Monday, December 28, 2009

Theistic Rationalism From the Pulpit, Redux:

Because Samuel West's 1776 Election Sermon featured so prominently in a number of recent American Creation posts (and in Jeff Morrison's paper on the political theology of the Declaration of Independence, also discussed in said posts), I thought I'd refer back to a post I did where I noted Dr. Gregg Frazer discusses West and his sermon in detail in his PhD thesis and sees it not as "Christian" principles preached from the Founding era pulpit, but theistic rationalist principles.

Samuel West was also a unitarian, not a Calvinistic Christian. That's one of the deficiencies of Morrison's paper. He seems to view Rev. West as orthodox. But it's understandable. West doesn't talk about his unitarianism in that sermon. And the Congregational Church where he preached had, or likely had, numerous Calvinists. Indeed, few understand that unitarian ministers in Founding era New England Congregational Churches placated the Calvinists by refusing to preach on the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines.

This was a Lockean solution, indeed a Lockean lowest-common-denominator of what it means to be a "Christian." Jesus is some kind of divinely special Messiah and Savior of Mankind. That was Locke's test for what it means to be a "Christian." "Divinely special" could mean fully divine Himself (2nd Person in the Trinity), some type of created and subordinate divine being (this is Arianism where Jesus is the first created being, more divinely powerful than the top archangel but inferior to his creator God the Father) or 100% man but on a uniquely divine mission, sent by the Father (this is Socinianism).

Indeed, Locke likely was a unitarian (his orthodox critics so accused him of being for positing an LCD understanding of Christianity that refused to distinguish between Trinitarianism and unitarianism) and West's sermon preaches Locke, heavily.

Samuel West's sermon is also heavy on the natural law/reason as trumping truth discovery. While he doesn't come out and say the Bible is fallible and man's reason trumps, he does say that revelation, in order to be true, MUST meet the test of reason. That was "right revelation." That is, TRUTH, like that men have an unalienable right to revolt against tyrants, is ascertainable from reason/nature alone. Indeed that's the first place men SHOULD look for metaphysical truth. Once found, go back to the Bible and MAKE the Bible fit with what man already discovered from reason, even if we have to conclude that the Apostles when they spoke were joking and didn't really mean what they said. That was West's hermeneutic, how he approached scripture, and especially Romans 13.

(Ready my original post; this is no shit. West claims that St. Paul may have been joking in Romans 13.)

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