Re: Newton's theology
Sun, 16 Mar 1997 15:16:31 -0500
> George Murhpy recently noted that Newton, as an
> Arian, ought not be included in the proposed series
> on famous Christian scientists.
> I have myself written that Newton was an Arian, a view
> I still tend toward, but serious questions about this have
> recently been raised, on the very good grounds that a
> genuinely historical study of his christology has not
> been done hitherto. There are late MSS which suggest
> strongly that Newton was not an Arian all of his life,
> though he may have been one earlier.
> This is found in an article by Thomas C. Pfitzenmaier,
> "Was Isaac Newton an Arian?", Journal of the History
> of Ideas (January 1997), 57-80. He sums up his argument
> with the following conclusion: "rather than being an
> Arian, Newton resembled more closely the fourth century
> position of Eusebius and the Honoiousians who followed
> him." (p. 75) Readers may be able to access this article
> on line, at the JHI site (search the title of the journal
> and it ought to come up.
> Even if Newton were an Arian, I would argue that he ought
> to be included in the series: lots of Christians prior
> to the fourth century weren't Trinitarians (most of them,
> probably), strictly speaking, and (I contend) some since
> then haven't been, either: John Milton, e.g. The Trinity
> isn't found explicitly in scripture, as Newton knew, and
> in my opinion precise formulations of such ideas, though
> important, are less important than genuine faith in the
> saving power of the Lamb -- which Newton seems to have
I appreciate Ted's bringing this recent work on Newton to our
attention. I would be very happy to learn that Newton moved closer to
an orthodox position.
However, one cannot consistently teach "the saving power of the
Lamb" without in some sense identifying the Lamb with God. Ultimately
God is the only savior (Is.43:11). If we owed our lives to a savior who
was not also the creator, we would have a divided loyalty which is not
consistent with the First Commandment.
It's true that it took Christians 300+ years to work out the
full implications of the confession that "Jesus is Lord". But once
those implications have been realized, it isn't really possible to put
ourselves back in the situation of someone in the 3d century.
I'm speaking here, of course, of correct _understanding_.
Fortunately correct or consistent theology (which is not identical with
faith) is not essential for salvation. I'm not trying to send Newton to