Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), American theologian, was born in the village of Bantam, township of Litchfield, Connecticut, on the 14th of April 1802. He graduated at Yale in 1827, was associate editor of the New York Journal of Commerce in 1828-1829, and in 1829 became a tutor at Yale. Here he at first took up the study of law, but in 1831 he entered the theological department of Yale College, and in 1833 was ordained pastor of the North Congregational church in Hartford, Conn., where he remained until 1859, when on account of long-continued ill-health he resigned his pastorate. Thereafter he had no settled charge, but, until his death at Hartford on the 17th of February 1876, he occasionally preached and was diligently employed as an author. While in California in 1856, for the restoration of his health, he took an active interest in the organization, at Oakland, of the college of California (chartered in 1855 and merged in the university of California in 1869), the presidency of which he declined. As a preacher, Dr Bushnell was a man of remarkable power. Not a dramatic orator, he was in high degree original, thoughtful and impressive in the pulpit. His theological position may be said to have been one of qualified revolt against the Calvinistic orthodoxy of his day.
He criticized prevailing conceptions of the Trinity, the atonement, conversion, and the relations of the natural and the supernatural. Above all, he broke with the prevalent view which regarded theology as essentially intellectual in its appeal and demonstrable by processes of exact logical deduction. To his thinking its proper basis is to be found in the feelings and intuitions of man's spiritual nature. He had a vast influence upon theology in America, an influence not so much, possibly, in the direction of the modification of specific doctrines as in "the impulse and tendency and general spirit which he imparted to theological thought." Dr Munger's estimate may be accepted, with reservations, as the true one: "He was a theologian as Copernicus was an astronomer; he changed the point of view, and thus not only changed everything, but pointed the way toward unity in theological thought. He was not exact, but he put God and man and the world into a relation that thought can accept while it goes on to state it more fully with ever growing knowledge. Other thinkers were moving in the same direction; he led the movement in New England, and wrought out a great deliverance. It was a work of superb courage.
Hardly a theologian in his denomination stood by him, and nearly all pronounced against him." Four of his books were of particular importance: Christian Nurture (1847), in which he virtually opposed revivalism and "effectively turned the current of Christian thought toward the young"; Nature and the Supernatural (1858), in which he discussed miracles and endeavoured to "lift the natural into the supernatural" by emphasizing the super-naturalness of man; The Vicarious Sacrifice (1866), in which he contended for what has come to be known as the "moral view" of the atonement in distinction from the "governmental" and the "penal" or "satisfaction" theories; and God in Christ (1849) (with an introductory "Dissertation on Language as related to Thought"), in which he expressed, it was charged, heretical views as to the Trinity, holding, among other things, that the Godhead is "instrumentally three - three simply as related to our finite apprehension, and the communication of God's incommunicable nature." Attempts, indeed, were made to bring him to trial, but they were unsuccessful, and in 1852 his church unanimously withdrew from the local "consociation," thus removing any possibility of further action against him.
To his critics Bushnell formally replied by writing Christ in Theology (1851), in which he employs the important argument that spiritual facts can be expressed only in approximate and poetical language, and concludes that an adequate dogmatic theology cannot exist. That he did not deny the divinity of Christ he proved in The Character of Jesus, forbidding his possible Classification with Men (1861). He also published Sermons for the New Life (1858); Christ and his Salvation (1864); Work and Play (1864); Moral Uses of Dark Things (1868); Women's Suffrage, the Reform against Nature (1869); Sermons on Living Subjects (1872); and Forgiveness and Law (1874). Dr Bushnell was greatly interested in the civic interests of Hartford, and was the chief agent in procuring the establishment of the public park named in his honour by that city.
An edition of his works, in eleven volumes, appeared in 1876-1881; and a further volume, gathered from his unpublished papers, as The Spirit in Man: Sermons and Selections, in 1903. New editions of his Nature and the Supernatural, Sermons for the New Life, and Work and Play, were published the same year. A full bibliography, by Henry Barrett Learned, is appended to his Spirit in Man. Consult Mrs M.B. Cheneys Life and Letters of Horace Bushnell (New York, 1880; new edition, 1903), and Dr Theodore T. Mungers Horace Bushnell, Preacher and Theologian (Boston, 1899); also a series of papers in the Minutes of the General Association of Connecticut (Bushnell Centenary) (Hartford, 1902).