I was interested a couple of evenings ago, and somewhat amused, as I was reading W. G. T Shedd’s book on “Homiletics and Pastoral Theology”. In chapter three of his Pastoral Theology section Shedd writes concerning the pastor’s reading choices and habits. His main criticism as he concludes this chapter on ”The Intellectual Character and Habits of the Clergyman” is against the surge of periodical literature of his time; the shallow nature and the short shelf life of that “species of literature.” This made for interesting reading and much food for thought in light of the recent development of blogging; the newest “species of literature.”

William Greenough Thayer Shedd was an intellectual above the average. Throughout his career he held positions as professor of English Literature, Rhetoric, Church History, Sacred Literature and Systematic Theology. This should give some perspective.

[The pastor’s Library] should be choice, a gem of a library, and then he will not be tempted by inferior productions to waste his time. And, especially must he be upon his guard against the great mass of periodical literature that is coming into existence, and dying as fast as it is born.

Periodical literature, as a species, is the direct contrary of standard literature, and its influence upon education is directly antagonistic to that of true study. The periodical is like a polypus. The polyp propagates itself by sprouting and swelling, like a vegetable. And this is the process in periodical literature. A very slender idea, or thought, is bisected, and these parts are exhibited, each as a complete whole, and the entire truth. These, again, are subdivided by another journalist, and re-exhibited, and thus the polyp-process goes on, until a single idea, not very solid at the beginning, is made to propagate itself through page after page. One man writes a book, the whole of which does not contain a thousandth part of the truth that is to be found in some standard work. Another writes a review of this book, Another writes a review of this review, and so the work goes bravely on, from month to month, and year to year.

The true course, for the clergyman, as well as for the student generally, is to devote no more attention to the current and periodical literature of his age, than is just sufficient to keep him acquainted with its tendencies, and currents of thought and action, devoting himself, in the meanwhile, to those standard products which are for all time, and from which alone he can derive true intellectual aliment and strength.”

Despite his above average expectations (or perhaps because of), Shedd is well worth reading, and re-reading. Much of his work is out of print but here are some of his books that I have read (or parts of), and would recommend:

Dogmatic Theology (3 vols, 1888–1894), (reprinted in 1 Vol. by P&R, 2003)
Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1879) (reprinted; Klock and Klock, 1978)
The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1885) (reprinted; Banner of Truth Trust, 1990)
A History of Christian Doctrine (2 vols, 1863) (reprinted; Klock and Klock, 1978)
Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (1867) (reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 1965)
Calvinism Pure and Mixed (1893) (reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 1986)