Colonial America’s Rejection of Free Grace Theology -- By: L. E. Brown

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 20:38 (Spring 2007)
Article: Colonial America’s Rejection of Free Grace Theology
Author: L. E. Brown


Colonial America’s Rejection of Free Grace Theology

L. E. Brown

Prescott, Arizona

I. Introduction

Many Free Grace adherents assume that grace theology, the de facto doctrine of the first century church, was lost until recently. Such is not the case. Michael Makidon has demonstrated, for example, that Free Grace views surfaced in Scotland in the 18th century Marrow Controversy.1 The “Marrow Men” were clear: faith is the sole condition of justification, and assurance is the essence of justifying faith.

Eighty years earlier peace was broken in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (MBC) over these doctrines. That upheaval, labeled the “Antinomian Controversy,” occupied the MBC for seventeen months from October 1636 to March 1638. The civil and ecclesiastical trials of Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643), whose vocal opposition to the “covenant of works”2 gained unfavorable attention from the civil authorities, and served as a beard for theological adversaries John Cotton (1585–1652) and Thomas Shepard (1605–1649).

This article will survey the three main interpretations intellectual historians offer for the Antinomian Controversy. The primary focus will be on the doctrine of assurance, with an emphasis on sixteenth-century British Calvinism. We will evaluate the opposing views of John Cotton and Thomas Shepard. Finally, we will consider the opportunity that Free Grace theology missed in the Antinomian Controversy.

II. What were the issues in the Antinomian Controversy?

At one time Anne Hutchinson was cast as the chief antagonist in the controversy. She was a strong woman who had spent years as a member of Cotton’s church in England. There she learned the pitfalls of covenant theology.3 Her father was a minister; at home, she became well versed in the Scriptures. After arriving in the MBC, she developed an extensive teaching ministry in her home, often drawing larger crowds during the week than attended Sunday services. Her extensive biblical knowledge and quick mind made her more than a match for any of the MBC ministers. They were unable to refute her doctrinal views. Only when they cast her as a threat to the state welfare in a civil trial was she convicted and banished.4

Fresh documentary evidence published in recent years makes it clear that John Cotton, not Anne Hutchinson, was the major figure.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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