Monday, March 10, 2008

Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding

by Dr. John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine

As a graduate of Lipscomb University (MA in Bible, 1996) and the grandson of a graduate of James Harding's Potter Bible College, I was eager to get a copy of this book to read it. I anticipated a lot of surprises from the book and I was not disappointed!

We in churches of Christ tend to be oblivious to our 19th and early 20th century heritage. In the mid-twentieth century we had emerged from a richly diverse and tolerant network of congregations to become a rigid and fairly uniform organization. Variations existed, but the variations were very small.

Hicks and Valentine reintroduce us to David Lipscomb and James A. Harding: men of faith, influential editors, and College founders. They present a very readable discussion of what they call the Nashville Bible School Tradition (Lipscomb and Harding and the Gospel Advocate) in contrast with the Texas tradition (Austin McGary, R.L. Whiteside, Foy E. Wallace and the Firm Foundation). Since these men were editors of their own repsective publications there is no shortage of primary texts for Hicks and Valentine to research!

The Lipscomb and Harding of history are presented as men who believed God was active and busy in bringing his Kingdom agenda to bear in the world. The Holy Spirit was active in the transformation of men and women into the image of Christ. He worked through scripture, service (especially to the poor), assembly and supper, and constant prayer. These "four means of grace" were the environment where the Holy Spirit accomplished his purposes of establishing kingdom values in the lives of individuals, congregations, and the world.

Loyalty to the Kingdom of God subsumed all other loyalties. Peace was priority. It shouldn't be too surprising then to discover that Lipscomb was opposed to any participation in government. In fact, the Nashville Bible School Tradition was predominantly pacifist.

The most surprising insight is to discover the similarities between the views of Lipscomb and Harding and what is being called the emerging church movement. There are differences, to be certain. Lipscomb and Harding were products of their culture--they were products of the enlightenment and were thoroughly "modern" in the true sense of the word. Even so,

Their vision was antagonistic toward modernity in significant ways--especially the in-breaking kingdom of God. Their spirituality has something to offer our postmodern situation. Just as N.T. Wright resonates with many in the Emerging Church Movement and with many postmoderns, much of Lipscomb and Harding will resonate with them as well. Reclaiming the spirituality of Lipscomb and Harding may be a way forward for Churches of Christ in the contemporary world.

This is not to say Hicks and Valentine are blind followers of these two men. Harding and Lipscomb have their faults and there is no attempt to gloss over them in this book. But I think you will learn to appreciate their strengths and especially their Kingdom vision.

A highly recommended, reader-friendly book!


James said...

Hi Darryl -- thanks for the review. And you've caught me off guard.

When you mentioned a "different approach to politics," I thought you were going to go the other direction: politicians who made a difference in their governments. I see that you meant the other way -- those who disavowed government all together.

It's funny, because I'm wrestling with Shane Claiborne's latest book, Jesus for President, and he seems to be arguing for the same thing. Basically, to unplug from the Empire. I'm still processing.

Thanks again for the rec's!

Anonymous said...

Oops -- it's too bad you can't correct your spelling after you publish a comment:

"altogether" not "all together." =)

Darryl said...

Thanks for the comment. It is something to contemplate, isn't it? The whole idea certainly goes against the grain for a guy raised in a family that kept up-to-date on the political scene.

Since I've read the book I've picked up an online copy of Lipscomb's Civil Government: Its origin, mission, and destiny and the Christian's Relation To It (published in 1913). It is quite an interesting book and certainly not what you normally hear among evangelicals or liberals!

Like you: I'm still processing.

Jeff said...


A friend sent me the link to this review. Thanks. I'm pretty familiar with Lipscomb - looks like an interesting book.

I would only add that while true that they were products of their culture - we should be quick to add that we are as well (often our failure to add that reflection leads to hubris) and that sometimes our critiques of past "faults" are themselves products of culture. So, too, would be the revisionist history (I don't use that in a negative sense; all history is revisionist) of Hicks and Valentine. But, that's another story.

At any rate, thanks for the review and thoughts. Well done.

Darryl said...

Thank you! I have to agree with you! Sometimes we can become quite silly (or arrogant) and begin thinking we can approach history from a totally unbiased and objective view. We aren't machines!

Even those who claim to be "post-modern" or emergent identify themselves by modernity ("post-"). We are products of a rationalistic culture that has permeated our world for a few hundred years! We are dominated by the processes without even realizing it.

Ok, I'm waxing an elephant!

Thanks for your kind remarks!