While Jonathan Edwards's intellectual agenda dominated America's formal religious thought until the mid-nineteenth century, his renovation of Calvinism and his writings on revival have continued to be read, debated, contested, and admired. He remains one of the few American theologians who has always been read intensely in the U.K. and other far-flung parts of the Christian world.

New Divinity

"New Divinity" was originally a term of reproof denoting the supposedly unwarranted innovations of Edwards's students and closest professional friends. Chief among these first-generation Edwards interpreters were Joseph Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins. Bellamy's True Religion Delineated (1750) and Hopkins's System of Doctrine (1793) extended Edwards's teachings on, respectively, the nature of genuine godliness and the interaction of divine and human motives in redemption. But they modified Edwards. Bellamy made God's character as lawgiver central. Hopkins refocused Edwards's main ethical principle ("love to Being in General") from God to earthly usefulness. Hopkins's phrase was "disinterested benevolence"; it meant selfless, universal charity. For Hopkins sinfulness should not be viewed as residing in human character, but rather in sinful actions.

The next generation of students made more adjustments. Jonathan Edwards, Jr., who studied with Bellamy and Hopkins, defended a "governmental" view of the atonement, in which the work of Christ restored balance in God's justice rather than placating the divine wrath. Nathanael Emmons was known as an "exercise" theologian, because, although he exalted God as the absolute determiner of all events (as had Edwards), he reduced human morality to what humans did. By contrast, Asa Burton argued that actions ...

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