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New England Theology

c.1750-c.1850. Calvinist movement begun under Jonathan Edwards.* Regarded as one of America's greatest thinkers, Edwards set out to reformulate Puritan Calvinism to render it more harmonious toward the spiritual experiences of the Great Awakening.* In order to justify the results of the latter, Edwards set about to wrestle with freedom versus sovereignty. In his monumental work Freedom of the Will he introduced a subtle change into Calvinism which taught that man's role in salvation was negligible. Edwards conceived his doctrine of the inclined will, having borrowed heavily from John Locke's philosophy as an aid. In essence, Edwards said that God, in sovereign disposition, through the Holy Spirit's work, makes man's will able to respond to grace. In short, God inclines the will to render man able to respond to salvation. He sought middle ground between the “enthusiasts” of revival and Charles Chauncy,* who accused the revival of mindless emotion. Edwards agreed that “heat without light” was wrong, but one could not divorce truth from experience. He hoped to pacify the older Calvinists who spurned the revival and the opposite party of Arminian extremists.

This “New England Theology” of Edwards dominated conservative Congregational schools, such as Edwards's Yale, from about 1750 to the late 1800s, when German critical theology won the day. Later exponents were Jonathan Edwards, Jr. (1745-1801), Timothy Dwight,* Samuel Hopkins,* and Nathaniel Taylor.* The last-named seriously modified the doctrine of original sin. The movement was a gradual retreat from Calvinism in the face of greater emphasis on self-determination.