This week, I’m taking my first seminary class in many years. To be more specific, I’m auditing a masters-level elective at Southeastern Seminary. The course is Study of a Selected Theologian: Jonathan Edwards. I’m attending the class because I have an abiding interest in Edwards, both personally and professionally.
On a personal level, no single figure from church history has shaped my understanding of the Christian life more than Jonathan Edwards. Like many evangelicals in my generation, I was really introduced to Edwards through the writings of John Piper. Before my sophomore year of college, all I really knew about Edwards was that he was a New England Puritan who preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Through Piper, I was introduced to what Piper has called Edwards’s God-entranced vision of all things. By the time I was a seminarian, I was reading Edwards for personal edification alongside my class-related readings. My parents didn’t quite know what to make of me that December when I asked for the Banner of Truth editions of Religious Affections and Charity and Its Fruits for Christmas! Every semester, I tell my students at SEBTS that they can’t read too much Jonathan Edwards.
Professionally, I’m interested in Edwards in a couple of different ways. First, there is the classroom. I discuss Edwards in Church History II, a course I teach nearly every semester. I almost always require either primary or secondary readings related to Edwards for that course (sometimes both). Edwards’s shadow looms large in my masters-level elective and Ph.D. seminar Study of a Selected Theologian: Andrew Fuller. Edwards is also a central figure in my Ph.D. seminar on The History and Theology of Spiritual Awakenings. Next summer, I am scheduled to teach a Ph.D. seminar at Southern Seminary on The Spirituality of Jonathan Edwards. In short, I teach a lot about Edwards and my students read a fair amount of material by and about the famous pastor.
I’m also pursuing scholarly research and writing related to Edwards and the Edwardsean legacy. Regular readers will know that I’m one of the series editors and volume contributors to the forthcoming Works of Andrew Fuller series that will be published by Walter de Gruyter. Fuller, though a Particular Baptist, was arguably the most influential second-generation Edwardsean theologian in England. I’ve also written a forthcoming essay related to an aspect of Edwards’s thought; I can’t provide further details, as it will be published in a super-secret festschrift for a friend. I’m also contributing a couple of entries in the forthcoming A Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and have several ideas for additional Edwards-related writings as well.
At the end of the day, the biggest reason I’m taking this class is because, even though I know quite a bit about Edwards, I want to learn from people who know more than I do. The course is being co-taught by my friend Pete Schemm and Gerald McDermott. Schemm, a former colleague at SEBTS, is a thoughtful pastor-theologian who now serves as senior pastor of Cave Springs Baptist Church in Roanoke, VA. McDermott, who teaches religion at Roanoke College, is one of the two or three leading scholars of Edwards’s thought in North America. Most recently, he co-authored the award-winning book The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2011) with Michael McClymond. This week, I have the chance to learn about Edwards from a friend who models an Edwardsean ministry and a scholar who has forgotten more about Edwards’s theology than I currently know.
I want to always be humble enough to keep learning from others who are smarter or godlier or have more experience than me. This week is a chance to do that. I’ve recommended this class to my students (including a couple of hopeful future Ph.D. students), and I will be sitting beside them and learning along with them. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the required readings and I am looking forward to the lectures and discussion. I trust that, by the end of the week, I will have been edified in my spiritual walk and be even better equipped to teach and write about Edwards and his theological legacy.