What events mark this period?
"The Age of Reason" in Scotland is marked by the restoration of Presbyterianism in 1690, the role of literacy and higher education in the salvation of a bankrupt state, the rise of ecclesiastical parties in the Church of Scotland, and the first defeat of the Moderates in the 1805 General Assembly.
At the beginning of the period the 1689/90 revolution in Britain secured the future of Presbyterian Reformed Christianity as the religion of the Church of Scotland supported by the State as the most politically reliable of the options available. That reliability was always going to be dodgy and maintaining it strengthened the church in society while dividing it spiritually.
In the 1790s Britain reacted against the ideas flowing from the French Revolution of 1789. The rise of the missionary movement especially the London Missionary Society in 1795 and the local Scottish societies formed in its wake, seemed politically risky and supported by the "wrong" people. The 1796 General Assembly debate about official support for these missions, and the Leslie case of 1805 when the Evangelical party outvoted the Moderates signal the rise of missions and evangelicalism as the vision of a new age. They take forms of 18th piety and commitment and seek to extend them globally and into the slums of the new industrialised cities, setting the agenda and tone of the 19th century.
|1690||Presbyterian settlement under William and Mary. Abolition of patronage|
|1696||Act for Settling Schools implement's Knox's vision of a school in every parish; by 1750 literacy in Scotland about 75% compared with England 53% (Herman p.23)|
|1697||18 year old Thomas Aikenhead, theology student, hung for blasphemy 8 January|
|1698||Darien fleets sails into disaster and national bankruptcy|
|1706||Presbyterian Synod formed in America|
|1707||Union of parliaments of England and Scotland (North Britain)|
|1709||Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge directed to the Highlands and Islands and to North America.|
|1720s||Marrow of Divinity controversy - marginalises puritan piety, fear of antinomianism|
|1729||Francis Hutcheson Professor of Moral Philosophy Glasgow|
|1733||First Secession from the Church of Scotland|
|1742||Cambuslang Revival and "Concert for prayer".|
|1745||Rising by "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and its failure. His supporters were slaughtered at Culloden in 1746. Fear of the barbaric North leads to the suppression of Gaelic and the kilt, the forfeiture of estates, and English administration and pacification of the Highlands.|
|1751||William Robertson at General Assembly, remains key figure until 1780; 1762 Principal of Edinburgh University|
|1753||Rev John Home's play "Douglas" produced - a sign of Moderate domination|
|1761||Second Secession from the Church of Scotland|
|1776||Declaration of Independence by the 13 Atlantic colonies|
|1795||London Missionary Society founded following the Baptists in 1792. Strong support in Scotland.|
|1796||Church of Scotland General Assembly refuses to support missionary societies.|
|1805||Leslie Case. Moderates suffer first defeat in General Assembly|
|1813||Missionary clauses in the charter of the East India Company allows mission in India|
|1843||Disruption. One third leave Church of Scotland over patronage disputes.|
How was the geography of Reformed Christianity changing?
The centre of gravity of Reformed Christianity at the beginning of the period lay with Holland - it is the Protestant House of Orange which provides leadership for Britain and provides the settlements in Scotland and Ireland which allow for the growth of Presbyterianism. The Dutch overseas empire is not so much encouraging mission as facilitating Reformed church identity as a loyal alternative to Portuguese Catholicism in Sri Lanka, Malaka, and Java. The Dutch presence in Taiwan is not sustained but the foundations of Dutch Reformed Christianity are laid in South Africa. In Britain Reformed Christianity is present in Independent and Presybyterian churches in Britain and Ireland.
In North America Reformed Christianity sees the formation of the first synod and is associated with Puritanism and the First and Second Great Awakenings. Jonathan Edwards provides a theological and philosophical framework bridging religious experience and the sovereignty and mission of God. Presbyterian sensibilities inform the constitutional formation of the United States of America including through John Witherspoon.
Scotland is becoming the educational powerhouse of Europe as it embraces and redefines the Enlightenment.
What are the issues for a contemporary understanding of Reformed identity?
The North Atlantic interplay of experience in mission, revival, and the exchange of philosophical ideas (Scottish Common Sense) and theology (Edwards) between Scotland and North America.
The way in which theological differences and responses to a rationalist environment are navigated.
Commonalities and differences between moderate and evangelical identities as they emerge. Debates over "new light". Revival within the mainstream.
References and Links
A L Drummond, The Kirk and the Continent.
Michael Fry, The Scottish Empire, Tuckwell Press, 2001.