Locke’s Theology, 1694–1704
What follows is a narrative of John Locke’s theological reflections and judgments, expressed in pertinent writings beginning with ‘Adversaria theologica’ (1694), and ending with Of the conduct of the understanding (published posthumously in 1706). I hope to show that these reflections and judgments follow a continuous line of enquiry and discovery that has its own integrity and may, therefore, be considered on its own, notwithstanding that Locke might have been at the same time influenced by other motives, for example, political and economic ones, or concerns about reputation. Narration seems to me a more appropriate method of expounding on Locke’s theology than a systematic presentation of it, for Locke’s thoughts on theology were not all expressed as considered opinions, nor did he manifest a tendency to give assent where Scripture or reason did not require it. His thoughts on theological themes varied from suppositions to queries to preferences to clear and certain judgments. These differences in propositional attitude, to use current jargon, would be lost in a mere systematic account. As will be seen, Locke did conceive of theology as a system, but also, at the outset at least, as one whose markers described fields of enquiry rather than parts of a dogmatic scheme. During this period, the field of enquiry that most commanded his attention was Christianity as presented in the New Testament. As he progressed, Locke made two very important discoveries: one, that to be a Christian and a beneficiary of the covenant of grace, it is necessary to accept only one, albeit complex proposition, that Jesus is the Messiah; the other, that Christianity is essentially a moral religion.