Academic journal article Church History

Shapers of English Calvinism, 1660-1714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation

Academic journal article Church History

Shapers of English Calvinism, 1660-1714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation

Article excerpt

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A tradition is not a consensus; change is not decline; variety does not entail discontinuity; and Calvinism has never been a monolithic system of thought. Wallace, a distinguished member of the faculty of George Washington University, has traced the history of English Calvinist thought from the beginning of the Restoration in 1660 until the death of Queen Anne in 1714 by analyzing in considerable detail the thought of seven Calvinist theologians who exemplified the variety of Reformed thought while responding to early Enlightenment modernity. His approach is typological: he identifies five types of Calvinist thought that introduced new dimensions to the tradition while remaining within its boundaries. Each represented a defense of the tradition against scoffers, enthusiasts, atheists, socinians, deists, and materialists.

Peter Sterry (1613-1672), chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, expounded a mystical form of Calvinism. Theophilus Gale (1628-1679), preacher at Winchester Cathedral until his ejection as a dissenter in 1660, combined Calvinist thought with the "ancient theology" of the Hermetic tradition; Joseph Alleine (1634-168), a Presbyterian cleric at Taunton, preached, along with his circle of clerical followers, a form of evangelical Calvinism. Richard Baxter (1615-1691), the pastor for many years at Kidderminster, along with William Bates (1625-1699), who held the living at St. Dunstans-in-the-West in London, and John Howe (1630-1705), the pastor at Torrington, expounded a Calvinist natural theology and used the traditional "evidences of Christianity" to fend off deistic and Socinian thinkers. Finally, John Edwards (1637-1716), the parish incumbent at St. Sepulchre's in Cambridge, represented the Calvinists who stayed within the Church of England while criticizing the growing Anglican affection for theological alternatives to Calvinism. Mysticism, the ancient theology, evangelicalism, natural theology, and Anglican conformity--the theologians who represented these trajectories all altered traditional Calvinist thought without abandoning it. And each of them represented a response to early modernity. This is the guiding theme of Wallace's book.

Sterry's mysticism found expression not only in his leanings toward Neoplatonism but also his striving for a consciousness of "the immediate or direct presence of God" (58). Using images of light and unity and freely allegorizing the Bible, Sterry advertised the possibility of union between the soul and God. Gale, on the other hand, attained his reputation for his argument in The Court of the Gentiles (1672) that all knowledge, even the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, and especially all religious knowledge derived from the ancient Hebrews. He was particularly fond of the Hermetic texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a supposed contemporary of Moses, and he depicted Hermes, along with other figures, some historical and some legendary, as "ancient theologians," a practice that went back to the second century. Alleine and his circle, on the other hand, maintained older Puritan preoccupations with conversion, and Alleine's posthumously published and often re-published Alarm to Converted Sinners (1671) represented the turn to inward piety that had also appeared in the Pietist and Quietist movements. …

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