By J. Rixey Ruffin
William Bentley, pastor in Salem, Massachusetts from 1783 to his demise in 1819, used to be not like a person else in America's founding new release, for he had come to particular conclusions approximately how most sensible to keep up a standard realizing of Christianity in a global ever altering by way of the forces of the Enlightenment. Like a few of his contemporaries, Bentley preached a liberal Christianity, with its benevolent God and salvation via ethical residing, yet he-and in New England he alone-also preached a rational Christianity, one who provided new and radical claims concerning the energy of God and the attributes of Jesus. Drawing on over 1000 of Bentley's sermons, J. Rixey Ruffin strains the evolution of Bentley's theology. Neither liberal nor deist, Bentley was once as an alternative what Ruffin calls a "Christian naturalist," a believer within the biblical God and within the crucial Christian narrative but additionally in God's unwillingness to intrude in nature after the Resurrection. In adopting the sort of place, Bentley had driven his religion so far as he may possibly towards rationalism whereas nonetheless, he proposal, calling it Christianity. yet this ebook is as a lot a social and political historical past of Salem within the early republic because it is an highbrow biography; it not just delineates Bentley's principles, yet probably extra very important, it unravels their social and political results. utilizing Bentley's amazing diary and an enormous archive of newspaper debts, tax files, and electoral returns, Ruffin brings to lifestyles the sailors, widows, captains and retailers who lived with Bentley within the japanese parish of Salem. A Paradise of cause is a learn of the highbrow and tangible results of rational faith in mercantile Salem, of theology and philosophy but in addition of ideology: of the social politics of race and sophistication and gender, the ecclesiastical politics of multinational and dissent, the ideological politics of republicanism and classical liberalism, and the celebration politics of Federalism and Democratic-Republicanism. In bringing to gentle the interesting lifestyles and regarded one in every of early New England's finest ancient figures, Ruffin bargains a clean standpoint at the formative negotiations among Christianity and the Enlightenment within the years of America's founding.
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Extra info for A Paradise of Reason: William Bentley and Enlightenment Christianity in the Early Republic
Barnard was getting along swimmingly with his church, Prince’s prospects looked bright, and neither considered the time to be one of degeneracy or wickedness. ’’35 But Diman’s ministry was no joking matter either to him or to the members of the East Church. He refused their formal request that he step down but did agree, in April of 1783, to audit possible assistants. Bentley was their ﬁrst choice. He would preach for a few months on a trial basis, and if members liked what they heard, they would extend a call for him to join the church, undergo ordination, and assume the duties of assistant pastor.
Perhaps it was Bentley’s tutorship; the East had long been stuck with Diman while the liberal churches called one prestigious pastor after another, and now, in 1783, easterners ﬂush with privateering success wanted a minister who reﬂected their new sophistication. 37 But easterners knew, too, that Bentley was no Thomas Barnard born into and for the elites, and perhaps there in that knowledge lay his true appeal. For though Bentley was a tutor, he was their kind of tutor, raised in a mariners’ neighborhood and sympathetic to the needs of seafaring parishioners.
But when the listeners at Salem’s East Church came to choose between the two men, they did so not over their respective soteriologies—beliefs about salvation—but instead over their sacramental policies. Under Diman’s long tenure, Communion had been offered only to those individuals who had experienced what the observer had called the New Birth, that instant infusion of grace that erases sin and confers membership in a universal, invisible church. Only individuals who had done so were worthy of the reafﬁrmation of godliness conferred by Communion.