EdwardsStudies.com is pleased to be talking today with Dr. Toby Easley. Toby has a doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has been researching Edwards for years, including time spent during his doctoral research in the Beinecke Library at Yale where he examined the manuscripts of the Northampton Puritan.
Dr. Easley, where did you get started studying Jonathan Edwards?
I was introduced to Edwards through preaching and teaching as a child and youth. I also read Edwards’s “Sinners” sermon in my high school American Literature class. My teacher actually ridiculed his Calvinistic viewpoints, and due to my theological background at church, I saw through his negative view of Edwards. Later, during my undergraduate studies, a friend gave me an eighteenth-century copy of Original Sin. My interest in Edwards was kindled again, but it was in 2005 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that I began to immerse myself in his sermons and notebooks. In 2007, I presented a paper at the ETS Regional meeting titled “Jonathan Edwards: Extemporaneous or Manuscript Preacher?”
Tell us what it is like sifting through Edwards’s works in the Beinecke Library?
The experience for me was extremely enlightening. Looking at pictures online or in books does not do justice to viewing the actual sermons in the Beinecke Library. One important element of my research of Edwards’s sermons focuses on uncovering stereotypes and on the developmental stages of his sermons throughout his life. Therefore, I needed to observe his sermons in the various manuscripts and outline forms throughout the eras of his life.
How did this research inform your writing of your new book?
Along with all of the vast secondary source materials I read throughout the writing process, the ability to view the primary source materials in their eighteenth-century handwritten form cannot be underestimated. I do not believe I could have come to solid conclusions on many of my assertions had hands-on observations not been possible. Unfortunately for Edwards’s enthusiasts today, Edwards did not have a secretary who wrote his sermons as he delivered them. However, with men such as Spurgeon in the nineteenth-century, we have his personal sermon notes along with written notes of his actual delivery. This variance makes our interpretation of Edwards’s communication practices and actual delivery much more complicated over the course of his life.
So tell us about “Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts.” Give us an overview of this project and what you hope readers will learn here.
My desire is to take readers through the life of an eighteenth-century scholar and explain that a journey exists in one’s own preparation and speaking style. I also endeavor to draw the reader into Edwards’s age of spiritual awakening and, at the same time, reveal important twenty-first-century applications of his communication and developmental stages.
I also address questions people often ask. Was Jonathan Edwards striving to maintain a precision, while becoming more extemporaneous? Furthermore, do the manuscripts prove that he was a monotone, stoic, lifeless preacher, with insufficient ability to adapt and transition to diverse audiences and settings? I invite the readers not only to see the development of the man that many historians regard as “America’s greatest theologian and philosopher,” but also to discover if he ever moved beyond the manuscripts in preparation and delivery?
Were there any “Aha” moments for you during the writing of this project?
Yes, when I began to realize that Edwards was not just a great composer of sermons, he was also to a great extent involved in examining others’ rhetorical methods and developing his own communication strategies. I was also astonished by the numerous communication settings that he participated in and his ability to adapt in an effective manner. We observe that late in his life, he simultaneously pastored both an English and Mohican congregation at Stockbridge, and was finally willing to take on the position as President at the College of New Jersey.
Is this going to be available in both paperback and ebook format?
The book will be available in hardback, paperback, and ebook.
Do you have any other major projects in the works for the future?
Yes, I am presently working on my next book on the Transatlantic exchange between Jonathan Edwards and John Erskine and the American and Scottish awakenings.
Any other Edwards-related recommendations or shout-outs for our readers?
Yes, I recently read a book written by:
Yeager, Jonathan M. 2011. Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine. New York, New York, Oxford University Press.
Crawford, Michael J. Spring. 1991. “New England and the Scottish Religious Revivals of 1742.” American Presbyterians 69, no. 1: 23-32.