Where Have All The Tulips Gone? Being a Brief Treatise Discovering the Causes of the Decline of the Calvinistical Religion in New England Between 1630 and 1776 -- By: Samuel T. Logan, Jr.

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 50:1 (Spring 1988)
Article: Where Have All The Tulips Gone? Being a Brief Treatise Discovering the Causes of the Decline of the Calvinistical Religion in New England Between 1630 and 1776
Author: Samuel T. Logan, Jr.


Where Have All The Tulips Gone?
Being a Brief Treatise Discovering the Causes of the Decline of the Calvinistical Religion in New England Between 1630 and 1776*

Samuel T. Logan, Jr.

Tulips grow well in that part of England known as East Anglia. One reason is that region’s horticultural similarity to the Netherlands, long regarded as the tulip-growing capital of the world. Much of East Anglia, like much of the Netherlands, was once under water. But during the seventeenth century, the land (the Fens it is called) was drained, canals built, and dikes erected. The soil uncovered was—and is—among the richest in the British Isles, just perfect for growing tulips, and all sorts of other things as well.

2. But, of course, today our focus is on theology, not horticulture. Our concern is with the decline, the dilution of orthodox, Calvinistic theology in New England, and, with the aroma of the Synod of Dort wafting through the air, we use the tulip to symbolize that Calvinistic theology. We must, however, to do justice to the New England situation, begin, our survey with a consideration of the English backgrounds. But before even that background study can be initiated, there are two preliminary questions which must be asked. First, did New England theology actually decline? Harry Stout in his recent book, The New England Soul, suggests not.1 But in seeking to trace theological developments in New England, I will

* Slightly revised version of an address delivered by the author on the occasion of his inauguration as Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary on October 28, 1986.

offer evidence that there was significant decline. The Calvinistic tulip was transformed first into an Arminian dandelion and then into a Unitarian ragweed, and it is both the fact and the causes of that transformation that we will be investigating.

The second (and closely related) preliminary question is this: how do we measure decline? Surely here is an even more difficult question and in moving to answer it, we must avoid the Millerian error which suggests there was a single “New England mind.” In fact, a great deal of theological diversity existed in early New England as Philip Gura has powerfully demonstrated.2 But in those early years there was also a clear societal consensus, and though the matter does become somewhat more complex as we move through the decades of New England history, I would maintain that there always was a consensus, a structure of value priorities which defined that society. Indeed, I would further maintain, and this is crucial to m...

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