Jonathan Edwards’ Organizational Genius

Let me briefly share three ways that I have purposefully imported Edwards’ own practices of personal discipline and organization into my own.

Edwards (1703–1758) was a local church pastor, which happens to be the same vocation that I share. As I began to research his numerous written works and treatises, I became increasingly aware of his incredible personal and professional organizational skills. With meetings, projects, sermons, lectures, and Bible studies always coming due, most pastors can stand to get a bit more organized. As I studied Edwards’ writings and insights, I realized that I might be sitting at the feet of not only Edwards’ intellectual genius but his organizational genius, too.

 

If you hang around someone long enough, be careful: you might end up becoming more and more like them. You may pick up some of their mannerisms. You may begin to use some of their expressions. If you truly admire them, you might even begin to dress like them or evidence other forms of sincerest flattery.

Since I began studying Jonathan Edwards for my doctoral dissertation several years ago, I realized that I am slowly becoming more and more like him, too. (Except for the white, powdered wig of course!)

Let me explain.

Edwards (1703–1758) was a local church pastor, which happens to be the same vocation that I share. As I began to research his numerous written works and treatises, I became increasingly aware of his incredible personal and professional organizational skills. With meetings, projects, sermons, lectures, and Bible studies always coming due, most pastors can stand to get a bit more organized. As I studied Edwards’ writings and insights, I realized that I might be sitting at the feet of not only Edwards’ intellectual genius but his organizational genius, too.

Let me briefly share three ways that I have purposefully imported Edwards’ own practices of personal discipline and organization into my own. Two of these are old fashioned—paper and ink projects. The third I have adapted with some modern technology.

Miscellanies

When Jonathan Edwards was just nineteen years old, he began one of his most ambitious organizational projects, a collection of notes, thoughts, observations, and insights known as his Miscellanies. One by one, he began taking notes on just about everything: Bible passages, theological concepts, observations from books he was reading … anything. Some of these “miscellanies” are quite short. Not more than a paragraph. Others are much longer—several pages even. Some miscellanies became proto-sermons for later use, and others were even imported wholesale into his important published treatises later on.

What is remarkable in all of this is that Edwards diligently numbered each miscellany, gave them titles, and cross-referenced them religiously as he went. Often, he would take a paragraph here or there and “copy and paste” them (with being able to merely hit Control + C) into his more polished documents for revised use. The miscellanies, numbered and indexed, would often be noted in the margins of his Bible as well, especially if the note was an expansion of an exegetical point.

Altogether, Edwards wrote some 1,400 miscellanies and kept up the project for his entire professional career. Some of his entries are entitled things like, “Happiness,” “Heaven,” “Hell,” “Sabbath,” and so on.

Seeing how important the Miscellanies collection was to his thought life, I decided to try the same thing. I bought a large empty journal and started out. The first thing I did was to reserve ten pages in the very front that would become my own “table of contents.” I would number each line, and fill in the table as I wrote new miscellanies. Whenever I get an “Aha!” that I may want for later use, I start a new page, give it a simple title and number, and begin writing! Most of the time, I use my Miscellanies for theological thoughts and pastoral insights that don’t fit into the margins of my Bible and aren’t in the passages of Scripture that I’ll be preaching on any time soon.

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