The Debate over the Atonement in 19th-Century America Part 2 The Shaping of the 19th-Century Debate over the Atonement -- By: David F. Wells
Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 144:575 (Jul 1987)
Article: The Debate over the Atonement in 19th-Century America Part 2 The Shaping of the 19th-Century Debate over the Atonement
Author: David F. Wells
BSac 144:575 (Jul 87) p. 243
The Debate over the Atonement in 19th-Century America
The Shaping of the 19th-Century Debate over the Atonement
Andrew Mutch Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts
[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, April 7–10, 1987.]
In the modern period the prevailing intellectual winds have been westerly. In theology especially, most trends and innovations have originated in Germany. They have then drifted across the English Channel and encountered the virtually impenetrable fog of British suspicion of new ideas and British reserve toward things foreign. After this unsuccessful contact, they have crossed the Atlantic Ocean, there to find in the American audience a happy receptivity and even unstinted acclaim! America itself has produced few indigenous theologies but among those it has produced, pride of place must surely go to the tradition of thought that originated in Jonathan Edwards. It is then a matter of no small importance—for Americans, at least—to see how this tradition fared.
The luminaries in this tradition are now virtually unknown: Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803), Joseph Bellamy (1719–1790), Jonathan Edwards the Younger (1745–1801), Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), Nathaniel Emmons (1745–1840), and Nathaniel William Taylor (1768–1858). By the end of the third quarter of the 19th century its lesser purveyors had also disappeared from most places of influence and had been replaced by those of more radical and liberal persuasion. It is probably correct, therefore, to see Nathaniel William Taylor as representing the tradition in its last days of real influence and also in its closing days of real
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degeneracy.1 The legacy of this tradition, however, has survived the passing of its luminaries.
Like so many other theological debates, that in the 19th century over the Atonement was tangled and thorny, for the theological issues themselves were never isolated from matters of history, from church politics, from cultural pressures, and from the forcefulness of the personalities engaged in the debate.
Presbyterianism, both Northern and Southern, had often shown that it had two slightly different souls and these souls revealed their presence in periodic outbursts of animosity. This had happened after the First Great Awakening when, between 1741 and 1758, Presbyterianism had been rent into two parties, Old Side and New Side. The Old Siders gene...
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