Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fortenberry's Latest on Frazer and More on John Adams' Heterodoxy

Bill Fortenberry forwarded this along to me. It involves a letter John Adams wrote to fellow unitarian Francois or Francis Van der Kemp. Apparently there was a figure named Dupuis who was either an atheist or a deist who denied the possibility of special revelation. 

Adams thinks Dupuis is really smart and makes points that need answering. Adams makes clear he believes in special revelation and in Christianity founded on such.

The issue is whether Adams believes the Bible -- and given unitarians are Protestants, the Protestant canon -- though it contains true revelation, has nonetheless been corrupted and contains errors. Below quotes Dr. Gregg Frazer (Fortenberry's bete noire) discussing Adams' quotation:
His theistic rationalism, like that of the other key Founders, was a sort of middle ground between protestantism and deism. For example, his complaint that “millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation” to make “the most bloody religion that ever existed” would not please either camp.  Deists could not countenance the recognition of legitimate revelation, and Christians would not appreciate either the characterization of parts of Scripture as “fables, tales, legends” or the use of the “most bloody religion” label.
You can read Fortenberry's link that features the original exchange between Adams and Van der Kemp and make up your mind for yourself.

Fortenberry tries to argue of Adams that this exchange (or apparently anything else Adams wrote) does not reveal he thought the Bible had errors. I think Frazer's analysis is correct.

In the exchange of letters Adams notes as he did numerous times that he thought there were "corruptions" of Christianity that needed to be purged. The unitarian Joseph Priestley coined that term and he defined the corruptions as follows: 1. Original Sin; 2. The Trinity; 3. The Incarnation; 4. The Atonement; and 5. Plenary Inspiration of the biblical canon. 

Adams may not have agreed exactly with Priestley (or Jefferson or anyone else). Though the connection is relevant because these unitarians thought of themselves as continuing in the tradition of Protestant reformers. They just didn't think the original reformers went far enough. Now in the age of Enlightenment, Christianity ought to reform further in that direction.  

Fortenberry attempts to punt with an answer I've often seen: When the founders talked smack about problems in Christianity, they were referring to Roman Catholicism only. 

This is an error with a kernel of truth. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church typified everything that was corrupt, superstitious and violent about "Christianity." But Protestants also had those problems. And indeed, those problems, as the narrative goes, derived from the Catholic Church that the original reformers didn't satisfactorily purge. The Trinity, for instance, is labeled a Roman Catholic fabrication. 

And yes, the Protestant canon itself contains corruptions. I've noted before Adams discussing what he saw as "error[s]" and "amendment[s]."
When and where originated our Ten Commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered.

If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during or after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or Amendment might come in there. 
-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 14, 1813.
Much more demonstrates that texts Protestants view as canonical John Adams thought corrupted. I will provide a bit. Below are two smoking gun quotations where Adams criticizes the King James Bible. Pay special attention to the second one where Adams discusses his thoughts on the different "canons."
We have now, it seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James's Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity, than to propagate these corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America! 
-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 4, 1816.
What do you call “The Bible”? The Translation by King James the first? More than half a Catholick.? ... “The Bible a Rule of Faith.”! What Bible? King James’s? The Hebrew? The Septuagint,? The Vulgate? The Bibles now translated or translating into Chinese, Indian, Negro and all the other Languages of Europe Asia and Affrica? Which of the thirty thousand Variantia are the Rule of Faith? 
-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.
This fits my thesis that Roman Catholicism, to men like Adams, was the source of the problem, but much of what Protestantism embraced, like the canon of the King James Bible, was corrupted by Roman Catholicism.

(On a different note, Adams' letter to JQA, dated 3/28/1816 has a lot more to it. There Adams explicitly rejects the orthodox Protestant doctrine of justification by faith or faith alone in favor of a works based justification scheme. Plus more. Perhaps later we will do an in depth exploration of it.)


Bill Fortenberry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jonathan Rowe said...

You are again engaging in your specialty which is to throw a red herring.

The potential "corruptions" with which BOTH Adams AND Priestley disagreed with whatever sects of "Christianity" that then existed are potentially limitless.

It could get into the hundreds, perhaps thousands of points.

But I named five principle ones that Priestley rejected: 1. Original Sin; 2. The Trinity; 3. The Incarnation; 4. The Atonement, and 5. the Plenary Inspiration of the biblical canon.

Roman Catholicism, by the way, endorses all 5. So perhaps you are right when you note Adams was disagreeing with Roman Catholic dogma, provided we make clear such dogma is 1-5 which many Protestants also hold dear.

Adams without question rejected 2 and 3. I demonstrated, in my original piece, that Adams rejected 5. I'm fairly certain Adams rejected 1 (I have a quotation about Adam and Eve & the apple which suggests this).

And if Adams believed in 4, it was in an unorthodox understanding of the doctrine compatible with his works based justification scheme.

Also, as I intimated in my original piece, these unitarians were too freethinking to be pure disciples of one another and follow each-other lock, stock and barrel.

Priestley coined the term "corruptions of Christianity." Adams had a great deal of respect for and followed Priestley on many matters. But he also had disagreements with Priestley. As did Jefferson who loved Priestley. Priestley actually believed the Book of Revelation was inspired and thought it fortold the coming success of the French Revolution. Jefferson on the other hand, thought it was the delusions of a raving madman.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Ooops. Sorry Bill. You can retype your comment if you feel like it. I meant to delete MY comment I made as I was correcting it for typos.

sbh said...

Charles François Dupuis was an astronomer and a proponent of Mythicism—the concept that Jesus never actually existed and that some kind of mythological figure. His work, Origine de tous les Cultes, ou la Réligion Universelle (in twelve volumes), apparently argued for a common origin for the astronomical and religious myths of all nations. (It's been on my books-to-read list for years, but I've never more than glanced at it so far.) John Adams started reading it in 1816, and by 4 November had read eight of the twelve volumes (as he wrote Thomas Jefferson).

Art Deco said...

nd given unitarians are Protestants,

No. Derived from protestantism, perhaps, but not protestants.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Jon, let's see if we can clear up a historical error that you, Frazer, and several other historians seem to have accepted. You've claimed on several occasions (as you did again here) that Priestley coined the phrase "corruptions of Christianity," and most of the historians that I've read who have discussed the use of this phrase by the founders seem to be of the same opinion. However, a simple Google search will reveal that this phrase was in use before Priestley was born, and that its use became prominent before Priestley's first publication of the phrase in 1775. Here are the instances of this phrase which I found online:

He was too good a Christian to be inclin'd to Popery; his whole life carried along with it a continual confutation of this calumny, which was properly retorted on the objectors, who in rebelling against thir Prince acted against Protestant principles; and in the end promoted the interest of that Church, which subsists upon the corruptions of Christianity.

John Burton; The Principles of Christian Loyalty: A Sermon Preached before the University of Oxford at St. Mary's on Monday, Jan. 31. 1742-3; Printed in 1749


I am fully convinced, that if a Sect of Sceptick Philosophers (who profess to doubt every thing) had been then among us, and mingled their Tenets with some Corruptions of Christianity, they might have obtained the same Priviledge.

Jonathan Swift, The history of the last session of Parliament: and of the Peace of Utrecht, 1713; Printed in 1758


He had very sadly and very long experienced the effects of bigotry among protestants; which led him to expose indolence, inattention, prejudice, sensuality, and superstition, as the grand sources of the corruptions of christianity, as well as of the deplorable darkness of human reason.

Caleb Fleming, A sermon [on Acts xi, 23, 24] on occasion of the death of the late Reverend James Foster, 1753


I shall not take notice of the gross corruptions of christianity, which have taken place in the church of Rome, with regard to this point.

... From what I have observed, I think, it plainly appears, that the forementioned doctrines ... are repugnant to truth; and that they are corruptions of Christianity.

Thomas Chubbs, An Enquiry Concerning the Grounds and Reasons, or What those principles are, on which two of our anniversary solemnities are founded, 1732


Nay, some of these, on whom the principles both of natural and revealed religion seem to have sat easy enough, more than insinuate, that, as he transfused into the Koran all the essentials, without any of the corruptions of Christianit, his religious system seems at least as worthy of God as that of the Gospel, if he was not the last great prophet sent to perfect even the dispensation of Jesus himself.

A Complete History of the Arabs, 1761


But, however we may wish to see the earlier disseminators of the true faith clared from this charge of duplicity, it is certain that the Christian churches of Rome and Constantinople must for ever remain under that reproach: and it is not easy to determine, precisely, from what period of time we are to date those corruptions of Christianity which are its bane, -- its indelible scandal, -- and the great obstructors of its progress.

Richard Chandler, "Travels in Asia Minor," 1775; Printed in 1776


Bill Fortenberry said...

The corruptions of Christianity, considered as a monument of the truth of the Gospel History

...For the nature of religion itself renders it, even in its most perfect form, liable to be corrupted. The wickedness of some prompts them to make gain of godliness; and the weakness of others exposes them to be deceived. All of these circumstances more especially concurred to help forward the corruptions of Christianity. For in the ages wherein they took place, most of the disciples of this religion were grosly ignorant of its doctrines: The generality of mankind had an extreme propensity to idolatry: The leaders of the Christian sect, animated more by ambition than zeal, strove to render their worship agreeable to the heathens. In prosecution of this design, a new species of idolatry was substituted in place of the old: And by degrees, such a horrible fabric of iniquity was reared, as cannot fail to shock all who have just notions of Christianity.

James Macknight, The Truth of the Gospel History Shewed in Three Boks, 1763


And if we expand our search to include all references to corruptions within the church, the list becomes even longer and stretches even further back in history.

For example, Gregory Hascard wrote in 1685 of the "Papal corruptions," "the corruptions of Rome," "corruptions in their religion," and the Romish corruptions." (https://books.google.com/books?id=xUA3AAAAMAAJ&pg=PT6)

There was a book published in 1612 with the title "A Treatise of the Corruption of Scripture, Councels, and Fathers, by the Prelates, Pastors, and Pillars of the Church of Rome, for maintenance of Popery and irreligion" (https://books.google.com/books?id=zoVLAAAAcAAJ&pg=PP15)

And another in 1719 with a similar title of "A Vindication of the Church of England from the Errors and Corruptions of the Church of Rome." The author of this book, George Bull defined the corruptions of Rome in this manner:

And what are these corruptions, but unsound adjections from the ancient structure of religion? These we cannot but oppose, and therefore are unjustly and imperiously asserted.

In making this statement, Bull was quoting an older book entitled "The Olde Religion" which was published by Joseph Hall in 1686. Hall also wrote:

This doctrine therefore of Papal Indulgences, as it led the way to the farther discovery of the corruptions of the degenerated Church of Rome, so it still continues justly branded with novelty and errour, and may not be admitted into our belief.

And, of course, Isaac Backus once quoted a statement that John Cotton made in the 17th century about Roger Williams. Cotton said:

For if he had not looked upon himself as one that had a clearer illumination and apprehension of the stat of Christ's Kingdom ... he would never have taken upon him, as usually his manner was, to give public advertisement and admonition ... of the corruptions of religion.

Isaac Backus, A History of New England, 1777


I hope that we can put this error completely to rest now. Priestley's use of the phrase "corruptions of Christianity" was neither novel nor especially efficacious. He was just one of many theologians who used the phrase throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. We cannot simply take Priestley's list of the corruptions of Christianity and assert as Frazer does that any founder who used this phrase must have held the same view of those corruptions as Priestley. This is especially true of Adams who, as I previously pointed out, specifically declared that the Acta Sanctorum (a collection of legends about the saints of the Catholic church) was a better source of information on the corruptions of Christianity than the writings of Joseph Priestley.

Jonathan Rowe said...

You may well be correct that Priestley didn't coin the term that earlier Protestants and Christian Deists (like Thomas Chubb!) used it in their attempts to continue reforming what they saw as "error" -- going beyond what Luther, Calvin and the others did.

However this is still wrong:

"Priestley's use of the phrase 'corruptions of Christianity' was neither novel nor especially efficacious."

Priestley popularized the phrase. It's likely Adams learned it from Priestley. Do a word count on how much Adams uses "joseph priestley" or "priestly" and compare it how much he discusses the author of Acta Sanctorum and you will see that I am right.

Even if Adams did say that such presented a stronger case for exposing Christianity's corruptions than Priestley's, it's an error to conclude Adams issues with the "corruptions" of Christianity were limited to Roman Catholicism and not, say orthodox Protestant dogma (I don't know much about Acta Sanctorum or its author; I'll have to research more before I can comment on how he thought Christianity corrupted).

The simple fact is, that I reported above, Adams' list of "corruptions" were almost if not identical to Priestley's big 5.

This can be difficult because as noted, much of orthodox Protestantism Adams blames on the Roman Catholic Church. He considered the Trinity a Roman Catholic false doctrine.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I pretty much endorse Jonathan's argument here, in toto.

To Gregg

His theistic rationalism, like that of the other key Founders, was a sort of middle ground between protestantism and deism.

and Art Deco

and given unitarians are Protestants

No. Derived from protestantism, perhaps, but not protestants.

I would argue that they are a necessary product of the Reformation. I've been trying to find a [re-]find a quote from Luther's right-hand man Philipp Melanchthon to that effect, that Michael Servetus's questioning of the Trinity [the return of Arianism] was inevitable after the Reformation nullified the [Catholic] Church's magisterial authority to define and interpret scripture.

The fact is that the Trinity is not explicitly in the Bible--it is Tradition with a capital "T," which the Church maintains is part of Divine Truth, not "solely" the Bible, as Luther, etc. maintained. "Protestantism" created this mess.

This gets to be a theological or ecclesial question more than a historical one, but as much as "mainstream" Protestants argue that they are empowered to define Christianity, I am forced to ask, empowered by whom, by what?

Who gets to define what is "Protestant" and what is not?

As for John Adams, let me point out again that no matter what its corruptions, John Adams believed that the Bible was divine revelation, not the work of men. In a passage where he condemns Thomas Paine's "deism," Adams writes


The Christian Religion as I understand it, is the Brightness of the Glory and the express Portrait of the Character of the eternal, self existent independant benevolent all powerful and all mercifull Creator, Preserver, and Father of the Universe: the first good, first perfect and first fair. It will last as long as the World. Neither Savage nor civilized Man without a Revelation could ever have discovered or invented it. Ask me not then whether I am a Catholic or Protestant, Calvinist or Arminian? As far as they are Christians, I wish to be a Fellow Disciple with them all.

If Gregg can call himself a Christian, so can Adams.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks Tom. It's interesting to read Adams' language in these letters, which I like you suspect he wrote while imbibing, but that's just speculation.

Adams is a fan of critical study of the texts. He doesn't side with the deists who want to debunk the concept of special revelation. He also doesn't firmly commit himself to certain answers on which texts are true and false, and how to properly understand them.

Rather he engages in a lot of suspicion and suspecting. And then claims he's too old and tired to do the heavy lifting to make firm commitments on the matter. But he loves reading the works of others who do and commenting on their commentaries.

Jonathan Rowe said...

For instance, to Jefferson endorsing his "Jefferson Bible" effort:

Nov. 14, 1813:

"I admire your Employment, in selecting the Philosophy and Divinity of Jesus and seperating it from all intermixtures. If I had Eyes and Nerves, I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand."

Tom Van Dyke said...

We could say they were more Protestant than Luther.

Mark D. said...

First, John A. was somewhat restrained in his religious views because of Abigail A. She was very much a Protestant Christian, of the Unitarian sort, but of the kind of Unitarian sort that was far more common then than now: a Unitarian who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that the Bible was special revelation. To take Tom's phrase above as a starting point, these Unitarians thought that Luther and Calvin hadn't gone far enough to purify Christianity of its various (alleged) errors and additions. They weren't trying to get rid of the Bible and Christianity, they were, in their minds, trying to save and purify and free it from its errors. So, Abigail, who was a formidable woman, likely kept old John in check on this account. Thomas J. had no such force in his life, Martha being long dead, and Sally, alas, being held in servile bondage and regarded as property, probably didn't dare say anything to him.

One thing that I think can be a little big shocking for those of us of Catholic affiliation to appreciate is just how much certain key founders -- John A. & Thomas J. front and center, but as John Jay among others -- really hated Catholicism. John Jay didn't want Catholics to be able to vote. John A. & Thomas J. thought that Catholicism was nothing but a nest of priestcraft and superstition. There were other founders more broadminded -- Washington, Hamilton, Benjamin Rush -- but the undercurrent of real revulsion regarding Catholicism lasts well into the No-Nothing period in the 19th century. Religious bigotry might not have been given sanction in the law, but it was alive and well in the founding period and beyond.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One thing that I think can be a little big shocking for those of us of Catholic affiliation to appreciate is just how much certain key founders -- John A. & Thomas J. front and center, but as John Jay among others -- really hated Catholicism.

FTR, not me. Anti-Catholicism is part of what made America great.

No, I mean that. I was just reading the Catholic Tocqueville and not only was the French Revolution murderously [genocidally!] ruthless in overturning the ancien regime, but when they swung back to Napoleon and empire, they instituted a regime far worse than the monarchy had ever been! They just couldn't shake authoritarianism for a true republic of the people of the Anglo-American sort.

The one thing that's always missed in the culture war aspect is that "religion" and "church" were entirely 2 separate entities, yet much of our "separation of church and state" talk treats them interchangeably.

The most "enlightened" of the founders despised clerics and ecclesial establishments, but religion--"divine revelation"--was a related but separate matter, and they were as "Protestant" as they come in elevating the individual's discernment to theo-social primacy.

For the rest, their "mainline" Protestantism [say, John Jay's] was theologically pretty similar to Catholicism, despite their belief they had purged it of grave Romish errors. But when you compare their niggling differences today, most Protestants and Catholics should probably wonder what all the damn fuss was about.


Bill Fortenberry said...


Why is it likely that Adams learned the phrase from Priestley? Wouldn't it be more likely that he learned it from Swift whose use of that phrase was included in every publication of his works and whom Adams had read long before he ever mentioned Priestley? Giving such credit to Priestley is purely suppositional.

You asked me to search how many times Adams refered to Priestley as evidence for the claim that Adams learned the phrase from him, but let me propose a better solution. Suppose, instead, that we search for every use that Adams made of the actual phrase in question.

As far as I have been able to tell, Adams only wrote the phrase "corruptions of Christianity" on seven occasions. Of those seven, only three of them are references to Priestley's work. Of those three, Adams presents Priestley in a negative light in every single one of them; and in two of those three, Adams presented the Acta Sanctorum as a better source than Priestley for information on the corruptions of Christianity.

I am not aware of a single piece of direct evidence which proves that Adams used the phrase "corruptions of Christianity" to mean the same thing that Priestley meant when he used that phrase. The best argument that can be presented for that claim is the argument that the phrase was coined by Priestley. Now that this argument has been proven false, you've shifted to the ad hoc modification that "It's likely Adams learned it from Priestley," but this is mere supposition on your part. There is no reason to assume that Adams was referring to the work of Priestley every time that he mentioned the corruptions of Christianity.

Bill Fortenberry said...

The quote which you provided of Adams mentioning errors and ammendments in Deuteronomy is not adequate for your claim that he viewed the Protestant canon as corrupt, and it is certainly not adequate to prove that Adams denied plenary inspiration. Adams' comment regarding Deuteronomy was a hypothetical supposition based on claims made in a book that he desired to read.

Adams had heard of Goethe's Ritual Decalogue theory, and he asked Jefferson if he had ever heard of it. Adams then wrote out what he had heard of Goethe's theory which included the claim that the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled during the Babylonian captivity. Given the fact that Adams began this section by expressing a desire to read Goethe's book and the fact that Adams' supposition at the end of the section is identical to one of the main arguments in Goethe's book, I think that there is at least a possibility that he was merely informing Jefferson of Goethe's argument and not necessarily giving his own view of the issue.

When we add to this possibility the fact that Adams repeatedly praised the Ten Commandments and treated them as if he viewed them as direct revelation from God, I think that this possibility becomes very likely. If you'll notice, the letter in which Adams mentions Goethe's theory was written in 1813. However, in an 1816 letter to his son, Adams seemed to fully accept the Decalogue as revelation. He even went so far as to write that "Philosophy and theology must submit to the Decalogue..." (http://www.increasinglearning.com/blog/john-adams-on-the-authority-of-the-sermon-on-the-mount)

Jonathan Rowe said...


If you put the term "corruptions of Christianity" into google, this is the first site that shows up. Likewise most of it is on Priestley. A similar non-digital kind of "meme" sharing existed then. Priestley wrote a book with that title that was popular among the "dissenters" in England and America like Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin. Adams admits he read the book and was intimately familiar with it.


Again do a word count on how many times Joseph Priestley's name comes up in Adams' personal letter, and we will see that my supposition is a plausible one.

On the other hand, in reviewing the evidence, it appears that John Adams hadn't even read the Acta Sanctorum until 1815, very late in the game. If Adams used the phrase corruptions of Christianity before that time period we couldn't credit that book for what Adams meant.

But let's not lose sight of what we are arguing here. Joseph Priestley's bit 5 corruptions: 1. Original Sin; 2. The Trinity; 3. The Incarnation; 4. The Atonement; and 5. Plenary Inspiration of Scripture.

Adams bitterly rejected 2-3 and in fact called 3 the source of Christianity's corruptions. I can pull the quote out about Eve's apple where he appears to reject 1. If he believed in 4, it was in an extremely unorthodox version of the doctrine that fit with his good works justification scheme.

So is it 5 that's at issue? I haven't just presented one thing on 5; I have presented a bunch of things. Holistically it appears that Adams does not believe in it.

Nov. 14, 1813:

"I admire your Employment, in selecting the Philosophy and Divinity of Jesus and seperating it from all intermixtures. If I had Eyes and Nerves, I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand."

What do you think an "intermixure" is, especially when used in the context of discussing Jefferson's bible effort? He also used words like "interpolation."

He is on record as stating he thinks the King James Bible has been corrupted.

So which Protestant bible then wasn't corrupted and where is the evidence that this was Adams' method of operation?

The Geneva Bible? Adams liked Ponet, that much we know. But didn't like Calvinism or the artifice of Trinitarianism he termed "Athanasianism." Calvinism certainly qualifies as such. In fact in the letter to his son who had just begun to embrace Calvinism, he invokes the Acta Sanctorum to "judge" the Athanasian Creed as corrupted.

And in that letter we also see Adams discussing the Bible. That would seem a perfect place for the elder Adams to discuss which translations he thought not corrupted. But instead we get:

"What do you call “The Bible”? The Translation by King James the first? More than half a Catholick.? ... “The Bible a Rule of Faith.”! What Bible? King James’s? The Hebrew? The Septuagint,? The Vulgate? The Bibles now translated or translating into Chinese, Indian, Negro and all the other Languages of Europe Asia and Affrica? Which of the thirty thousand Variantia are the Rule of Faith?"

If you see this and the other passages I've presented as Adams affirming an infallible and inerrant Protestant bible, I think you are hallucinating.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Okay, Jon. I accepted your challenge and even took it a step further. I didn't just do a word count of how many times Adams referenced Priestley in his letters. I created a collection of all of those references arranged chronologically in a single document. After reading all of them I still have to disagree with you. The entire collection can be summarized in Adams' own words. In a letter to his son, John Quincy, Adams wrote of Priestley that:

His Judgment Reasoning and Eloquence are not always to be envied: but his Industry, Research, and compilations may be as usefull as they are admirable.

The vast majority of Adams’ comments regarding Priestly were either non-committal or negative. His few positive comments were mostly related to Priestley’s bare knowledge of historical facts as opposed to his reasoning and conclusions. And, far from Priestley being “the authority in religious matters” as Frazer claimed, Adams frequently included Priestley in his lists of ignorant philosophers and theologians.

You can read the entire collection on my blog at:

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

I've gotten through about 1/3 of them. I'm sure we could go through all 90 and disagree on how to categorize each one: positive, negative or "non-committal." I see it as on balance positive. In fact I see the quotation you offered above as on balance positive.

Two themes themes that come up for criticizing are

1. Idea of the perfectibility of man, which has biblical support in Matthew 5:48 and 2. belief in the biblical prophecy from including the Book of Revelation foretelling the success of the French Revolution.

I think Adams had a bigger problem with the later.

These aren't what I would categorize as Priestley's core doctrines. Though Richard Price if I am not mistaken believed in both.

As I noted before I on balance support Frazer's work, but also not without qualification. Instead of naming Priestley as guru, rather I would have included Priestley as notable figure in a cohort of British contemporaries including Richard Price and Benjamin Vaughan. These are the "dissenters" in Britain that Franklin invoked to Ezra Stiles who had "doubts" about Jesus' divinity and were members of the Club of Honest Whigs. I would have explored their beliefs as a cohort and noted the parallels with those of the "theistic rationalists."

The other divines that Frazer names -- though important -- tend to be somewhat more older mentors. These figures are more so their contemporaries.