New School Theology

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New School Presbyterianism embodied mainstream evangelical Christianity in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Its modified Calvinist theology, enthusiasm for revivalism, moral reform, and interdenominational cooperation were its most notable characteristics.

New School theology had its remote roots in the Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards, but its immediate predecessor was the New Haven theology of Nathaniel Taylor, who advocated a theology of moral government. He synthesized moralistic elements from Scottish commonsense philosophy with reinterpretations of traditional Calvinism to construct a semi - Pelagian foundation for revivalism. Denying the imputation of Adam's sin and claiming that unregenerate man can respond to moral overtures, especially Christ's death, Taylor argued that men need not wait passively for the Holy Spirit to redeem them. His views reflected a long - standing American faith in human freedom.

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While Old School leaders roundly attacked Taylor's theology, revivalists and ministers such as Charles G Finney, Lyman Beecher, and Albert Barnes popularized it. Finney used Taylor's theology to redefine revivals as works which man can perform using means which God has provided. With such a theological basis he introduced his famous "new measures," such as referring to his hearers as "sinners" and calling them to sit on an "anxious bench" while they contemplated converting to Christ.

Schism divided the two schools of Presbyterians in 1837 when an Old School majority expelled New School members for tolerating theological errors. Differences over a plan of union with Congregationalists and slavery played a secondary role. Those ejected published the Auburn Declaration, which denied sixteen accusations alleged by the Old School. The declaration affirmed a weakened view of imputation, Adam's sinful act was not counted against all men, but all men after Adam were sinners, supported Christ's substitutionary atonement, and asserted that the work of the Holy Spirit, not human choice, was the basis of regeneration. It was a compromise between New England theology and the Westminister Confession.

This modified Calvinism was used to champion activism in American social life. Voluntary societies consisting of members from various denominations carried out missionary activity and combated social ills. These constructive crusades, in which New School Presbyterians played a leading role, were inspired by postmillennial expectations of progress.

In the decades after 1840 New School theology became more conservative. Its proponents widely criticized Finney's prefectionism. They attacked Darwinism, early biblical criticism, and German philosophy and theology. Henry B Smith of Union Theological Seminary emerged as the leading spokesman. His defense of systematic theology and biblical infallibility and his perceptions that New Schoolers had become more orthodox were influential in the reunion of the Presbyterian Church in 1869.

W A Hoffecker
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
A Barnes, Notes on the Epistle to the Romans; C G Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion; G Marsden, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience; T L Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform; N W Taylor, Lectures on the Moral Government of God.


Lyman Beecher

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Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) was an American Presbyterian clergyman, born in New Haven, Connecticut, and educated at Yale College (now Yale University). He became pastor of the Presbyterian Church at East Hampton, New York, in 1798. At this church, in 1804, he attained national prominence through his brilliant sermon on the death of the American statesman Alexander Hamilton, who was killed in a duel with the American statesman Aaron Burr. Beecher held pastorates successively at Litchfield, Connecticut, and Boston between 1810 and 1832, and during this period he became known as one of the most eloquent preachers of his time. He also was one of the leaders of a Presbyterian faction, called the New School, that opposed the strict doctrine and discipline of the conservative Presbyterians, called the Old School.

In 1832 Beecher was appointed first president of Lane Theological Seminary, near Cincinnati, Ohio, and pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati. His doctrinal liberalism soon brought him into conflict with his regional superiors. In 1835 he was tried by the presbytery on charges of heresy and hypocrisy, but was acquitted. The Presbyterian Synod, to which the verdict was appealed, sustained his acquittal in the same year. When the schism foreshadowed by the Old School - New School controversy finally developed in 1838, Beecher adhered to the New School. He continued to preach at his Cincinnati church until 1842 and retained the titular presidency of Lane Theological Seminary for the remainder of his life. He was the father of 13 children, among them the noted American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. All seven of his sons became clergymen. His writings include Collected Works (3 volumes, 1852) and Autobiography and Correspondence (1863).


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