How Transcendentalism Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration

thodore parker Theodore Parker (1810-1860) Transcendentalism is closely related to Unitarianism. Transcendentalism evolved as an organic consequence of the Unitarian emphasis on free conscience and the value of intellectual reason. They were not, however, content with the sobriety, mildness and calm rationalism of Unitarianism. Instead, they longed for a more intense spiritual experience.

The societal forces that spawned transcendentalism also caused many church and denominational splits, as the rights of man became more important than the traditions of protestant traditions. The women's rights movement, abolitionism and temperance movements immediately before the Civil War were also manifestations of the restless age. In established churches, pre-millennialism was the stated reason for believing the changes were in preparation for the coming of Christ. Napoleon proved that common man could change the world, and science was coming up daily with vaccines and machines that would lighten the curse God had placed on creation.

In 1837, Parker had begun attending meetings of the group later known as the Transcendental Club. Henry David Thoreau and Parker wrote of the world as divine and of themselves as part of this divinity. Unlike Emerson and other Transcendentalists, however, Parker believed the movement was rooted in deeply religious ideas and did not believe it should retreat from religion. All shared a conviction that slavery should be abolished and social reforms should take root. Parker gradually introduced Transcendentalist ideas into his sermons. He tempered his radicalism with diplomacy and discretion, however. “I preach abundant heresies,” he wrote to a friend, “and they all go down—for the listeners do not know how heretical they are.”

In 1838 Parker broke for the first time with supernatural realism, as he also increasingly did in his sermons. To him, Christianity was natural rather than miraculous. More and more, he praised social reform movements such as those for temperance, peace, and the abolition of slavery. In 1840 he described such movements as divinely inspired.

In light of these societal forces, it is not hard to see why Scottish Common Sense Realism replaced the theology of Hopkins and Bellamy.