Thursday, 20 July 2006

Milton's theology of freedom

My new book, Milton’s Theology of Freedom, was released today, so you might like to request a copy for your library. The book’s chapters are:

1. The Theology of Freedom: A Short History
2. The Satanic Theology of Freedom
3. Predestination and Freedom
4. The Freedom of God
5. Human Freedom and the Fall
6. Grace, Conversion and Freedom

And here’s an excerpt from the preface:

This book offers a new reading of Milton’s poetic thought in the light of a detailed examination of post-Reformation theology. It aims to clarify and enrich our understanding of Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost, and to open new perspectives on to the fascinating complexities of Protestant theology in the seventeenth century. I hope the result will, therefore, be of interest both to Milton scholars and to students of post-Reformation theology.

What Albert Schweitzer once said of the Enlightenment writer Reimarus may with equal truth be said of John Milton: “He had no predecessors; neither had he any disciples.” Milton’s poetry and thought tower above their time and context, consistently inviting historical explication, yet refusing to be explained away by any historical determinant. His poetry continues to resist interpretive determinisms, while his thought continues to challenge theological and philosophical determinism. Milton’s work is thus a monument to the freedom of the individual and to the irreducible singularity of the creative impulse. Acknowledging this creativity and individuality is not, however, to argue that Milton’s thought existed in a vacuum. On the contrary, Milton absorbed entire traditions of linguistic, literary and theological discourse; and having absorbed them, he transmuted them and freely pressed them into the service of his own creative vision. Paradoxically then, the historical and contextual positioning of Milton is essential if we are fully to appreciate his uniqueness and individuality.

It is, for instance, only by recognising Milton’s appropriation of the epic tradition that we can appreciate the achievement of Paradise Lost, a work that transforms and transcends this tradition. Similarly, we can understand Milton’s theological achievement only when we situate his thought within the context of the theological traditions to which he was indebted, especially the traditions of post-Reformation Protestantism. In exploring Milton’s relationship to that theological context, I therefore endeavour to highlight the creative freedom of his own theological thought. In two respects, then, this book is a study of freedom: it is a study of Milton’s theological vision of freedom in Paradise Lost; and it is also a study of the freedom of Milton’s own theological creativity as embodied in the poem.

I should indicate at the outset that my own theological horizons are shaped principally by the traditions of Nicene trinitarianism and Reformed Protestantism—traditions of which Milton himself was by no means uncritical. As a result, I have often found myself disagreeing with Milton’s theological formulations. Such disagreement has, however, remained silent throughout this study, since my purpose is not to contest, but to listen to Milton himself as openly and as sympathetically as possible. In any case, regardless of the criticisms I might make of Milton’s theology, I feel only profound admiration for the work of this poet and thinker. If it is true that Milton had neither predecessors nor disciples, it is also true that he had few peers. His profound intuition, penetrating insight and uncompromising individualism set him apart from other writers and thinkers of his time. For this reason, I have found my engagement with Milton to be a unique challenge and a unique joy.


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