UU Minute #57

Charles Chauncy

Charles Chauncy served the prominent First Church of Boston for 60 years: 35 as assistant minister and another 25 as senior minister.

His support of the American Revolution in sermons and pamphlets led him to be called "theologian of the American Revolution".

Born into the elite Puritan merchant class that ruled Boston, Chauncy came to oppose the Great Awakening and spoke out against religious enthusiasm stirred up by revival preachers.

1. Despite his Puritan heritage, Chauncy rejected Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity, and argued that human beings have God-given "natural powers" that were meant to be nurtured toward "an actual likeness to God in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness".

2. Chauncy and other more-liberal Congregationalists emphasized reason, though not exclusively. They advocated a "supernatural rationalism" that affirmed both reason and divine revelation as contained in the Bible.

3. Chauncy’s Christology was kenotic – from the Greek word kenosis – meaning the act of emptying. In Christian theology, kenosis is the "self-emptying" of Jesus' own will, becoming entirely receptive to God's divine will.

One key question is: when did the self-emptying happen? If Jesus’ will was emptied out from the beginning of time, then kenosis doesn’t contradict standard trinitarianism. Unitarians such as Joseph Priestley had argued that the kenosis happened in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus did not resist arrest. That’s when his own will emptied and Jesus became the embodiment of complete receptivity to divine will.

Charles Chauncy wasn’t clear on when he thought the kenosis happened, so, while most scholars interpret Chauncy as having an Arian Christology, there are some scholars who take him to have remained a Trinitarian. Nevertheless, he was a leader of clergy in the Boston area that were edging toward Unitarianism.

NEXT: Charles Chauncy, Universalist, and Jonathan Mayhew, Unitarian

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