Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology

Article excerpt

English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology. By Jonathan D. Moore. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, Pp. xx, 304. $36.00.)

In this detailed study of one of the leading figures in early seventeenthcentury English Reformed theology, Jonathan Moore contests the uncritical "Puritan-Arminian" dualism that informs a great deal of recent scholarship on English Puritanism. Best illustrated in Robert T. Kendall's Calvin andEngiish Calvinism (1979), the emphasis has been on the monolithic nature of theological debate. Arguing that there was no single Calvinist perspective in England but rather a range of views that were amended over time, Moore cautions the reader against the tendency to adopt broad labels that ignore subtle shifts in theological perspective and the wider context in which those changes occurred.

Preston (1587-1628) was an atypical Puritan during his brief life, not least due to the fact that he enjoyed the patronage of powerful figures at Court during the 1620s. In 1621, thanks to the influence of George Villiars, duke of Buckingham, Preston was appointed chaplain in ordinary to Prince Charles and the following year he was elected to serve as master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. But by the mid-1620s the new king and his principal advisor were moving in a distinctly anti-Calvinist direction, and Preston's political fortunes declined. When he died at the age of forty-one, his influential sermons secured his place alongside the most influential Puritan divines of the early Stuart Church, and it is within the context of the anti-Arminian Puritan movement that he has been defined by subsequent generations of historians.

Moore is troubled by this association. He points out early in the book that Preston neither spoke out publicly against episcopacy nor the established forms of worship in the English Church. In fact, he maintained close friendships with numerous bishops and defended the set forms of prayer on a number of occasions. But he also was master of Emmanuel at Cambridge, a college known for its nonconforming fellows and students, and this leadership role suggests a firm commitment to the reform movement within the Church of England. Moore carefully adopts a more recent scholarly perspective on Puritanism that stresses styles of preaching and piety instead of church polity and practice. For the author, "Preston's brand of Puritanism was more concerned about promoting a genetic unity within 'the spiritual brotherhood' than pressing home potentially divisive distinctives" (21). …

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