by H. Lee Mason
Examining some of “the winds of change wafting across Christian Churches (independent) in the realm of biblical scholarship.”
In the early 1990s I had the privilege of making two trips to Ukraine. The Berlin Wall had come down and the Soviet Union was breaking up. Many were hurrying to enter what had been forbidden fields with the Gospel. On one of those trips I was taken to a large government building that had been used by the Communists to teach their propaganda. People who wanted to rise in the ranks of Communist Society had to take and pass courses taught in this building. Now the building was being used for a college. I was invited to teach in an English class that day. The textbook for the class was the Bible. I taught English from the book of Acts and, of course, lectured on the meaning of the text. In the back of the room was a mural of a famous painting showing (I think) Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, and Vladimir Lenin standing together. I felt more than great joy to be teaching the Bible in a place where the ideas of the three men whose likenesses decorated the rear wall had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. All I could think of was that Christianity was triumphing over Communism. It was one day that I shall never forget. That occasion was brought fresh to my mind when I picked up the Fall 2007 copy of the Stone-Campbell Journal and read the lead article.
The Stone-Campbell Journal, (SCJ), is edited by William R. Baker, Professor of New Testament at Cincinnati Bible Seminary, and the issue in question leads off with an article entitled, “Coming Full Circle: Biblical Scholarship in Christian Churches.” The article was written by the same William R. Baker, Paul Kissling (TCMI Institute), and Tony Springer (Jackson, MS). The very first two paragraphs tell us more than we ever wanted to know.
Just this spring (2007) Jerry Sumney, Professor of NT at Lexington Theological Seminary, presented a stimulating, well-received lecture on Paul's missionary work at Cincinnati Christian University. Lexington Theological Seminary is the institution from which Cincinnati Bible Seminary was spawned, a tumultuous 1924 develop-ment in the decisive split from the Disciples of Christ by churches now labeled Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, or Christian Churches (independent) as it is usually termed in SCJ. Four years prior to Sumney, Newell Williams, now president of Brite Divinity School (another Disciples' seminary), presented a captivating lecture—in Foster Hall flanked by portraits of R.C. and Lewis Foster—on Barton W. Stone (later appearing in SCJ 7.2). In between these two events, Chris Rollston, Professor at Emmanuel School of Religion, a seminary within the Christian Churches with which CCU has sparred over the years, was also in Foster Hall presenting a lecture on ‘Scribal Education in Ancient Israel.’ All three were part of the SCJ Conference for their respective years, which also highlighted the scholarship of those in Christian Churches (independent) and Churches of Christ (a cappella). But the appearance of these three signal [sic] more than anything the winds of change wafting across Christian Churches (independent) in the realm of biblical scholarship.
“Over the course of three generations, since the demarcating split from the Disciples, biblical scholarship from Christian Churches has traversed three distinct phases: from a position of (1) defending the Bible from the modernist attacks of liberal, critical scholarship that had taken hold in Disciples' seminaries, to (2) regaining a positive respect for scholarship through engagement with evangelical scholars and academic institutions, to beginnings of (3) stepping carefully into the full academic arena.”
The purpose of the article is stated in paragraph eight: “In scope, this study will first survey the landscape of scholarship in Christian Churches (independent), before focusing specifically on New Testament and Old Testament scholarship, and then will consider the impact of scholarship on the church and what the future holds.”
(The editor of The Restoration Herald has been accused by those associated with the Stone-Campbell Journal of taking things out of context. Professor Baker was asked if The Restoration Herald might print the entire article in question but permission was refused. Anyone wishing to have a copy of the article will have to contact Professor Baker at email@example.com or 513-244-8688.)
On December 4, 2007, a meeting was held of some of the trustees of The Christian Restoration Association and some individuals from Cincinnati Christian University to discuss the article in question in the SCJ and its implications.
Many of us were graduated from Cincinnati and knew the issues that were being fought with the Disciples of Christ, and not just with them, but the entire liberal religious world. We were taught that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and that Jesus is the Divine Son of God who was born of a virgin, killed, and bodily raised to life again. We were taught that Christ commissioned His followers to go into the world and preach the Gospel; “he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that doesn't believe will be damned.” We were taught that the church is the divine institution that Christ founded to be His body on earth and to do His will. We were taught that there is no organization over the local congregation and although para-church organizations may be started by congregations and believers, they are never to usurp the authority of the local congregation. We were taught that the differences between us and the Disciples of Christ and the rest of the liberal religious world were not just organizational, but were based in the authority of the Word of God.
The above paragraphs from the SCJ tell us that things are changing in the independent Christian Churches. Yes, they are. The proofs that they give of the speakers noted would be some of the same proofs that I would give. Giving the location of the speakers (“ . . . in Foster Hall flanked by portraits of R.C. and Lewis Foster . . . “) is an indication that the writers understand part of the history of Cincinnati and comprehend that that history is, or has been, reversed. Such being the case, it is a sad day for our brotherhood. Where once we defended the faith, now some seem to want to destroy it.
The mere title of the article sends a frightening message: “Coming Full Circle: Biblical Scholarship in Christian Churches.” Many of us do not want to go back to Lexington! We left Lexington to go back to Jerusalem. To go full circle, to go back to Lexington, would take us back to infidelity to God and His Word.
Professor Baker is the founder of both the Stone-Campbell Journal and the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference which he calls (in paragraph 7) “. . . significant occurrences that have propelled scholarship forward in the last decade . . .” The Stone-Campbell Journal Conference is held on the campus of what is now called, “Cincinnati Christian University.” According to a publicity piece sent out about the SCJ Conference, CCU is one of the sponsors of this event.
Before the December 4 meeting, Professor Baker commented on accusations that the editor of TheRestoration Herald had made in an unpublished editorial. Baker said in part:
“For the record, with the entire faculty of CCU, I affirm wholeheartedly the statement of faith set forth by CCU's trustees as the standard for all teaching faculty at the CCU.
“Also for the record—all those who organize SCJ and the SCJ Conference believe in the inspiration of Scripture, all standard, orthodox Christian doctrine, and hold dear the foundational positions of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement on church order, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and beyond.
“My record of service beyond those statements of faith should be obvious to anyone. I have given my life to serving Christ both in the church and in academia . . . I have always tried to make the most of opportunities to represent and explain the historic positions of Christian churches including our positions on baptism, the Lord's Supper, and many other matters. Through the SCJ and the SCJ Conference I have made available the sound academic work of other scholars in our movement for research by students in hundreds of educational institutions, from Yale University to Wheaton College, to students in Europe, Africa, Asia, and on the internet . . .
“Scholarship does not equal liberalism, and it never has. Speaking to or listening to liberal scholars does not make one liberal. Mason's intemperate accusations wrongly besmirch the reputation not just of me but of every single person mentioned in the article, and all in our movement holding or seeking Ph.D.'s, often at the urging of their educational institutions.
“I firmly believe that the legacy of R.C. and Lewis Foster is enlarged as CCU continues to lead the way in responsible scholarship. I believe that my work is a part of continuing that legacy.”
At the December 4 meeting Professor Baker said that he thought that R.C. Foster would be pleased with the dialog that was being held with Disciples of Christ scholars. My only comment on this is that Baker did not know, nor did he study, under R.C. Foster.
But let us now take a closer look at some of the “sound academic work” that is presented in the Stone-Campbell Journal. Space will limit us to but a quick look, but this look is important in light of the above statement: “I have given my life to serving Christ both in the church and in academia . . . I have always tried to make the most of opportunities to represent and explain the historic positions of Christian churches including our positions on baptism, the Lord's Supper, and many other matters. Through the SCJ and the SCJ Conference I have made available the sound academic work of other scholars in our movement for research . . .”
Does the Stone-Campbell Journal “represent and explain the historic positions of Christian churches”? Does it represent “sound academic work”?
Examination of some SCJ Articles
SCJ Vol. 5, No. 1, carries an article by Ralph K. Hawkins titled: “Infant Baptism and the Boundaries of Christian Fellowship.” The last paragraph says, “If Churches of Christ (a cappella) and Christian Churches (independent) are willing to consider the practice of infant baptism as a valid practice, the implications for unity could be tremendous. This article has sought to introduce the relevant historical, biblical, and practical issues to help spur discussions so that Christ's church might someday be one, so that the world might believe.”
SCJ Vol. 6, No 1, in an article titled “The Rise of Monotheism in Ancient Israel: Biblical and Epigraphic Evidence” by Christopher A. Rollston, the same person mentioned as one of the three speakers in Baker's first paragraph, and professor at Emmanuel School of Religion, he speaks of Deuteronomy having been written in the 7th-6th century and also speaks of “Deutero-Isaiah.” In those few comments he excludes Moses as the author of written Deuteronomy and implies that the prophet Isaiah did not write the book of Isaiah.
SCJ Vol. 7, No 1, in an article by Mark A. Matson titled, “Current Approaches to the Priority of John,” is this statement, “Berger has also suggested a direct link between John and Q material.”
Nowhere in the article is “Q” described as the mythological document imagined for purposes of explaining how the gospel writers could be so similar. Taken out of the equation is that the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses and were guided by the Holy Spirit. R.C. Foster called “Q” “imagination” and quotes the Harvard liberal James Hardy Ropes as saying that “Q” was pure theory (page 61, Studies in the Life of Christ).
SCJ Vol. 7, No. 2, in an article by Mark S. Krause titled, “Five Postmodern Fingers,” we find the following paragraph contrasting Walter Scott's five finger “exercise” with his own postmodern plan of salvation: “This, however, is not the end of the relationships. One problem with Scottism's reliance on Acts 2:38 is to sequentialize baptism between repentance and forgiveness. Therefore, one could not get to forgiveness without going through baptism. Otherwise the sequence would be disrupted. Moreover, if baptism was omitted, the sequence was necessarily dead-ended, and the person of faith could never arrive at forgiveness—and therefore, was not saved. Yet this is not the usual relationship found in Scripture, particularly in the OT where repentance and forgiveness are tightly linked without mention of baptism.”
SCJ Vol. 9, No 2, in an article by Mark Hamilton (Abilene Christian University) titled “Transition and Continuity: Biblical Scholarship in Today's Churches of Christ” we find the author's view of when Deuteronomy was written when he says in the “seventh-century BC date for most of the work (some being later) . . .”
Hamilton tells of another a cappella scholar who believes that the “Pastorals and Colossians are post-Pauline.” He also tells of another scholar who says that Genesis 12-36 was written around 553 BC to 330 BC. Baker in his introduction to the article calls this a “new maturity” among the a cappella churches of Christ scholars.
One of the criticisms of the SCJ that we have is that there is not to be found any kind of disclaimer for some of the nonsense that is found in its pages as indicated above. When asked about why there were no disclaimers, it was stated on December 4 that “no scholarly journal ever carries disclaimers.”
That statement was very easy to check out. The question of “disclaimers” in scholarly journals was put to several people who might have an answer that would carry some weight. The American Theological Library Association replied that “some academic journals carry disclaimers and some do not.” The Iliff School of Theology librarian responded in part, “But the conclusion I reach is that you can't make such a general statement; some journals will give a disclaimer and some won't.”
The SCJ claims to be a forum. The problem with being a forum is that innocent people can get hurt by not understanding that some material may be hazardous. The fact that Professor Baker's name is attached to every issue of the SCJ with the identifying mark of Cincinnati Christian University causes questions to be asked, rightly or wrongly, about what is being taught at the school.
In the article in question, high marks are given to another CCU professor, Tom Thatcher, as a “formidable leader of scholarly studies in the Gospel of John.” And although we have been assured that Professor Thatcher believes that the apostle John wrote the Gospel of John, in an article he wrote titled, “The Legend of the Beloved Disciple,” which appears in the book, Jesus in Johannine Tradition, that Thatcher also edited, is this sentence, “Perhaps the author of FG (Fourth Gospel) no longer knew about the actual identity of the person at the foundation of his tradition, or even whether such a person had ever really existed.” Nowhere in the article does Thatcher say that he believes that the Gospel of John was written by the Apostle John. (For more information about the authorship of John see R.C. Foster's chapter in The Everlasting Gospel.)
Baker says in that first paragraph quoted, “But the appearance of these three signal [sic] more than anything the winds of change wafting across Christian Churches (independent) in the realm of biblical scholarship.”
He speaks of those three appearing on the SCJ program that meets on the campus of CCU. He does not speak of our scholars being invited to speak on the campuses of seminaries known to be liberal. I will go to speak most anywhere I am invited, but giving whatever platform I have to unbelievers will not happen.
Virgin Birth and Resurrection Not Important
I wrote to both of the men mentioned above as from Disciple of Christ schools and said, “I am interested in finding out more about Lexington Theological Seminary (or Brite Divinity School) and what is believed and taught there. Two questions come to mind: 1. Do all of your professors believe in the virgin birth of Christ? 2. Do all of your professors believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the grave?”
Both schools wrote back and said essentially the same thing. Rick Lowery, Interim Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Lexington Theological Seminary, said, “Thank you for your inquiry. True to our heritage as a seminary affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we do not make any creedal affirmation a test of faith or term of employment. My guess is that you would find a variety of belief and interpretation on these two matters among our faculty.”
Stan Hagadorn, Director of Admissions at Brite, said, “Brite is an ecumenical and non-doctrinal seminary, which means there are a variety of beliefs held among our faculty and students. If you are seeking that kind of educational environment, then Brite may be a good fit for you. If you are looking for a uniform theological stance, however, my guess is that Brite may not be your best option.” (By the way, this is the same Brite Divinity School that was to give Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's mentor and minister in Chicago, an award.)
In other words, what one believes about the virgin birth of Christ or His bodily resurrection doesn't matter to them. But the Divinity of Christ does matter to many of us. And to have people who say that those things don't matter speaking on the campus of CCU is very disturbing.
The question must be asked that if R.C. Foster would not have allowed Disciple scholars to speak on campus during his lifetime, what makes anyone think that since he is dead he would now approve?
Why is this important?
Once I was asked by an officer of CCU if I watched other colleges as closely as I watch Cincinnati. My answer was “No.” I went on to say that I watch Cincinnati for three important reasons: 1.) Cincinnati is my alma mater; I care what happens to her. 2.) Cincinnati is the college that was started and run for its first four years by The Christian Restoration Association; the CRA cares what happens to her. 3.) Cincinnati is the “bell cow” of all of our colleges; as she goes, so go other schools; history cares what happens to her.
One of our long-time scholars, a graduate of CBS and professor in another Bible college for over 40 years, read that first paragraph and said, “The title seems to imply that the present CCU has come full circle in that it now embraces, or at least entertains, the liberalism that the college/university was established to resist. It is more realistic to say that some at CCU seem to have gone half-circle—180 degrees opposite to the original stance of The Cincinnati Bible Seminary.”
Is this the direction that our “scholars” want to take us?
This, of course, is not a condemnation of all of our scholars. We have some wonderful men who stand alongside R.C. Foster, Lewis Foster, and George Mark Elliott in earnestly contending for the faith. But the appearance of anyone who gives the impression of leaning away from their stance is a matter of great concern.
This is not to make “gods” of these men (Foster, Foster, and Elliott) as we were accused of in the December 4 meeting. It is just to say that those scholarly men knew whereof they spoke and those of us who studied under them do not want their reputations or the reputation of the school they built besmirched by those who would take the school in another direction.
The previously quoted faithful scholar who is a CBS graduate and has made a career of teaching in another Bible college, made this comment after reading the Baker article: “The comment about Williams' lecture being given in Foster Hall, flanked by portraits of R.C. and Lewis Foster, smacks of ridicule about the naïve, conservative stance that the Fosters represented.”
He went on to say, “If the mockery is intended in any way, then the observations of another stalwart are being validated again. L. Edsil Dale said that liberals rarely build institutions; they steal them. He also observed that this begins to happen when the third generation of leaders takes control.”
It seems that at this late date one of two things needs to happen at Cincinnati. Either the pictures of R.C. Foster and Lewis Foster (and George Mark Elliott, whose picture graces another spot in that building) need to come down and parts of the building need to be renamed, or Professor Baker and others of his ilk need to be relieved of their teaching responsibilities at that school and allowed to go where their type of teaching and belief system is appreciated.
At the beginning of this article the Stone Campbell Journal was quoted as saying, “But the appearance of these three signal more than anything the winds of change wafting across Christian Churches (independent) in the realm of biblical scholarship.” That is absolutely correct. Winds of change are blowing, but to paraphrase the words of Shakespeare, “It is an ill wind that brings good to none.”