Finer Theological Points

Some more from The Atonement Controversy Introduction written by John Aaron, translator of Owen Thomas’ The Atonement Controversy:In Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841:

“Owen Thomas’ pages reveal to us a great deal of the nature of these Welsh preachers, in particular their intelligence and scholarship. They were relatively uneducated men, but their theological and intellectual labours surely put many a highly-educated twenty-first century minister to shame. And as they wrote and engaged in debate, they would have been aware of the many thousands of their countrymen who would be keenly following their arguments. The religious periodicals of the day had vast circulation figures and were comprised almost entirely of closely argued, closely typed doctrinal articles. Would that in our day such a proportion of the country’s population might be so concerned about finer theological points!” (John Aaron, Atonement Controversy, pp. xxi).

OF COURSE those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel consider the “controversy” over whether Christ’s atonement atones or not, is a “finer theological point.”

“Towards the end of the nineteenth century the American preacher most admired in Wales was D.L. Moody [22], and it was his British campaigns, with Ira D. Sankey, in 1873 and 1883 that were to be the patterns for ‘revivals’ and ‘revival meetings’ from then on, rather than the eighteenth century experience of revival. It is only from the 1870s onwards that preachers renowned for their awakening ministries — men such as David Morgan (1814-83), Richard Owen (1839-87), and, later, Evan Roberts — were called ‘Diwygwyr’ (‘Revivalists’). The use of such a term would have been unthinkable to men such as Henry Rees or even Lewis Edwards and Owen Thomas, except perhaps in a derogatory sense.

[22] For example, the Rev. Richard J. Rees (1868-1963), who from 1922 to 1947 was the Superintendent of the Forward Movement, an evangelical arm of the Calvinistic Methodist denomination, was much influenced as a boy in the East End campaigns of Moody.]

By the end of the century, or soon afterwards, it is probable that a majority of Welsh ministers were liberal in their theology. The second most influential grouping were those of an evangelical theology, believing in a propitiatory, subsitutional atonement but with an Arminian or semi-Pelagian interpretation. Those still maintaining Calvinism were very few and far between. Probably the two most eminent were R.S. Thomas (1844-1923), a student under Charles Hodge at Princeton, and Cynddylan Jones (1840-1930). Yet, even for these, when it came to their understanding of the extent of the atonement, their Calvinism was so ‘modified’ that it is closer to Arminianism” (John Aaron, Atonement Controversy, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii).

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