Today EdwardsStudies.com has the opportunity to talk with Dr. Rhys Bezzant, the Dean of Missional Leadership and Lecturer in Christian Thought at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. He is also the author of Jonathan Edwards and the Church published by Oxford University Press (2013).
Dr. Bezzant, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. That’s quite a title you have over there at Ridley: “Dean of Missional Leadership.” Tell us about what you are up to at the College these days. What courses are you teaching?
Don’t be too impressed! Outside of regular classes, I have pastoral responsibility for a cohort of students who want to serve in a variety of ministry settings within Australia, often on the front line of outreach: campus workers, Bible translators, youth pastors, children’s workers, church planters … I get the title to try to capture something of the breadth of the task! Apart from that, I teach Church History, Christian Worship, and some theology classes.
Any future Edwards scholars being reared under your tutelage there, I would imagine?
I talk a lot about Edwards in Australia, because not many other people do! Our teaching of church history has more often than not been oriented towards Britain, but new global impulses mean the church in Australia increasingly understands itself in relation to the US and Asia. I often say my goal is to make Edwards a household name, but only if the Lord Jesus is better known! It can be a tough gig getting students to think about further research in church history, because our churches need evangelists and pastors so desperately.
Give us a good lead as to what we might learn about JE in your book “Jonathan Edwards and the Church.”
What I tried to do in that book is work through all the stages of Edwards’s ministry, and show what he taught about the church at any moment. So it is a chronological analysis of his ecclesiology. Basically, he is a great Protestant, who sees the center of the church as the ministry of Word and sacraments, but adds to that definition the ways in which the church is central to the development of God’s purposes in the world. His ecclesiology is dynamic and responsive, not just institutional or clerical. God’s promises have to be held together with God’s presence and purposes. The church is like a tree, deeply rooted in theology but also responsive to its environment.
If I’m not mistaken, you have another book coming out about Edwards as a mentor. This sounds pretty cool. Are you working with the “log college” educational concept for ministers in this book, or do you mean something else by the term “mentoring”?
Yep, presently I am working on a book about Edwards’s ministry of mentoring. I think he was a better pastor than is sometimes imagined, and his mentoring was exceptionally effective. Mentoring is such a synthetic skill-set, drawing on Scriptural themes, historical examples, cultural norms and pastoral insights, so this topic gives me ample scope to understand features in Edwards’s pastoral labours often overlooked.
Any applications from your studies on mentoring that you think can be applied to educational leadership in our context today, in the modern world?
It takes much longer than it used to shape a future minister. There is so much to unlearn first. And the costs of serving in a church are much more significant than they once were. Mentoring helps in the process of growing in character, skills, and confidence. Seminary professors aren’t always the best people to do the mentoring, but at least we should start there. Intentional face to face experiences in education are more and more prized in a high-tech world.
Tell us a little bit about the Jonathan Edwards Center in Australia. What goes on over there?
Our job is to promote the texts and teachings of Edwards, and the history of evangelicalism more generally. We hold occasional conferences, public lectures, and Masters units for the professional development of clergy. Ridley holds the biggest collection of Edwardseana in Australia.
Are you in pretty frequent communication with the other JE Centers around the world? Let’s see there’s Yale, the one at TEDs, one in South Africa too…
Yep, the network based around the mother ship at the Yale Divinity School has been fantastic for me, when there are so few local Edwards scholars. Ridley hosted an Edwards Congress last year with representatives from every continent, built on the fellowship of the JE Centers worldwide.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to stop by at EdwardsStudies.com. Before you go, are there any book or conference recommendations that you would like to pass along to our readers?
Why not take up the invitation this summer and do a one week reading course on Edwards at Yale?