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Friday, July 2, 2010

Timothy Dwight, And The Moderate Calvinist Battle Against Unitarianism

The theological fight between Orthodox Christians and Unitarians took center stage in mid to late 18th Century America. Moderate, Orthodox Calvinists such as: Timothy Dwight, Abiel Holmes, Ashbel Green, Samuel Langdon, Ezra Stiles, Joseph Bellamy, Jedidiah Morse, Nathan Strong et al., battled unitarians: Jonathan Mayhew, Ebenezer Gay, Charles Chauncy, Simeon Howard, and Samuel West. These leaders in the Church, fought like cats and dogs in various periodicals, and in the pulpits, over the fundamentals of Christianity, and what was literal and allegory. Timothy Dwight was the leader, and promoter of today's Evangelical movement. For the next one-hundred years and beyond, Dwight's Theology was study material in every Protestant college in the world, going through twelve editions. Dwight is the Father of Modern Evangelicalism.

Dwight, and the Evangelicals halted unitarianism, deism, and other forms of Pelagianism to the inner Boston, Massachusetts area:
By the 1830's, evangelicals had successfully contained Unitarianism within the Boston area and the West had become the new battleground for Orthodoxy.
          -Stephen E. Berk, Calvinism Versus Democracy. Anchron Books, 1974, p. 199.

Furthermore, independent periodicals echoed the same point:

Unitarians, who are principally confined to Boston and its vicinity.

-Boston Patriot, May 13, 1815.
That unitarianism was limited to a small area reflects the influence it had on the population. Make no mistake, there were many Unitarians at Harvard, however, "only one man: John Clark of Boston, an overseer of the college disagreed with David Tappan's election as Professor of Divinity in 1793." (Bentley, Diary, III, p. 38). Dwight's battle with the unitarians started in 1783 as the minister in "Greenfield Hill," a congregational church in Fairfield, Connecticut. "Dwight had a genius for recognizing able proteges — among them Lyman Beecher, Nathaniel W. Taylor, and Leonard Bacon, all whom would become major religious leaders and theological innovators in the ante bellum decades." Having graduated from Yale in 1769, Dwight made Yale the "largest institution of higher education in North America." Dwight took over Yale from Evangelical Clergyman Ezra Stiles, the President from (1778-1795) and Pastor of Second Congregational Church in Newport, R. I. from (1755-1777).

Not a few historians label Stiles an innocent bystander in this Puritan battle against pelagianism, which may have been the case publicly, however his diary paints a different picture. If Stiles did not join this quarrel in print, he joined the Orthodox in the pulpit. His diary gives many examples of his opinion of heresy.
May God defeat these insidious Machiavellian hellish designs against his Chh [Church] in New England.

-Diary, Vol I, p. 587.
Stiles had many, less than Orthodox friends, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Stiles once had dinner in Scotland with Franklin, and David Hume. However, he was an evangelical:
[M]ay I be quickened to greater press home Evangelical Truths..reprehending with all authority, not shuning to declare the whole truth.

-Diary, Oct. 22, 1769. 
His Diary presents short entries of debate that never appear to escalate detailing Christian doctrine:
He [Abraham Redwood] has a peculiar notion about sin--that there is no Imputation of sin from Adam, but God created every man a Sinner..I objected this made G[o]d the Author of Sin.

-Diary, May 9, 1770.
Stiles died in 1795, and Dwight personally led Yale in training men to carry out the fight against heresy. Dwight engineered the Second Great Awakening (1802-1810), aligning Old Calvinists by planning to spread Orthodoxy throughout New England. Among these Calvinists Dwight joined forces with, were Hopkinsians, after Rev. Samuel Hopkins, D. D. pastor of the First Congregational Church at Newport, Rhode Island. Hopkinsians were remnants of the Edwardians, after the great Theologian Jonathan Edwards; the main theologian of the Great Awakening, that spread from New England to Georgia. Towards the end of Edwards' life, he strayed into meta-physical doctrine, attempting to "combine his theory of cause & effect with Newtonian Cosmology." The staunch Calvinist that he was, Edwards did not believe in self-determination; this tended to mis-lead his later followers that God was vengeful, wanting to punish everyone. Rigid discipline, and too much emphasis on human depravity pushed parishoners away. Here is an example of Edwards' thoughts:
No energy is self-generating, so the actions of human will must be determined from outside oneself.
-Edwards, Stephen E. Berk, Calvinism Versus Democracy. Achron Books, 1974.
Contrast Edwards with Dwight and the moderate Calvinists:
God's foreknowledge has not the remotest influence on the agent, or his action.

-Dwight, Theology I.
Dwight used "means" to nurture one's spiritual conversion, through prayer, education, and church attendance. The Old Calvinists meta-physical doctrines stifled evangelism, but Dwight understood they were a vital group, with a large base, that also disliked heterodox doctrine calling itself Christianity. Yet, the Scriptures are simple; for simple people. The Church has long delineated what is literal and what is allegory. Here, in Luke 17: 26-30, Jesus affirms the flood, the story of Abraham, Lot, and the destruction of the cities of the plain:
And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. [italics mine]
Notice, Jesus says, "[A]s it was in the days of Noe." Unitarians and/or rationalists, proclaim they adhere to inerrancy, yet, denial of these obvious literal passages leave no excuse.

Dwight, and the moderates employed Old Calvinists to spread a moderate, almost Arminian form of Calvinism.

 Along with Jedidiah Morse in Massachusetts, the New Divinity combined all Calvinists to defeat the unitarian influence. Morse, with the Hopkinsians, formed Andover Theological Seminary, that survives to this very day. Furthermore, the battle against heresy was not as some would suggest:
Contrary to publicized orthodox opinion, the great majority of Jeffersonians were in fact Trinitarian Protestants.
-Stephen E. Berk, Calvinism Versus Democracy. Anchron Books, 1974, p.150
In my opinion, Dwight and the Modern Calvinists did a dis-service, sometimes viciously attacking the Jeffersonians throughout New England. These attacks by Federalists, no doubt hurt the party, losing the 1800 election to Thomas Jefferson; linked "Jeffersonian leaders with the illuminati" in the Connecticut Courant, Berk, p. 131. Yes, the Jeffersonians attacked the Standing Order of Connecticut Gentry, however, writing these falsehoods didn't help the Federalists. Dwight even advised spurning democratic members of Puritan families. The Connecticut Courant, edited by Dwight's brother, Theodore, had the nerve to ask Jefferson to sign the Apostles Creed.

In New England, Jeffersonians had several papers as well, including The Aurora and American Mercury. Their rhetoric included calling Dwight, "Pope of Connecticut" and a diatribe in the Mercury, attacking the Standing Order of Connecticut:
" union of church & state--an union which the experience of all countries has proved to be incompatible with civil & religious liberty."

-American Mercury, Sept. 25, 1800.
It reads like James Madison. If it is him, it's another example of Madison's inconsistency, having fought against Virginia's assessment for Christian teachers, yet, he wrote any State can form whatever religion they like:

If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights would be a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the states, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion...Fortunately for this commonwealth, a majority of the people are decidedly against any exclusive establishment. There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom. It is better that this security should be depended upon from the general legislature, than from one particular state. A particular state might concur in one religious project. But the United States abound in such a variety of sects, that it is a strong security against religious persecution; and it is sufficient to authorize a conclusion, that no one sect will ever be able to outnumber or depress the rest. [italics mine]

-James Madison, June 12, 1788. Elliot's Debates In the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (Virginia).
Dwight viewed religion (Orthodox Christianity) the basis for liberty, as Puritanism had protected their rights, and provided happiness for nearly two centuries. Dwight was correct; there was no discrimination of any sects, nor a union of church and state. Dwight claimed the Jeffersonians wanted a pluralistic society, that always leads to infidelity:

Requiring citizens to support religion is not only consistent with freedom, but the primary cause of it.

-Woods, History of Andover,  p. 106.
In light of the happiness and liberty religion had brought to New England, the Jeffersonians arrogantly labeled Congregational missionary work as a "Priestly Conspiracy." Berk, p. 163. and "the usual alliance of church & state." Mercury, July 2, 1801; and June 27, 1805.

But Dwight had history on his side.  "To the orthodox mind, religion was the chief agency of social control." Berk, p. 142. In defense of Connecticut's Standing Order, Dwight wrote:
The whole history of the heathen world furnishes not a single reason to believe, that its teachings ever reformed one individual, either among the teachers, or among the disciples.

-Sermons I, On Revelation, p. 103.
Because God demands obedience to governmental authorities, this obedience is the basis for social virtue. To the Federalists, democracy served to destroy social harmony and a disrespect for authority.

At the end of the day, Harvard did not officially became Unitarian until Henry Ware was appointed Hollis Professor of Divinity in 1803, by succeeding David Tappan, who defended historical Puritanism. Unitarianism never even gained ground in outer Massachusetts. Many Politicians, such as, Josiah Bartlett, Benjamin Rush et al., became universalists, yet, never departed from Historical Christian Orthodoxy.

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