Jonathon Edwards (1703-1758) was the preacher for the Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts during the time of the Great Awakening in colonial America. This was the time that people were beginning to make a spiritual response that prompted a move away from what might be considered “head” religion and towards “heart” religion.
Edwards definitely played an influential role during this greatly influential era. It was the method or means of his influence that is particularly interesting. If Edwards would have occupied a pulpit in the 21st century he certainly would have stood alone in terms of his style of sermon delivery, and perhaps even preparation. No current Christian university or preaching school would teach any of its students to preach the same way that Edwards did.
He was an intense intellectual and was academically inclined. His sermons were really extensions of his interest; even to the point of being doctrinal treatises. Because he spent so many hours laboring over each word of his lesson, he apparently felt uncomfortable at the thought of not sharing every single thought or sentence that he had planned on communicating. Therefore, he would simply write out his entire sermon – and then read his entire sermon! Unfortunately, he was afflicted with near-sightedness. You can imagine what this caused him to have to do. Yep, as he preached his lesson we would hold his papers up close to his face. Certainly a humorous sight for a contemporary Christian who is used to more charismatic sermons filled with fluid rhetoric and sometimes even watered-down theology.
As peculiar as Edwards style was, it was the response from his audience that was much more interesting. For the first time people began to make physical responses during lessons. Not to the extreme of what was to become, but nonetheless it was extreme for the time. Many would often lean forward in anticipation and others would suddenly stand up. Since people had been taught (by culture) to sit emotionless and expressionless, it’s difficult to understand what prompted people to suddenly begin making these types of responses.
I wonder what would happen if I tried preaching like Jonathon Edwards?