Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: June 2013



June 2013



The Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS

Written by , Posted in Books, History, Theology

Several times this week, I’ve mentioned The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. The JEC website is the best place on the internet to begin a study of Edwards’s life and thought. Though the JEC provides numerous helpful resources, by far the most important of which is the free electronic edition of the 26-volume Works of Jonathan Edwards (plus another 47 volumes that are only available online).

Doug Sweeney

What many folks do not know is that several other institutions have launched Jonathan Edwards Centers that are connected to the JEC at Yale. In North America, the other “official” Jonathan Edwards Center is at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where it is under the direction of Doug Sweeney, a TEDS church historian. Sweeney is the author or editor of numerous scholarly and popular books related to Edwards and the New Divinity. The latter was an influential theological movement among second-generation Edwardseans. He is also the editor of volume 23 on Edwards’s “Miscellanies” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

I love the JEC-TEDS website. Sweeney and his team provide numerous audio lectures related to Edwards and the Edwardsean tradition. Lecturers include both top-shelf historians and theologians such as Mark Noll and Oliver Crisp (among many others) as well as influential pastors such as John Piper and Thabiti Anyabwile. The website also includes a helpful blog. Most of the posts are “book notes” by Sweeney that discuss recent works devoted to Edwards and related themes. I often look to see what Sweeney has said about a book before I start reading it myself. (He’s always read the book before I have.)

If you are interested in Jonathan Edwards, the second website you need to check out is The Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.




June 2013



On “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

Written by , Posted in Books, History, Ministry

If you know much of anything about Jonathan Edwards’s preaching, you know that his most famous sermon is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The sermon is available in numerous stand-alone print editions, is reprinted in most anthologies of Edwards’s works, and is widely available in audio form on the internet.

Pastor and Edwards scholar Josh Moody discusses “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in his FAQ section on the Jonathan Edwards Center website:

1. Is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” representative of Edwards’ entire ministry?

  • “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was preached at a church that was reportedly resistant to the work of the Great Awakening, the massive transatlantic revival taking place at the time. Edwards preached many other sermons in other contexts (for instance, famously, his series on Charity and Its Fruits), but it is fair to say that Edwards believed strongly not only in the fearful reality of hell but his duty as a minister to warn people of that reality.
  • Having said that, to call, as some have, Edwards’ hell-fire preaching effectively ‘theological terrorism’ is quite unjustified. Even the sermon itself Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God has, when read properly, a clear emphasis upon the mercy of God – it is nothing but God’s mercy that keeps us out of hell, he was saying, and therefore we are to ask God for an extension of that mercy for salvation.
  • So is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God representative? Yes, Edwards did preach on hell, and did seek to warn people of hell most passionately and with vibrant and alarming imagery. But Edwards also preached on many other topics more frequently (love, the beauty of Christ), and preached this sermon in a particular context of what he discerned as hard-hearted resistance to the wonderful work of God. Perhaps Edwards’ preaching on hell stands out to us mostly (if not only) because we are so unaccustomed to finding warnings against hell in church or society today.

Far and away, the most helpful resource is Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” A Casebook (Yale University Press, 2010), edited by Wilson Kimnach, Caleb Maskell, and Kenneth Minkema. Check out the following blurb from the publisher.

Designed specifically for the classroom, this volume presents the accurate and definitive version of Sinners, accompanied by the tools necessary to study and teach this famous American sermon. With an introduction aimed at students and teachers and commentary that draws on fifty years of team editorial experience of Yale’s orks of Jonathan Edwards, it provides both context and interpretation, and addresses the concerns and questions of a twenty-first century audience.

The book contains questions for in-class discussion, a chronology of Edwards’s life, and a glossary. In addition, curricular materials and video mini-presentations are available on a dedicated Web site. This casebook represents a innovative contribution to the art of teaching Edwards to a new generation of readers.



June 2013



Was Jonathan Edwards a Bad Preacher?

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry

Some readers may be wondering why I highlighted Jonathan Edwards’s preaching in yesterday’s post. After all, it is common knowledge that Edwards was a mediocre preacher who read from his manuscripts in a monotone voice. Right?

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has a fantastic website that is “ground zero” for online research related to Edwards’s life and thought. One of the features on that website is a FAQ section prepared by Josh Moody, an Edwardsean scholar and pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL. Note question 10, which I’ve reproduced below:

10. Did Edwards read his sermons in a dull monotone?

  • Again, no one knows for sure, of course, and this opinion comes from another contemporary observer. However, it appears that Edwards’ sermon manuscript were especially designed so that they could be ‘palmed’ which allowed Edwards to have a full manuscript (with the whole text of the sermon carefully crafted) while at the same time make good eye contact with the congregation. Certainly, in comparison to Whitefield, as a preacher Edwards was at the other end of the rhetorical spectrum. He was more formal and restrained, and had a nasal voice, but accounts of his preaching indicate that he deeply impressed his listeners.

Apparently, the jury is out on Edwards’s preaching. Most scholars whom I have read agree that Edwards’s was a good preacher who became more extemporaneous over time and had a tremendous influence on his parishioners and other audiences. And even if he wasn’t a great preacher in terms of his delivery, there is little doubt that the Lord has blessed his sermons in their print form over the past three centuries.

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June 2013



Jonathan Edwards as Preacher

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry, Theology

Many scholars agree that Jonathan Edwards was the greatest thinker of his era and one of the seminal thinkers in American history. While this is undoubtedly true, it misses the reality that Edwards was a pastor-theologian; vocationally, the accent is on the former. While Edwards wrote significant theological and philosophical treatises that continue to influence Christian thought, his primary medium for communicating his ideas was the sermon. This is a point that Wilson Kimnach, Ken Minkema, and Doug Sweeney make in their introductory essay in their edited volume The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader (Yale University Press, 1999).

Among the writings of Jonathan Edwards, both published and unpublished, his sermons are by far the most numerous. Indeed, sermons alone make up well over half his literary corpus…. [T]he sheer mass of Edwards’ sermons also says something about the importance of the sermon to his life and work. Edwards was first and foremost a preacher and pastor leading souls to the truth as he saw it and interpreting the religious experiences of his listeners. His primary tool in achieving these goals was the sermon, the spoken word of God, which in the Reformed tradition that shaped him was the centerpiece of worship and religious edification (pp. ix–x).

If you want to read a representative selection of Edwards’s sermons, there is no better starting place than the aforementioned reader. Volumes 10, 14, 17, 19, 22, and 25 of the Yale Edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards are devoted to his sermons. (Electronic editions of these volume are also available for free at the Jonathan Edwards Center’s website.) Other volumes of Edwards’s sermons have been edited by scholars such as Michael McMullen, Greg Wills and Richard Bailey, and Ken Minkema and Adriaan Neele and published by publishers such as B&H Academic, Crossway, BorderStone, and Wipf and Stock (you can find these books easily through online retailers).

If you want to read more about Edwards’s theology and practice of preaching, I’d recommend Kimnach’s introductory essay to volume 10 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, John Carrick’s The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth, 2008), and Doug Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought (IVP Academic, 2009).




June 2013



Why I’m Taking Rather Than Teaching a Seminary Class This Week

Written by , Posted in History, Theology

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.

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