Sarah Boss: Second Generation Jonathan Edwards Scholar

Today, EdwardsStudies.com chats with Sarah Boss, a second generation Edwards Scholar whose essay “Edwards and Thoreau: Typologies of Lakes” appears in the new JESociety publication A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards (2016).

Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks for having me! I’m always happy to talk with other Edwards enthusiasts. In a nutshell, I’m a native Texan, a recent graduate of Wheaton College, where I studied English and history, and a current teacher in Fort Worth.

You teach ancient history at Covenant Classical School. What are some of your main foci in your curriculum and how is that going?sarah-boss

It’s going well, thanks! I attended Covenant myself, and it played a vital role in my development both spiritually and intellectually, so it has been a joy to be a part of giving what I received there. This year I’ve had the opportunity to teach a very bright, inquisitive class of seventh graders about Pre- and Early Dynasty Egypt and Sumer. A couple threads we’ve been following through these periods are rulers’ claims to divinity as a means of expressing or expanding their authority and how these claims and other technological or cultural developments enable empires to be born. (We also talk a lot about pyramids, of course!) A key emphasis of classical Christian education is training young minds to think critically and express themselves clearly, so our discussions are informed by the lens of biblical truth, beauty, and wisdom, especially as we think through age-old questions of humanity, divinity, and how they play out in society. So far I haven’t made any tangential references to Edwards in class, but the year isn’t over yet…

So, how did you become interested in a dead, wig-wearing Puritan (referring to Edwards of course!)?

Full credit goes to my dad, who introduced me to Edwards at a young age; this dead, wig-wearing Puritan was a household name for me growing up. I first read Edwards for myself as a ninth grader, beginning with “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” then dove in to his typological writings. I’ve read more broadly since then, but I still haven’t lost the fascination that I felt for Edwards’s “Images” as a fourteen year old. A year after discovering my interest in Edwards, I accompanied my dad to the Jonathan Edwards Society conference in Northampton, MA, where I got my first taste of the Edwards community in action. The summer before my senior year of high school I wrote a paper on Edwards that I was able to present at that year’s conference. I continued research afterwards and rewrote it as my high school senior thesis. The paper dealt with the connections between Edwards’s typological writings and the myth genre and sought to find an outlet for Edwards’s epic worldview in our contemporary society. I was out of my depth with such a colossal undertaking, and, as often happens, the more I read the less I felt I knew. But that first paper brought up questions I’m still wrestling with now and gave me a sense of how intricate and relevant Edwards’s thought remains today.

Tell us a little bit about your essay in the recent publication by JESociety and how it developed. It’s had a wider audience already, hasn’t it?

I originally wrote the essay for my college’s independent literary journal, The Wheaton Pub. The issue’s theme was “encounter,” and I knew I wanted to write about Edwards and his encounters with nature, but wasn’t sure what specifically. While reading Walden Pond for an American literature class, I was struck by how similar a certain passage was to an entry in Edwards’s “Images.” I decided to wrestle with these two passages in my essay, and teased out subtle differences that reveal opposing frameworks of thought. After being in The Pub, the essay appeared a few places online – including here on Edwards Studies – and I also had the opportunity to present a version of it at the Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media at Northern Illinois University this past spring. Now I am happy to have it included in JESociety’s latest publication.

You have the unique opportunity to work alongside your father in this publication. What’s that like?

My parents have always encouraged my interest in Edwards, and it has been special to present papers alongside my dad and now to be published with him. I feel very blessed to be part of a family that values education so much and to have a father who is intellectually creative and encourages me to be the same. With this publication in particular, as we wrote essays on related topics, I can see how much I have gained from his research and example and how that has influenced me as a thinker and writer. (Also, it’s pretty nice to have access to his library.)

What are your other research interests?

Most simply, I’m interested in nature. Nature as a universal symbol – how it manifests in literature, religion, and art and often serves as a muse or conduit for dialogues on life’s big questions. But also nature as a concrete, basic element of human life. Over the past couple years I’ve become more interested in the sciences, ecocriticism, and exploring how Christians do and should encounter nature and mediate a spiritual and scientific understanding of their environment. These questions have fed my interest in typology but also expanded it to engage issues of how to practically live out a biblical understanding of nature.

Any shout-outs or book recommendations for our readers?

A couple books that gave me a solid foundation when I first started researching Edwards are George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life and Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (which I loved in part for the really cool cover art). A couple that helped contextualize my thoughts when writing my essay on Edwards and Thoreau are Mason Lowance’s The Language of Canaan: Metaphor and Symbol in New England from the Puritans to the Transcendentalists and Perry Miller’s classic Errand into the Wilderness. A couple books on typology I am currently reading (or am excited to read over Christmas break) are Jennifer Leader’s Knowing, Seeing, Being: Jonathan Edwards, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, and the American Typological Tradition and Tibor Fabiny’s Figura and Fulfillment: Typology in the Bible, Art and Literature. Lastly, for an in-depth study of Edwards’s typology and the tradition he drew from, I recommend Rob Boss’s God-Haunted World: The Elemental Theology of Jonathan Edwards.

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This is What Happens When Ten Edwards Geeks Get Together and Collaborate: Introducing “A Collection of Essays”

EdwardsStudies.com and the JESociety have recently joined forces and put together a group of ten young, fresh Jonathan Edwards Scholars with an agreement to work together on one project. Each writer was asked to contribute an original piece on the Northhampton Puritan. The result is the new book, A Collection of Essays. Contributors include pastors, theologians, students, and scholars.

Here’s the video introduction:

Author Interview: J.T. Holderman

In celebration of our new publication,  “A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards” (JESociety Press, 2017) EdwardsStudies.com will be doing some short profile interviews with our article contributors.  Today, we chat with J.T. Holderman. 

Tell us a little bit about what you are doing right now? (career, ministry etc.)

Since you asked, life is all manner of exciting these days. For starters my wife Kim and I just welcomed our second baby girl to the family, Corinne Hope. I forgot how much I love sleep. This past July my Senior Pastor retired and I have been called into that position and am striving daily to be faithful in loving the people of Bellevue Presbyterian Church here in Gap, PA. The transition from Associate Pastor to Senior Pastor has been eye-opening and I’m realizing daily the weight of the calling to the pastorate. Life is all manner of exciting.

edwards-essaysHow did you get interested in JE?

I first became interested in Jonathan Edwards while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary. It was there that I picked up a book by John Piper titled God’s Passion for His Glory. Within this 250 page book is a biographical narrative of Edwards and a copy of his The End For Which God Created the World. As I read Piper’s detailed account of Edward’s and his indebtedness to the man, I found similar chords of interest in my own heart towards Edwards. After reading Edward’s The End For Which God Created the World I found myself shocked and stunned at first the intellect and brilliance of Edwards to pinpoint the reason for God’s creation, that He might be glorified, and second at the weight of the man’s logic to turn the human heart toward the Lord.

As I read the biography Piper supplied, I realized quickly that Edwards ended his earthly life in the same town in which I was studying, Princeton, NJ. More than that he was buried in a nearby cemetery. One afternoon, with coffee in hand from the local Small World Coffee, I made a pilgrimage to the grave, where there I worshiped the Lord in thankfulness for the man Jonathan Edwards.

What are some of your favorite works of JE?

Perhaps my favorite work of Edwards are his sermons. At least through the written medium his soul thirsty work for preaching the glory of God is a balm to me in every season of life. I would recommend as a starting place The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader edited by Wilson H. Kimnach and co. Second to his sermons, I would be remiss if I did not highlight The Religious Affections, a marvel of human intellect and logic.

Give us a tidbit from your essay! What is your article about?

In my chapter in the collection of essays, I highlight in brief a biography of Edwards and certain implications we should glean from his life. Here’s an excerpt:

To many, the Christian faith looks like a joyless prison. It is a religion of prohibition: you can’t get drunk, you can’t sleep around, you can’t lie on your taxes. Many in the world see Christianity as a set of rules that restrict the individual and take all “fun” out of life. Edwards, however, would encourage us that it’s exactly the opposite for the Christian. He roots the fundamental core of Christianity in relation to an individual’s happiness, freedom, and joy, not in a prison of constraint and obedience. Christianity does not kill delight; it, instead, magnifies it and puts it in its proper place. Edwards says it this way:

“God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.”[1]

[1] Quoted in John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 1998), 79.

Author Interview: Obbie Tyler Todd

In celebration of our new publication,  “A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards” (JESociety Press, 2017) EdwardsStudies.com will be doing some short profile interviews with our article contributors.  Today, we chat with Obbie Tyler Todd. 

Greetings Obbie, tell us about yourself! 

I serve as Associate Pastor of Students at Zoar Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Previously I pastored a small rural church outside of Bardstown, Kentucky for over a year. As I was finishing up my Th.M. at Southern Seminary, Kelly and I felt the Lord calling us to Cajun country. Not long ago I also began my PhD work at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently I’m studying 18th century South Carolina Baptist Richard Furman and his influences (e.g. Jonathan Edwards). Tom Nettles at Southern greatly aided me in exploring the Edwardsean influence on Furman and other 18thedwards-essays-19th century Baptists. I had Dr. Nettles for both Th.M. and PhD-level courses in Edwards studies, and I owe much of my initial research of Edwards to him. It was after one of these courses that I was inspired to compose my blog “The Edwardsian” (https://edwardsianblog.wordpress.com). Just about every month I’m writing on Edwards, and I don’t see that habit ceasing any time soon.

How did you become interested in Edwards? 

I suppose my first step into the world of Jonathan Edwards was reading Iain Murray’s Banner of Truth biography the Summer between my M.Div. and Th.M. at Southern Seminary. It was a bit hagiographic, but its devotional and pastoral elements grabbed me instantly. From there I started reading primary sources and then Marsden and so on. Dr. Tom Nettles was of course very influential in my introduction to Edwards. For my Th.M. paper I wrote on Edwards’ psychology of conversion and it’s during this time that I discovered the Religious Affections. Dr. Michael Harkin was also influential for me. His Andrew Fuller course also spawned the essay that I submitted for this book. As years have gone by, my Edwards collection has grown exponentially and I find myself going back to him time after time. He’s an ocean.
Do you have any Edwards-related book recommendations? 
I have a few. My favorite treatise by Edwards is The Religious Affections. I believe many people mistake this book for an exclusively devotional work, but it’s so much more than that. “True religion,” as Edwards calls it, encompasses anthropology, theology, psychology, soteriology, etc. It’s the telos of Edwards’ entire ministry, and we see this theme manifest itself in his covenantalism, his ecclesiology, his sacramentalism, his revivalism, and his view of conversion itself. For me, The End for Which God Created the World is absolute brilliance. It’s like reading Piper before Piper, and I honestly don’t think John Piper would mind me saying that. When you read this in tandem with The Nature of True Virtue, it’s amazing to witness the dynamics between metaphysics, aesthetics, and ethics. Perhaps my favorite two sermons are God Glorified in Man’s Dependence, both for its ultimacy and for what it meant in the timeline of Edwards’ own ministerial career – his “coming out” party so to speak. The other is The Excellency of Christ. I’m not aware of a more Christocentric sermon that exists today. The paradoxes and the beauty of Christ that Edwards so masterfully brings out…it’s homiletic brilliance and one I seek to mimic when appealing to the Person of Christ from the pulpit.
Tell us a little bit about your essay in A Collection…
My Essay features the theological link between Jonathan Edwards and Andrew Fuller, specifically between David Brainerd and Samuel Pearce as presented by the two theologians. This work was spawned from research I did under Michael Haykin at Southern as I was finishing up my Th.M. He really encouraged me to look to Fuller’s missiology and the Edwardsean influence therein. Today, I believe many people think of Edwards strictly as a theologian or even as a philosopher. However, his revivalism and conversionism were equally acute. Fuller’s missiology was, in many ways, the fresh embodiment of Edwards’ revivalism and piety. What Brainerd did for Edwards in serving as a true exemplar of Christian practice, Pearce was for Fuller. I labor to show that and how Fuller intentionally adopted Edwards’ approach to biography. So many studies are being done right now involving Edwards’ influence upon 18th and 19th century Baptists, especially Fuller. I think it’s important to remember Edwards’ missiological legacy as well.