Book Review: Anti-Arminians by Stephen Hampton
J. V. Fesko
Stephen Hampton, Anti-Arminians: The Anglican Reformed Tradition from Charles II to George I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). 293pp.
The common story about the fate of the Reformed faith in England in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century is that it all but disappeared with the growth and surging popularity of Arminian theology. While it is true that Arminian theology became the majority report in the Anglican church during the eighteenth century, this does not mean that Reformed theology was totally eclipsed. This is the core of the argument that Hampton offers in this published version of his doctoral dissertation.
Hampton identifies key theologians and trends on both side of the Arminian-Reformed debate, though he also carefully notes the influence of Socinianism upon the theology of a number of key Arminian theologians. Hampton covers three key subjects of debate, the doctrine of justification, the doctrine of the trinity, and the doctrine of God. In each of these subjects Hampton carefully weighs the evidence and shows how Arminian theologians argued their position and were then refuted by those with Reformed convictions.
For example, in Hampton’s coverage of the justification debates in the late seventeenth century, he explains how older scholarship, such as the well-known work of C. Fitzsimons Allison, The Rise of Moralism, lacked needed nuance. Allison claims in his work that the Reformed doctrine of justification was largely eclipsed, but Hampton shows that Allison does not spend much space giving exposition to the works of Reformed Anglicans. Given the lack of attention to key Reformed works, Hampton claims Allison’s portrait of the Anglican slide into moralism is inaccurate (48-49).
In his exposition of the justification debate, Hampton makes a careful survey of Arminian works, such as those by George Bull (1634-1710), who believed that a person’s good works were not part of the meritorious cause of justification—the works of Christ were the meritorious cause of a person’s justification. But Bull nevertheless did argue that Christian obedience was the sine qua non of justification (48-49). Moreover, Bull also believed that the righteousness of Christ was not imputed to the believer, but rather Christ had secured a more lenient gospel covenant. That is, Christ has secured more lenient terms and requirements of Christian obedience than formerly existed under the law. So for Bull, there was no transfer of Christ’s righteousness to the believer (53). Bull believed that the standard Reformed view, one that holds that Christ fulfills the obligations of the law on the believer’s behalf, would lead to antinomianism (55). In the following chapter Hampton elaborates the Reformed response to the arguments put forth by Bull and others (77-128).
All in all Hampton convincingly argues his thesis and ably demonstrates through ample primary-source research that Reformed Anglicans did not disappear from the English scene. Rather they made a strong showing and defense of key theological doctrines such as justification. Noteworthy are Hampton’s treatments of the Trinitarian controversies, where Arminian Anglican theologians advocated a subordinationist doctrine of Christ’s deity, which teaching was gleaned from Socinian anti-trinitarian theologians. Such a historical record is worth studying to see where Arminian theology deviated not simply from Reformed norms, but from catholic (read universal) Christian teaching.
The only quibble I have with Hampton’s otherwise fine work is, at times it seems like the adjectives Hampton uses to describe the deficiencies in earlier literature are a bit overstated. To say that Allison’s work, for example, “deeply distorted” (42) the historical portrait of the Anglican Church could be stated in less emotional terms. A second issue I have is with the publisher. The list price of this book is $240! This means the book costs almost a dollar per page! The Kindle version of this book is not much better at a whopping $183! So much for the cost-saving benefits of digital publishing. At the time of writing this review I noted that there were a number of copies listed through Amazon at more than sixty percent off the list price, which was how this review copy was obtained. Nevertheless, Oxford Press should consider ways to issue less-expensive editions of fine works such as this to broaden the reading audience.
Nevertheless, for those interested in learning more about the history of Reformed theology in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth century, they would do well to obtain a copy of Hampton’s fine study.