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Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2015. 201pp. ISBN 978-1-4724-4075-4
Paul Lim
p. 302-305
Référence(s) :

STRIVENS, ROBERT. – Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2015. 201 pp. ISBN 978-1-4724-4075-4

Texte intégral

1Isaac Watts, the celebrated hymn writer, logician of substance, and a Dissenting minister par excellence in early eighteenth-century, wrote this superlative praise: “if there were any Man, to whom Providence would permit me to commit a second Part of my Life and Usefulness in the Church of Christ, Dr. Doddridge should be the Man.” Whereas much has been written about Watts, less historiographical attention has been given to Doddridge, the two counter-examples of G. F. Nuttall and Isabel Rivers notwithstanding. Robert Strivens’s Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent is an effort to fill this lacuna and to offer a better contextualized account. According to Strivens, “the major lacuna in Doddridge scholarship currently is in the area of his thought: there has to date been no full-length analysis of his philosophical and theological convictions as a whole” (9-10).

2Strivens portrays Doddridge as a transitional figure who embodied the shift of Protestant Dissent from the fate of the embattled, fissiparous and suffering group of English Protestants whose embrace of cultural and ecclesiastical marginality to that of a settled presence in English life of politics, religion, and culture-. To do so, Strivens offers a concise account of Doddridge’s significance in seven chapters along the following themes: a moderate Calvinist (ch. 1); a Protestant whose commitment to sola scripture led him to eschew rigid doctrinal subscription as a test of orthodoxy, especially regarding the Trinity (ch. 2); a thinker who was inexorably influenced by the epistemology of John Locke yet not without substantial caveats and revisions, particularly concerning the scope and extent of natural religion, natural law and reason as pathways to God (ch. 3 and 4); a pastor whose preaching assiduously avoided controversial and potentially divisive issues, opting, instead, for topics designed to elicit a more affective response (ch. 5); an experiential Christian whose emphasis on journal keeping, personal devotions, observation of providences, as well as celebration of the Lord’s Supper was designed to cultivate a more biblically centrist spirituality (ch. 6); and a Dissenter known for his “wide sympathy and generous tolerance,” which was predicated on his commitment to « central evangelical doctrine and heart religion » (152-53) rather than Enlightenment sensibilities and Deistic preoccupations (ch. 7).

3In Chapter 1, Strivens strives to answer the question: “Was Doddridge a Baxterian?” By answering this question in a well-contextualised Sic et Non, Strivens offers a picture of the transition within Puritan/Protestant Dissent especially regarding Doddridge’s perspectives on the “Heathen and Salvation” (29), “the Fundamentals of the Faith” (29-31), justification by faith and the role of works, the extent of the atonement, and divine decrees. Strivens’s conclusion is subtle yet not without significant advancement in the way eighteenth-century development of Dissenting theology is concerned: “A better approach is to understand early eighteenth-century and a Baxterianism or moderate Calvinism as, indeed, a valid form of Calvinism and to see Philip Doddridge in the way he preferred to describe himself: as ’in all the most important points, a Calvinist’ ” (45).

4Chapters 2, 3, and 4 proved to be the strongest chapters. Doddridge’s adherence to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura had twin trajectories: one was a commitment to biblical language alone as tests for contours and limits of orthodoxy, and the other was a concomitant indefatigable defense of the authenticity – thus authority – of Scripture as divinely inspired. In this fray, he was aided by scholars across the Anglican-Dissent divide; Bishops such as John Williams (of Chester) and Gilbert Burnet (of Salisbury), as well as Presbyterians Edmund Calamy and Nathaniel Lardner, as they collectively sought to shore up the truth and trustworthiness of Scripture, vis-à-vis the critique from Jean Le Clerc, Richard Simon, inter alia.

5Chapters on Lockean philosophical influence and Doddridge’s responses to and perspectives on natural religion (Chapters 3 and 4) are written with concision and clarity. In doing so, Strivens astutely observes that Doddridge was “among the first, if not the first, Dissenting tutor to dispense entirely with Aristotelian instruction in favour of an approach based on Locke.” Yet, Doddridge was not uncritically and obsequiously Lockean. Thus, Strivens rightly situates Doddridge’s philosophical perspectives in a triangulating relationship among those of John Locke, Isaac Watts and Samuel Clarke, as Doddridge appropriated only those philosophical perspectives that “seemed vital for the defence of fundamental Christian beliefs” (75). Doddridge’s attitude toward natural theology was, again, similar to his relationship with Lockean philosophical principles. Strivens offers this perspicacious interpretation: “While Doddridge was certainly engaging in an exercise in natural theology in a rationalist manner, his overriding concern […] was not so much to construct truth on a purely rational foundation […] but rather to demonstrate the reasonableness of Christian truth” (92). Yet at the same time, Doddridge felt no compunction in resorting to mystery of divine councils and the fundamental incomprehensibility of God in dealing with “apparently intractable philosophical conundrum” (96). By situating Doddridge as a Christian thinker whose perspectives on reason and revelation debunks the earlier historiographical trend to see the Enlightenment as a triumph of reason over revelation, Strivens makes a valuable contribution not merely to the narrower historiography of Dissenting Protestantism in England, but also to the broader historiographical discussions on religion and the Enlightenment, and the mutual influences between them.

6While the interpretive perspectives offered by Strivens struck as being, on the whole, seem entirely salutary, there are a few desiderata for the present reviewer. First of all, a number of points Strivens raised need further qualification and elaboration. The relative brevity of the book notwithstanding, some points – sans further comments – bordered on mere assertion without much evidence. Let me qualify: I do agree with Strivens’s interpretive trajectory, but failure to offer further textual evidence is asking the readers to go and look up these texts on their own, be they on EEBO or ECCO, or in rare book rooms in major research libraries. One example, I hope, should suffice. According to Strivens, Baxter’s view on the irresistibility of grace and necessity of holiness for eventual salvation differed from that of Doddridge, and yet this is all we read: “Baxter, by contrast, was clearly unwilling to go this far without qualification: his discussion of the subject is extremely detailed and rather convoluted and, perhaps unsurprisingly, gave rise to controversy and […] misunderstanding of his true position” (40). Aside from a footnote reference to the first page of Baxter’s Present Thoughts concerning the Controversies about the Perseverance of the Saints (1658), we find nothing. Again, Strivens’s case could have been considerably more forceful and convincing if he offered a bit more detailed substantiation of how Doddridge differed both from his predecessors and contemporary peers. Aside from the general tendency to be rather laconic and its impact on the overall forcefulness of the argument, Strivens is to be praised for offering this significant advancement in Doddridge scholarship in particular and in the historiography of eighteenth-century English religion in general.

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Paul Lim, « Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent », XVII-XVIII, 73 | 2016, 302-305.

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Paul Lim, « Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 73 | 2016, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2016, consulté le 24 avril 2017. URL : http://1718.revues.org/779

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Paul Lim

Vanderbilt University - Divinity School and the Department of History

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