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Sweeney’s Booknotes — Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts

Toby K. Easley, Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts (Fort Worth: Feder Ink Publishing, 2016).

EasleyThis privately published book will be of greatest interest to preachers and other students of homiletics.

Easley argues in its pages that Edwards proved to be a much better preacher over time than his reputation for reading dense manuscripts to congregations in monotone suggests.

In fact, the author proposes, Edwards matured as a preacher through “five distinct stages of communication development,” stages through which preachers would do well to pass today (p. i). Raised on auditory learning from the sermons preached by others in his family and beyond (stage one—Edwards was the son and grandson of preachers), he was taught as a boy to draft complete manuscripts (stage two—a form of quality control). As he gained confidence and grew by watching George Whitefield, an oratorical dynamo, he moved from full manuscripts to annotated outlines except on rare occasions (stage three), and then to sketchy, skeletal outlines (stage four) before adapting new methods for his sermons to Native Americans and students at Princeton College (stage five). He improved as a preacher, that is to say, throughout his life. He matured “beyond the manuscripts,” to quote from Easley’s title.

Despite the tendency of most today to assume that extemporaneous preaching is always best, Easley exhorts young preachers to learn a thing or two from Edwards, following his lead through this five-stage process. They have far greater access to auditory aids than Edwards had in the eighteenth century and should learn whenever possible from preachers on the web. They should work on sermon quality by drafting full manuscripts, but also follow Edwards into the outline form, learning to preach substantial messages from memory as they grow. And they should always stay sensitive to audience and context, adapting speaking styles to meet the needs of those before them.

Wise words from a seasoned preacher and student of Edwards’ sermons.