"When someone preaches your funeral one day, they outta say, 'It was during the writing of his doctoral dissertation that he encountered the truth that set his whole ministry on fire again and gave him a renewed love of the pastorate!"
That was the advice that I received at the dissertation seminar recently at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Orlando Florida.
I have known for some time that I needed to determine a specific topic for my dissertation. Very specific. I didn't want to choose one too quickly and end up getting bored--or wait too long to get started and waste precious time and energy.
So I began to ponder one simple question: If I had to spend three years of my life in the mind of someone brilliant, someone who could help me the most to shape my worldview and my understanding of pastoral ministry, who would it be? To say it another way, who or what can I study that will renew my own heart, rigorously engage my intellect, and benefit my entire congregation as well?
I knew instinctively it had to be someone who was a pastor. He would have to understand the daily blessings and trials of loving people, leading a local congregation, and engaging Scripture on a profound and worshipful level.
Almost immediately, I narrowed it down to two men: John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. Both men held high views of Scripture. Both men are in my Christian tradition (Reformed/Presbyterian). I've spent hours in both men already, and read thousands of pages by each to my own soul's great profit.
But then it struck me like a lightening bolt: Edward's view of joy!
Throughout the entire corpus of Edwards' writing, joy (or as he often termed it, 'happiness') pervades. It is everywhere. It is rich like thick oil in his Religious Affections. It smells sweetly and gloriously in his Miscellanies. It blossoms to full flower in many (most?) of his sermons to his own congregation.
Here is an example:
Wherefore, seeing happiness is the highest end of the creation of the universe, and intelligent beings are that consciousness of the creation that is to be the immediate subject of this happiness, how happy may we conclude will be those intelligent beings that are to be made eternally happy! (Misc. #3).The glory of God--especially as He reveals Himself to us in the Gospel--is the supreme joy for which we were created.
In the next three years, my goal will be to read as much as I can by and about Jonathan Edwards. There are over 70 volumes in his own writings, so I doubt I will ever run out of material to study.
I will put his theology, his ministry, his philosophy, his quirks and idiosyncracies (we all have them), as well as his failures and successes under a microscope. I will not make him an idol or put his words on par with Scripture. On the contrary, I will continue to consider him as a man, a fallible mortal, like myself.
But most of all, I will look to Jonathan Edwards' view of joy.
- What is it?
- What is it not?
- How do we apprehend it?
- Where does it come from?
- How to we hold on to it in the midst of our struggles?
- From what Scriptural basis does Edwards find the most support for his views?
- Did Edwards encounter this joy personally, or does he write about it merely theoretically?
- Perhaps most importantly of all, how can I share his passion for joy with my own congregation?
Here we go: three, two, one... jump!
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.