Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science

Document Type



There has been a revival of interest in the last couple of decades on two intersecting topics—the political theory and importance of the “forgotten” American founder and Reformed minister, John Witherspoon, and the natural theology and natural law in the Reformed theological tradition. Witherspoon, as president of Princeton, had much to say about natural theology and natural law, and many scholars have attempted to understand his relationship to Enlightenment thought and Christian orthodoxy, yet there has been no attempt by scholars to bring recent scholarship on Reformed theology to bear on our understanding of his thought. The dominant view in the literature is that Witherspoon’s view and use of natural theology, natural law, reason and philosophy indicate a compromise or inconsistency with his otherwise theological Reformed orthodoxy—a move towards a type of “enlightened orthodoxy” or “Christian rationalism.” After reviewing the primary and secondary sources, I contend that the literature is in need of significant correction. I provide here both a corrective and contribute to the literature by showing that Witherspoon’s thought on these subjects—which, broadly speaking, concerns the relationship of reason to revelation—is consistent with Reformed orthodoxy. I further argue that Reformed orthodoxy, when properly understood, permitted Witherspoon and the other orthodox Founders to participate in and give approval of the various founding events and documents of the Founding era without violating their theological principles.



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Committee Chair

Stoner, James R.