The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Matthew Tindal and the English deists

I’ve begun looking into deism. Right now I’m reading the book “Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion” for an overview, before delving into the writings of the deists themselves (if I can find them). The following passage struck me as something virtually every Christian universalist would affirm.

The righteous God of St Paul and Luther has thus become an agent of universal benevolence who is disinterested in being literally without any interests of his own. His justice has become a mode of his benevolence, and retribution has been taken from it. Since the divine law includes everything that tends to promote the happiness of mankind, we can say that, for Tindal, God’s retributive justice has been taken over completely by his distributive. In thinking of God as the source of justice we are no longer contemplating a being who is the scourge and punisher of sin, but rather one who ensures an equal and reasonable distribution of the sum of happiness. Tindal’s God will punish sin, but punishments will be strictly proportional to the nature of the offences God judges, and therefore not eternal. Moreover, the purpose of punishment, as of the laws which it is designed to enforce, is strictly to secure our own good. Punishment is meted out just so far is sufficient to preserve the beneficent ends of the system of God’s laws and to benefit the wrongdoer (Tindal 1730:41-2). This is why it may be said that Tindal’s God deals only in distributive rather than retributive justice. He cannot act out of a motive of retribution distinct from a desire to secure his creatures’ happiness. Blount has an exactly similar thought in relation to God and punishment (Blount 1695a:90).

Sounds like a very interesting subject to study. I look forward to what you say about it.

IMO the most important differences between the deists and Christians is that the deists don’t see any need for a savior/mediator between God and man, and that they don’t believe in “the fall.” I find myself agreeing with them. My ‘heart’ remains Christian, but my ‘head’ says, “yeah, that makes sense” when I read the deists’ arguments. I see no error in their reasoning.

As you know, my dedication to William Ellery Channing is extensive. He tried valiantly to hold a middle ground between Calvinists and way-out-there liberals, and developed a theology I find very attractive.
He falls, I think, into the Pan-Deist camp somewhat: (with which I am not in total agreement however)(On second thought, he does not belong in the 'Pan" part of this - neither is he a strict Deist -therein lies his attraction)
Pandeism (or pan-deism ) is a theological doctrine first delineated in the 18th century which combines aspects of pantheism with aspects of deism. It holds that the creator deity became the universe (pantheism) and ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity (deism holding that God does not interfere with the universe after its creation).[2][3][4][5] Pandeism is proposed to explain, as it relates to deism, why God would create a universe and then appear to abandon it, and as to pantheism, the origin and purpose of the universe.

Elements of Deism for sure.
So I too admire the deists as to their attempt to provide answers to certain basic questions.
It seems to me - and just my opinion - that they leave a glaring hole in their thought by not recognizing that there is a true moral failure in humanity, not just a lack of information or lack of self-worth. God is I believe Creator AND Redeemer, to address that failure with corrective judgment. That too is problematic, but I see it as realistic.

Overall, that’s correct. But there are a number of Christian thinkers who tried to strike a balance between strict Deism and say, strict pietism.They were struggling with a real problem for thought - in what way is God involved with or in the world or people? Are we on our own? Does God control every single thing, or nothing, or something in between? Should we pray for things to be changed? These are not small questions, but people like Channing did try to answer. GMac in his own way did the same thing, getting closer to pantheism or panentheism that the deists of Channing’s ilk got.

FWIW, I ran across this appropriate excerpt today while reading “How God Became King” by NT Wright: not to dissuade anyone from reading the Deists - but as a factor before coming to any conclusions.


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