Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Frazer replies to Babka

Jim Babka was one of the folks who criticized my post Was the American Revolution Consistent with Calvinism? which drew largely from Dr. Gregg Frazer's thesis. Frazer has replied to Babka in an email to me which I've reproduced below, and he left a comment at Postive Liberty's website.

Jim, while I cannot speak for Jon, it seems to me that his point was that one must move away from Calvin (whether to Arminianism or Unitarianism) in order to support revolution. Also, while Baptists and Methodists and others played a role in the Revolution, they were minority groups. The key for the revolutionaries was to find a way around Calvinism (because it was the majority theology – particularly in the hotbed of New England) in order to fill the ranks of the revolutionary armies.

Second, I find your suggestion that I Samuel 8 and Acts 5:29 provide evidence for political liberty as a biblical concept puzzling. In I Samuel 8, the people reject God as their ruler and demand an earthly king. God lets them have a king, but spends the bulk of chapter 8 warning them of the dire consequences. Political liberty? Where? In Acts 5:29, Peter and the apostles refuse to quit preaching the Gospel (as they did previously in 4:19-20); but they make no claims of political liberty and organize no rebellion. In fact, they make it clear that they are under the authority of the Council by affirming its authority to judge their actions (4:19) and by submitting to the punishment prescribed (flogging) in 5:40. No one demands any rights or appeals to political liberty or calls for rebellion – quite the contrary.

Third, while the Adams quote from Jon is indeed “solitary and unspecific,” a specific account of all of the evidence for the long-time influence of prominent and influential Unitarians would require much more space and time than any blogger is likely to invest. If you want to see lots of specific evidence, check out chapter 7 of my dissertation. There I spend 90 pages recounting the influence of Unitarian ministers such as Jonathan Mayhew, Ebenezer Gay, Charles Chauncy, and others. To be fair, I don’t think Jon suggested that one must be Unitarian to strenuously disagree with Calvinism or to emphasize reason. He merely pointed out (accurately, I might add) that the people he was talking about were Unitarian and anti-Calvinist and that their Unitarianism facilitated opposition to Calvinism and an over-emphasis on reason.

Finally, I don’t think Jon (or I) asserted that Calvin’s view of the Bible is more biblical than the others you mention. The point was that: a) Calvin’s view was the majority view in the century leading up to the Revolution and, therefore, had to be removed as an obstacle in order to get majority support; b) that Calvin’s view was more biblical than that of the Unitarians and/or theistic rationalists; and c) that many of the patriotic ministers (those who were theistic rationalists) were much more concerned with what Locke said than what the Bible said. They quoted Locke far more frequently (and accurately) than they did Scripture.

As to the remarks about Rutherford: while it is true that Rutherford developed similar ideas and that reconstructionists today are enthralled with him – there is no evidence that the American revolutionaries had read Rutherford. They didn’t quote Rutherford or cast arguments in his language. Personal library lists do not find Lex Rex on their shelves. They DID quote Locke EXTENSIVELY and authoritatively. Further evidence that they were not influenced by (familiar with) Rutherford is the fact that Mayhew made such a splash by making the same basic arguments as Rutherford. Mayhew was hailed as the “Morning Gun of the Revolution” for removing the Calvinist obstacle – why would that be such a big accomplishment if they already were versed in Rutherford? By the way, who says that Rutherford influenced Locke? Did Locke say so? We have evidence linking Locke to Shaftesbury and to Hooker, but not to Rutherford (as far as I know). It seems to me that Rutherford was fairly obscure in his day and that he’s much more influential today than he was in the 17th or 18th centuries.

Gregg Frazer


Tom Van Dyke said...

The paper below argues there were two main strains of Calvinism in America, each finding their own way to be pro-revolution.


Moreover, Locke's parents ran in the same Puritan-Calvinist circles as Rutherford. Even if they weren't personally acquainted [I haven't found out], it seems unlikely Locke was unacquainted with at least the principles in Lex, Rex

Further, the internet tells me Jefferson references this Puritan Revolution-era [1642, pre-Locke] document as a "precedent" for the D of I


and it indeed appears he clipped language from it in one or two places.

Locke and Jefferson may have indeed "secularized" the currents of Puritan thought, but the notions of self-government, the illegitimacy of bad kings, and that sovereignty rested with the people, not the ruler, were well on their way through the religious thinkers.

[Aquinas and the "Schoolmen" got there first of course, as the erudite Algernon Sidney freely admitted.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

I don't think (I may be wrong) that Jefferson ever cited Lex Rex. I'd like to see the citation.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jefferson cited in his autobiography as "precedent" the "Declaration to Justify Their Proceedings and
Resolutions to Take Up Arms" of August 4, 1642, during what is now called the "Puritan Revolution" in Britain.


Sorry if I was unclear.

[If I can believe the internet. As this is a comments section and not my own formal post, I didn't double-check whether it's indeed in TJ's autobio. I expressed apologies in advance, as there are only so many hours in the day. But it looks like Jefferson used the "Lives and Fortunes" part in the D of I.]

Further, it seems impossible to me that the principles of Lex, Rex weren't "in the air" that Locke breathed. The "Puritan Revolution" ended up killing the king, fer crissakes. people notice stuff like that.

I think it's too literal and argumentative to ask for direct quotations of things like Lex, Rex before we allow that they were influential. Jon, I remember George Harrison blathering on about his "influences" without ever mentioning Lennon and McCartney, who only taught him 90% of what he knew.

We scarcely notice the air we breathe. Or as one fish said to the other, the water's cold today. The other fish replied, "What water?"

As to the influence of Lex, Rex, it appears to me that the fact that Charles II banned it and publicly burned it, and that Samuel Rutherford was removed from his job and charged with high treason because of it, Dr. Frazer's contention that Rutherford was "fairly obscure in his day" warrants further inquiry.

[Rutherford was condemned to death by the crown, BTW, but God or Providence or luck took him first...]

Brad Hart said...

TVD writes:

"Locke and Jefferson may have indeed "secularized" the currents of Puritan thought, but the notions of self-government, the illegitimacy of bad kings, and that sovereignty rested with the people, not the ruler, were well on their way through the religious thinkers."

I agree. Didn't even the early Puritans (this is where I miss the insight of Lori Stokes at this blog) after the English Civil War also make a biblical case AGAINST monarchy?