Witherspoon, Edwards and 'Christian Magnanimity'

In K. P. Minkema, A. Neele & K. van Andel (eds.), Jonathan Edwards and Scotland. Dunedin Academic Press. 117-128 (2011)
Abstract
This paper focuses on John Witherspoon (1723-1794) and the religious background of the American conception of religious liberty and church-state separation, as found in the First Amendment. Witherspoon was strongly influenced by debates and conflicts concerning liberty of conscience and the independence of the congregations in his native Scotland; and he brought to his work, as President of the (Presbyterian) College of New Jersey, a moderate Calvinism challenging the conception of “true virtue” found in Jonathan Edwards. Witherspoon was teacher to James Madison who would substantially write the First Amendment. Religious freedom, focused on freedom of conscience, and ‘Christian magnanimity’ stand in considerable tension with the prior orthodoxy of predetermination and the historical tradition of Calvinistic theocracy. Understanding Witherspoon, we better understand the reformation background of the American Enlightenment and how his conception of the freedom of conscience contributed to American conceptions of freedom generally.
Keywords John Witherspoon  Jonathan Edwards  freedom of conscience  virtue
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