After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology

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

7
Samuel Hopkins and Hopkinsianism

Peter Jauhiainen

SAMUEL HOPKINS (1721–1803) was a leading disciple of Jonathan Edwards and the preeminent formulator of the New Divinity, an innovative extension of Edwardsian Calvinism that dominated the New England theological landscape into the early nineteenth century. His bold reformulations of Edwards’s ideas were disparaged as “new divinity” or “Hopkinsianism,” although proponents preferred the terms “Consistent Calvinism” or “Edwardsianism.” The New Divinity attracted many of the brightest minds of Yale College, quickly spread throughout New England, and became a major force in Congregationalism into the midnineteenth century. Hopkins’s monumental, eleven-hundred-page System of Doctrines, published in 1793, codified New Divinity teachings and was the first comprehensive, systematic theological work published in New England since Samuel Willard’s Compleat Body of Divinity in 1726. Unlike Willard, Hopkins pressed beyond the creedal confines of the Westminster Confession of 1636 to create a truly indigenous American Calvinist theology. His System provided the foundation for the theological training of future Edwardsian ministers and set the intellectual agenda for “almost all theological development in New England for more than half a century.”1

Hopkins’s theological project adjusted Calvinism to Enlightenment intellectual discourse; countered Arminian, antinomian, and universalist concepts; defended the rationality and moral accountability of the Reformed tradition; and redirected Edwards’s ethical teachings in a more socially constructive, activist way. He appropriated a key Enlightenment idea—universal or disinterested benevolence—and made it the centerpiece of his theology. If Calvinism were to remain viable, it must confront charges that its central affirmations violated rational notions of divine goodness. Hopkins furthermore recast essential doctrines in republican, constitutional language—amplifying the rule of

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