In his excellent book, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter, C. Fitzsimons Allison, traces how the rise of moralism at the end of the 17th century marked a “seismic shift in English theology.” Such a shift “muffled” the evangelical view of justification as espoused by “classical Anglican theologians” such as Richard Hooker, John Davenant, John Donne.
Prior to this “seismic shift,” Fitzsimmons shows how these classical Anglican theologians were “united in their affirmation that in justification the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer. So, there is no sense in which the believer contributes to his own righteousness in order to be justified. Rather, the Christian life is a response to God’s free justification, not a part of it.”
However, with the rise of men like Richard Baxter, such an evangelical view of justification became muffled. Baxter and others held that repentance and sincere obedience contributed to one’s justification. Thus, what followed was the belief that justification requires moral effort.
Though first published in 1966 on a theological controversy that took place nearly five hundred years ago, Fitzsimmons’ book is eminently relevant to the contemporary infestation of moralism that plagues American Evangelicalism today. For those who desire to better understand their own times and are concerned to live a Gospel-Driven Life and preach a Gospel-Centered message, I wholeheartedly recommend Allison’s book.