After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology

By Oliver D. Crisp; Douglas A. Sweeney | Go to book overview

5
The Moral Government of God
JONATHAN EDWARDS AND JOSEPH BELLAMY
ON THE ATONEMENT

Oliver D. Crisp

WHAT IS THE relationship between the doctrine of atonement owned by Jonathan Edwards and that developed by his disciples in the New Divinity? This question is not as straightforward as it might first appear. Edwards never completed a sustained account of the atonement, and the scattered remarks he did write on the subject appear to pull in rather different directions. For instance, he wrote an enthusiastic preface to True Religion Delineated, the work of his protégé, Joseph Bellamy, which offered the first complete account of the New England version of the governmental model of atonement, one of the hallmarks of New England theology. Yet it appears that Edwards’s most reflective work on this subject in his notebooks stays within the bounds of satisfaction and penal substitution versions of the doctrine.

Behind this puzzle lies a question of doctrinal development. Was the New Divinity governmental theory of atonement a legitimate extrapolation of basically Edwardsian themes, a kind of Calvinized version of the doctrine in keeping with the New England attempt to reenvision Reformed theology for an American context? Or was it an important departure from the thinking of Edwards, a sign that his theological progeny were not content to pass on his theology but were at least as concerned to put their own imprimatur on the burgeoning movement?

The evidence suggests that the seeds of the New England governmental view of the atonement were sown by Edwards himself. But he did not have the opportunity, or perhaps the inclination, to develop this in his own work.1 So the views expressed by Bellamy, Samuel Hopkins, and Jonathan

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