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Nathaniel Taylor and The New Haven Theology

Submitted to Dr. Ken Cleaver

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

CHHI 660 – B01

American Christianity


Caleb R. Brown
March 16, 2018


Family History and Education...…….……………………………………….…….…...iv

Taylorite-Tylerite Controversy……………...………………………….….………..…vi

Taylor’s Theology and More Controversy..……...………………………………..…..ix

The Old School-New School Controversy………………………..…………………..xiii




Nathaniel Taylor was born in the small town of New Milford, CT in 1786. As Sweeney

amusingly points out, New Milford boasted more sheep than it did people.1 The rural land of

New Milford, which lay 10 miles from the border of New York and 35 miles north of New

Haven, CT, would lay the foundation for Taylor and open his mind to the ways of the farm and

the ways of New England.2 Sweeney points out a very important part of what many historians

fail to recognize. The geographic region and culture that Taylor was born in played such an

integral role in shaping his theology and thought. Sweeney says that Taylor was and is, “the

most frequently misrepresented American theologian of his generation.”3 Likewise, the issue of

the history of slavery and what led to its development in America has been one of the most

misunderstood as well as darkest moments in human history. The scar that it has left on the

people of this country of all skin colors and religious traditions still bears its marks in the twenty-

first century, especially in the Bible-Belt of the Deep South. While there has been much written

on this subject from theologians, historians, and politicians that come from many diverse

backgrounds and agendas in the telling of the story; there is still much to be said and much more

to learn. The examination of Nathaniel Taylor and his theological treatment of the Biblical text

that stemmed from his New Haven Theology will put a microscope on him and how one person

had a major impact on how modern Evangelicals view such issues concerning race today. The

thesis of this paper in the examination of Nathaniel Taylor will prove that his theological

Douglas A. Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards,
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 1.
Douglas Allen Sweeney, "Nathaniel William Taylor and the Edwardsian Tradition: Evolution and
Continuity in the Culture of the New England Theology," PhD. diss. Vanderbilt University, 1995, iii.

position eventually dealt with the problem of slavery in a more biblical and contextually realistic

way than the Old Calvinist traditional position.

Family History and Education

Nathaniel Taylor’s family first settled in the area of Connecticut along with the Puritans

in 1639. Nathaniel’s grandfather was the Rev. Nathaneal Taylor, the first of the Taylor family to

settle in the town of New Milford.4 Nathaneal graduated from Yale in 1745 and by 1748 he was

preaching regularly in the town of New Milford.5 Nathaneal advocated the theology of Old

Calvinism. However, it is doubtful that Nathaniel was influenced any by his grandfather’s Old

Calvinism as Sweeney notes.6 More than likely, it was his grandfather’s patriotism and the

heroics of Nathaniel’s two uncles, (Augustine and William), that would have the most influence

upon him.7 Nathaniel’s grandfather was known for many patriotic accomplishments as well as

his practical pastoral care for his congregants. Old Calvinism would not be one of the things that

he was well known for in New Milford.8 In 1759 Nathaneal served as a chaplain in the

Connecticut regiment in the fight against the French and Indians.9 Nathaneal would show his

patriotic spirit again in 1779 when he donated a full year salary to his congregation who was

war-torn from the Revolution.10 While Nathaneal was too old to fight in the Revolution, he had

two sons, Augustine and William, who would both take up arms during the American rebels

Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 17.
Ibid., 18.

fight for freedom.11 These actions by Nathaniel’s family would have likely had more of an

influence on the young Nathaniel than Old Calvinism, and as Sweeney notes, Old Calvinism was

just about obsolete by the turn of the 19th century.12 During this time, it would be the

Edwardsians that would lead New England and motivate the revivals of the Second Great

Awakening in America.13

It would be a man named Azel Backus that would first introduce the young Nathaniel to

Edwardsian theology.14 Backus had a profound influence on Taylor and by proxy, had a major

influence upon Yale as Backus prepared him for school at New Haven.15 Taylor started Yale at

the age of 14 and he caught the attention and admiration of Yale’s current President whom

Taylor eventually lived with for a time while at New Haven. Taylor was a very bright pupil and

he caught the attention of many of the faculty while at Yale. It would be under Dwight where

Taylor would eventually have his theological thought molded from the Edwardsian tradition.

Edwardsian theology, by itself, exploded in the first thirty years of the 1800’s.16 Crisp

and Sweeney note that Edwardsian theology and her institutions were prevalent in New England

at that time. Sweeney says that it was so prevalent that it is not unfair to say that there was an

“enculturation” of Edwardsian theology in New England during the early 1800s.17 However,

Edwardsian theology was controversial for Old Calvinists in that it insisted that original sin was,

Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 18.
Ibid., 20.
Oliver D. Crisp and Douglas A. Sweeney, After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England
Theology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 144.

“in the sinning,” meaning that sinners that were penitent played a role in their regeneration.18

This was not a position that sat well with traditional Old Calvinists. They also did not like the

idea of how it placed God’s grace in conjunction with human free-will; for them it seemed as

God’s grace was not coercive.19 This placed Taylor and other Edwardians at odds with Old

Calvinists as well as Unitarians. Yale’s Divinity School and Nathaniel Taylor were full

participants in the culture that Edwardsian theology brought to this region.20 However, the

Edwardsian tradition that Taylor adopted would eventually bring to the first controversy in a

string of many other controversies that would soon to follow, even well beyond his death.

Taylorite-Tylerite Controversy

While Taylor’s New Haven Theology, (as it was pejoratively called by his antagonists),

very publicly developed through the 1820’s, it would not be until the end of the 1820’s that

Taylor, and his companions Taylorite views would start receiving criticism.21 The controversy

would eventually cause an eventual split between theologians, who were at one time, not only

very fond of each other, but all together defended the Edwardsian position against the Unitarians,

Methodists, as well as other Arminians.22 However, it would be Taylor’s Concio ad Clerum, (a

sermon of Taylor’s in 1828), that would eventually lead to an Edwardsian split.23 The

controversy between Taylor’s brothers was confusing for Taylor and took an emotional toll on

him and his family. Nathaniel did not completely understand how his brothers could not see his

Crisp and Sweeney, 144.
Ibid., 145.
Ibid., 144-145.
Ibid., 147.

side. As Sweeney notes, “Taylor and his companions always deemed his New Haven theology

Edwardsian.”24 Taylor considered it a repacking of Edwards theological thought and feelings and

it distanced Taylor even further from Old Calvinism.25 No one has studied and treated Taylor and

his New Haven Theology in as fair of a way as Douglas Sweeney. In Sweeney’s dissertation on

Taylor he says,

“Taylor’s Arminianizing, revivalistic, evangelical thought has epitomized, at its best, a

more humane (if not platitudinous) dilution of the strong-willed Calvinism of a bygone
era, and at its worst, a controlling demagoguery that played on the worst instincts of the
Jacksonian commonalty.”26

Asahel Nettleton would likely have agreed with Sweeney’s latter assessment concerning Taylor.

Nettleton, who once supported Lyman Beecher (Taylor’s closest ally), would eventually become

the leading advocate against Taylor by supporting what was known as the Tylerite party.27

Nettleton, who once lived in the Northeast, had moved south to Virginia because of his ill health.

Nettleton had already been in some fiery debates that did not help his existing ill condition.

Friends convinced him to go south to Virginia. While in Virginia, some of Nettleton’s friends

and colleagues read Taylor’s sermon published in the Quarterly Christian Spectator.

Unfortunately, as Crisp and Sweeney note, Nettleton’s friends found Taylor’s views heretical.28

This view by Nettleton’s friends would be the turning for Nettleton. He would try to distance

himself all the more from Taylor, despite the fact that Yale’s Chauncey Goodrich attributed

Ibid., 145.
Ibid., 146
Sweeney,"Nathaniel William Taylor and the Edwardsian Tradition: Evolution and Continuity in the
Culture of the New England Theology,” PhD. diss. Vanderbilt University, 1995, 2.
Crisp and Sweeney, 145.
Ibid., 146.

Nettleton’s current success to espousing Taylor’s own views.29 Nettleton was embarrassed, and

so he returned to New England after the spring of 1829 to quiet the Taylorites.30 Nettleton was

convincing enough to persuade Andover Seminary’s Ebenezer Porter who called a meeting at his

home with Taylor, Beecher, and Goodrich attending along with Nettleton, Woods and Stuart to

engage in a discussion to air their differences.31 However Woods would publish a series of letters

that would enrage Beecher and lead him to encourage Taylor to go to battle against Woods.32 By

1834 Taylor’s views eventually lead to him being faced with heresy charges back home.33

Taylor would be acquitted and eventually the Taylorite position would be the popular group in

the region.34 Despite Taylor’s consistent position that the Tylerites were friends, they believed

that Taylor had diluted Edwardsian Calvinism too far.35 Eventually they sided and associated

more with the Old School Calvinists causing a schism that would take place in 1833.36 Despite

the schism, Sweeney states that each person carried the Edwardsian New Divinity in one form or

the other in the service of revival of the Second Great Awakening.37 The following section of

this paper will examine Taylor’s New Haven Theology and discuss the views that caused this

major schism.

Crisp and Sweeney, After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2014. 146-147.
Crisp and Sweeney, 148.
Ibid., 149.
Douglas A. Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement, (Grand Rapids:
Baker, 2005), 67.

Taylor’s Theology and More Controversy

Any historian conducting research attempting to communicate the theology and thought

of Nathaniel Taylor will find that there is not as much information as one might expect. The fact

that there is a lack of biographical information concerning him seems odd for someone who was

appointed the Dwight Professor of Didactic Theology at Yale and at the center of such grand

controversies. Taylor taught and held this position from 1822 until his death in 1858. The

information that we do have concerning him shows many historians did not approve of his

theology nor appreciate how or why he came to the position he did. Most of them reveal a very

biased and unfair treatment concerning Taylor and his thought. While many American historians

mention him, most only do so in passing and still others only use sources contrived from early

antagonists to Taylor and his New Haven Theology. Few have written on him since World War

II and none have spent more time in treating him as fairly as Sweeney, especially concerning

how much influence Taylor has had on influencing American religious thought. This is largely

because of the controversy that swirled around him and his companions in the 1820s and 1830s.

Perhaps it is the controversy itself that gives reason to the lack of biographical information

concerning him. The controversy not only took a toll on his historiography, but as mentioned

earlier, it also took a toll on his family. His daughter Rebecca notates that it was seldom that

Taylor’s family enjoyed his presence during the time of the controversy from the 1820s and

1830s.38 Samuel Mead, who wrote a biography on Taylor, believed that New England Theology

was never Edwardsian nor Consistent Calvinism.39 Most specialist and non-specialists alike paint

Taylor as the theologian from New Haven who accomplished nothing more than bringing

Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 69.
Sweeney, "Nathaniel William Taylor and the Edwardsian Tradition: Evolution and Continuity in the
Culture of the New England Theology,” PhD. diss. Vanderbilt University, 1995, 58.

Edwardsian Theology to its ultimate demise. Taylor certainly communicated a theology that had

evolved from the original thought of Edwards. Taylor would not have disagreed, however he

believed that such an evolution was in the very spirit of Edwards. Sweeney notes that the shape

and direction of Taylor’s thought lie in the loci of the doctrine of original sin, the theme of divine

moral government, and the doctrine of regeneration.40

W.A. Hoffecker says that Taylor felt prompted to revise Calvinism because of frequent

attacks by Unitarians.41 Unitarians claimed that Calvinism was deterministic and actually

promoted immorality because it denied human free will. Hoffecker states that Taylor altered the

Reformed doctrine in order to harmonize its theology with the revival practices that were taking

place.42 Paul Gutjhar shares a similar sentiment. Gutjhar states,

Due largely to the pressure of these revivals, factions rose within Presbyterianism which
came to be called Old School and New School. Presbyterians failed to find a balance
between the theology they taught and the practical realities and consequences of large-
scale conversions.43

Sweeney makes it clear that it is Taylor’s Calvinistic solution to the problem of evil that would

be the foundation for opposing the Old Calvinists position on the atonement.44 Taylor believed

the high Calvinist view of the atonement was one that was forensic and limited, just as the

Unitarians.45 Taylor however, also opposed the view of the atonement that stressed Christ’s

Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 69.
W.A. Hoffecker, “Nathaniel William Taylor,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., Walter A.
Elwell, ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1168.
Hoffecker, 1168.
Paul C. Gutjhar, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2011), 135.
Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 91.

death was substitutionary in the place of sinners to satisfy God’s justice. Taylor stressed that in

God’s moral governance, Christ was sent to die so that His death would be preached to urge

sinners to freely repent and turn to God.46 Theodore Munger is noted by saying that it was the

Moral Government of God that was the great thought of Taylor’s intellect.47 Taylor apparently

noticed the self-doubt that would wreak havoc on the poor souls who had heard sermon after

sermon from hyper-Calvinist clergyman. Taylor encouraged his fellow ministers to drive this

fact home, “God did not withhold grace from any who earnestly sought it.”48 Taylor’s thought on

God’s moral governance would certainly be the infrastructure that would shape his whole

theology.49 Concerning God’s providence, Taylor emphasized the infallibility of God’s decrees

in a way that allowed the human’s will to be free to choose Him. For Princeton and their faculty

members who were against Taylor and their New Haven Theology, their discourse in the

controversy centered on the doctrine of imputation. Gutjhar states that the New School, who was

profoundly influenced by Nathaniel Taylor, infused pro-revivalism tendencies with the different

theologies that would stress the human power of the free-will in conversion.50 However,

Gutjhar’s treatment of the New Haven theology does not seem fair. The New Haven theology

that gained so much popularity in the region may have been the very thing that helped spark the

Second Great Awakening, that and the Holy Spirit. There does not seem to be any evidence that

Taylor purposely adopted a “new theology” in order to explain contradictions to Edwardsian

Theology in light of the Second Great Awakening. Gutjhar even point his readers to a piece of

Hoffecker, 1168.
Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 91.
Sweeney, Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 91.
Gutjhar, 135.

evidence that shows it was Taylor’s theological influence that helped spark the Second Great

Awakening. Gutjhar states, the Second Great Awakening, “peaked in agency and force in the

1820s and again in the 1850s with many revival leaders, sometimes unknowingly, adopting

Taylor’s notions of human agency.”51 The Old School believed that the theological thought that

Taylor influenced, compromised the traditional Calvinist belief of God’s absolute sovereignty. It

would be Charles Hodge and his Seminary professors at Princeton who would become uneasy

with what they saw and heard during the Second Great Awakening. Gutjhar states that while

Hodge and his Seminary professors were concerned, they did not want to engage in an

aggressive attack.52 Hodge opted for approaching the issue at hand by engaging in debate

through his own Biblical Repertory, having many Princeton faculty writing many different series

of articles to address the concerns that they had with their denomination’s embracing of Taylor’s

New Haven Theology.53 While Hodge and Princeton may have said that they did not want to

engage in an aggressive attack, an aggressive attack against Taylor is the very thing they

contrived by comparing him to Pelagius and the controversy between him and Augustine. While

others would come to Taylor’s defense, it would be one of Princeton’s own graduates that would

threaten the Old School, Princeton position. Albert Barnes, a 1924 Princeton graduate, would be

one of the most prominent and influential New School Presbyterian advocates.54

Ibid., 136.
Gutjhar, 136.
Ibid., 138.

The Old School-New School Controversy

One of the major implications concerning the theological controversy in the Old School-New

School debate played itself out on the debate of slavery in America. The debate concerned

theologians and politicians alike. Because Jonathan Edwards influence upon Taylor and all of

American Religious thought is so prevalent, it is important to note that Edwards was known for

not being sympathetic to slavery. Edwards drafted a letter between 1738 and 1742 that revealed a

very strong anti-slavery sentiment from the Massachusetts colony.55 The revivals that began to

take place during the Second Great Awakening now began to bring the conversation to wider

audiences in the church. The debates and discussions grew louder and people started to search

the scriptures for answers to understand what God’s word had to say concerning slavery. Mark

Noll states that the problem of slavery and the Bible was always an exegetical problem, but

never a problem that was only exegetical.56 Perhaps this is why Sweeney believes that Taylor’s

theology held together so very well. As stated earlier, Taylor believed that the Old Calvinist

position was limited. Taylor did not agree, or at the very least like the language, of the traditional

Calvinist view of limited atonement. When the debate concerns slavery, it was Old Calvinists

like Hodge that would endorse slavery on Biblical grounds. While Hodge did not agree with all

the tenants concerning slavery in America, he did not believe that the Bible spoke against slavery

per se.57 Taylor’s own personal views concerning slavery had to evolve and catch up with his

Molly Oshatz, 20.
Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, (New York: Oxford, 2002),
James H. Moorhead "Theology and Slavery: Charles Hodge and Horace Bushnell." Interpretation 62, no.
2, April, 2008, 212.

own theology. Taylor supported slavery into the 1850s, but it is important to note that Taylor

took the same position as Yale and he later recanted that position before his death.

The implications of Taylor’s thought concerning God’s moral government allowed human

free will to align in a more biblical way than the Old School position concerning slavery ever

possibly could have. Old Calvinists such as Hodge, from Princeton, were also not in support of

the revivalism that was taking place. However, another Princeton alum named Albert Barnes

would be the theologian who was most influential concerning the debate on slavery. Barnes

wrote An Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery to respond to people on both sides of the

debate concerning the biblical passages that were being used.58 Cleaver notes, “Barnes Inquiry

did not appear in a vacuum.”59 Barnes conversion to Christianity took place when he was a

senior at the Yale-influenced Hamilton College.60 While Barnes was at Princeton, the New

Haven theology was gaining popular appeal and he would become an advocate for an

individual’s moral responsibility while the Holy Spirit was responsible to bring a sinner to their

knees to create the desire to repent of their sin.61 This would place Barnes right in line with

Taylor’s thought and be the driving force behind Barnes social activism. Taylor also had

influence upon Barnes, all be it if only indirectly. Taylor’s view of God’s moral governance is

very similar to Barnes view of the cosmic war that he saw take place between God’s kingdom

and Satan’s kingdom. Mark Draper argued that Barnes was more concerned with the cosmic

K.G. Cleaver, “An Examination of Albert Barnes' Handling of the Bible in the Debate on Slavery in Mid
-Nineteenth-Century America.” PhD diss. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2002, 3.
Ibid., 7.
Ibid., 13.
Ibid., 20.

battle taking place than he was with being an elite clergyman with a desire to control American



When viewing the thought of Taylor and his influence upon anti-slavery abolitionists,

this paper has fairly shown that it was his theological thought was instrumental in influencing

abolitionists like Albert Barnes, as well as many others. Historians such as Gutjhar even give

compelling evidence of Taylor’s widespread doctrines that were unknowingly adopted by

revivals as far south as Kentucky. Despite the fact that Yale and Nathaniel Taylor were very

much in support of slavery before the Civil War, it would be fair to say that Albert Barnes had a

profound influence upon Taylor who later recanted his pro-slavery position. Albert Barnes was

such an influential voice in the abolitionist movement. This is mostly due to Barnes’ treatment of

the biblical texts as well as the theological influence that Taylor indirectly had upon Barnes in

the Northeastern States. The evolution of the Edwardsian tradition concerning the human’s free

will and God’s moral governance could have been one of the guiding factors in conjunction with

the Holy Spirit that allowed the Second Great Awakening to spark the many revivals that sprung

up throughout America. A Christian historian can almost clearly view the lens with which

Barnes viewed the cosmic battle between the forces of God’s kingdom and Satan’s worldly

kingdom playing out. Had Taylor’s theological position have never evolved as it had, the very

spark that ignited the Second Great Awakening would have had to have come from a different

place. The once divided parties that split hairs in the theological debates and controversies before

the Civil War eventually looked back and realized they were not that far apart theologically.

Mark Draper, "The Millennium as a Motivation for the Social Reform Activity of Albert Barnes." PhD.
diss. Trinity International University, 2014, iv.

Clearly God was sovereign over the events that took place to not only allow the Second Great

Awakening to happen as it did, but for it to help heal a nation in the aftermath of the war

concerning the matters of slavery.


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