ministry in a non-ecclesiastical setting? I bet you have a great opportunity to impact many people’s lives.
Both our camps are expressly Christian programs. Our counselors are thoughtful believers who share a high view of the Bible and are growing in grace. It’s really fun to work with these guys, especially because our campers do not necessarily come from Christian homes. This is our 75th summer, and some campers come because of that tradition. Others come because friends are coming, etc., but the important thing is that they come back summer after summer. I heard someone say that a broken world view is like a broken bone. It must be handled very gently, with empathy. Many of our campers come from homes with broken world views and we have the chance to gently help them experience the gospel through friends and adventure. After they have been with us for seven or eight years, after they have learned to take risks in kayaks and on ropes, and make friends who are more like family because they live together, we see them becoming Christians.
And of course the ones who come from Christian homes (about half of our campers) have the chance to see what their parents are teaching them demonstrated by counselors that they watch summer after summer.
What drew you into the field of Jonathan Edwards studies?
Honestly, I found myself asking what is wrong with me? Why am I more entertained by Breaking Bad than Second Corinthians? There has to be an ontological break in me and Edwards helped me find that break. So I started reading Jonathan Edwards because of a very narrow, very personal question. I have kept reading him because of the way he answers this and so many others.
I love the perspicuity of scripture. Sadly, there is no perspicuity of Jonathan Edwards, and there is precious little perspicuity of his commentators. The good part about this is that reading Edwards requires me to slow down and think about what he is saying. The bad part is that it takes commitment, which is tough if Breaking Bad is coming on.
Who are some of your favorite Edwards scholars, and what books inspired you to go deeper with JE?
I like some of the older guys: Conrad Cherry and Perry Miller are a great way to measure the growth in current scholarship and they help with a feel for some of the high points. More recently I have enjoyed JE Society’s The Miscellanies Companion, and your article there in particular. I also love Patricia Tracy’s historical lens, but Ronald Delattre was the most helpful on zeroing in on Edwards’s concept of beauty. His Beauty and Sensibility in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards is my first recommendation for understanding Edwards’s aesthetic.
Hey! Thanks for the kind words! So you’ve written the new book Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals. Give us a brief synopsis of your overall goals.
A lot of people understand that you cannot separate the head and the heart (the 18” truism). Edwards shows us why. He takes us on a journey through the veins and sinew that feed and bind these things together. He uncovers the neural pathways of inclination. I think this is what our younger evangelicals are looking for; some way of reconciling what they find beautiful (inclination) and their faith. The book is about that.
It is also about Edwards’s method. He was too confident to be protectionist. He knew that new ideas could push us deeper into God’s world so he was never afraid to engage. Younger Evangelicals want that too. They want to engage with the world rather than hide from it, and we all know that; none of this is new. What is new (or forgotten) is the way Edwards shows us how to do that.
In the first part, you did some biblical exegetical work. What did you focus on?
I wanted to show how the church has engaged with beauty throughout the history of redemption. The church wants what the Bible describes. I wanted to show that these are not new ideas, they are not inventions to make the faith sound relevant. The beauty of God is fundamental throughout scripture. Christian faith is primarily about finding something so beautiful that we cannot live without it.
After that, you dove pretty deeply in the Religious Affections. Why did you choose that work among Edwards’ many treatises?
I think Religious Affections is more accessible to some readers. It’s organization is intuitive so I could spend time unpacking his syntax rather than his argument. I also felt that its close ties to the events of Edwards’s day gives another handle for a first-time Edwards reader to grab onto. It is easier to understand what people are talking about when you understand why they were talking.
In the next main section, you do some comparison and contrasting to Newton and Locke. How does Edwards compare to these giants?
He compares as an equal. Each had their chosen primary studies: physics and mathematics for Newton, moral and political philosophy for Locke and of course practical theology for Edwards. But their brilliance is shown in their curiosity and overlap into other fields. I spent some time on this because Edwards that overlap proves the confidence of his method. It also contrasts with the way we often engage new ideas.
Towards the end of the book, you do quite a bit of pastoral application. Give our readers a taste of that.
Let me give one example as a “quick taste.” I read somewhere that if you want employees tell them what to do. If you want leaders tell them why you do what you do. Matthew says that we (and our students) are the light of the world – we are building leaders. That is why I added a “why did we?” section at the end of most of the lessons described in the last section. I added this for the readers, but I also included it when I taught this material at my church. The idea was to explain the content along with how we employ it in the way we teach.
God’s truth is for God’s people so I wanted to help readers think through how they might make it accessible.
Dr. Matthew Everhard | Pastor Elect, Gospel Fellowship, PCA
(Reblogged from academic.logos.edu).
If you hang around someone long enough, be careful: you might end up becoming more and more like them. You may pick up some of their mannerisms. You may begin to use some of their expressions. If you truly admire them, you might even begin to dress like them or evidence other forms of sincerest flattery.
Since I began studying Jonathan Edwards for my doctoral dissertation several years ago, I realized that I am slowly becoming more and more like him, too. (Except for the white, powdered wig of course!)
Let me explain.
Edwards (1703–1758) was a local church pastor, which happens to be the same vocation that I share. As I began to research his numerous written works and treatises, I became increasingly aware of his incredible personal and professional organizational skills. With meetings, projects, sermons, lectures, and Bible studies always coming due, most pastors can stand to get a bit more organized. As I studied Edwards’ writings and insights, I realized that I might be sitting at the feet of not only Edwards’ intellectual genius but his organizational genius, too.
Let me briefly share three ways that I have purposefully imported Edwards’ own practices of personal discipline and organization into my own. Two of these are old fashioned—paper and ink projects. The third I have adapted with some modern technology…
Here is gentleman and scholar Tony Walker, a JE student and fellow pastor, describing his rather ingenious system to acquire the very expensive Yale Editions of the Works for much less than retail prices…
Finally, I have a copy in my own hand.
Hardcore Jonathan Edwards scholars and amateur enthusiasts alike have been excited about the release of this new project, The Miscellanies Companion, edited by Robert L. Boss and Sarah B. Boss. This hardback edition is exactly what it claims to be in the title, a “companion” to the newly released computer-electronic analyses of Edwards voluminous “Miscellanies.”
Like never before, this digital research performed by the super-program created by Boss will allow scholars to find deep and meaningful connections in Edwards’ massive corpus of thought. The book, then, complements the programming in a marvelous way by providing over twenty essays on doctrinal and philosophical issues in Edwards’ personal “Miscellanies” thought-project.
As to the book, contributors include Obbie Tyler Todd, Jonathan S. Marko, S. Mark Hamilton, Toby Easley, David Luke, and others. My own chapter on “Edwards and Happiness,” for example, seeks to pull together the various threads of conception throughout Miscellanies 501-832 on joy, heaven, light, blessedness and more.
As to the programming, JESociety was graciously commended by Douglas Sweeney in the foreward who said the book represents as new frontier, since “Big data is here to stay–even in Jonathan Edwards studies. Here’s hoping that those who use it can make the interpretation of Edwards more accurate, visually impressive, and compelling.”
Without any further ado, I present to you a brief video review of The Miscellanies Companion by JESociety Press…
Edwards scholars and friends of this blog have two major projects to get excited about, and the good news is that both are in the final stages of editing and/or production.
The first, The Miscellanies Companion is possible to get by Christmas (no promises!), but we are hoping against hope that it might land in some stockings, or under some Christmas trees this year. The second, Jonathan Edwards Within the Enlightenment, will be released sometime next year in 2019.
Here’s a bit about each one…
The Miscellanies Companion
The Companion is edited by Dr. Rob Boss, the director of publication of the JESociety which has been putting together some very cool and uber-relevant works in recent days.
Interestingly, this project not only features some excellent scholarship, as a world class team of writers dig into Edwards’s “Miscellanies,” but it also features some stunning interaction with cutting-edge computer digitization created by Dr. Boss. This will allow Edwards scholars to cross reference ideas and concepts in Edwards’s “Miscellanies” as never before. The written book will correspond to the digitization Boss has created in meaningful ways, and the big idea is that this will blossom into new discoveries in Edwards’s mind, as the Northampton Pastor organized his entire system of thought around tensions and connections that scholars are just now being able to put together.
Here’s a brief video intro, followed by the cover art.
Jonathan Edwards Within the Enlightenment
This second exciting work was formerly given the tentative title, Jonathan Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment. If you have been expecting this one, make sure to note the title change. This is part of the exciting new series, “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies.” Here’s a teaser that I recently received from John T. Lowe, one of the editors of this coming project.
Jonathan Edwards within the Enlightenment: Controversy, Experience, and Thought. New Direction in Jonathan Edwards Studies. Edited by John T. Lowe and Daniel N. Gullotta Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, forthcoming.
As part of the New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies, this volume aims to examine areas where scholarship has either been previously assumed or unexplored entirely. Most of the time we only hear about one side of Edwards. Often forgotten are the other aspects of his life and context shaped—or not shaped—by the Enlightenment. For example, this collection of essays will consider his pro-slavery views, abolitionist legacy, confrontation with witchcraft, pain, populism, feminine death-bed narratives, how his world was full of violence, and several other topics.
The unique collaboration of authors representing both North America and Europe are graduate students and seasoned scholars across multiple academic disciplines. Our hope is that this volume will encourage research among students of Edwards to seek new perspectives of his life and context in history, theology, literature, culture, and the like. We are very excited to move forward in the final steps of this project with Yale and V & R.
As of press time, contributors were making their third round of edits and final tweaks. This should be sent to the publisher any time now with a goal of hitting the ink press early in the new year. We will eagerly keep you posted on this project.
Recently, I had the opportunity to record a live episode of the Calvinist Batman podcast with its mysterious and powerful host, “Bruce.” We gathered in the fellowship hall of my home church, Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida, set a couple of high tech mics with the help of our sound team, and recorded an episode before a live studio audience of about forty people, mostly church members.
Comic books and puritan theologians seem like a bit of a strange combination, but on this podcast forum, it works very well. Each episode begins with some lighthearted banter about comic books, superhero movies, and other cultural curiosities. In the episode that I was privileged to record, we began talking about my own father’s epic comic book collection from the Silver Age of comics, especially my father’s prize possession of Spiderman 1-10. Here is also a quick glimpse of my dad’s collection of Fantastic Four 1-10.
We progressed on, then, to discuss matters of more spiritual significance as we discussed Jonathan Edwards and his theology of joy. In our conversation, I was able to share much of what I had gleaned from my doctoral studies of Edwards’s theology of happiness, which I distilled into book form in my recent title, A Theology of Joy.
Towards the end of our time together with podcast master Bruce, we even discussed some dark topics like depression. You can check this out too as a bonus Q&A episode.