Last week I became aware of a review of my book, Kingdom Come, by Gardner Hall. I have never met Gardner before. Gardner published his review in a journal called Biblical Insights and has placed it also on his website. I read his reaction and then asked him if I could place it on my own website. I was thrilled by his review because he took the book seriously, he has wrestled with it and gave both positive and negative. I think Gardner is mistaken in some of his interpretations (regardless of my point of view on the role of women that is not a subject in the book itself). We disagree on matters here (I obviously disagree with what he calls problem areas) and there but unlike some critics he also sees some value in the book ... to the point of recommending its purchase. Gardner is the grandson of Flavil Hall, I have learned (mentioned in the book too). He is from, I gather, what is commonly called the "non-institutional" wing of the Churches of Christ. Be that as it may he is a brother in the Lord. I appreciate the effort he made to join the dialogue ... and the book if nothing else is an effort to get us in Churches of Christ to dialogue about some important theological concepts. One thing that pleased me is the fact that Gardner is the only reviewer known to me that calls attention to the written prayers at the end of each chapter. John Mark and I believed they were among the most important things in the book. With these thoughts in mind I share Gardner's review unedited.
Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb
and James Harding
by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine
A new book, Kingdom Come, Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding, will leave careful Christians with a mixture of admiration and apprehension. The admiration will be for Lipscomb and Harding’s emphasis on personal devotion to Christ and holiness, articulately summarized by authors, John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine. The apprehension will come from some of the applications that Hicks and Valentine draw from the writings of the two giants who lived at the turn of the twentieth century.
It is no secret that "mainstream churches of Christ" became increasingly worldly in the last part of the twentieth century, emphasizing parties, recreation, pop "Bible" study (for example, drawing spiritual lessons from the Andy Griffith TV show) and other spiritual fluff. The most eloquent protests against such worldliness have come not from the more conservative elements of "the mainstream" but from progressives such as C. Leonard Allen, John Mark Hicks and Rubel Shelly. In various books and publications, they plead for more personal spirituality, Bible study and prayer even as they press for women in the pulpit, acceptance of instrumental music in worship and other elements of their progressive agenda. The authors of the book, Kingdom Come... are from this progressive group.
The authors take a similar historical approach to the Stone-Campbell restoration movement as that taken by Richard Hughes in his 1996 book Reviving the Ancient Faith. They divide the movement into three spheres of influence: (1) A compromising, materialistic stream represented by liberal Christian churches of today, (2) A dogmatic and somewhat sectarian influence seen in many churches in Texas. Austin McGary and the Firm Foundation magazine represented this approach during the lifetimes of Harding and Lipscomb. It later characterized men such as R.L. Whiteside and Foy E. Wallace. (3) Harding and Lipscomb represented the third stream seen among churches around 1900. The authors call it the "Nashville Bible School Tradition." Richard Hughes used the term "apocaliptic" to describe this third approach and feels that it originated with Barton W. Stone. Ed Harrell prefers the term "cultural separatism." It was characterized by an emphasis on separation from the world, pacifism, a belief in the personal indwelling of the Spirit, concern for the poor, God’s providential intervention apart from the Word and in the case of Harding, R.H. Boll and others, premillennialism.
The authors summarize the thrust of their book on page 19.
Though the Nashville Bible School Tradition was prominent in the early years of the twentieth century, ultimately the Texas Tradition practically absorbed it in the south and became the majority perspective in the 1940’s and 1950’s through the influence of such leaders as Whiteside and Wallace. However, we believe the Nashville Bible School Tradition is particularly compelling, more biblically authentic and needed in the contemporary church... This book endeavors to facilitate the appropriation of communal practices, individual habits and kingdom vision that shaped the life and teachings of Harding and Lipscomb.
Restoration History and Denominational Attitudes about God’s Church
Biblically, the church of Christ is all the saved individuals in the world known only to God (Acts 20:28). It is not synonymous with the "Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement." Churches of Christ are congregations that God stills considers to have a "candlestick" in spite of different levels of growth (Revelation 2,3). They do not belong to a movement that has a Nashville Bible School tradition, Texas tradition, One-Cup tradition, No Bible Class Tradition, or any other tradition. They belong to Christ. Unfortunately, studies in Restoration History often reinforce denominational concepts.
However, just as the Corinthians could not have denied the influence of Paul and Apollos even as they were told to identify spiritually only with Christ, historical reality is that men like Lipscomb, Stone, Campbell, etc have influenced many disciples today. The key to benefiting from a study of "Restoration History" while avoiding denominational concepts is to identify spiritually only with Christ and remind ourselves constantly of the spiritual truths about the makeup of God’s church mentioned above, even as we learn from the successes and avoid the mistakes of those who have sought God before us. That’s where books such as Kingdom Come... can be helpful.
Strengths of the book
Persuasive calls for renewed spirituality, prayer and separation from the world aren’t only needed among mainstream "churches of Christ" but also among more independent groups of disciples that have been also affected by the materialism of twentieth century America. Excellent practical suggestions about making prayer, holiness, study and service more a part of the daily lives of disciples make this book much more valuable than its $14.99 price tag. The written prayers at the end of each chapter are unique and help the reader consider his own pleas to God for more holiness, separation from the world and spiritual fellowship.
More difficult issues
Hicks and Valentine follow their protagonists, Lipscomb and Harding, into the deep waters of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and direct providential intervention. Harding in particular argued energetically that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and intervenes in our lives apart from the influence of the word.
Certainly, it is possible to overstate the case made by Foy Wallace and others of "the Texas tradition" regarding the Spirit’s indwelling and Divine intervention only through the Word. To do so is to overlook the fact that we can never grasp all the ways that God works in our lives and to put Him as it were in a box. While acknowledging that God’s ways are often beyond our understanding, the scriptures do emphasize the fact that the Word is His sufficient means of revelation for us today, and at least His primary tool of intervention in our lives. If those of the "Texas tradition" have helped Christians see that fact, we can thank them for it.
However, just as the "Texas tradition’s" position about the Spirit and divine intervention can be overstated to the point of mechanical dogmatism, so can Harding’s position lead to outright subjectivism. Irrational testimonials about God’s providence and seeking His guidance through subjective feelings or occurrences in our lives ultimately promote pride and confusion. It’s better to trust in the Word as God’s primary tool of intervention, even as we thank Him for His workings that are beyond our comprehension.
The authors eloquently use Harding and Lipscomb’s writings to plead for separation from the world. However, they have allowed the feminist movement of the world to pressure them into a distorted interpretation of texts such as 1 Timothy 2:11,12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 so that they can promote women in the pulpit.
Though arguing persuasively in chapter nine that separation from the world implies aloofness from its carnal wars, at the end of the chapter they advocate political activism to promote legislation and political change. It seems that detachment from one, carnal warfare, would imply detachment from the other, political activism. Such trust in politics would be anathema to Lipscomb and Harding.
An inconsistency of Harding’s that is surprisingly shared by the writers is that Christ will reign again in some way on the earth. On page 186, they quote Romans 8 and Anthony Hokema, to advance the idea that the physical world will not be utterly destroyed, but redeemed. They say, "Our hope then, is to reign with God on the earth... The old heaven the old earth will be purified by fire and renewed for inhabitation by God’s saints." (page 187) This, of course, in spite of Peter’s declaration that our "one hope" is "reserved in heaven" (1 Peter 1:4) and that the earth and the elements in it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10). Perhaps I am missing something, but it seems that there is an inherent inconsistency in linking the concept of other-worldliness with the promotion of an earthly heaven.
Hicks and Valentine disassociate themselves from what they called the "ecclesial hermeneutic (‘command, example and inference’)" of Harding and Lipscomb and their participation in the battles with the Disciples of Christ denomination over instrumental music and the missionary societies. They obviously don’t see that such common-sense Biblical interpretation and the battles with those who were losing confidence in restoration, were integral parts of their other-worldliness. Inevitably, there must be separations between those who cling to primitivist principles and those that reject them. Division, though it must be avoided until there is no other recourse, is sometimes necessary (1 Cor. 11:19).
Though correct in promoting personal holiness, an emphasis on grace and other-worldliness, the progressives’ rejection of a careful approach to Bible authority and their push for ecumenism will probably land them into something like the first of the three streams of Restoration Movement they mention, that of the liberal Disciples of Christ denomination. It will not lead them into the third stream they claim to be reviving, that of Harding and Lipscomb.
( Kingdom Come, Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine was published in 2006 by Leafwood Publishers in Abilene, Texas and can be ordered from the publisher, www.leafwoodpublishers.com, or from Amazon.com.)