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The Dissenters Volume IIIThe Crisis and Conscience of Nonconformity$
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Michael R. Watts

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198229698

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198229698.001.0001

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‘The ground on which Rational Christianity may firmly take its stand’

‘The ground on which Rational Christianity may firmly take its stand’

Higher Criticism and the Unitarians

(p.20) 3 ‘The ground on which Rational Christianity may firmly take its stand’
The Dissenters Volume III

Michael R. Watts

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the historical criticism of the Bible in the mid-nineteenth century. Orthodox Dissenters initially felt that the foundations of their faith were threatened to a much greater extent by biblical criticism, rather than the evolutionary theories of the geologists and biologists. Few Nonconformists knew much about geology and fewer still had a working knowledge of biology, and at first the orthodox could take comfort in the sheer incredibility of Darwin's hypothesis. By contrast, tens of thousands of nineteenth-century Nonconformists, lay as well as ministerial, had an intimate knowledge of the books of both the Old and the New Testaments, and any challenge to their authority was recognized as a more immediate and a more plausible threat to their faith. The threat initially came from German scholars who cast doubt on the historical reliability of the Bible. In England, the Unitarians were the most willing to embrace the new ideas of the German higher critics.

Keywords:   religious dissent, biblical criticism, Bible, Nonconformists, orthodox Dissenters, historical criticism, religious faith, Unitarians, German scholars

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