Shapers of English Calvinism

Dewey D. Wallace, Jr.

Shapers of English Calvinism, 1660-1714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011

358pp     ISBN: 978-0-19-974483-1     £45  Hbk

Having already written elsewhere about John Owen, one of the towering figures in the 17th century Calvinist heritage, Dewey Wallace turns his attention in this nuanced and detailed study to five other representatives of the diverse Reformed constituency of late Stuart England. The book focuses on some less familiar variations of Reformed thought, such as the mystical Calvinism of Peter Sterry, the “ancient theology” of the exceptionally erudite Theophilus Gale, and the natural theology of moderates such as William Bates and John Howe.

The book also explores the evangelical Calvinism of Joseph Alleine, as well as (and perhaps more interestingly) how the later hagiographic image of him was constructed; “Oh with what Exstasie and Ravishments of Spirit did he flie away into the Bosom of his Saviour!” said his funeral sermon (p. 147), while others spoke of his humility, piety, and steadfastness as a Puritan martyr amidst persecution. Each of the subjects of this volume represent spiritual trajectories that have long continued in English-speaking Protestantism, though they are also chosen for being somewhat idiosyncratic in themselves. Collectively, Wallace tells us, “they show a diversity of creative adaptations of the Calvinist impulse in a changing era” (p.8).

It is especially refreshing to have here an exploration of the thought of John Edwards of Cambridge, who was very much a Church of England Calvinist in an age when Calvinism has often been thought (quite erroneously) to have fallen off the edge of the Anglican map. It cannot have helped his cause that his near-namesake Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) turned out to be one of America’s most significant theologians and philosophers and has accordingly grabbed all the subsequent attention. It is a delight that someone has been able to distinguish them and give the older John, who was a significant spokesman for Reformed Anglicanism in his day, a new lease of life. That being said, it is fascinating to note that Edwards promoted a transformed moderate version of Reformed theology, not a carbon copy of Owenism, and “oscillated between the attempt to make Calvinism more winsome and a querulous defensiveness about it” (p. 240).

Regrettably, Wallace passes rather too quickly over the excellent recent work of Stephen Hampton into the Anglican Reformed tradition of this period, and shows no signs of appreciating its significance for any appraisal of post-Restoration “Anti-Arminianism.” If one of the strengths of Wallace’s book is that it rightly recognises the variety within Calvinism generally, it is unfortunate that he does not make more of the multiplicity of genuinely Anglican ways to sit in the wide stream of thought which is Reformed theology.

Personally, I find it irritating and inconvenient to be forced to flick to the back of a book all the time in order to find the endnotes. But for those who are not so insatiably curious about sources, finer details, and interesting asides, Wallace’s style in the main text makes this a meaty but pleasurable read, and demonstrates yet again that Reformed theology has always been about more than simply predestination.

This review first appeared in the journal Theology 115.4 (July/August 2012).

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