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New Haven Theology


Also known as Taylorism, refers to the 19th-century New England theological system that originated with Nathaniel William taylor, professor at Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Conn. (182258). An exposition of Puritan theology, it was the most influential and controversial since that of Jonathan edwards. Using rational philosophy, Taylor devised a system that dealt with human responsibility and featured freedom of the will. Taylor, called "the Pelagianist" by some Calvinists, taught that there is a native sinlessness in man, an ability in him to renovate his own soul, and self-love, or the desire for happiness, is the source of all voluntary action. Although he considered himself to be in the Edwards tradition, Taylor's views represented a serious departure from strict Puritan Calvinism (see great awakening). His teaching that man's acts are not necessitated, but free, because man may act "in a contrary way at all times," was interpreted by many as a denial of Calvinism's cardinal tenet on the absolute sovereignty of God. Moreover, his belief that man may be motivated to a conversion of life seemed contrary to the Calvinist doctrine on "Divine Benevolence." When resistance to these ideas mounted, a fellow Congregationalist, Bennett Tyler, led the opposition, founding a new divinity school in Hartford, Conn., to teach "traditional Puritanism."

In addition, Presbyterian opposition was strong and even more consequential. Charles Hodge of Princeton Divinity School wrote vehement attacks against "the novelties of New England Theology"; those who agreed with him became known as the "Old School" within Presbyterianism. Many younger clergymen and revivalists who found Taylor's teachings appealing and useful in their work were referred to as the "New School." The two groups exchanged accusations of heresy; disagreements on other issues arose frequently, especially on the missions where cooperation with the Congregationalists was fostered and a plan of eventual union drawn up. Here the Old School charged that the New School and Congregationalist influences had subverted Presbyterian order and that innovations had crept into their worship. By 1837, when a general assembly was held in Philadelphia, Pa., the controversy had reached its peak. The Old School dissolved completely the plan of union with the Congregationalists and cut off several New York New School synods. When these asked for readmittance and were refused, they formed their own assembly, to which all the New School group affiliated themselves, causing a schism that lasted 32 years. By 1880 Taylor's views were generally rejected by all. However, his insistence that divine governance must be understood in a way that includes man's moral responsibility paved the way for the later transition from rigid Calvinism to "Liberal Orthodoxy" in America.

Bibliography: f. h. foster, A Genetic History of the New England Theology (New York 1963). s. e. mead, Nathaniel William Taylor, 17861858: A Connecticut Liberal (Chicago 1942).

[t. horgan]

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