November 17: W.G.T. Shedd

This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Long Name, With an Influential Theology System

William Greenough Thayer Shedd was born in June of 1820 of a distinguished New England lineage. His father was a minister, though it is not clear whether he was a Congregationalist or a Presbyterian pastor. (In early years, both groups were closely aligned in that region.) When William Shedd was eleven years old in 1831, his family moved to Lake Champlain, New York. This enabled William to later attend the University of Vermont, where a teacher introduced him to philosophy and literature. Graduating in 1839, he began to teach in New York City. It was here that William made a public profession of faith and began to attend a Presbyterian Church.

Sensing the call to the ministry, he attended Andover Theological Seminary. There he met and was influenced by Prof. Leonard Woods, who was a solid Old School Presbyterian. Graduating from Andover, Shedd became a pastor in the Congregational denomination in Vermont. Even though he was Old School Reformed in his thinking, he taught briefly at the New School Presbyterian institution of Auburn Theological Seminary, from 1852-1854.

After the Congregationalists decided to stop emphasizing the distinctive doctrines of the Christian faith, Pastor and Professor Shedd made his switch to the Presbyterian distinctives of his younger years. Leaving Auburn, he was professor of church history at Andover from 1853-1862, and then for two years as co-pastor at the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. His life’s primary work occurred while teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was to teach for eleven years, 1874-1892. Just before the end of his teaching ministry,  he wrote his most famous book on “Dogmatic Theology.”

And yes, he took a strong stand against the unbelief of his fellow teacher, Charles Briggs, and Shedd also argued against the revision of the Westminster Standards, which was also being suggested in those days. He died on November 17, 1894.

Words to live by:  When a pastor or professor can summarize his thoughts on paper and in published works, then solid convictions can continue to have an influence for righteousness which would not otherwise be the case if that one just taught or preached in one place in history. Some churches and educational institutions (may their tribe increase) are offering sabbaticals to their pastors and professors for exactly that reason, that is, that they may examine themselves pastorally or professionally in their calling, or write down some thoughts for the benefit of the church at large. Support such efforts, if you are a member of a church, or on a board for higher education. They are that beneficial to the wider church.

Through the Scriptures:   Galatians 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Improvement of baptism

WLC 167 — “How is our baptism to be improved by us?
A.  The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to,  the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of  sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, a those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”

Image source: Photo facing page 96 in A History of Auburn Theological Seminary, 1818-1918. Auburn, NY: Auburn Seminary Press, 1918. Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Secondary sources (articles) for further study:

• Bowden, Henry Warner, “W.G.T. Shedd and A.C. McGiffert on the Development of Doctrine,” Journal of Presbyterian History, 49.1 (Fall 1971): 246-265.
• Crisp, Oliver D., An American Augustinian: Sin and Salvation in the Dogmatic Theology of William G.T. Shedd. Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2007.
• Crisp, Oliver D., “William Shedd on Christ’s Impeccability,” Philosophia Christi, 9.1 (2007): 165-188.
• Crisp, Oliver D., “Sin, Atonement and Representationalism: Why William Shedd was not a Consistent Realist,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, 24.2 (Autumn 2006): 155-175.
• Crisp, Oliver D., “Shedding the Theanthropic Person of Christ,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 59.3 (2006): 327-350.
• Crisp, Oliver D., “Federalism vs. Realism,” Charles Hodge, Augustus Strong and William Shedd in the Imputation of Sin,” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 8.1 (January 2006): 55-71.
• Crisp, Oliver D., “Pulling Traducianism Out of the Shedd,” Ars Disputandi, 6 (2006). [pages not indicated]
• Crisp, Oliver D., “Scholastic Theology, Augustinian Realism and Original Guilt,” European Journal of Theology, 13.1 (2004): 17-28.
• Curry, Daniel, “Coleridge,” Methodist Review, 36 (January 1854): 34-57.
• Duncan, J. Ligon, III, “Divine Passibility and Impassibility in Nineteenth-Century American Confessional Presbyterian Theologians,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, 8.1 (Spring 1990): 1-15.
• Gomes, Alan W., “William Greenough Thayer Shedd on Evangelical Unity: Some Prescriptions–Theoretical and Practical,” Presbyterion, 29.1 (Spring 2003): 9-26.
• Harris, George, “Professor Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology,” Andover Review, vol. 11, no. 62 (Fall 1889): 168-179.
• Mouw, Richard J., “Baptism and the Salvific Status of Children: An Examination of Some Intra-Reformed Debates,” Calvin Theological Journal, 41.2 (November 2006): 238-254.
• Newby, John, “The Eschatology of American Reformed Theologians of the 19th Century,” Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, 25.1 (June 1999): 112-131.
• Ropes, Charles Joseph Hardy, “The Doctrine of Endless Punishment,” Andover Review, vol. 8, no. 43 (July 1887): 92-95.

Dissertations & Theses—
• Herzer, Mark Andrew, The Influence of Romantic Idealism in the Writings of William Greenough Thayer Shedd. Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 2003; Ph.D. dissertation.
•  Munger, Bernard Vernon, William Greenough Thayer Shedd: Reformed Traditionalist, 1820-1894. Duke University, 1957; Ph.D. dissertation.
•  Pollock, Wallace Stanley, The Rhetorical Theory of William G.T. Shedd. Northwestern University. 1962; Ph.D. dissertation.
•  Trechock, Mark A., Orthodoxy for a Critical Period : Five Case Studies in American Protestant Theology, circa 1870.  Iliff School of Theology, 1987; Th.D. dissertation.
• Yeaton, Kenneth L., The Eschatological Perspectives of John Calvin and W.G.T. Shedd. Aberdeen University, 1983; Th.M. thesis.

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  1. Vaughn Edward Hathaway Jr’s avatar

    You should have listed as resources some of Shedd’s own writings. Banner of Truth has produced two post-humous monographs of Shedd’s. Calvinism: Pure and Mixed is relevant to the discussions of creedal subscription that extend even into the 21st Cenbtuiry.

  2. archivist’s avatar

    Good suggestion, but it all comes down to time and money. We don’t have any money, and there just wasn’t time to make that entry as full as we would have liked.

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