Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

Synopsis

Nathaniel Taylor was arguably the most influential and the most frequently misrepresented American theologian of his generation. While he claimed to be an Edwardsian Calvinist, very few people believed him. This book attempts to understand how Taylor and his associates could have counted themselves Edwardsians. In the process, it explores what it meant to be an Edwardsian minister and intellectual in the 19th century.

Excerpt

A very great injustice has been done to Dr. Taylor by those who have represented him to the public as a slippery and cautious disputant, whom it was impossible to hold to a definite and intelligible statement. That many of his opponents have failed to understand him correctly, and that it has not always been easy to reach a clear and precise idea of his meaning, is certainly true… . It is not easy to appreciate all the distinctions of a mind of unusual accuracy of thought, or to follow a profound reasoner through all the mazes of an abstruse argument. Men are apt to ignore his distinctions, and then think him confused or obscure. They overlook or misconceive the qualifications which limit his language, attribute to him a meaning widely different from his real one, and then feel wronged when he unceremoniously disavows the scheme which they have constructed for him. No one who has any acquaintance with the controversies in which Dr. Taylor bore so large a share, can here become familiar with his works … without feeling that he, of all the writers of his time, is most wronged when represented as designedly obscure, or evasive… . The only writer whom we recall, in our philosophical literature, who even approaches him in this combination of philosophical exactness of discrimination, with profound earnestness of conviction, is Edwards; and it is somewhat remarkable that Edwards is, to this hour, subjected to the most opposite interpretations—is, of course, the most extensively misconceived—and is, of all writers, most liable to the charge of inconsistency and self-contradiction.

B. N. Martin, “Dr. Taylor on Moral Government”

Nathaniel William Taylor (1786–1858), the Timothy Dwight Professor of Didactic Theology at Yale from 1822 to 1858, was arguably the most influential and the most frequently misrepresented American theologian of his generation. As for his influence, Taylor changed the face forever of New England Calvinism. He created a schism in Connecticut's General Association of Congregational clergy. He contributed more than anyone else to the rise of “New School” Presbyterianism—and thus to the Presbyterian schism of 1837–38. He played a formative role in the lives of many of his era's religious leaders, from Charles G. Finney and John Humphrey Noyes to Horace Bushnell and Theodore Munger. He graduated 815 students to positions of prominence in American culture, sending one-fourth of these students out west to lead the churches, colleges, and benevolent societies of the Western Reserve, the Mississippi Valley, even Califor-

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