Thursday, May 28, 2020

Frazer Responds to Van Dyke, Part II

Below is the second part of Gregg Frazer's response to Tom Van Dyke's post (The first part is here).


As I looked up Mayhew’s affirmation of Locke’s influence, I was reminded that Samuel Clarke was perhaps the greatest theological influence on Mayhew (apart from politics).  That, in turn, reminded me of the important gap in Mark’s thesis.  In Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic (in which he makes the lengthiest argument for “Reformed” influence), Mark points out that most preachers of the period were graduates of Harvard or Yale (p 28).  That works against his thesis and in favor of mine. 

As early as 1701, the belief that Harvard had forsaken the fundamentals of the [Reformed] faith was a key factor in the founding of Yale.  Pressure was brought to start a new college because congregations were complaining about the poor quality (in terms of orthodoxy) of ministers Harvard was producing.  Many churches remained orthodox, but the graduates they received from Harvard were humanistic rationalists.  Harvard had a “Satan’s bookshelf” of rationalist authors whose works were an essential part of Harvard’s intellectual milieu as early as 1723.  For 40 years, Harvard’s famed Dudleian lectures taught Harvard students that reason and natural religion were the core of religion. The last such lecture in 1799 was a defense of religion against atheism spawned by rationalism.

Ministerial graduates from Harvard found their alma mater a disadvantage because of its reputation.  According to Josiah Quincy’s History of Harvard University, the “most eminent” of the clergymen who “openly avowed … Arminianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Socinianism, and Deism” were alumni from Harvard.  Graduates said “the tendency of all classes was to skepticism” and testified of a prevailing “infidel and irreligious spirit.”  The theology professorship was vacant for a time and Harvard came to be regarded as an appropriate training ground only for unitarian pulpits.  In the 1740s, famed evangelist George Whitefield said: “As for the Universities, I believe it may be said, their Light is become Darkness” and he complained of the low state of religion among the clergy at both Harvard and Yale.  When he visited Harvard, Whitefield preached on the text “We are not as many who corrupt the Word of God” and applied its conclusion as a rebuke of the professors and students.  Similar descriptions and remarks were made about Yale from 1714 on by such luminaries as Samuel Johnson, Lyman Beecher, and Timothy Dwight.  When Dwight became president of Yale, he reported that “European rationalistic philosophers were popular and students considered it smart to be called by the name of some infidel.”

I could go on and on with this evidence – and I do in chapter three of The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders – but perhaps most important are the well-documented attacks on Calvinism leading up to the Revolutionary era.

Graduates from Harvard and Yale in the 18th century were studying Enlightenment rationalist authors, not Calvin or Beza, etc.  That is the reason they didn’t cite Beza or other Reformers; they cited what they knew – writers such as Locke.


Tom Van Dyke said...

I actually do prove it with numerous quotes from the “patriot” preachers in chapter three of The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders – including references to whole sections of sermons that are extensive direct quotations from Locke.

If you're going to participate in a discussion, Gregg, "read my book" will not do.

You should be anxious to provide our readers [and potential customers] with a taste of your evidence rather than insisting you made your case elsewhere.

You haven't made it here at American Creation in dozens of posts and comments, and you did not remotely make your case in this book

which I own.

And your premise is still questionable regardless: Just because Locke was cited does not mean that those ideas and arguments were not already part of the growing body of Christian/Protestant/"Calvinist" political theology.

Thank you for your lengthy rebuttal but it is unresponsive: You have not corrected or even addressed the core problem with your scholarly method:

The problem exhibited over and over in Gregg's method in this discussion is that he doesn't quote John Locke directly. Gregg asserts in his book God Against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy's Case against the American Revolution (American Political Thought) that "Mayhew's premises were Lockean."

The reader should assess this claim for himself. While Jonathan Mayhew is credited for getting the theological ball rolling, it is important to realize that that famous sermon, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers was given back in 1750, and his source authority is not John Locke, but the apostle Paul. In the text, God is mentioned 27 times, "the apostle" [Paul] 21 times, and the Devil/Satan 5 times. Locke is invoked zero times! Gregg is prudent to say Mayhew's "premises" are Lockean, but the text suggests that the premises are theological.


For all his criticism of Hall's use of "Christian," it is nowhere stated exactly what Gregg means by "Lockean," except by implication, non-Biblical. But this will not do: Even among the religious, the purpose of theology is to "tease out" what the Bible means, wants, permits, and bans.

And for the scholar with no sectarian dog in the fight, these are subjective judgments, injudiciable by scholars.

The floor is still yours. Make your case. Show us your Locke! You might get more people to buy your books. ;-)

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