The Flight from Calvinism

When they looked toward England after 1660, the New England clergy saw little but disheartening change. One consequence of the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in i660 was a continuing eclipse of Calvinism as a force within the Church of England. The turbulence of the civil wars and of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell had already provoked during the 1650s a reaction against a theology that some now associated with political instability as well as religious error. The...

Reason and Revelation

Like the second-century Christian apologists, Edwards believed that all philosophical truth embodied remnants of divine revelation and that ''the doctrines of revealed religion, are the foundation of all useful and excellent knowledge.'' He followed a tradition known as the prisca theologia (ancient theology), inaugurated by such fathers of the church as Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-ca. 215), Origen (ca. 185-ca. 245), and Eusebius (ca. 260-ca. 340), who employed it to prove that the wisdom of...

Introduction Theology in America

For more than a century in early colonial America, theologians ruled the realm of ideas. America's first learned class consisted largely of Protestant clergy, and the relatively small number of pastors who published books of theology, or divinity, attained the status of the most learned of the learned. Until almost the dawning of the American Revolution, theologians exercised a singular authority in American print culture. Until late in the eighteenth century, they were, in each decade, the...

The Anglican Alternative

Calvinists who worried about Arminians worried also about Anglicans. The anti-Calvinist temper in the Church of England after the Restoration meant that Anglican missionaries to America would have little respect for Calvinist doctrine. The first Anglican commissary to Maryland, Thomas Bray (1656-1730) organized in 1698 a Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which sent to America books that prominently included alternatives to Calvinist thought. Three years later, Bray organized a Society...

The Theological Populists

Theologians of the academy felt confident that theological learning would serve the cause of the church. From the beginnings of the seminary movement, however, its proponents had to contend with an opposition convinced that the preacher called and taught by God needed no human instruction.'' Even some educated and socially prominent pastors, like the powerful New York Presbyterian Gardiner Spring, worried that the seminaries would promote the ideal of a learned rather than a spiritual and...

Theology and the Revival

In August 1737, an Irish-born Presbyterian minister named Gilbert Ten-nent (1703-64) complained to a congregation in New Brunswick, New Jersey, that too many people were so curious in the Search of other Sciences'' that they neglected the Search and Study of their own Hearts.'' Like Solomon Stoddard, Tennent believed that the purpose of theology was to promote an ''experimental'' knowledge embracing the will and affections and that every other kind of doctrinal and speculative knowledge merely...

The Theologians

In early New England, the theologians were preachers who assumed that the pastoral office required theological learning, and a respectable number of them wrote texts in theology. During the seventeenth century, 34 percent of the New England clergy published at least one tract or treatise. A small group comprising 5 percent of clergy each published ten or more works. Most of them wrote short pieces designed for polemical or devotional purposes only 8 percent of the seventeenth-century...

The Excellency of

Edwards believed that God knew the world by having ''the actual ideas of things. . . . at once in His mind, and all in the highest possible perfection of clearness, and all perfectly and invariably there without any transitoriness or fading in any part.'' For him this was more than a description of the divine omniscience it pointed, as well, toward the divine sovereignty and the dependence of everything on God. While a graduate student at Yale, Edwards found that he could express the glory and...

Covenant

To maintain the paradoxes implicit in the idea of accommodation, the preachers drew on the doctrine of the covenant. From God's ''special way of governing rational creatures,'' wrote William Ames in his Marrow of Sacred Divinity, ''there arises a covenant between God and them.'' Calvin had used the notion of covenant to emphasize the unity of the Old and New Testaments and to interpret the meaning of the sacraments, but the New England theologians drew especially on a tradition of covenantal...

The Importance of Calvinism

A substantial part of the history of theology in early America was an extended debate, stretching over more than two centuries, about the meaning and the truth of Calvinism. Historians of American religion have departed from earlier assumptions that the Calvinist clergy of New England deserve a place of special privilege in the national religious narrative, but New England Calvinism, and other forms of Calvinist theology elsewhere, attained to such a position of dominance in highly respected...