To commemorate Logos’s release of Yale University Press’s 26 Volume definitive set of Jonathan Edwards’ works, I am hosting a series of interviews with pastors and scholars with whom Edwards and his works has had massive influence.
If you’d like to read a summary on the importance of Edwards’ works, along with the significance of the Yale Edition of Edwards’ works, and three ways to access this edition, you may do so here where I introduced this series.
Today we sit and listen to Pastor Josh Moody as he shares about Jonathan Edwards.
1. What originally drew your interest to study Jonathan Edwards? What about him, his preaching, and his writing caught your attention?
It was really quite random! I was studying the birth of modern western secularism, studying in particular the French Philosophies and other Enlightenment thinkers, and I was trying to find someone writing at the same time who could act as a foil to their secularistic propositions and assumptions. Wandering down the university “stacks” in the library where I was studying, I was thinking about this, praying about it, when I “happened” to pull out a book at random. I opened a page at random and it was Edwards’ well-known (not well-known to me at the time) drawing of how spiders look like they are apparently flying through the air. It looked Newton-esque; I checked the date, it was early Enlightenment period. Fascinated, I picked out another volume at random. It was a Puritan sermon. I wondered right then whether I had found the person who could help me construct an intellectual response to the birth of modern western secularism.
2. What academic work have you done on Jonathan Edwards? Would you summarize it briefly?
My Ph.D. is published as Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment: Knowing the Presence of God. My other more scholarly writing, though not quite academic level in the high-end sense of that word, is called Jonathan Edwards and Justification. It’s a book that I edited in collaboration with some friends and colleagues.
3. Is there a sermon or work of Edwards that many might not know, which has had a significant impact on you? In what way did it affect you?
It’s fairly familiar to Edwards scholars, I think, but the sermon that has probably had the biggest impact on me is “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence.” It’s Edwards’ early attempt to set out his theological agenda. It was preached before an audience of learned pastors in Boston. It was published afterwards. I think it has all the elements of Edwards’ theology in it.
Other than that, rifling through Edwards’ sermon manuscripts at the Beinecke hour after hour was a privilege. I did it for the research, and would often find I was stopped in my tracks to think through personal matters, or be driven to worship Christ. Not many people preach with the kind of depth and rigor that Edwards did then – and you probably can’t get away with that sort of style in most churches anymore – so I found I had never really been exposed to the sort of theological juice that Edwards pumped into me as I studied him.
Really obscure, I loved coming across little bits of handwritten notes asking for pastoral prayer from people in Edwards’ congregation. I think that pastoral side of Edwards is often overshadowed by his intellectual genius, and by the later conflict in his church, but given his happy family life I have an inkling that in heaven we will discover many people who felt shepherded by Edwards.
4. What does Edwards’ works offer to today’s pastors? Why should they read widely from his works?
Ah, well that could enlist a long answer from me! I suppose three or four areas come to mind. First, I think Edwards is in some ways the American Augustine. So if you really want to understand contemporary American Evangelicalism you need to have some familiarity with Edwards. Second, I think Edwards’ works on assessing revival, and in particular “The Religious Affections” are a brilliant handbook for doing soul work in congregations. Edwards helps you see how to discern spiritual life and how to encourage it. Third, Edwards’ works on promoting revival, in particular “The History of the Work of Redemption,” make you long for greater spiritual fervor and passion in your own life and in the lives of others, and by and large I think in a healthy way. Fourth, because Edwards was clearly not perfect, and made mistakes, it also is helpful to read his material to learn from him, as in learning what not to do. In particular, I wouldn’t copy my pastoral approach on what at least appears to have been Edwards’ model!
5. Why would you recommend the Yale edition of Edwards over other editions that are in print?
Yale is the major scholarly work in print.
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. His books include Journey to Joy, Jonathan Edwards and Justification, No Other Gospel, and The God-Centered Life. He is also the president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries. Follow @godcenteredlife on Twitter.