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Topic Definitions

New Haven Theology

A late stage of the New England theology that had originated in efforts of Jonathan Edwards to defend the spiritual reality of the first Great Awakening (ca. 1740). It was also a theology developed for the needs of the Second Great Awakening (ca. 1795-1830). It thus served as a bridge between the Calvinism that dominated American Christianity in the 1700s and the more Arminian theology that came to prevail in the nineteenth century. Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards and president of Yale College from 1795 to 1817, laid the groundwork for the New Haven theology. Dwight’s concern for revival led him to place more emphasis on the natural abilities of individuals to respond to the gospel than had Edwards. His efforts to provide a rational defense of Christianity led him to stress its reasonable character over the sense of wonder that had been so important for Edwards. Dwight’s best pupil, Nathaniel William Taylor, carried the New Haven theology to its maturity. Taylor was the first professor at the new Yale Divinity School, where he came in 1822 after a successful pastorate in New Haven. Taylor regarded himself as the heir of the tradition of Jonathan Edwards, particularly as he combated the rising tide of Unitarianism in New England. His theology, however, departed from Edwards’, especially in its beliefs about human nature. Most importantly, he argued in a famous phrase that people always had a “power to the contrary” when faced with the choice for God. He also contended, as Edwards’ son, Jonathan Edwards, Jr., had suggested, that human sinfulness arose from sinful acts, not from a sinful nature inherited from Adam. Everyone did in fact sin, Taylor believed, but this was not a result of God’s action in predetermining human nature. More than other heirs of Edwards, Taylor also accepted the Scottish philosophy of common sense which also made much of innate human freedom and the power of individuals to shape their own destinies. The New Haven theology was a powerful engine for revival and reform in the first half of the nineteenth century, particularly through the work of Taylor’s fellow Yale graduate, Lyman Beecher. Beecher and like-minded colleagues employed the principles of the New Haven theology to promote moral reform, to establish missions and educational institutions, and to win the frontier for Christianity. The New Haven theology arose out of the distinctive Calvinism of New England, but it came to represent, with Methodists, Disciples, and some Baptists, a contribution to the generally Arminian theology which dominated American Christian thought in the nineteenth century. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology By Walter A. Elwell © 1984, by Baker Book House Company.)

Moral Government

“Moral government, when opposed to physical, is the government of mind in opposition to the government of matter. It is a government of motive or moral [per]suasion, in opposition to a government of force. Moral government is the influence of God's character as revealed in His works, providence, and word, over the universe of moral beings.” (Charles G. Finney, The Heart of Truth) “By ‘government’ we mean that arrangement which administers supervision or exercises authority in regulating the actions of some thing or being, either by established laws or pronouncements...Moral Government is an arrangement to regulate the conduct of moral beings by enlightening their minds as to what actions are right and proper, and by solemn pronouncement that certain consequences will follow right action and opposite consequences wrong action. Moral government, therefore, functions upon the principle of promising rewards for obedience and threatening appropriate punishment for disobedience. The subject is allowed to determine for himself what consequences shall be his. Moral government must be founded upon truth that can be perceived by the mind, so that the idea of “oughtness” can be developed in the minds of the subjects. Free choice is the distinctive characteristic of moral government.” (Gordon C. Olson The Moral Government of God)

Revival Theology a theological expression incorporating the revival principles of Charles G. Finney, as outlined in his Lectures on Revival and Systematic Theology, and moral government theology, especially as advanced by Gordon C. Olson. Revival theology postulates that for true biblical revival to be experienced, there must be a right understanding and declaration of the character and nature of God as moral governor of the universe and man’s moral obligations toward Him as such. Revival theology appeals to man’s reason, intellect and understanding, recognizing them as endowments from God, in an attempt to enlighten the heart and will and bring about an intelligent submission to the authority of God. It is not related in any way to the so called “revival” movements of the Toronto Blessing, Browsnville, Latter Rain or any other of the counterfeit Charismatic renewal/revival movements. For an in-depth exposé of such movements, see The Cross & Word website.

Free Choice (Free Moral Will)

The distinctive characteristic of moral government. A “free” choice must be one in which there is the possibility of choosing something else or not choosing at all. A free “moral” choice must be one in which there is the possibility of choosing the morally right thing as well as the morally wrong thing. Moral responsibility (obligation) rests upon moral ability. If one is unable to choose the right moral course of action because of something one is born with, it would be unjust for God to condemn someone just as it would be unjust to condemn a 4 year old for not being able to prepare a full course meal. “Absolute control over moral beings acting in their creative ability and freedom is, therefore, an impossibility. Since they have been given the capacity to originate their own actions, the decisions of moral beings must be uncertain...If the may or may not of a free choice is not allowed to exist, then moral government ceases and all becomes a government of cause and effect. While God exerts every influence upon man’s personality, consistent with man’s moral freedom, to get him to make the right choices, in no sense is God the cause of man’s moral choices for which he is held accountable.” (Gordon C. Olson The Moral Government of God)

Moral Agent

"A creature capable of right and wrong action; a being endowed with the ability to perceive what is right and proper conduct in his various relations with the power of free choice and thus able to be governed by truth addressed to his intelligence." (Gordon C. Olson, The Moral Government of God) Charles Finney wrote that “man is a FREE AGENT because he possesses intelligence with the power and liberty of choice.” Finney also writes, “moral agency implies the possession of intellect, reason, will, [and] conscience...”

Moral Obligation

The duty, promise, or requirement imposed by the moral law upon a free moral agent; the constraining power of conscience or law; a cord that binds one to another. Moral obligation is that course of action which conscience reveals to a moral agent to be right and proper, i.e. loving, in a given situation. Man is obligated by his reason, intellect and moral faculties to always act in accordance with those faculties.


That body of doctrine or belief epitomized by the systematic theology of John Calvin, the 16th century Swiss reformer. The defining principle of Calvinism may be understood to be his emphasis on the sovereignty of God contra the free will of man. “As God sovereignly sustains all his creation, so in his providence he rules over and guides it to the accomplishment of his ultimate purposes that all things might be to the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria). This rule included even the...actions of man, so that history might achieve the end which God has determined from all eternity. Here again is a mystery which the Calvinist is prepared to accept, since he is prepared to accept the ultimate mystery of God’s being and action.” Calvinism today may be best thought of with the acronym TULIP: T - total depravity, a human being is incapable of doing any good thing, even turning to God; U - unconditional election - God, in his sovereignty, has elected, or chosen, from all eternity past those who would be saved (and consequently those who would be lost); L - limited atonement, that Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was only for the elect; I - irresistible grace, that the calling (election) of God cannot be resisted by those called, their final salvation is inevitable; and P - perseverance of the saints, that the elect will persevere in grace (commonly conceived of as “once saved always saved.") (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology By Walter A. Elwell © 1984, by Baker Book House Company.)


The theological stance of James Arminius and the movement which stemmed from him. It views Christian doctrine much as the pre-Augustinian fathers did and as did the later John Wesley. In several basic ways it differs from the Augustine-Luther-Calvin tradition. This form of Protestanism arose in the United Netherlands shortly after the “alteration” from Roman Catholicism had occurred in that country. It stresses Scripture alone as the highest authority for doctrines. It teaches that justification is by grace alone, there being no meritoriousness in our faith that occasions justification, since it is only through prevenient grace that fallen humanity can exercise that faith. Arminianism is a distinct kind of Protestant theology for several reasons. One of its distinctions is its teaching on predestination. It teaches predestination, since the Scripture writers do, but it understands that this predecision on God’s part is to save the ones who repent and believe. Thus its view is called conditional predestination, since the predetermination of the destiny of individuals is based on God’s foreknowledge of the way in which they will either freely reject Christ or freely accept him. Connected with Arminius’s view of conditional predestination are other significant teachings of “the quiet Dutchman.” One is his emphasis on human freedom. Here he was not Pelagian, as some have thought. He believed profoundly in original sin, understanding that the will of natural fallen man is not only maimed and wounded, but that it is entirely unable, apart from prevenient grace, to do any good thing. Another teaching is that Christ’s atonement is unlimited in its benefits. He understood that such texts as “he died for all” (II Cor. 5:15; cf. II Cor. 5:14; Titus 2:11; I John 2:2) mean what they say, while Puritans such as John Owen and other Calvinists have understood that the “all” means only all of those previously elected to be saved. A third view is that while God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9; Matt. 18:14), saving grace is not irresistible, as in classical Calvinism. It can be rejected. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology By Walter A. Elwell © 1984, by Baker Book House Company.)


"The very center of our personality which is the source and essence of life...our real selves where decisions are made and directions given to the thought processes, actions, and experiences that follow." (Gordon C. Olson, The Moral Government of God) “The seat of the affections, desires and appetites; that which influences the will in making moral choices which in turn directs the mind to institute the chosen action; the ability to choose; the ability to know what to choose; the control center of one’s life; the motivating purpose of one’s life.” (Harry Conn, from the Glossary of Finney's Systematic Theology,1976 edition)


The faculty by which one chooses or decides upon a course of action; the power to arrive at a decision as influenced by the heart inwardly and to act independently upon it despite outward influences and inward motivations. (see Free Choice)


proginosko - “to know before” (pro, “before,” ginosko, “to know”) “to know beforehand; knowledge based on prior experience” and is the same word from which comes “prognosis”. Because God has exhaustive knowledge of the past and present, He is able to predict, to "prognosticate", to know before, to a large extent what will happen and what people, particularly large groups of people, will do in any given set of circumstances. HOWEVER, since the future does not yet exist, God cannot know with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY the free moral choices of moral agents. Contra the traditional view that “scripture uses the term “foreknow” for God’s prescience or foresight concerning future events. Foreknowledge is thus an aspect of God’s omniscience.

Atonement, The

"to cover;" Vine's, "with the corresponding verb katallasso, meaning 'reconcile'. 'Atonement' (the explanation of this English word as being "at-one-ment" is entirely fanciful) is frequently found in the OT. See, for instance, Leviticus, chapters 16 and 17. The corresponding NT words are hilasmos, "propitiation," 1 John 2:2; 4:10, and hilasterion, Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:5, "mercy-seat," the covering of the ark of the covenant. These describe the means (in and through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in His death on the cross by the shedding of His blood in His vicarious sacrifice for sin) by which God shows mercy to sinners." The governmental provision to forgive sin upon man meeting the necessary conditions (repentance and faith); reconciliation. God is not to be regarded merely as an offended party, but as the Moral Governor of the universe. He must, therefore, uphold the authority of His government in the interests of the general good. Consequently, the sufferings of Christ are to be regarded, not as the exact equivalent of our punishment, but only in the sense that the dignity of the government was thereby upheld and vindicated as effectively as it would have been if we had received the punishment we deserved. This contra the Roman Catholic view as propounded by St. Anselm, that Christ made an exact literal payment for sin; the atonement being limited in sufficiency only to those foreknown to be saved.


"A belief which affirms that in the fullness of time all souls will be released from the penalties of sin and restored to God. Historically known as apokatastasis, final salvation denies the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment and is based on a faculty reading of Acts 3:21; Rom. 5:18-19; Eph. 1:9-10; I Cor. 15:22; and other passages. Belief in universal salvation is at least as old as Christianity itself and may be associated with early Gnostic teachers. The first clearly universalist writings, however, date from the Greek church fathers, most notably Clement of Alexandria, his student Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa. Of these, the teachings of Origen, who believed that even the devil might eventually be saved, were the most influential. Numerous supporters of final salvation were to be found in the post-apostolic church, although it was strongly opposed by Augustine of Hippo. Origen's theology was at length declared heretical at the fifth ecumenical council in 553." (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology By Walter A. Elwell © 1984, by Baker Book House Company.)

Elect, the; Election

Those chosen by God who have fulfilled the requirements of salvation and are now in a right relationship with God and fellowman, in distinction to the Reformed, or Calvinist, view which states: “Election is part of God’s eternal decree and it has a soteriological role: ’that some in time are given faith by God and that others are not given faith proceeds from His eternal decree’ (1.6). Election is then defined as ’the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, out of the whole human race, which had fallen by its own fault out of its original integrity into sin and ruin, He has, according to the most free good pleasure of His will, out of mere grace, chosen in Christ to salvation a certain number of specific men, neither better nor more worthy than other, but with them involved in a common misery’ (1.7).” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology By Walter A. Elwell © 1984, by Baker Book House Company.)

New England Theology

Theological tradition arising from the work of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and continuing into the nineteenth century. The tradition was not unified by a common set of beliefs, for in fact Edwards’s nineteenth century heirs reversed his convictions on many important particulars. It was rather united in its fascination for common issues, including the freedom of human will, the morality of divine justice, and the problem of causation behind the appearance of sin.

The next phase of the New England theology was known as the “new divinity.” Its leading proponents were Joseph Bellamy (1719-90) and Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803), New England ministers who had studied with Edwards and had been his closest friends. Much as Edwards had, Bellamy argued for the sovereignty of God in redemption and against the idea that humankind could save itself. He also developed Edwards’s convictions that churches should allow none into membership who could not testify to a personal experience of God’s grace. Hopkins extended Edwards’s discussion of virtue into a complete ethical system. He used the phrase “disinterested benevolence” to construct guidelines for practical ethics. Out of this thinking Hopkins developed a vigorous opposition to slavery as an institution which treated people in a way that was not fitting for their character as ones bearing the image of God. Hopkins also maintained a heightened sense of God’s sovereignty by insisting that people should be willing even “to be damned for the glory of God.”

With Bellamy and Hopkins occurred also the first modifications of Edwards’ ideas. Bellamy propounded a “governmental” view of the atonement, the idea that God’s sense of right and wrong demanded the sacrifice of Christ. Modifications made in the New England theology by Hopkins and Bellamy were subtle ones. Their successors moved more obviously beyond the teaching of Edwards. Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), Edwards’s grandson and president of Yale College, took a broader view of human abilities in salvation and emphasized more the reasonable nature of the Christian faith. Jonathan Edwards, Jr. (1745-1801), who had studied with Joseph Bellamy, extended Bellamy’s idea of a governmental atonement and also placed a stronger emphasis on the law of God for the Christian life. Both he and Dwight continued the general trend to view sin as an accumulation of actions rather than primarily a state of being issuing in evil deeds.

By the time Timothy Dwight’s best student, Nathaniel W. Taylor (1786-1858), assumed his position as professor of theology at Yale Divinity School in 1822, the movement from Edwards’ specific convictions was very pronounced. Taylor’s New Haven theology reversed the elder Edwards on freedom of the will by contending for a natural power of free choice. And he brought to a culmination the teaching that sin lies in the exercise of sinful actions rather than in an underlying condition. The influence of the New England theology continued to be great throughout the nineteenth century. Its last great theologian who self-consciously regarded himself as an heir to Edwards was Edwards Amasa Park (1808-1900). Park represented a moderate reaction to the theology of Taylor when he spoke up more strongly for God’s sovereignty in salvation. Yet Park also held to a wide variety of nineteenth century assumptions about the capacities of human nature that distanced his thinking from Edwards. Park proved too liberal for the nineteenth century champions of Calvinism at Presbyterian Princeton Seminary, who attacked his ideas as a sell-out of Calvinism to the optimistic spirit of the age. (From Evangelical Dictionary of Theology By Walter A. Elwell © 1984, by Baker Book House Company.)

New School Theology

New School Presbyterianism embodied mainstream evangelical Christianity in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Its modified Calvinist theology, enthusiasm for revivalism, moral reform, and interdenominational cooperation were its most notable characteristics.

New School theology had its remote roots in the Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards, but its immediate predecessor was the New Haven theology of Nathaniel Taylor, who advocated a theology of moral government. He synthesized moralistic elements from Scottish commonsense philosophy with reinterpretations of traditional Calvinism to construct a semi-Pelagian foundation for revivalism. Denying the imputation of Adam’s sin and claiming that unregenerate man can respond to moral overtures, especially Christ’s death, Taylor argued that men need not wait passively for the Holy Spirit to redeem them. His views reflected a long-standing American faith in human freedom.

While Old School leaders roundly attacked Taylor’s theology, revivalists and ministers such as Charles G. Finney, Lyman Beecher, and Albert Barnes popularized it. Finney used Taylor’s theology to redefine revivals as works which man can perform using means which God has provided. With such a theological basis he introduced his famous “new measures,” such as referring to his hearers as “sinners” and calling them to sit on an “anxious bench” while they contemplated converting to Christ. New School Presbyterianism embodied mainstream evangelical Christianity in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Its modified Calvinist theology, enthusiasm for revivalism, moral reform, and interdenominational cooperation were its most notable characteristics. (From Evangelical Dictionary of Theology By Walter A. Elwell © 1984, by Baker Book House Company.)


The quality or state of being omniscient; universal knowledge. Literally “all knowing.” A natural attribute of God whereby it is intended that God knows all things, i.e. all that is knowable. It is not meant that he knows that which cannot be known anymore than his omnipotence means he can do that which cannot be done (e.g. make a “square circle,” make 2+2=5, deny himself, etc.) As Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Suma Theologica, “Nothing which implies contradiction falls under the omnipotence of God.” And C. S. Lewis declared, “Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible.” Thus, to paraphrase Lewis, we might state that omniscience is the ability to know all that is intrinsically knowable, not to know that which is intrinsically unknowable. Because the future does not yet exist, absolute, exhaustive foreknowledge of the future is an intrinsic impossibility. Only in so far as future events are now certain, can they be said to be exhaustively foreknown by God. That the omniscience of God does not extend to all future events is evident from many biblical texts and from logic itself.

Great Awakening

A series of religious revivals that swept over the American colonies about the middle of the 18th cent. Beginning in the 1720s, Theodorus Frelinghuysen and Gilbert Tennett made local stirrings in New Jersey. In New England the movement was started (1734) by Jonathan Edwards. It was spread by a tour (1739-41) of George Whitefield and reached the South with the preaching (1748-59) of Samuel Davies. The Great Awakening led to bitter doctrinal disputes, but it also resulted in missionary work among Native Americans and in the founding of new educational institutions. It encouraged a democratic spirit in religion.

Second Great Awakening

A period of religious revival generally agreed to have started with the Cane Ridge revival of 1801 in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, and at Yale University that same year through the preaching and efforts of Timothy Dwight. The Awakening extended through the revivals of Charles Finney in upstate New York in the 1830s. Much of the awakening's influence can still be seen into the 1870s and provides the theological impetus for the holiness movement of that period.

The Second Great Awakening had a tremendous effect on American society by spawning a large number of social reform movements and Finney was a great encourager of such reforms. Finney was to bring in new methods and a new attitude towards revival. Jonathan Edwards had viewed the 1735 revival in Northampton as "a very extraordinary dispensation of Providence" a "surprising work of God." Finney, however, saw revival not as a "a miracle . . . It is a purely philosophic [i.e. scientific] result of the right use of the constituted means." In the series of revivals Finney held from 1824-1837 (during what some call the Third Awakening), Finney instituted a number of new measures which later evangelists would continue. These included the inquiry room for counseling seekers, the anxious or mourners' bench for those responding to the public invitation to Christ, preaching for an immediate decision, emotional prayers which addressed God in a very familiar, informal language, organized choirs and music, advertising and advanced preparation for the revival meeting.

Finney believed that revival was not something sent down by God, but it could be brought about if the right means were used. Man was free to choose his spiritual destiny. Finney pressed for decisions. He was the first to have an "invitation" calling people to the front to make a public witness of their conversion.

Finney didn't just believe the gospel got people “saved”, but it was also a means of transforming society. He and his followers worked to make the United States a Christian nation. Finney himself was a strong abolitionist and encouraged Christians to become involved in the antislavery movement. Christians became the leaders in many other social concerns such as education, prison reform, temperance, Sabbath observance, and women's rights. The Second Great Awakening resulted in the establishment of numerous societies to aid in spreading the gospel, including the American Bible Society (1816), American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1810), American Sunday School Union (1817), American Tract Society (1826), and the American Home Missionary Society (1826). The large numbers of Christian workers for social reform became so influential they and the organizations they founded became known as the Benevolent Empire. The Second Great Awakening had a greater effect on society than any other revival in America.