A Critical Analysis Of The Tradition Of Jonathan Edwards As A Manuscript Preacher -- By: Jim Ehrhard

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 60:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: A Critical Analysis Of The Tradition Of Jonathan Edwards As A Manuscript Preacher
Author: Jim Ehrhard

A Critical Analysis Of The Tradition Of
Jonathan Edwards As A Manuscript Preacher

Jim Ehrhard*

*Jim Ehrhard is the editor of Teaching Resources, N. Little Rock, Arkansas.

A lthough Jonathan Edwards’ sermons and writings have received serious consideration through the years, Edwards’ preaching has been largely ignored. While none doubt the persuasive power of his words, many have advanced caricatures of him as a boring manuscript preacher.

Indeed, it is rare to find any account that does not advance this interpretation of Edwards’ preaching. Most textbooks on homiletics cite him as an example of one who preached powerfully although lamely dependent on his manuscript.1 Popular authors, such as Peter Marshall, Jr., present the same picture of Edwards, “who delivered his sermons in a monotone, with his eyes never straying from the back wall of the church.”2

Many church historians and theologians render similar views on Edwards’ preaching. Alan Heimert, in his Religion and the American Mind, suggested:

He spoke in measured tones and just stared at the bell rope as though he would stare it off, and worked his effects, it was thought, through the sheer power of his doctrines and language.3

Edward Collins concurred, noting that Edwards “did not use gestures, and a heavy dependence on his manuscript prevented any rapport with his congregation.”4 Even John Gertsner, a prominent writer on Edwards’ theology, provided a similar assessment:

From the standpoint of delivery, he possibly was one of the most mediocre the Church has ever known. He had none of the grand eloquence of George Whitefield or that powerful or sonorous voice. Apparently there

were no real gestures, just a solemn reading of the manuscript most of the time, much to the chagrin of his senior pastor, Solomon Stoddard.5

Likewise, Lewis Drummond, in his work on revival, concluded:

We would hardly have called him a dynamic preacher. He laboriously read every word from a manuscript. Not only that, his eyesight and writing were so poor he held the manuscript only inches from his nose, rarely looking at the congregation.6

That Edwards read his sermons painstakingly from a manuscript appears to be the consensus of historians and theologians a...

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