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Title page for ETD etd-03192008-144956

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Selmon, Gregory Allen
URN etd-03192008-144956
Title John Cotton: The Antinomian Calvinist
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Professor James P. Byrd Committee Chair
  • Puritanism
  • predestination
  • Reformed
Date of Defense 2008-02-08
Availability unrestricted



Dissertation under the direction of Professor James P. Byrd

This project is a theological assessment of John Cotton’s life and ministry. This dissertation begins with the premise that Cotton’s early theological training and ministry experiences shaped him into an ardent defender of predestinarian thought. It argues that Cotton’s self-understanding as a defender of predestination against all forms of Arminianism provides the key to understanding his role in the numerous debates he faced during his lifetime. In particular, Cotton’s theological tendencies explain his role throughout the Antinomian Controversy in New England. They also explain how Cotton remained within the Puritan mainstream throughout his life and ministry.

This dissertation argues that one theological key to the Antinomian controversy was the tension between Cotton’s emphasis on Objective assurance found in Christ’s completed work as foundational for authentic assurance of faith while Thomas Shepard and other New England Elders emphasized Subjective assurance found through the evidence of personal holiness or the syllogism as foundational for authentic assurance. This dissertation illustrates that Cotton did not eliminate the need for Subjective assurance through the syllogism even as he emphasized Objective assurance as foundational for the Christian life. It also illustrates the many ties to Cotton’s theological emphasis concerning Objective assurance within the Puritan and Reformed communities. This includes the work of William Perkins and Richard Sibbes who had been used as primary examples in the work of previous scholarship to illustrate Cotton’s theological deviancy from orthodox Puritanism. This dissertation concludes that the root theological cause of the Antinomian controversy was the difference in emphasis concerning Objective and Subjective assurance.

This dissertation concludes with an investigation into Cotton’s ties with and dissimilarities from the Antinomian and Familist movement in England in the 1630s and 1640s. It argues that Cotton’s theology did not embrace any of the major tenets of Antinomianism or Familism. Instead, Cotton’s theology remained in tension with these theological critiques of Puritanism even as his thought retained an emphasis on God’s grace as primary within the Christian life.

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