The European Context

The interest in evidential Christianity did not distinguish Americans from Europeans. In the half century after Locke published On the Reasonableness of Christianity, the topic of theological rationality consumed theologians in England, and it continued to occupy European theologians well into the nineteenth century. Americans looked to Europe for refinements of evidential arguments and for expertise in every field of theology. Robert Baird assured Europeans that America provided a better market for their theology, particularly "works of a practical character,'' than their own regions. He thought that some of the best English treatises, for example, had "a wider circulation in the United States than in England itself.'' When Americans wrote their own theological texts, they usually entered a conversation that extended beyond American shores.17

The borrowing of ideas normally proceeded in only one direction, for only a small number of Americans attained a reputation in Europe and England. Among the few exceptions who drew an English readership were some of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England Calvinists, especially Jonathan Edwards and Jonathan Dickinson, who attracted British attention. In the nineteenth century, such immigrant theologians as the German-educated Swiss Reformed historian Philip Schaff became known in Germany largely through his efforts to interpret American thought to German audiences, and on occasion an American, such as the liberal James Warley Miles of South Carolina, received the pleasant news that a German publisher had translated and reprinted his book. Baird had to concede that American theology was rarely "known beyond the country itself,'' though he named more than a dozen theologians who he thought would be recognized by European students of theology.18

Nonetheless, one of the characteristic features of American theology was its cosmopolitan ethos. American theologians knew the work of their European counterparts. Baird noted that the libraries of the learned—and of American colleges and seminaries — contained an ample "stock of such books imported from Europe.'' The constant influx of immigrants, including immigrant clergy, ensured that almost every nuance of European theology would have an admirer somewhere in America, and since Americans often traveled to Europe for theological study, they kept one another informed about biblical and theological scholarship there. The appearance of theological journals in the 1830s furnished a means through which Americans constantly interpreted and responded to European thought.19

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