After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology

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

12
The New England Theology in New
England Congregationalism

Charles Hambrick-Stowe

THE THEOLOGICAL RENEWAL movement that developed under the banners of Edwardsianism, New Divinity, Hopkinsianism, and Consistent Calvinism had to take root and flourish in New England if it were to hold any hope of achieving its broader aspirations of national revival and global mission. Large challenges loomed: creation of innovative missionary institutions to plant churches and schools in the American West and in Africa and Asia, abolition of slavery and other besetting social sins, securing the Protestant Christian character of the country as a whole. But the immediate issue facing pastors and lay leaders identified with the movement was the theological fidelity of the Congregational churches of New England. The problem persisted and became increasingly complex from the 1760s through the first decades of the nineteenth century. The movement’s fundamental task was to place the stamp of evangelical Calvinism on the churches of the region to create a strong base for its wider goals. As its advocates knew, this had to become the New England Theology.

The cultural and spiritual upheaval known as the Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s broke up whatever was left of a Puritan New England synthesis, even as it revived and recontextualized Puritan spirituality.1 Pro-revival New Lights, with Jonathan Edwards as the major theologian of religious experience, faced off against socially conservative but theologically liberal Old Lights, with Charles Chauncy the leading spokesperson for reason and decorum. Evangelicals could not maintain unity among themselves, however, and Separate New Lights split from established congregations to form new churches, some of which went further and became Baptist. The Awakening

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