(Interview) Brian Borgman on Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards is synonymous with the word genius. He was praised as a leader of the First Awakening and the astounding books he wrote that resonates till now. There are lots of books on his life and teachings that are out there. And yet, they haven’t gone deeper on to some parts of his preaching ministry. There are still much of this Christian giant that is yet to be discovered.

To know what are those territories of Jonathan Edwards that needs to be explores, I reach out to Brian Borgman, author of the newly released book, Jonathan Edwards on Genesis and we talk about Jonathan Edwards, his impact to his ministry and the book he wrote.

For those who don’t know Edwards, kindly tell us who Jonathan Edwards is.

Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 in East Windsor CT. It is important to remember that although Edwards is often called “America’s greatest theologian,” technically he was a British Colonist. He was born into a family of 10 girls, he was the only boy. He was also born into a pastor’s home; his father was Timothy Dwight. His maternal grandfather was the famous Solomon Stoddard, who pastored the Congregational Church of Northampton, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Stoddard’s influence cannot be exaggerated. He was frequently called “the pope of the Connecticut River Valley.” Edwards was born into a home of New England Puritan piety.

Edwards went to Yale at age 12, which although young, was not unheard of in those days. He became a tutor. After graduation he pastored briefly in New York City. Edwards would co-pastor with his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, for 2 years and then becomes the senior pastor upon the death of his grandfather in 1729. Jonathan married Sarah Pierpont in 1727. They would also have ten girls and one boy!

Edwards pastored at Northampton for 22 years. He was dismissed over a disagreement about the Lord’s Supper and what was called the half-way covenant, which was instituted by his grandfather. The community and church were mostly extended family. Edwards found himself at odds with his own relatives and many who revered Stoddard. Although Edwards had made some missteps as a pastor, the controversy over the Lord’s Supper led to his dismissal.

Although he had offers from other churches, even in Scotland, he served at the Stockbridge Indian Colony as a missionary. It was there he would write some of his loftiest works. After 8 years, he was called to become the President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), following the death of his son-in-law, Aaron Burr, Sr. Edwards died shortly after taking up his new post due to a smallpox inoculation. He died on March 22, 1758. The best biography on Edwards is George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003).

Edwards was famous for his brilliant mind, his philosophy, his theology, but also his involvement in revivals, especially the Great Awakening.

Wow, thank you for that. Why did you pick Jonathan Edwards and wrote about him on this book?

Edwards has deeply impacted my life and my ministry. In seminary (1990-93) we read Religious Affections and I was captivated. I have found Edwards’s own life and ministry to be fascinating. His writings and his sermons are a wealth of knowledge. Truly, Edwards was a God-intoxicated man and I find my own heart growing in love to God when I read Edwards.

You said that there are a few studies about Edwards specifically on his expository work. Why is that and what areas should scholars research about him aside from what you have wrote in this book?

It seems that most of the attention given to Edwards has been on his philosophical perspectives (The Freedom of the Will, The Nature of True Virtue, Original Sin, etc), or his theological writings, or his work in the Great Awakening. Some attention has been given to Edwards as a pastor, but that is an understudied area as well. There has been a new interest in Edwards as an interpreter and an expositor (Douglas Sweeney, Stephen Nichols, and David Barshinger have written on this).

Edwards as an exegete and expositor is a relatively new field of interest regarding Edwards. It seems to me that when Edwards’s sermons have been analyzed, they have often been analyzed in terms of his theology, and not his expository method or motivation. I would love to see further analysis of Edwards on specific books of the Bible.

It seems to me that with a Christian giant like Edwards, as seen in his Genesis sermons, there are messages that are “just ok”. What does that say about Edwards and how should pastors take that knowing who Edwards’s legacy?

I like this question! I would say that Edwards, like all preachers, developed. His early sermons are different than his later sermons. It should be noted that Edwards did develop quickly as a preacher. So one answer is that some of the sermons seem “just ok” because Edwards is growing as a preacher. But I think there is a more important factor and that is that Edwards is preeminently a pastor, and his preaching was pastorally motivated. This is one of the findings in my research that I think needs to be emphasized. Edwards’s preaching is frequently “occasional” and pastoral preaching, that is addressing specific issues in the congregation. These sermons don’t soar like some of his sermons that were the fruit of much study and contemplation. It is in these “just ok” sermons that we see Edwards at his best as pastoral preacher. Locating the historical situation of these sermons was part of my research, showing that Edwards saw himself not primarily as a brilliant expositor, but foremost a pastoral preacher, addressing the needs of his congregation.

I love the latter part of the book that deals with the image of God in Edwards sermons. Is that your favorite part too as a writer?

I enjoyed researching Edwards’s view of the image of God. It was challenging because he only has one sermon on the classic text of Gen. 1:26-28 and that was preached to the Indians at the Stockbridge Mission. There was clearly theological development in Edwards’s understanding of the image of God, and I found it fascinating. I would not necessarily embrace all of Edwards’s conclusions, but his process is instructive. Although this section took much work, it was rewarding.

Please tell us the process in writing Jonathan Edwards on Genesis?

In some ways it was being immersed in Edwards’s writings and his life. Primary sources supplemented by secondary sources made up a year of my life! Then I had to think through the organization of the analysis. Dr. Adrian Neele at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary was such a huge help at every step. Most of Edwards’s sermons are not complete manuscripts, but rather more of an outline form, in his shorthand. The primary sources were of course Edwards’s sermons, his Redemption Discourse, and other works, as well as contemporaries of Edwards. The secondary source material is vast and was enjoyable but required much reading and interaction.

If given a chance to write another book about Jonathan Edwards, will it be a continuation of this book or do you have something else in mind?

If I were to pursue further Edwards studies, I would certainly stay in this area of his expository work. David Barshinger has done the Psalms. I think a full-length treatment of Edwards on the Apocalypse would be incredibly fascinating. I think any study that focused on a specific section or genre of Scripture would make a great contribution.

Some might know Edwards as the preacher of the Sinners in the Hands an Angry God or being mentioned in books of John Piper as his major influence. In reading your book, what do you want to leave to your readers about Jonathan Edwards?

Edwards was a pastor who was saturated in the Word of God and saw his life primarily as a preacher. He preached more on heaven and the love of God than hell and the wrath of God. His writings are always stimulating. I would really love to see readers come away with a deep appreciation for Edwards as a pastor-theologian-preacher, who devoted his life to his calling for the glory of God.

As a pastor how did this book challenged you as you studied Edwards Genesis sermons?

One of the aspects that stood out to me was how incredibly pastoral Edwards was in his preaching. His image of God sermon to the Indians is a case in point. He applies the Word to his hearers. He is specific in his application. In the Puritan sermon structure, these were his “uses.” It is often in the use that he really shines. Edwards was laboring for their spiritual good. The same can be said when he addressed the wealthy of his congregation when they were building a new sanctuary or when there was some immoral behavior among the young people. He took the Word and applied it to his people’s hearts and lives. It is encouraging to be reminded that what our churches need is not brilliant, extraordinary sermons. What they need is the Word of God explained and applied to their lives.

Thank you pastor. Kindly invite our readers to check your book Jonathan Edwards on Genesis.

Currently, the book is available at Amazon. It should be available soon through Reformation Heritage Books as well. (It’s also available at Wipf and Stock Publishers.)

Click here to read my review of the book.

(Did you like what you read? Did this article helped you? Then you can share some love by buying me a coffee).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s