UU Minute #66

Six Theological Disputes

I read today from our UUA curriculum, “Faith Like a River”:
William Ellery Channing was weary of having the epithet "Unitarian" flung at him in disdain. Ever since Henry Ware had been elected to the Hollis Professorship of Divinity at Harvard College, the temperature of public debate between orthodox and liberal factions of New England's Standing Order Churches had risen. Many theological points were at issue.

[1]. The turn to liberalism in New England churches had begun with the unitarian notion of the singular, or unitary, nature of God, antithetical to the trinitarian understanding of God as three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

[2]. But soon the debate widened. Was God a benevolent and loving presence that wanted the best for all humanity, or, as in Calvinist orthodoxy, a wrathful and exacting God?

[3]. The liberals called into question the orthodox idea of the elect, the notion that some are saved and others damned.

[4]. Soon the controversy encompassed not only the nature of God, but also the nature of Jesus. Was Jesus fully divine, or fully human, or partly each?

[5]. Religious people debated the question of human nature — were humans good, and capable of distinguishing right and wrong, as the liberals believed; or, as in the orthodox view, were humans depraved, and captive to sin?

[6]. And reason—where did that fit in? The orthodox insisted that the Bible alone was the valid basis for religious knowledge, while liberals maintained that the use of God-given reason and conscience was needed along with revelation.

With Ware's election in 1805 to head Harvard College, the liberals had taken control of the primary training ground of New England's ministers. This caused great dismay among the more orthodox.

NEXT: The 1819 Baltimore Sermon: Making the Case for Reason

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