Two types of Calvinism?

In an inaugural address delivered at Andover Theological Seminary in February 1854, Shedd spoke on the value of studying history. The lecture included ideas and themes that Shedd had already introduced to his church history students over the winter of 1853-54. That material was published in 1856 as Lectures upon the Philosophy of History, a work which Shedd ‘recast, amplified, and carefully revised’ for inclusion in Theological Essays, published in 1877.

In his address, ‘The Nature, and Influence, of the Historic Spirit.’, Shedd argued that history was at once continuous and complete. There was progress in knowledge, but real progress depended on recognition of past wisdom because ‘the past is secure.’ History itself was more than a collection of single biographies. Although no one age contained all that the final consummation would bring, yet every age of history contained indications of that consummation.

Shedd applied this in his view of church history as opposed to secular history. Theological development, the history of the creeds and systematic theology, could look back to a common source and an original orthodoxy. The historic spirit allowed theologians to assess Christian truth and knowledge correctly. One application of this was the promotion of a proper spirit of unity among orthodox theologians, and ‘a genial disagreement on non-essentials.’ This makes for interesting reading given Shedd’s role in the Briggs trial during the early 1890s.

Among other Reformed theologians, Shedd illustrates with reference to John Owen and Richard Baxter. Given the recent work on Baxter and Owen, one wonders where Shedd found any mutual confidence between these two giants of 17thC English theology:

"The theology of Richard Baxter differs from the theology of John Owen by some important modifications, and each of these two types of Calvinism will probably perpetuate itself in the in the church to the end of time; but the confidence which both of these great men cherished towards each other, should go along down with these systems through the ages and generations of time.

But what surer method can be employed to produce and perpetuate this catholic and liberal feeling among the various types and schools of orthodox theology, than to impart to all of them the broad views of history? And what surer method than this can be taken to diminish the number and bring about more unity of opinion in the department of systematic theology? For it is one great effect of history to coalesce and harmonize. It introduces mutual modifications, by showing opponents that their predecessors were nearer together than they themselves are, by tracing the now widely separated opinions back to that point of departure where they were once very near together; and, above all, by causing all parties to remember, what all are so liable to forget in the hear of controversy, that all forms of orthodoxy took their first origin in the Scriptures, and that, therefore, all theological controversy should be carried on with a constant reference to this infallible standard, which can teach but one infallible system."

W.G.T. Shedd, Theological Essays (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Company, 1877), p119.



Blogger Danny said...

An erudite theologian called Shed
A man who was very well read
Felt that the study of history (continuous and complete)
was a philosophical mystery (which like systematic theology)
You couldn’t unravel before bed (where I’m going now).

Ok I’ve done limericks to death - and how badly? I will do anything to avoid reading Church Dogmatics…

11:15 pm  

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