"Certainty" with "power to the contrary": Nathaniel William Taylor (1786--1858) on the will

Jason Andrew Nicholls, Marquette University

Abstract

The controversy over Nathaniel William Taylor's (1786-1858) place in the tradition of the New England theology is one of the paramount issues driving this study. The majority of American religious historians point to Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) as the radiating center of this tradition, measuring all subsequent theological developments against not only Edwards' intellectual stature but also his Calvinist orthodoxy. Hence, the theology of a progressive, revival-friendly thinker like Taylor has been scrutinized as Arminian-leaning and alleged to be incompatible with Edwardsianism. Specifically, Taylor's doctrines of depravity and the will have been used as wedges to dislodge him from the Edwardsian tradition. While conceding differences in depravity, my study challenges the predominant scholarly consensus on Taylor's will by demonstrating how it has been misunderstood and subsequently misrepresented in much of the secondary literature. The reason for this misinterpretation stems from the fact that Taylor frequently alludes to the ability of the will throughout his published lectures. His preaching, too, persistently emphasized human ability. Hence, scholars have concluded that his concept of the will either makes him an Arminian or is logically contradictory with the rest of his theology, or both--prompting them to disqualify him as a legitimate Edwardsian. Douglas Sweeney has attempted a rehabilitation of Taylor by arguing that the Edwardsian tradition should be envisioned from a wider, cultural perspective as opposed to a narrow, doctrinal one. Along this revisionist vein of interpretation, I offer a theological argument for seeing Taylor as Edwardsian. Methodologically, I contend that grasping Taylor's philosophy of the will is a prerequisite step to accurately understanding his theological doctrine of the will--and that scholars have overlooked a key source for unlocking his philosophy of the will. Based on my analysis of a neglected, unpublished collection of notes from Taylor's lectures on the will, I highlight several underlying similarities between Taylor's and Edwards' essential notions of the will that reveal a fundamental compatibility. Thus, my thesis knocks out one of the two legs of the theological argument typically used to dislodge Taylor from his Edwardsian tradition, salvaging him theologically as a modified Edwardsian.

Recommended Citation

Jason Andrew Nicholls, ""Certainty" with "power to the contrary": Nathaniel William Taylor (1786--1858) on the will" (January 1, 2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI3059382.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3059382

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