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Lewis Joseph Sherrill

By Susan Schriver & C. Ellis Nelson


Lewis Joseph Sherrill (1892-1957) was an ordained Presbyterian minister who, by the use of experiential theology and depth psychology, formed a theory of Christian education that focused on the development of Christian selfhood. This theory encouraged a relationship between God and persons rather than a transmission of doctrinal statements about God. This theory starts with human conditions and relates Biblical themes to those conditions in order that individuals may experience God's presence. Sherrill was also instrumental in establishing academic standards for accrediting theological seminaries and, as a seminary dean, for developing a curriculum that integrated students' experience in congregations with their courses.


Lewis Joseph Sherrill was born in Haskell, a small Texas town 56 miles north of Abilene, on April 18th, 1892 from a long line of devout Presbyterians.

William and Samual Sherrill, with French Huguenot religious convictions, immigrated to America prior to the Revolutionary War and settled on Long Island. Part of the family moved south where, on an old North Carolina homestead, Richard Ellis Sherrill was born in 1816. Richard graduated from Davidson College, a Presbyterian school, in 1841 and became a Davidson professor the following year. After teaching for a few years, he attended Columbia Theological Seminary, became a Presbyterian minister, was pastor of churches in several southern states including Pontatoc, Mississippi where his son, Richard Ellis Jr. was born in 1861. The Sherrill family then moved to Texas where Richard Sr. continued to start Presbyterian churches including one in Sherman. While pastor of the Sherman church, Richard Sr. taught at Austin College.

Richard Jr. was educated in Sherman schools and Austin College. He then went into the hardware business with his brothers. In 1889 he married Catherine Taylor, moved to Haskell and, with a brother, started the first hardware and implement dealership in that area. They also began manufacturing concrete building blocks. Richard Jr. and his wife had five children: Lewis Joseph, another son and three daughters.

When Lewis' parents moved to Haskell, formerly know as Willow Pond Springs, in 1890 the land was a vast prairie with few trees and many animals, especially buffalos. Comanche Indians used this land for buffalo hunting but they were driven out in the 1870s by a series of battles as Texans domesticated the Western frontier. The first settler, Thomas Tucker, arrived in 1879 and when the settlement was organized he became the first county judge. During the 1880s the buffalos were slaughtered for their hides, meat and bones as ranchers filled the land with cattle and sheep. For a while the harvest of buffalo bones was the most profitable industry as they were shipped off to be ground up for fertilizer (Leffler, 1996).

By 1884 the first store was opened, several lawyers arrived and the first religious service was conducted by a Methodist minister. The saloon, named The Road to Ruin, was often used for religious services. The first mail service began with Mrs. R.A. Standefer as the postmistress. The mail arrived twice a week, usually about sundown. She would place the mail in her dresser drawer until after supper. The young people in the village gathered as a group, went to the Standefer home in the evening for the mail and to talk about whatever was happening in the village.

A county government was established in 1885 with Haskell as the county seat. Although there were not 150 settlers to sign the petition, enough names were forged to get the petition approved. The next year the Methodist Church began regular services, often meeting in members' homes. The First Baptist Church was formed with 19 members. A Christian Church and a Church of Christ were established. Presbyterians thought of themselves as pioneers for they related their new church of seven members to the frontier.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized about 12 years after Indians were driven out of this part of the state, and about seven or eight years after the first man settled on the location of the present town and less than two and a half years after the county was organized. At that time, deer, antelope and other wild game were abundant, the range open and free and land yet open for the homesteading. (Felker, 1975, p. 70)

Also in 1886, The Haskell Free Press began publication and mail was delivered daily, a one-room schoolhouse was built and paid for by the citizens with lumber they hauled from Albany, 40 miles away. This schoolhouse was used for a community Sunday School as well as for church services. Three years later, Haskell claimed a population of 500 and 100 school-age children. A two-room schoolhouse was built and in 1892, the year Lewis Sherrill was born, the school was graded with primary, grammar, and high school departments.

During the time from Lewis Sherrill's birth in 1892 and 1911 when he left for college, Haskell became the commercial and social center of the county. The county population in 1900 was 2,637; in 1910 it was 16,249. The town of Haskell's population in 1900 was 836; in 1910 it was 2,436. How Lewis responded to his first 19 years in this newly settled village is unknown. We can, however, describe some of the life situations which may have shaped his character.

Lewis grew up with four other children. We have little information about his mother, Catherine. As a mother of five children in a frontier town with a husband who assumed community leadership and traveled on business, she probably devoted all her time to the welfare of the family. Lewis' father was so well known and active he was described during the 100th anniversary of Haskell as follows.

Persistent and intelligent effort characterized Mr. Sherrill's life and placed him at the head of one of the oldest firms in Haskell. He was president of the Commercial Club, later Chamber of Commerce, in the early days of Haskell. He was a member of the school board for fifteen years and was an active participant in every forward movement for the commercial, intellectual and moral upbuilding of Haskell county. (Felker, 1975, p. 275)

Richard Jr. also wrote a history of Haskell County which, after the title page, records a page of Bible quotations of a wisdom or moral nature. Such quotations occur occasionally at the end of a section but never in the historical text. It is as if Lewis' father wanted to affirm that human events are governed by religious or moral principles. A person who knew Lewis' father said that he devoted himself to a study of Hebrew and Greek in order to better understand the Bible (Caldwell, 1957). He is also reported to have had the habit, when traveling on business, to first visit the Presbyterian minister in each town. His motive was to learn of any important new book about the Bible or theology that he should buy for the family library.

Both of Lewis' paternal grandparents had ancestors who immigrated to America in order to be free to practice their Calvinist interpretation of Christianity. These grandparents, Richard Sr. and his wife, moved to Haskell in 1890 so Lewis was under their influence until Richard Sr. died in 1897 and his wife in 1900. Richard Sr., who had founded 23 Presbyterian churches, revived the church in Haskell. At the time of his death the church had a new building, 45 members, a Sunday school with nine teachers and 35 pupils. One of Haskell's historians wrote of Richard Sr.: "A man with rare ability and power, with energies consecrated to the work of God" (Felker, 1975, p. 275).

Lewis' parents were charter members of the Haskell Presbyterian Church, they supplied the material for the new building, and his father was an elder. During Lewis' years in Haskell the church never exceeded a membership of 73 or a Sunday school enrollment of 65, yet it was able to pay to have a pastor for most of those years (Minutes, 1892-1910).

Social life in Haskell during the early 1900s was centered in the churches, school affairs and community events such as dances and the Mollie Bailey tent shows. One cowboy reunion, when Lewis was six years old, lasted three days. The attendance was estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 people. The cowboys, ranchers, pioneers, gamblers and slight-of-hand performers came by wagons, hacks, buggies and on horseback with their own tents and provisions. Most of the time was spent in various kinds of riding and roping contests. Also, the annual barbeque on July 4 was a big celebration. Haskell, being the only town in the county, organized the event as a fair. Everything was free and it ended with a dance (Sherrill, R. 1965, pp. 67, 159-160).

Sherrill's decision to attend Austin College was probably an easy decision to make since both his grandfather and father were associated with Sherman and the college. His father had received a medal as the best student in mathematics during the 1880 commencement exercises. Sherman, located about seventy miles north of Dallas, had a population of 12, 412 in 1910. The college was located away from the town. The faculty lived near the college, their children played on the campus and students visited in faculty homes. There was a "Campus Club," composed of faculty wives, designed for their fellowship and "… to promote sociability and closer relations between faculty and students and to assist when called upon by the President and the Y.M.C.A. Secretary." One member of the club remembered that the faculty wives were close to the students. "Our homes were open to them, in fact, I sometimes felt like we were acting as mothers confessor to the students, because they could tell us things and be gone, and they knew we would not repeat them" (Cummins, 1999, pp. 173-174).

Austin College, although the oldest liberal arts college in Texas, was rather small. There were thirty-eight students in the freshman class of 1911; all of them men, all but two were from Texas, and all Presbyterian or agreeable to a college owned and controlled by the Presbyterian Church. The ethos of the college was communal with a lively sense of responsibility for its welfare and its values. For example, the Y.M.C.A., which functioned as the center of student life, decided to raise money and use student labor to erect a building to contain a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a social parlor, meeting rooms for student organizations, and some dormitory rooms. The building was finished in 1911. This enhanced the status of the "Y" and expanded its program. "Ninety-five percent of all students on campus had joined by 1911. Its weekly Bibile study attracted over seventy participants. The "Y" also hired a permanent, full-time secretary who supervised its program" (Cummins, 1999, pp. 177-178).

During Sherrill's time at Austin College almost all the courses for the B.A. degree were required. There were a few elective courses in chemistry, history, French and Spanish. Each subject was taught by one professor who changed the content or increased the complexity of the subject as the courses in the subject were offered at advanced levels. Students were required to take courses in Bible, English, Greek, Latin and Mathematics all four years. Three courses in Physics were required; two courses in Philosophy, Chemistry, German and History; one course in Economics and Geology (Bulletin, 1911, pp. 38-61).

Sherrill won the prize for having the highest grade in Greek during his freshman year. For each of his first three years in college he was awarded the Gold Scholarship Medal by the Board of Trustees for having the highest grades.

Sherrill was active in almost all student affairs. He was a member of the Athenaeum Literary Society, the Y.M.C.A. of which he was a president, the Glee Club, a judge in the Student Court; a Trustee and Faculty approved student government with considerable power, even the right to recommend the expulsion of a student. In his senior year he was Editor-in-Chief of The Chromascope , the college yearbook.

Sherrill won the declamation contest his freshman year. When he became eligible, he won the college contest and represented the college at the Texas State contest. His oration, "American Opportunity at the Cost of Blood," took first prize in the state contest. This oration is a remarkable historical analysis of war and human nature and the hope that America would be able to bring about world peace (Sherrill, L. 1915, pp. 84-88).

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS), in which Sherrill enrolled in 1916, provided him with a different social and educational environment. Louisville, with a population of 234,891, was a southern city with commercial and financial connections to corporations in northern states. Moreover, the seminary was located near the center of the city. The elegant stone Collegiate Gothic architecture formed a continuous series of buildings grouped around three sides of a quadrangle. The student body at LPTS was smaller than that of Austin College but it was more diverse. The enrollment at LPTS in 1916-1917 was sixty-five students from ten states, twenty colleges, and three foreign countries (Register, 1916-1917, p. 12).

The Presbyterian Church split during the Civil War into a northern and southern denomination. LPTS was the only Presbyterian seminary related to both denominations. This unique sponsorship gave LPTS the reputation of being open to diversity and to a progressive spirit. The faculty offered courses for ministers to help them keep up with new ideas such as "Science and Religion," or "Studies in Religious Experience" based on William James' writings. Women were admitted to take courses in 1908. In 1914 the faulty agreed to make Hebrew and Greek optional in the senior year in order that students could take courses in sociology, ethics, religious studies and missions (Nutt, 2002, pp. 54-56).

During Sherrill's years at LPTS there was a parade of speakers on topics such as the world mission of the Church, social ethics, race relations, war and peace, and on one occasion a rabbi spoke on "The place of the Jew in the future." The seminary also encouraged students to attend meetings of the Student Volunteer Movement and regional meetings of church-ecumenical associations (Nutt, 2002, pp. 57-60).

LPTS made a special effort to be a Christian community. The quadrangle, built to take care of students' needs, helped them to be free to study and practice their faith. There was a faculty-led chapel service every morning and once a week a professor would conduct worship and preach. The students conducted an evening prayer service. The Y.M.C.A., which met each Monday night, discussed topics with speakers they selected. Once a month all classes were cancelled and the faculty and students spent the morning in prayer for the missionaries and the mission of the church to the world. Students also formed small groups to read and discuss books about mission work in various parts of the world. Professors occasionally lived in the dormitory to be near the students. When the bowling alley was installed in the basement of Grant-Robinson Hall, the faculty would often join students in that game (Nutt, 2002, p. 61).

The curriculum for the B.D. degree at LPTS in 1916 was a set of courses carefully arranged so students would study Bible, theology, church history and practice of ministry each year. There were no electives. Over one half of the courses were in Bible, including Hebrew and Greek which were necessary for the exegesis courses. The practice of ministry courses, such as religious education, homiletics, worship, and polity, were taught by the professors who taught the academic courses. This arrangement was considered a good feature of the curriculum. Professors would not only help students understand their work as a pastor but professors would be reminded that their academic courses were to be related to the work of a minister. Since the professors were also the informal supervisors of the students' work in congregations and Louisville's social agencies, there was a close relation between professors and students. The Seminary catalog defined that relation as follows. "The professors are pastors of the young men and are in closest association with them, and accessible at all times for conference with them on questions and perplexities arising in their Christian life" (Register, 1916-1917, pp. 14-16, 30-31).

World War I was a major concern of students during 1916-1918 as America was becoming more involved in the conflict. When the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, Sherrill responded by becoming a Y.M.C.A. secretary, the official agency for the welfare services for American troops and their prisoners of war (Harris, F. 1922). Then, in 1918 while in France, he enlisted in the Army and became a private in Battery B, 151st Field Artillery, 42nd Division. This was known as the Rainbow Division because it was made up of soldiers from all part of the United States. He participated in two of the most important battle Americans fought in France: St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne and was gassed (Hardord, 1936).

Sherrill graduated from LPTS in early May, 1921, married Helen Hardwick on May 12 and became Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Covington, Tennessee. Covington, located in the southwest corner of the state, had a population of 3, 410. The church membership in 1922 was 340 and the Sunday school enrollment was 300. During his four-year pastorate, the Sherrills had two children, John and Mary, the church membership and Sunday school enrollment increased by about 17percent and he became active in helping congregations in that area develop a ministry with teenagers.

During all this activity Sherrill learned that his preparation for ministry did not prepare him to understand the emotional aspects of human life nor how to relate those aspects to theological beliefs. He referred to this dilemma he experienced in Covington in the following way.

I sensed my inability to come to grips with the actual problems that people faced. Some of the young people of the community were irresponsible and unmanageable, and there was the stark reality of more than a few suicides. Neither my theology nor psychology was fully adequate to cope with these circumstances. It was convincingly clear that I lacked the necessary insights into human action to deal with such tragic circumstances in a vitally helpful way. (Fairchild, 1958, p. 404)

When Sherrill realized his inadequacy to deal with " … the actual problems that people faced … " he resolved to devote himself to a deeper search of how religious beliefs should relate to the development of mature selfhood. Thus, when the Executive Committee of Religious Education of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) invited him to become Director of Youth Work for the denomination, he declined the offer (Grant, 1957). Rather, in 1925 he accepted the invitation from LPTS to become the first Mary Hamilton Duncan professor of Religious Education. Sherrill's field of teaching at LPTS was called "School of Religious Education: Young People's Work and Church Efficiency." Although the title changed, he held that position until he went to Union Theological Seminary (New York) in 1950. In addition, he served as dean for twenty years and for one year as Interim President of LPTS.

The first summer after accepting the professorship at LPTS he took graduate courses at Northwestern University. He then transferred to Yale University and completed the Ph.D. degree in 1929 under the direction of Luther A. Weigle. His dissertation, Parochial Schools in the Old School Presbyterian Church, 1846-1870 , was more than 800 pages in length which he later condensed to 261 pages and published with the title, Presbyterian Parochial Schools, 1846-1870 . Weigle wrote, "As a graduate student, Sherrill was a joy. He was a born research scholar, a clear writer, and an effective and stimulating teacher." Once when Weigle was away for a short leave, Sherrill was given charge of one of Weigle's courses. When he returned Weigle said, " … he had hardly been missed … " (Weigle, 1957).

In 1930 the Conference of Theological Schools selected Sherrill as Chairperson of its Curriculum Committee. He guided the work of that committee with such competence he was elected the first Executive Secretary in 1935 of what became The American Association of Theological Schools (AATS). In 1938 he was elected President of AATS and served until 1940. It was during his ten years of leadership that the AATS formulated procedures for accrediting theological schools and began the process of requiring seminaries to be accountable for the way they trained ministers. Walter N. Roberts (1957) President of AATS, said at his funeral, "From this time [1935-1940] to the time of his death … he was the guiding light on the Executive Committee and the Commission on Accrediting. Whatever influence the AATS has had in shaping theological education in America from 1938 to 1957, … Lewis Sherrill has had the profoundest influence of all."

The Association of Theological Schools was the only major national religious organization to which Sherrill devoted attention throughout his career. This allegiance was a practical expression of his understanding of Christian education as a life-long endeavor. People studying to be ministers needed to continue learning and practicing the Christian faith while in seminary. Also, as Dean of LPTS for twenty years, he wanted to help form policies and procedures that would lead to " … the most effective ways of communicating though preaching and teaching."

In addition to Sherrill's work as a professor and dean of LPTS, he published 17 books and monographs, wrote over 44 articles, was guest lecturer in many seminaries and taught in summer conferences designed to help Sunday school teachers. This prodigious amount of work was done in such a calm manner that even his colleagues on the faulty were impressed. Julian Price Love (1957), professor of Bible, during a casual private conversation asked how he kept up such a pace. Sherrill said he took "the long look." By this he meant he planned ahead for each project and, except for emergencies, he stuck to his plan.

An examination of Sherrill's books and monographs indicate four major areas of concern. The first, from 1932 to 1939, was about practical Christian education topics: how to have good education in small churches, the importance of adult education for the welfare of a congregation, and the role of the family in the religious nurture of children. The second area of concern was from about 1939 to 1944 during which time he published three books about child development and how religious beliefs are to be shared with them as they grow.

The third area, from about 1944 to 1950, was a transition from conventional Christian education topics to an analysis of the theological beliefs that govern the church's educational programs. This period of time was characterized by a major theological issue, a research project and the onset of Sherrill's blindness. In brief, the theological issue was a clash between the rise of neo-orthodoxy and the liberalism in which much of American religious education was embedded. The issue became a critical matter when Harrison Elliott (1940) explained liberal theology in Can Religious Education Be Christian and Shelton Smith (1941) provided a neo-orthodox view in Faith and Nurture .

The International council of Religious Education responded to this theological issue by forming a committee to re-study the objective of religious education. This Re-study Committee report did not make any substantial changes in the generally accepted set of religious education objectives (Vieth, 1947). However, several denominations began to develop new curriculum for Sunday schools (Miller, 1966, pp. 98-100).

Sherrill's (1944) response to this theological upheaval was to make a careful study of the history of religious education from the Bible to modern times in two volumes. His purpose was to provide a perspective from which educators could make an informed judgment about the role of theology in teaching about God. While writing the first volume, The Rise of Christian Education , he learned that he was going blind so he cancelled plans for a second volume.

Sherrill's diminished vision left him with some sight but no ability to read. He was determined not to give up his work so he learned Braille, employed seminary students to read theology to him and a secretary to handle correspondence and to manage all aspects of publishing.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.) took seriously the need to re-study its education program and requested Sherrill to plan and direct such a study. Although now unable to read and moving more directly into a study of how psychology relates to theology, he accepted. Sherrill's (1949) report, Lift up your Eyes , led to a series of conferences with the staff of the Board of Christian Education in the early 1950s in which Sherrill participated. A few years later this denomination produced a new curriculum based on the work done in the consultation.

The fourth area of concern, from 1950 to 1957, was the use of psychology to help interpret and communicate Christian beliefs. This concern, which arose when he was a pastor, became the predominant theme in his Guilt and Redemption (1945). Sherrill's move to Union Theological Seminary (New York) in 1950 to be the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology freed him from the daily tasks of the dean's office and place him in an environment that encouraged research and writing. Although unable to read, he wrote The Struggle of the Soul (1951) and The Gift of Power (1955), the two books most often cited as original contributions to resolving the long-standing conflict between psychology and theology.

At Union Theological Seminary (UTS), Sherrill found administrators and professors interested in the role of psychology in theological education. He soon became part of a faculty group which designed and implemented a new department of psychiatry and religion. The purpose of this department was not to provide therapy for individuals but to offer courses which integrated psychology and theology and to be a presence on the campus to facilitate such discussions. Sherrill was a member of the faculty committee guiding this new department until his death in January, 1957 at the age of 64.

No biography of Lewis Sherrill can be complete without a comment about his wife, Helen. She was a lovely person who, in addition to her role as wife and mother, became a psychiatric social worker. Thus, from Sherrill's mid-career on he had a conversational partner at home about psychology and religion. She was also co-author of two of his books. Sherrill is reported to have said that many of the human situations used in his books to illustrate the text came from Helen's work experience. The faculty and President of UTS were so impressed with her experience and personality that she was appointed dean of students, a position she held until her retirement.

Contributions to Christian Education

Sherrill's experience as a pastor in Covington, Tennessee set the course of his career. There he realized that ministry must be more than "perfunctory teaching and preaching." So he resolved to begin a "deeper search" into the meaning of the Bible, theology, and humankind in order to be an effective communicator of the Christian faith (Fairchild, 1958, p. 404).

Sherrill never veered from his intent to employ findings from multiple disciplines; hence his contributions are distinct from those of many other scholars within the field of Christian education. His academic career clearly reflected the beneficial insights gained through the exploration of both theology and psychology. As Hightower (1999, pp. 109­110) suggests, Sherrill was "a pioneer in the effort to correlate theology and psychology."

While Sherrill's contributions are more commonly associated within the domain of developmental psychology, his influence extends into the domain of both theology and philosophy. Sherrill's The Struggle of the Soul (1951) links developmental theory with faith. Three images / metaphors are used to describe life: as a treadmill, a saga and a pilgrimage. (p.4) He describes five developmental phases consisting of childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood and senior adulthood and asserts that the struggles faced within each phase arise out of a need to determine what gives life meaning.

Sherrill was in search of a genre for Christian education. Unlike many of his peers, Sherrill did not believe Christian education was the product of a need to instill values or achieve Christian character. He contended that the core process of Christian education should focus on the revelatory encounter between God as self and individuals as selves. Christian education was seen to begin with the fact that we have a Gospel and that education becomes Christian when we are confronted by it and the God it reveals (Fairchild, 1958, p. 405). In his book The Gift of Power . Sherrill squarely places revelation at the center of both the Christian community and Christian nurture (p.68). The educational process involved meeting the individuals' existing spiritual and psychological needs and drawing forth their capacity as an individual. God, the church and the learner were to be drawn together in an intricate, dynamic web of relationship.

Williams (1975, p. 1009) contended that with respect to "form" Sherrill never altered. "With respect to content, however, his understanding and selection of the particular streams of psychological and theological views which could best enable him to realize his deeper quest for the meaning of man, changed throughout the course of his life." This was dependent upon his understanding and his experience. All information was looked at with an intent to foster wholeness in the depths of self. He knew the answer was not to be found by looking at merely one avenue of study.

In Kinsinger's preface (1956, p. i) she asserts that for Sherrill, the goal of Christian education is the redemption of persons. The church's function is thus described as bringing persons into a saving encounter with God. The educational work of the church is then seen to grow out of the church's deepest convictions about God and persons. Sherrill's book Family and the Church (1937) certainly supports Kinsinger's identified function and goal.

Although Lewis Sherrill has been identified as part of the Maineline model (as opposed to the Liberal or Evangelical models), labeling him as such diminishes much of his contribution; for his work was notorious for crossing the boundaries labels attempt to provide. Like others who hold to the Maineline position, Sherrill's works featured a heightened attention to a dynamic theology. His understanding of God was one that reflected God's active relationship with humanity. He not only believed there is a God but that this God is a personal being who can be known and communicated with. While the Liberal model focused on social interaction, this model's broadened focus included a "God who works" and this certainly complemented Sherrill's views. As such, Lewis Sherrill has been identified along with Sara Little, Iris Cully, John Westerhoff, Gabriel Moran, Ellis Nelson, Howard Grimes and Campbell Wyckoff as examples of educators' who embraced the Maineline model.

Lewis Joseph Sherrill is one individual whose contributions have made the field of Christian Education what it is today. He boldly explored outside the box of tradition and allowed himself to question basic assumptions of faith and praxis. Lewis was not an abstract theologian; instead he sought to make the Scripture come alive and be applicable to the everyday struggles of humanity. He challenged us to embrace education as something more than the transmission of knowledge of the faith. For Sherrill, Christian education was relational and truly had the power to transform lives.

Sherrill's influence was primarily through his writings. Several of his books went through multiple editions and were translated into Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. His many articles on a variety of topics constantly kept his ideas before different audiences. One cannot assay his influence on the thousands of seminary students he taught or on the church school teachers who took his summer school classes. It is also difficult to identify all the doctoral degree students who came under his influence when he taught at UTS. This is because doctoral students at Teachers College, Columbia University, and New York University often took seminars with Sherrill at UTS. The following list of names is, therefore, just a sample of doctoral students who came under Sherrill's influence at UTS: Edward S. Golden, David Jewell, Robert W. Lynn, David R. Merrill, Gustav C. Nelson, C. Ellis Nelson, Grant S. Shockley, C.J. Wright, and John Charles Wynn.

Sherrill's major concern was to formulate a theory of how Christian education could have " … the power to transform lives." He was also deeply interested in how to communicate the Christian faith so he wrote about the role of the congregation, symbols, "predicament and theme" as a way to organize teaching material, and "correlation" as a method of relating Biblical texts to the goal of helping a person develop a mature self (Sherrill, L., 1955). He did not, however, design a curriculum for use in congregations. His contributions to Christian education curriculum design came after his death.

Some denominations began an evaluation of their educational work in the 1950s which resulted in the Cooperative Curriculum Project (CCP). This project, begun in 1960, was to produce a new statement of the objective of Christian education that would provide the basis for a more effective curriculum. One hundred and fifty staff members from thirteen denominations worked on the CCP for four years (Nelson, 1966, pp. 157-169). Their report was published in The Church's Education Ministry: A Curriculum Plan (Cooperative Curriculum Project, 1965). This massive report of eight hundred and thirty-three pages by experienced Christian educators and consultants from the social sciences reflects many of Sherrill's ideas. The CCP, for example, set the objective of Christian education as the development of Christian's selfhood, Biblical passages are selected according to the "predicament and theme" motif, and the organizing principle for classroom teaching is similar to Sherrill's "method of correspondence."

Works Cited

  • Bulletin. (1912, April). Instruction . Sherman: Austin College publication.
  • Caldwell, F. (1957). An appreciation of a friend. In A volume of memorials . Unpublished manuscript, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
  • Cooperative Curriculum Project. (1965). The church's educational ministry: A curriculum plan . St. Louis: The Bethany Press.
  • Cummins, L. (1999). Austin college: A sesquicentennial history . Austin: Eakin.
  • Elliott, H. (1940). Can religious education be Christian ? New York: Macmillan.
  • Fairchild, Roy W. (1958, Sept-Oct). The contributions of Lewis J. Sherrill to Christian education. Religious Education , 403-411.
  • Felker, R. (1975). Haskell: Haskell county and its pioneers . Quanah: Nortex.
  • Grant E. (1957). Dr. Sherrill as a churchman. In A volume of memorials . Unpublished manuscript, Louisyille Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
  • Harbord, J. (1936). The American army in France: 1917-1919 . Boston: Little, Brown.
  • Harris, F. (1922). Service with fighting men . New York: Association Press.
  • Kinsinger, L. P. (1956). The theological presuppositions of Lewis J. Sherrill's philosophy of Christian education . Unpublished master's thesis, General Assembly's Training School for Lay Workers.
  • Leffler, J. (1996). Haskell. In R. Barkley (Ed.), The new handbook of Texas (Vol. 3, pp. 501-502). Austin: The Texas Historical Association.
  • Love, J. (1957). Dr. Sherrill's philosophy of life. In A volume of memorials . Unpublished manuscript, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
  • Miller, R. (1966). The objective of Christian education. In M. Taylor (Ed.), An introduction to Christian education . Nashville: Abingdon.
  • Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1892-1910). Richmond, Virginia: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.
  • Nelson, E. (1966). The curriculum of Christian education. In M. Taylor, An introduction to Christian education . Nashville: Abingdon.
  • Nutt, R. (2002). Many lamps one light: A 150th Anniversary history of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  • Register. (1916-17). Summary . Louisville: Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary publication.
  • Roberts, W. (1957). Dr. Sherrill as a leader in theological education. In A volume of memorials . Unpublished manuscript, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1915). America's opportunity at the cost of blood. In Chromascope . Austin College year book.
  • Sherrill, R. (1965). Haskell county history . Haskell: Free Press.
  • Smith, H. (1941). Faith and nurture . New York: Charles Scribner.
  • Vieth, P. (1947). The church and Christian education . St. Louis: The Bethany Press.
  • Weigle, L. (1957). Dr. Sherrill as a student. In A volume of memorials . Unpublished manuscript, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
  • Williams. D. F. (1975). The integration of psychological and theological views in the philosophy of education of Lewis J. Sherrill (Doctoral dissertation, New York University, Feb 1976) Dissertation Abstracts International , 38, 8-A.


Books and Monographs

  • Sherrill, L. J. (1929). Parochial schools in the old school Presbyterian church, 1846-1876 . Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1932). Presbyterian Parochial Schools, 1846-1870 . New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1932). Religious education in the small church . Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1933). The psychology of the Oxford group movement . Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.
  • Sherrill, L. J., & Purcell, J. E. (1936). Adult education in the church . Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1937). Family and the church . New York: Abington Press.
  • Sherrill, L. J., & Purcell, J. E. (1939). Adult education in the church . Richmond: John Knox Press.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1939, 1940, 1946, 1954). The opening doors of childhood . New York, MacMillan.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1939). Understanding children . New York: Abingdon Press.
  • Sherrill, H. H., & Sherrill, L. J. (1943). Becoming a Christian: A manual for communicant classes . Richmond: John Knox Press.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1943). La infancia (Spanish translation of The opening doors of childhood ) Buenos Aires: Libreria "La Aurora".
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1944, 1953). The rise of Christian education . New York: MacMillan Company.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1945, 1957, 1963). Guilt and redemption . Richmond: John Knox Press.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1949). Lift up your eyes: A report to the churches on the religious education re-study . Richmond: John Knox Press.
  • Sherrill, H. H., & Sherrill, L. J. (1951). Interpreting death to children . Boston: Division of Christian Education.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1951, 1953, 1961, 1963). The struggle of the soul . New York: MacMillan. (Published in English, Chinese and Japanese).
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1951). The struggle of the soul . (Title Page and Text in Japanese). Tokyo: The Board of Publication of the United Church of Christ Japan.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1955, 1958, 1963). The gift of power . New York: MacMillan.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1956). Tsumi no shinri to sono sukui ( Guilt and redemption ­ Japanese). Tokyo: Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan Shuppankyobu.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1964). Tsung chiao chiao yu ti hsing cho I / ma hung-shu i . (Translation: The rise of Christian education) Hsiang-kang: Chi-tu Chiao fu chiao chu pan she.

Chapters in Books

  • Sherrill, L. J. (1950). An historical study of the religious education movement. In P. H. Lotz (Ed.), Orientation in religious education . New York: Abington-Cokesbury Press.


  • Sherrill, L. J. (1926, July-Sept). Religious education. Yesterday and today. Inaugural Address. The Registrar , XV, 2-10.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1928). The average Presbyterian church. The Registrar , XVII, 5-6.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1928). Changes in religious education. Union Seminary Review , October, 25­50.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1928). Our resources. The Registrar , XVII, 10-16.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1929). Seminary students. The Registrar , XVIII, 11-12.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1929). The Duncan lectures for 1928-1929. The Registrar , XVIII, 3-5.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1930, January). Religious education and Presbyterian faith. Union Seminary Review , 133-151.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1930). The commencement. The Registrar , XIX, 24-26.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1930). Self-discipline in the ministry. The Registrar , XIX, 6-8.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1930). The barrenness of the Southern Presbyterian pen. The Registrar , XIX, 2-8.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1931, April). The barrenness of the Southern Presbyterian pen. Union Seminary Review , 278 ­ 289.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1933, October). The psychology of the Oxford group movement. Union Seminary Review , 1 ­ 33.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1934). Power, plus. The Homiletic Review , CVIII, 252-259.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1934). The language question. The Registrar , XXIII, 2-9.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1936). The status of theological education. Christian Education , February, 1­35.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1936). The armor invisible. The Registrar , XXV, 3-9.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1936, July). Report of the committee on standards of admission . Report presented at The Tenth Biennial Meeting of the American Association of Theological Schools. Chester (pp. 84-91), Chester, PN
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1936, July). Report of the executive secretary . Report presented at The Tenth Biennial Meeting of the American Association of Theological Schools (pp. 26-34), Chester, PN.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1936, February). The American association of theological schools. Christian Education , 207-210.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1937, February). The American Association of Theological Schools. Christian Education , 207-210.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1937). Standards for the Christian ministry. Anglican Theological Review , l9, 171­180.
  • Sherrill, H. H., & Sherrill, L. J. (1937, December 7). Bringing Christ to His own Birthday. International Journal of Religious Education , 36.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1938). The American association of theological schools. Christian Education , XXI, 253-254.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1939). The meaning of the accreditation policy of the American association of theological schools. The Registrar , XXVIII, 11-16.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1939). The sense of sin in present day experience. Religion in Life , 8, 504­515.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1940, July). Better theological education. The Journal of Religion , 270-273.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1940). The opening book of destiny. The Registrar , XXIX, 1-7.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1940, May 8). Progress and new questions in theological education. Journal of Bible and Religion , 77 ­ 79.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1941). The rural church project. The Registrar , XXX, 8-9.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1942). Everybody's business. The Registrar , XXXI, 1-7.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1948, April 26). Federal id in education. Christianity and Crisis , 50 ­ 53.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1950, November 6). Theological foundations of Christian education. The Presbyterian Outlook , 6-8.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1950). Theological foundations of Christian education. The Presbyterian Outlook , Nov. 13, 19-20.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1950). Comments on "Neo-orthodoxy goes to kindergarten" by Edith Hunter. Religion in Life , 20 (1), 19­20.
  • Sherrill, L. J., & Roberts, D. E. (1951, June). A bibliography for ministers - VI. Union Seminary Quarterly Review , 24-26.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1951, January). Theological foundations of Christian education. Union Seminary Quarterly Review , 3-12.
  • Sherrill, H. H., & Sherrill, L. J. (1951). Interpreting death to children. International Journal of Religious Education , 28, 4-6.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1952, April). A bibliography of religious education. Bulletin of the General Theological Library , XLIV.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1953). Response to "Woe unto us who are biblically illiterate" by Edith Hunter. Union Seminary Quarterly Review .
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1954). Survey of recent theological literature. Union Seminary Quarterly Review , 9 (3), 23-25.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1956, May). Bulletin of the pastoral psychology book club. The Pastoral Society Book Club .
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1956, June). Deeper changes in the self. Pastoral Psychology , 51-55.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1957, May). My times. Union Seminary Quarterly Review , 3-7.
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1959). Revelation and Christian Nurture. In L. J. Gable (Ed.), Encyclopedia for Church Group Leaders (pp. 185-187).

Unpublished Materials

  • Sherrill, L. J. (1956, January 24-26). The minutes of the curriculum study committee of the Presbyterian church of the United States . A paper presented at the second meeting, Richmond, VA. (mimeographed).
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1956, January 25). The perso n. A paper read at the curriculum study committee meeting, Richmond, VA. (mimeographed).
  • Sherrill, L. J. (1957, January). Developmental psychology and Christian education . New York. January. (mimeographed).
  • An extensive collection of Lewis Sherrill's writings and class notes can be found in The Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary archives.

Writings About Lewis Joseph Sherrill

  • Burgess, H. (1996). Models of religious education: Theory and practice in historical and contemporary perspective . Wheaton, IL: Victor Press.
  • Caldwell, F. H. (Ed.) (1957). A volume of memorials: Lewis Joseph Sherrill . Unpublished manuscript, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
  • Fairchild, R. W. (1957). An analysis of the contribution of Lewis J. Sherrill . Unpublished master's thesis.
  • Fadumila, S. B. A. (1975). A comparative analysis of the religious education thoughts of Lewis J. Sherrill and James D. Smart . Unpublished master's thesis, Howard University.
  • Fairchild, R. W. (1958, Sept-Oct). The contributions of Lewis J. Sherrill to Christian education. Religious Education , 403-411.
  • Hiltner, S. (1956, May). Lewis Sherrill: The man of the month. Pastoral Psychology , 65-66.
  • Kao, C. C. L. (1969). The view of man and the philosophy of Christian education in the thought of Harrison Sacket Elliott and of Lewis Joseph Sherrill . Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University.
  • Kinsinger, L. P. (1956). The theological presuppositions of Lewis J. Sherrill 's philosophy of Christian education . Unpublished master's thesis, General Assembly's Training School for Lay Workers.
  • Murphy, M. M. (1973). The contribution of the psychological approach of Lewis Joseph Sherrill to the twentieth century American religious educational scene . Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Catholic University of America.
  • Nabekura, I. (1970). The relevancy of Lewis J. Sherrill to Christian education in Japan . Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
  • Tippen, B. A. (1989). Transitions in 20th century religious education and intellectual history of succession of five professors of religious education at Union Theological Seminary in New York . Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University Teachers College.
  • Weeks, L. B. (1973). Lewis Sherrill: The Christian educator and Christian experience. Journal of Presbyterian History , 51, 235-248.
  • Williams. D. F. (1975). The integration of psychological and theological views in the philosophy of education of Lewis J. Sherrill. Doctoral dissertation, New York University, Dissertation Abstracts International , 38, 8-A, Feb 1976.

Reviews of Lewis Joseph Sherrill's Major Works

  • Allan, D. M. (1958, July). [Review of the book Guilt and redemption (Rev. Edition)]. Interpretation , 375.
  • Carmichael, P. H. (1957, January). [Review of the book The gift of power ]. Interpretation, 122-123.
  • Knoff, G. E. (1951, October). [Review of the book The struggle of the soul ]. International Journal of Religious Education , 36.
  • Nelson, C. E. (1956, June). [Review of the book The gift of power ]. The Austin Seminary Bulletin , 29 ­ 30.

Excerpts from Publications

Sherrill, L. J. (1937). Family and the church . New York: Abington Press.

Psychological research is making it constantly more clear that the main outlines of one’s personality are formed before he ever goes to any school outside the family. The most formative years are ordinarily spent in the family. The “teachers” are the parents and the surroundings. The “teaching” which comes first is largely a matter of forming the emotional life. This is the most fundamentally Christian or unchristian teaching found in life. (p. 17) Family life cannot be at its richest unless the bonds between the members of the family are strong. This strength needs to represent more than an emotional fixation between the members of the family. … The richness of life increases in proportion to the area of common experience. The entire family needs to share experience in as many areas of life as is possible. (p. 43-44) The relationship between children in the family present a tangled maze of particular problems. But the essential purpose of the Christian parent, in the midst of these problems, is simple, however difficult of achievement. It is that parents may help the children to live together as Christians. A means to that end is the ever-expanding discovery of what Christian love means. … There is no doubt the highest art of parenthood. It is the road over which Jesus constantly approached human souls. (p. 64-65) If the family is the first school of religion, the church in turn should be a school for the family. The church may help in strengthening and stabilizing marriage and family life, especially through its work with older youth and with adults. … This strengthening and stabilizing of marriage and family is an integral part of the whole purpose and work of the church. (p. 161)

Sherrill, L. J. (1939). Understanding children . New York: Abingdon Press.

Next to his own Christian purpose and convictions the greatest need to the teacher is to understand the pupils whom he teaches. For, important as may be the tradition which it is his to mediate, the final purpose in his work is with persons and their growth toward and unto more Christlike living (p. 9). It is not possible to discover how largely divorce contributes to delinquency and other forms of social failure in children … Nor is it possible to know what permanent hurt from this cause is carried over into adult life … But one can frequently see and must always be prepared to discover the keen suffering of a child who loves both parents and must be deprived of one … (p. 38). All that we have said about learning points clearly toward the necessity that children should have opportunity to make their own choices and carry out their own purposes, if they are ever to learn better responses than they now know (p. 106). Christian character is best developed by living under circumstances where adults take the initiative in creating a Christian society, as in home, church, community, or any other group. In that society children learn by participating as members who are responsible up to the level of their capacity. Where this is done, adults are learning, growing, just as truly as children are (p. 178).

Sherrill, L. J. (1950, November 6). Theological foundations of Christian education. The Presbyterian Outlook , 6-8.

What, then, distinguishes Christian theology from other human efforts to deal with the ultimate issues of human existence? It is the conviction that God has revealed himself. … Theology is man’s effort to deal with the supreme issue of life, death and destiny, in the light of revelation. And these two, revelation and theology, are bases upon which the Christian church not only exist, but from which it derives its unique nature. (p. 8)

Sherrill, L. J. (1963). The struggle of the soul . New York: MacMillan.

But pilgrimage is a state of mind before it is a journey, and many who deserve to be known as pilgrims, can never take a journey of the body. Yet they refuse to live in a treadmill. (p. 18) And in the human being we have also to reckon with a comparable kind of inward propulsion to grow, that is, to pass through certain stages as one moves toward the complete fulfillment of life. (p. 21) By “confrontation” is simply meant that in crisis, God confronts a man. That is to say… is a time when God confronts the human creature. (p. 27) At every stage throughout life man is confronted in some manner by the living God, in the common crisis of ordinary life. In each such confrontation the human soul is challenged to growth and further maturity. And at every stage he can go forward in faith, or shrink back in unbelief. (p. 218) The “I am,” which is the human soul, knows itself about to encounter, not a nothingness, but the “I am” who is God. And if one has been able to simplify the soul to its depths so that love is the foundation and essence of its being, the soul is at one with God. (p. 218)

Sherrill, L. J. (1963). The gift of power . New York: MacMillan.

The Christian religion can teach men how to receive a gift of interior, spiritual power sufficient to enable them to cope with the gift of external, physical power which has been granted. The nature of the power is well expressed in the phrase “the power to become.” (p. ix-x) What man has lost today is himself. He is his own lost continent. Until he finds himself, all else is lost. But his plight is twice compounded, for he can find no place to stand on so that he can search for himself. (p. 1) All the marks of his selfhood make it possible for him not only to respond to nature, as he must; but they make it possible for him also to respond to God as he will. This can be so because the selfhood which is man is a counterpart to the Selfhood which is God and developed in conscious relation with nature, man, and God… To do this would be to enter a deep togetherness with God as self with Self, and thus fulfill his own selfhood without in any sense undermining the selfhood or forsaking his integrity. It would signify that a man is responding with his deepest “Yes“ in a relationship with the Other who is within him and yet beyond him, a relationship wherein he can fully find himself and truly know himself. (p. 24) This means, for example, that the fact of God’s presence with man needs to be constantly interpreted to persons of all ages and stages of life so that they may perceive it. It means that the human response to revelation, while it is the direct response of an I to a Thou, is nevertheless open to the kind of guidance which one person may offer to another. And it means that the Christian community, in so far as it is indwelt by the Spirit, is a community where men participate in the redemptive and re-creative work of God in his forthgoing into human life. (p. 89) The system of education easily loses its way in the attempt to be scientific, while the teacher in such a system easily degenerates into a manipulator of the pupil, treating him as a thing to be experimented with and shaped according to some blueprint. (p. 148)

Sherrill, L. J. (1953). The rise of Christian education . New York: MacMillan Company.

In this book Sherrill explores the history of Christian Education. He gives particular attention to the role of education in ancient Israel. This book provides a thorough examination of the topic up to and including the medieval period.

Sherrill, L. J. (1963). The struggle of the soul . New York: MacMillan.

Sherrill explores the developmental stages of life and proposes that in each life-crisis, man is confronted by a God who wishes to be in relationship with him. Our life journey thus becomes one of self-discovery.

Sherrill, L. J. (1963). The gift of power . New York: MacMillan.

This book is perhaps Sherrill’s greatest work. He contends that the Christian religion can teach men how to receive the gift of interior, spiritual power sufficient that will enable them to effectively use the external, physical power which they also have been granted. This book beautifully explores the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the gift of the “power to become” each of us has been given.

Author Information

Susan Schriver

Susan Schriver, Ph.D., is Academic Dean of the New England Bible College, South Portland, Maine.

C. Ellis Nelson

C. Ellis Nelson, Ph.D., was Lewis Sherrill's successor at Union Theological Seminary and now in retirement is the Research Professor of Christian education at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, Austin, Texas.