Was Jonathan Edwards an "inept" pastor?

Note from Tim Bayly: The exchange with Dr. Guelzo over his review of Philip Gura's recent work, Jonathan Edwards, has continued over the past couple of days. For the earlier exchange, please look at the comments under my initial post. Dr. Guelzo requested that I place the exchange on our blog, so here it is. I've tried to format it in a way that is helpful, but it may still be confusing. None of the exchange will make any sense, though, unless the reader first reads Dr. Guelzo's review itself, along with my blog post responding to Guelzo.

For the record, Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era & Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. His comments are all in italics.

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Dear Tim Bayly:

Very much by accident, I tumbled across your comments on my review of Gura. I am amazed, to put it mildly, at how utterly wrong-headed your reading of the review was. Far from being a critic or (demonizer) of JE, I play second fiddle to no one in admiration of him.

If one reads the review, it's hard to see how anyone could come away from it thinking the reviewer is an admirer of Edwards--unless, of course, one has prior knowledge of your commitments. Consider this summary of what the review had to say concerning Edward's life and work:

(Guelzo wrote that) Edwards' training was in "scholastic theology," his preaching was "never particularly scintillating" nor his writing "particularly graceful," it was Edwards' "pastoral ineptness" that triggered the "exasperated" townsfolk to fire him, Edwards made "only a very modest impact on his own contemporaries," Edwards "never knew what it was to duck an argument," and he was a "prig".

I still don't see any response on your part to my basic point--that you failed to say anything at all good about this man of God...

You have many detailed defenses of your individual criticisms, some of which I agree with and others I don't, but you don't ever deal with the main point. Certainly it's not sufficient simply to say concerning your admiration for Edwards that you "play second fiddle to no one." How could anyone other than your own family and friends who have prior knowledge have come away from your review with that understanding?

'Scholastic' is a pejorative term.

No, 'scholastic' refers simply to the questio method of the medieval schoolmen. Ames and Perkins were scholastics, and so were the textbooks Edwards read at Yale (Burgersdyck, Turretin). See Norman Fiering and James Morris on Edwards' education on this point, as well as Edwards's own statement that he much preferred the "old" logic (the scholastics) to the "new" logic (of Cartesian epistemology, which had been introduced at Harvard in the 1680s, and against which the Yale founders were rebelling).

This was a theological, not a methodological, statement by Edwards. His real concern was their rejection of the doctrines of grace as taught in Scripture, not their method of writing and teaching. Further, you fail to engage my point that 'scholastic' is a pejorative term within the academy (much like 'casuistry'), and your readers would full well know that you were being patronizing of Edwards by your use of this term. There are many other ways of describing the school of reformed pastors Edwards stood among without stooping to the use of this dismissive term. Accurate it may be, but honoring it is not among those who know Edwards as a man of God who guarded the good deposit faithfully.

The point is that Edwards, from the beginning, saw himself as a restorer of the old paths, not as an innovator, and people who love innovation, whether it's the New-Agers or the happy-clappies, are not going to love Edwards.

No question here. Faithful pastors will always see themselves as defenders of the old paths since the calling of pastors is, essentially, conservative--to guard the good deposit and so on.

And the reformed theological tradition you summarize in this way is, in fact, filled with doxology--something true scholastics never ever reach.

Considering that Calvin, Turretin, Ames, Maastrict and the other 17th-century Calvinist scholastics (as well as Alexander, Hodge, and Murray) were pretty good as doxology, I think that's fairly wide off the mark. I'm not sure, either, that Thomas Aquinas, the king of the schoolmen, played any poor doxological fiddle. But maybe that's just me, another lover of the old paths.

Let's leave it at this: to label Edwards as a scholastic within the academy is to smear him with a pejorative term. Never have I heard this term used by a Protestant scholar in a positive way. And although Turretin, for example, used the questio method, neither Hodge nor Warfield did. You may say you were simply placing him within the Turretin/Ames/Hodge/Warfield line, but there are an unlimited number of ways you could have done so without signaling your fellow intellectuals that you, with them, know a tightly strung rationalist when you read one. Simply to defend the accuracy of your label misses my point entirely.

If all one can find to say summing up Edwards' preaching is that it is not "scintillating," one will be remembered for damning with faint criticism one of the greatest preachers the Anglo world has ever heard.

Well, all the evidence is that he wasn't a terribly dramatic preacher--most descriptions of him from life portray him as reading his sermons in little better than a monotone, while staring the bellrope off the bell at the back of the church.

It was what he said, rather than how he said it which impressed people; but even more, it was what he wrote. It was Whitefield, Tennet, Bellamy and Davies who were the scintillating preachers of the Great Awakening; and it has to be said that the bulk of Edwards surviving sermons tend to be fairly conventional. It's in the big analytical writings--Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will--that Edwards made his mark. It was only the occasional Edwards sermon (and the palm obviously goes to 'Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God') which rose above the conventional.

Again, you're failing to engage my point. I did not say Edwards was scintillating, nor did I say his pulpiteering would ever command a congregation of 20,000 on Boston Common. What I did say was that your summary of his preaching with this one statement--that he was not exactly scintillating--is an inadequate way of summarizing one of the greatest preachers the Anglo world has ever known.

As to Edwards' homiletic style, your summary is not supported by a number of facts. First, Edwards went to work under his maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, who was a known opponent of "reading preachers." It's highly unlikely he would have agreed to the hiring of an assistant whose practice went directly against his own strong convictions on this matter. Second, although Edwards did have a full manuscript for his sermons the first twenty years of his ministry, going into the pulpit with a full manuscript is no accurate predictor of one's style. I've been going into the pulpit with a full manuscript now for twenty years but I almost never read even any significant part of it. Writing is the discipline that is necessary for proper preparation--not the crutch to use to avoid speaking to the hearts of the people. Third, we have ample physical evidence that, after twenty years, Edwards left manuscripts behind and preached from an outline. Fourth, there are no eyewitness accounts of Edwards reading a sermon. Rather, such descriptions are later summaries, almost all by non-contemporaries. Twenty years after his time with Edwards, Samuel Hopkins wrote that Edwards,

...read most of what he wrote (although) still he was not confined to (his notes); and if some thoughts were suggested to him while he was preaching, which did not occur to him when writing, and appeared pertinent, he would deliver them with as great propriety and fluency, and often with greater pathos, and attended with a more sensibly good effect on his hearers, than what he had written.

Hopkins summarizes Edwards' preaching:

He appeared with such gravity and solemnity, and his words were so full of ideas, that few speakers have been able to command the attention of an audience as he did.

As to Edwards' personal manner, Samuel Hopkins, who lived for a time in Edwards' home, describes Edwards as being reserved among strangers, but when among those he knew:

...easy of access, kind and condescending; and though not talkative, yet affable and free. Among those whose candor and friendship he had experienced, he threw off the reserve, and was most open and free.

"Affable," "open," and "free" are hardly the descriptors one would use for a prig. Prigs are never ever affable or free--they have their image to protect since pride is their ordering principle.

Another eyewitness who experienced the hospitality of Edwards' home was the pastor, Joseph Emerson, who wrote:

Very courteously treated here. The most agreeable family I ever was acquainted with. Much of the presence of God here. Mr. Edwards was so kind as to accompany us over Connecticut River and bring us on our way.

Edwards was in the habit of riding out of town and some way along the journey of his guests when they departed. Again, is any of the above characteristic of prigs or cold fish?

It was also Edwards' habit to take one of his children along with him on his journeys. This again hardly supports the contention that Edwards was cold and aloof.

As to where Edwards "made his mark," I must say that his philosophical treatises will always be what scholars point to, but never what non-academic pastors and pious Christians point to.

If you don't mind my saying, I think you're falling into the trap of fearing that anything less than unstinting praise of Edwards will somehow compromise his usefulness as an example; it seems to me that unstinting praise, in the face of the evidence, will be more damaging to Edwards's example.

This is a straw man. I have never given Edwards "unstinting praise." Rather I have, with regard to Edwards, been an advocate of honor to whom honor is due. The continuum between unstinting praise and your own unstinting criticism is huge and begs to be filled by those who have an eye to the grace of God resident in this hero of the faith.

Yes, today's academics won't agree with such a commendation, but it must be kept in mind that today's academics have been reduced to doing remedial instruction of students who should have learned in high school the things they're now taught in college. So oral discourse today must, I suppose, be scintillating, but to our shame.

Speaking as one of those 'today's academics', I can assure you that their level of in-class discourse is anything but scintillating; a good many of them might not even know what the word means. If by scintillating you mean 'entertaining,' well of course one does not expect Edwards to be entertaining; but it was precisely the entertainment factor which made Whitefield such a scandal, since he unhesitatingly reached for all the conventions of the 18th century stage to get his message across.

Edwards was not 'scintillating' because his congregation did not expect him to be; if he had been, we would have heard as much about Edwards as a dramatic preacher as we heard about Whitefield. And, yes, it is a judgment on modern expectations, but not just of academics; God help us, but the marks of the church have been reduced from being oneness, catholicity, and holiness to free parking, light music, and a dynamic sermon.

We largely agree here, although Edwards with his contemporaries would have defended those men Mark Noll would dismiss as "populists." And if I'm remembering The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind correctly, Noll did place Edwards within his list of populists which rightly included Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, but also (quite hilariously) Edwards and Lloyd-Jones.

Following this summary of his preaching, Edwards' writing is summarized as not "particularly graceful." One wonders what would be recognized as graceful writing? Hunter Thompson? Erma Bombeck? Gary Wills? Phil Yancey? Max Lucado? Yes, I'm joking.

Good, because I've never read Thompson, Bombeck, Yancey, Lucado--life is short and art is long, and I tend to spend my time reading other things.

I didn't think you had read them. But one needn't have read them to know exactly what their style and content are.

But if Edwards fails the grace test, one would seem to be defining grace in a classic evangelical way, as writing that is man-centered and soft. On ther other hand, if the Cross of Christ is graceful, Edwards is one of the most graceful writers ever to put pen to paper. His focus was always on God's graceful response to man's condition after the Fall.

I mean 'graceful' not in a sense of theological grace, but of crowd-pleasing and crowd-teasing gestures, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. If you can show me a contemporary direct description of Edwards as a performer in the pulpit like that, I'll concede the point. Such a description, however, does not exist. In the meantime, remember that 'graceful' has more than one meaning. To say that the Vivaldi's op. 4 violin concerti are graceful does not mean that they are a means of grace.

Yes, I'm not ignorant of this meaning of 'graceful.' Rather, I believe that the use of 'grace' is not usually one or the other of the two definitions you posit, but rather a combination of both. And with that said, I believe Edwards demonstrated both in his preaching and life. Read his sermon, for instance, on the Christian duty to help the poor and it's both God's truth and gentle and kind. In short, graceful.

Then we come to the summary of Edwards' pastoral care. You wrote that it was characterized by an "ineptness" that "exasperated" his parishioners.

My guess here is that one would have a different understanding of this matter based upon one's professions. As one whose calling is to the pastorate, reading of the conflicts Edwards had with his parishioners leads me to thank God for his faithfulness in the midst of great persecution. No matter the cost, Edwards was unwilling to be the very chaplain many later scholars accused him of being. Again and again his leaders undercut his spiritual authority yet he soldiered on loving and caring for his flock with great solicitude and godly wisdom. Even in his farewell sermon, Edwards' equanimity and love for his flock shines through the pain of the termination.

This may be a matter of opinion, but I think that Edwards left a good deal to be desired in terms of pastoral care...

No doubt, but we all do. It's impossible to have this calling without leaving a lot to be desired. I have yet to know one pastor who has both a strength in disciplined study and also pastoral care, for instance. Often one, but rarely both.

...(Edwards) helped dig his own grave with the people of Northampton.

Yes, but was that grave a necessary part of pastoral faithfulness or not--that is the question. And it seems apparent to me it was.

Here was a man who (1) declined to do pastoral visitation...

Actually, no. He visited the sick and dying and those in distress in their homes. He just wasn't a hale and hearty fellow-well-met, which almost all pastors are today. But then, our expectations of pastors today are quite different than those of the past, aren't they? I'm reminded of Kierkegaard's summary of the kind of man who wins our approval today:

It is pretty much the same now with the modern clergyman: a nimble, adroit, lively man, who in pretty language, with the utmost ease, with graceful manners, etc., knows how to introduce a little Christianity, but as easily as possible. In the New Testament, Christianity is the profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon a man, calculated on the most dreadful scale to collide with everything--and now the clergyman has perfected himself in introducing Christianity in such a way that it signifies nothing, and when he is able to do this to perfection he is regarded as a paragon. But this is nauseating! Oh, if a barber has perfected himself in removing the beard so easily that one hardly notices it, that's well enough; but in relation to that which is precisely calculated to wound, to perfect oneself so as to introduce it in such a way that if possible it is not noticed at all--that is nauseating.

It's hard to think of a man who more perfectly avoided such betrayal of the pastoral calling than Edwards, isn't it?

...if people wanted to discuss spiritual matters, they had to make an appointment at his home...

For pastoral discussions, he asked his people to come to his home. But this was a different time from ours. Further, this method was also the one followed by Richard Baxter, the man J. I. Packer describes as likely the best pastor the English speaking world has ever seen. And Edwards was generous in his gift of time to such seekers, also making time for and encouraging groups of young people to come into his home for spiritual edification.

(2) performed church discipline, including the naming of names, from the pulpit...

No one I've read has ever faulted Edwards with the naming of names in connection with the midwives manual--only with the mixing of names of the guilty and the witnesses in such a way as to make it unclear who the guilty and innocent were. Unwise, but precisely the kind of mistake made all the time by pastors and elders working hard to be conscientious in their pastoral discipline.

If the naming of names is unwise, let's remember how unwise Jesus and the Apostle Paul were, also, in speaking of Judas, Simon, Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2), and many, many more. Had I been a father in Northampton and had one of my sons been asked by name to appear at a meeting called by our pastor to handle a matter such as the midwives manual, my principal response would have been gratitude that I had a pastor who loved the souls of our children more than he loved the approval of our town fathers.

(3) completely reversed the communion and membership practice of his church without consulting the elders, and then, when the elders resisted, insisted on converting his Thursday lecture series into a rebuttal of the position he had reversed.

This is an inaccurate description of what Edwards actually did. He first asked to preach on the subject and was turned down. Then he asked for his parishioners to read what he wrote on the subject, but they refused. At every point, they demonstrated the absence of good will toward their pastor and dug their heels in with blatant disregard for the Fifth Commandment which requires us to honor our fathers.

After two decades of ministry among them, tribalism determined their response to a heartfelt appeal to their consciences by their spiritual father.

And what amazed me in this whole debacle was Edwards even asking for their approval in preaching on the subject. Imagine Solomon Stoddard doing that. Never. Nor would most pastors at Edwards time have made a request like this. But Edwards stooped to their weakness and demonstrated great sensitivity to his flock in the way he approached the issue.

One may fault Edwards, as you do, for trying to reverse the practice of treating the Sacraments as converting ordinances, but such matters often come up in the pastorate and present shepherds with the choice of honoring man or God. To his everlasting credit Edwards honored, he feared, God. And he knew from the beginning, and said so explicitly, that he would likely lose his job over this matter of conscience. So, with Luther, here he stood and God help him.

You do not have to be a sell-out or a coddler to see that these are not the best strategies to pursue. I don't think Edwards pursued them because he was nasty or evil; but I think he had a certain blinkered view of people, not unlike the view of the world carried around in the heads of many an academic intellectual.

Well, here is where we likely could pursue a conversation of mutual benefit since I resonate with your concerns above and below. But no man has all the gifts requisite for a successful pastor. Granted Edwards' strengths and weaknesses undoubtedly added to the alienation which developed between him and his congregation over the years. And for my part, if I were to delve more deeply into that alienation, I'd choose to do so on the matter of his salary since that comes up so regularly as a point of conflict--despite the fact that he admitted he was the best paid pastor west of Boston.

Sad to say, I've seen more than my welcome share of seminary students who imiagined that all they had to do in the ministry was rehearse Warfield and Hodge from the pulpit and hand down diktats from on high.

Yes, the pastorate is filled with men who love books and doctrine, and maybe God, but do not love people.

It does seem to me that the review's criticisms of Edwards in this particular area demonstrate the perspective of one who has not carried the weight of the pastorate and is unfamiliar with the challenges to faithfulness that are constant today, as they have been in the past.

You would seem to be wrong. I know a good deal more than you think about the weight of the pastorate, something which begins by understanding that God has put you there to feed Christ's lambs.

Maybe, maybe not. Your writing indicates a lack of awareness of the weight of the pastorate and the nature of biblical faithfulness in that calling. I don't write this to antagonize you, but to speak honestly explaining why I'm not prepared simply to accept your own claims. Our callings are very different and I don't deny the appropriateness of your making judgments concerning Edwards and other pastors based upon your knowledge and experience, but I decline to accept the basis of those judgments as being necessarily what you claim it to be.

The successful pastor is the one who knows how to preach and teach the truth, and yet understanding the law of incommensurate returns (ie. that your work will be rewarded by the response of the people in inverse proportion to the view you have of yourself as a pastor).

Generally speaking, I'm very much in favor of generalizations, but I can't salute this one. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Look at the Apostle Paul for examples on both sides. It's all in God's hands.

Dr. Guelzo, I don't fault you for your summary of this aspect of Edwards' life. Surely it must seem to many who do not bear the burden of pastoral care as if Edwards was a failure, pastorally. But men who have been set apart to pastoral ministry by the laying on of hands and prayer would, I believe, recognize the conflicts Edwards engaged in as being as old as the hills, and if they have not given themselves over to serving simply as their congregation's chaplain--if they have refused to allow their pastorate to be reduced to a sinecure--they admire Edwards precisely at the points others may dismiss as demonstrations of his ineptness.

That's the problem: the choice is not between being the chaplain to a country club or being a martyr to truth--it lies on a very broad spectrum between those two poles.


I've seen many young gifted, intelligent men who wandered into pastoral quicksand, and afterwards wrapped themselves in the mantle of martyrdom-for-the-truth. who were simply being stupid. There is a Reformed church near-at-hand here where this was exactly the pattern.

Yes, but many more who do not have chests and wrap themselves in "grace" in order to avoid the hard duties of shepherding God's flock.

Didn't Jesus warn us about "hirelings?"

Similarly, when a certain type of pastor reads Edwards' life, he knows how many arguments and conflicts Edwards avoided simply by virtue of how few there are in his life and how critically important the issues are that he chose to use his capital over.

I am at a loss to understand how reading out the names of the participants in the 'bad-book' affair from the pulpit on a Sunday morning was a worthy object for Edwards to lavish his capital upon.

Fornication, bundling, and all that, sir. Ten percent of marriages in Edwards' time had a child born within eight months of the marriage ceremony. Biblical pastors easily understand why Edwards handled this matter with rigor.

And how much capital had he actually built up over the years? Where were the joyfully awakened converts of 1734-35 and 1741-42 when Edwards was in extremis in 1748-1750?

There had been a steady decline in Edwards' pastoral authority, but such a decline is not to be so easily blamed on the pastor as opposed to any other possible causes. After Calvin's faithful shepherding he was forced to flee Geneva, and this story is not uncommon among faithful pastors.

As for Edwards having only a modest impact, would to God pastors today had one one-hundredth of the same "insignificant" impact he had. But of course, his impact was primarily spiritual, thus requiring a certain type of wisdom to see it.

I said that he had a modest impact on his mid-18th-century contemporaries, which he did. Otherwise, we should expect to see as large a role for Edwards in Franklin's Autobiography as there was for Whitefield, or some mention of Edwards in the writings or letters of Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, &c. &c. There isn't any.

This makes me chuckle. Having known a number of faithful men of God whose impact on other followers of Christ was huge, the thought that the world of intellectuals would notice and write of them is laughable, really. It happens, but it's an oddity when it does. Billy Graham's been mentioned lots since Hearst puffed him, but I'd put Graham far down the list of men of God who have been faithful and influential in their leadership of the church in our day.

Franklin? Jefferson? Get serious. Who in their right mind would care one whit whether Franklin or Jefferson noticed Edwards? If we were to follow this logic, we'd wonder why Josephus didn't mention the Apostle John? Or why Lincoln didn't mention Dabney? Or Churchill didn't mention Lloyd-Jones?

There is in Ezra Stiles' diary (and Stiles knew Edwards personally), but it was only to predict that Edwards would be totally forgotten in another generation. There is in John Witherspoon, but that's because Witherspoon was bent on driving the Edwardsean influence out of Princeton in just the way David Brainerd had been driven from Yale. Not much of a compliment, that.

Again, I decline to salute. It may well be that the substance of Brainerd's criticisms was right and that the only error he made was in his method of addressing those concerns.

Of course, Stiles and Witherspoon were wrong, but only in the long run. Still, pointing that out is no more necessarily demeaning to Edwards than it is to acknowledge that Bach was pretty much forgotten by all but a handful of specialists after his death in 1750, and was not re-discovered until Mendelssohn re-staged the St. Matthew Passion in Leipzig in the 1820s.

Except that the faithfulness of a pastor is always judged by God, not man. And that judgment is based upon his faithfulness to the souls directly under his care--not those souls beyond his parish who had some contact, whether personally or through his writing, with him.

As for his being a "prig," bunk. No prig is ever loved as Edwards was, particularly by those who knew him best--noting especially his family.

He was certainly loved by his family--one has to look only at Esther Edwards Burr's diary to see how she adored her father. But he seemed unable to translate that adoration out of his immediate circle of family and students (Hopkins and Bellamy); the church council which was convened to deliberate his dismissal in 1750 was shocked at the depth of animus that had developed against Edwards in Northampton.

Shocked? Edwards had worked hard for many months to get some men favorable to his pastoral conscience on that council. Given that half the council was adamantly opposed to Edwards, it's hardly surprising that they would say such things. Still, would you say you are surprised--yea, even shocked--at the depth of animus expressed against our Lord by the scribes and Pharisees? The depth of animus against Jeremiah? The depth of animus against the Apostle Paul in almost every city he ever visited? And this list could be continued for some time. What does it mean when our Lord says, "No servant is greater than his master. If they hated me, they will hate you also?" To the eyes of faith, the explanation seems pretty simple.

But about this time, I remember that looking back in history you and I were on opposite sides in the Great Ejection and in the conflict between Lloyd-Jones and Packer and Stott [Guelzo is an Anglican]. So we may simply be incompatible and have to look to Heaven for the resolution of this disagreement.

But let Edwards be his own witness: even he admitted that he had a gift for rubbing people the wrong way, for stimulating envy, &c. There seems to have been something ingrained into the entire Edwards clan this way: Edwards's son and namesake, Jonathan Edwards the Younger, tracked his father's career almost to a tee: dismissed from a church he pastored from a number of years, became president of a college, died soon after taking office.

This then is what the review said about Edwards' work and character. And the question to be asked is how anyone writing about this great man's life who claims to be an admirer could ever get to the point that he finds nothing good to say about him? For myself, I wonder whether the audience didn't determine the tone and substance of this review?

I have no idea what the audience of Books and Culture is; I've never done a survey, and never seen one. I would like us, however, to understand Edwards as Edwards really was in the 18th century, warts and all.

If it's warts and all, why did you give us the warts without the all?

Call it what you like, I think it's dealing in truth, and believe me, truth is the only commodity I have to offer.

As to whether the content of this review constitutes simply "indicating the slightest bit of humanity on the Edwards' part," I leave it to our good readers to read the review and judge for themselves whether this is an accurate summary of it. For myself, I think not. Rather, I think the review is more accurately described as indicating nothing commendable whatsoever on the part of Jonathan Edwards. If being an inept pastor, a less than scintillating preacher, a graceless writer, pugnacious, and a prig is only to indicate "the slightest bit of humanity," one wonders what indicating a serious bit of humanity would look like? How about, a sinner saved by grace?

Of course Edwards had many weaknesses and much sin, just as we all do.

Oh, now, we say it!

Well yes, because I've been responding to your review in which Edwards received unstinting criticism and I believe most of that criticism was either inaccurate or unfair so I set out to correct it. As the author of that review, you are responsible for setting the tone of this exchange by not saying anything at all good about the man. So it's appropriate for me to defend him, but also to say after my defense that there are any number of failures evident in this man, as in all of us. Had I put this statement at the beginning of my response to your review, it would not have changed the thrust of what I wrote at all. Beginning or end, the thrust is to defend him against the review's unstinting criticism.

Later in life Edwards summarized his sin as an infinity upon an infinity. I'm no fan of biographies that fail to give an accurate account of a man's failings. Yet this review neglected to give honor where honor is due. That neglect may have been an oversight, but neglect it was.

If I negelected to give honor, it was not concerning Edwards...

Really, would you then please point out to me where you did honor Edwards in the review? I missed it and I suspect your readers did also.

...but concerning Gura's biography, which played too much to prettyfying Edwards for the benefit of new-age tastes. If we can't tell the truth about ourselves, and the truth about our heroes, and be at peace with that truth, then we do not deserve to be believed, and are only the manufacturers of cunning fables.

...Had your review only reacted to Gura, I would have been much less concerned. But you also summarized Edward's life and work yourself, and by unstinting criticism. That was, and is, the center of my concern. No one is arguing for hagiography, but rather against the complete absence of anything positive being said about a hero of the faith. I'm now certain this was unintentional on your part, but regardless there it is.

No one would, I think, agree more with that than Jonathan Edwards.

Agreed that few to none of the scholars who study Edwards today, not to mention evangelicals who pay lip service to him, would find his doctrine congenial to their tastes. And so Edwards joins a long line of suffering servants of whom the world was is not worthy.

And it is on that point that you and my review are in total agreement, after all.

Thank you for this opportunity to exchange our views. May God bless you in your work for Him.

Warmly in Christ,

Tim Bayly


Outstanding dialogue. Informative, instructive, inspiring. Far be it from me to suggest who "won the argument." Both of you men I count as friends!

I liked the dialog too. It's a format to be encouraged (I've even used it in a scholarly paper when my co-author and I disagreed on a point!).

My main objection to the review was that it didn't mention Perry Miller's old 1959 Jonathan Edwards, which I like for its mix of career and intellectual history. Are the new bio's any better?

One of the surprising things I found about Edwards, according the editors of his Papers, is that he frequently cited scripture incorrectly.

Before anyone gets upset with me, I am an admirer of Edwards too, but I recall one editor, perhaps Perry Miller saying thatin quoting scripture in his writing Edwards often gave gave the wrong book, chapter and/or verse. More troubling, I recall the editors opting to silently correct his citations in the paper.

Not sure why the latter is troubling, Joe. As an editor, that's exactly what I would have done. I'd consider it somewhere between typo-correcting and fact-checking.

Perhaps this debate may make some people read Edwards for themselves. A good, and possibly a life-changing thing.

Keep up the good work

Janet MacDougall

As a historian picking up an edition of Edwards' papers I would want to know that the published papers are as close to the originals as possible.

What I would do as editor is leave the citations exactly as Edwards had them, and include a footnote indicating that his citation was incorrect, and providing the correct citation.

Silently correcting Edwards' error is the worst solution imo. It gives the scholar the impression that Edwards' was much more accurate in his writing that he really was, with no way of telling exactly how innaccurate he was.

My recollection is that they say in the intro that he was "frequently" inaccurate or words to that effect. But how frequently? 10 % of the time? 90 % of the time? I have no idea and would have no way of knowing unless I compared all the volumes of the published editions to all of the original manuscripts.

What possible use to the scholar for an editor to silently edit the errors of a subject? For example, this thread deals with the subject of Edwards "ineptitude?" Whatever one's opinion, that is certainly a legitimate subject of historical inquiry, and his knowledge of scripture surely is one factor in that determination. The published papers, as I understand them, are not as helpful as they might have been in making that determination.

Joe's suggestion about Edwards' "inaccurate quotes" is a good one as far as it goes.

I would also like some information about the publication history of the work or works under examination since the "errors" may be those of the publisher and not of the original writer.

Perhaps Tim Bayly or someone else could supply us with a short list of Edwards' works to get us started on reading him for himself.

Janet MacDougall

Janet, I'd buy the two volume set of Edwards and start there. Not every last thing is in it, but there's enought to last a lifetime. I've given copies of this set to my last two children upon their graduation from high school.

Cumberland Valley Bible Bookstore is the place to go to purchase this set at the lowest possible cost, and here's their web page:


Right now, they're selling two identical two-volume sets, one published by Hendrickson at $40 and another by Banner of Truth at $63.

Don't start with a biography--instead read Edwards himself. Then, following a hundred or so pages of Edwards, maybe start with Iain Murray's biography also published by Banner of Truth.

But most of all, read Edwards.

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