Via Media Alia: Reconsidering the controversial doctrine of universal redemption in thetheology of James Fraser of Brea (1639 - 1699)
Bailey, Hunter M
James Fraser of Brea’s significance in Scottish theological history stems principally from his controversial doctrine of universal redemption which led to schisms within the Associate Synod and the Reformed Presbytery in the mid-18th century. During those disputes, several assumptions were made concerning his doctrines that have endured, thereby hindering the development of a more objective interpretation of Fraser's thought. Recent scholarship has begun the re-evaluation of his place in the development of Scottish theology and this thesis continues the process by seeking to exonerate Fraser from the unwarranted and reductionist accusations that have hitherto obscured his doctrine of redemption. This thesis advances a new and more accurate interpretation of Fraser’s doctrine of Christ’s redemption. By broadening discussions beyond the single criterion of the scope of Christ’s redemption, it also helps develop a more precise understanding of the fundamental issues of the orthodox Reformed position upon redemption during the 17th century. In order to provide a context for scrutinizing Fraser’s formulations, the debates surrounding the doctrine of redemption throughout the 16th and 17th centuries have been explored. In addition, a systematic evaluation of Fraser’s views on assurance, God’s eternal decrees, federal theology and justifying faith has been undertaken to construct a framework through which a more accurate interpretation of his doctrine of universal redemption has been achieved. Divided into three sections, this thesis begins with two contextualizing chapters. These establish the parameters of this thesis as well as detail several key developments in the doctrine of redemption throughout the 16th and 17th centuries related to determining the proper interpretation of Fraser’s doctrine of universal redemption. Following this introductory section, the second section of this thesis, which constitutes the main body in four chapters, scrutinizes Fraser’s doctrine of redemption in relation to his expressed purpose in writing and his fundamental doctrinal commitments, namely his unwavering fidelity to covenantal absolutism and redemptive particularism. The final section of this thesis is the conclusion, wherein scholars are encouraged to reconsider how they classify the doctrine of redemption and, specifically, how they understand Fraser’s doctrine of redemption in relation to the redemptive theories of his contemporaries. It is commonly recognized that Fraser deviated from the Reformed orthodox norms of the 17th century by arguing for a broader scope of Christ’s redemption, one that included the reprobate as well as the elect. This thesis moves beyond this basic understanding of his theology in two ways. Firstly, it explores why Fraser determined it was necessary to depart from the traditional presentation of Christ’s redemption and secondly it identifies how his adoption of the two-fold design of redemption corresponded to the more foundational theological commitments of his Reformed contemporaries. Since most previous interpretations have run together the three different positions, Fraser’s perspective has been carefully compared and contrasted with the redemptive paradigms proposed by the Arminians and the Hypothetical Universalists. This thesis will challenge such a confusion of theologies, arguing instead that Fraser’s doctrine of redemption truly represents via media alia. In order to fill the gaps left by earlier examinations of Fraser’s theology which concentrated upon his Treatise on Justifying Faith, for the first time equal consideration has been given to all of Fraser’s writings. Even the voluminous doctoral study by Duncan Fraser (1944), proving that Fraser of Brea employed the theme of Christ’s universal redemption throughout his writings, failed to provide an adequate analysis of how Fraser’s doctrine of redemption fitted into his own theological system or into the context of the Reformed community of 17th century Europe. This thesis provides just such an analysis.