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!