Wednesday 19 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.


::aaron g:: said...

Congratulations Ben!

Sounds like a wonderful book.

Drew said...


consistently inviting historical explication, yet refusing to be explained away by any historical determinant.

Do you engage much with the historiography on Milton? It sounds like you're dancing around the new historicists...

Chris Tilling said...

My library will surely be ordering in a copy in the next few weeks. I look forward very much to reading it - though I know as much about Milton as I do about running backwards, so it will also plug up a gap in my knowledge. Many congratulations, again. It must be exciting to see your work finally published.

byron smith said...

Well done - I'll put in a request at MTC.

guanilo said...

Congratulations. Vanderbilt's library has a new book section, so I'll say, 'hey - I know that guy!' to everyone who will listen in the lobby for a week. Promise.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...


In my own blog entry for today, I've linked to this entry of yours and to your larger blog with logo. I hope that you don't mind.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Michael F. Bird said...

Congrats. I hope the reviews are good and this establishes you as a leading Milton scholar. How long till the second Myers book comes out?

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Ben - chapter 2 sounds intriguing!

Drew said...

Ben, something completely different: You need a post indexing all of the 'why I loves' for ease of reference...

Rory Shiner said...

Congratulations Ben! The first of many, I trust.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

“He had no predecessors; neither had he any disciples.” Hmm. No disciples, precisely, but he did influence a few Baptists like Roger Williams (well, okay, Williams was only a Baptist for like a month!), John Clarke, and especially John Bunyan. I only found this out quite recently because the only thing I knew about Milton before a couple of years ago was Paradise Lost--assigned in High School.

Anonymous said...

I used your book for research in my digital humanities course this past semester. A friend and I made a searchable edition of De Doctrina and found your book very helpful in providing a comparative theological framework. Well done.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks, Ryan — I'm glad to hear it was helpful.

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