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Charts of Modern and Postmodern Church History
By John D. Hannah
ZondervanCopyright © 2004 John David Hannah
All right reserved.
As a result of the Enlightenment, the Congregational Church was rocked by theological controversy in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. First, factions developed over the Great Awakening, the so-called New Lights viewing the revival positively and the so-called Old Lights viewing it quite the opposite. Ultimately, issues over a successor to the Hollis Chair of Divinity at Harvard College divided the denomination into Trinitarians and Unitarians.
Liberal movements within Congregationalism emerged in stages. Initially, it was reflected in ministers' rational revolt against Calvinism's harsh doctrinal features, such as election, divine justice, and human inability. In the early 1800s, Unitarianism emerged as a separate, more defined departure from traditional orthodoxy. In the 1830s some in the liberal tradition turned to intuition and the Romantic movement for inspiration and solace, becoming Transcendentalists. Many Congregationalists who reacted against the liberal tide took a middle ground embraced by New England Theology; those who attempted to maintain orthodoxy without denominational distinctives are the forebearers of current American evangelicalism.
The Great Awakening, spurred by the skillful preaching and literary productivity of Jonathan Edwards, may be seen as an attempt to refute a rationalistic spirit that was making significant progress among the clergy and laity of New England. In retrospect, Edwards' efforts proved inadequate.
Each phase of the revolt against orthodoxy in New England may be said to have had a representative. Charles Chauncy's clash with Jonathan Edwards reflected the initial phase. William Channing's "Unitarian Christianity" address (1819) defined the second phase and Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Divinity School Address" (1838) the last phase.
The founders of Universalism in America were John Murray (1720-78) and Hosea Ballou (1771-1852). More than a century later, the movement reached its most cogent statement in the Humanist Manifesto (1933). The Universalists eventually merged with a large segment of the Unitarian movement to become the Unity Church.
The Unitarian movement has an affinity with Congregational orthodoxy from which it developed. However, Unitarianism proposed such contrary interpretations of Christianity that it lost its essence and retained only its moral affiliations. Transcendentalism, while rooted in Unitarianism, went beyond the pale of Christian orthodoxy.
The conservative response to rationalist criticisms of Christianity was an intellectual movement called New England Theology. Though sometimes divided into Edwardians and Hopkinsians, the difference between this large coterie of educators and preachers was not so much theological as it was their areas of ministry-the pulpit or classroom. In general, New England theologians argued for doctrinal modification, not in whole but in part. Some thought that human responsibility could be preserved by denying the imputation of Adam's first sin, instead interpreting the sinfulness of the race as voluntary. Later advocates denied the penal substitution of Christ, opting for a moral interpretation of his death.
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