Book Review: “Evangelicalism in the Stone-Campbell Movement (Nov-Dec 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By T. Wesley Crawfod
November-December 2002

NEW Book Review

Evangelicalism & The Stone-Campbell Movement, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Edited By William R. Baker
Foreword by Mark Noll
www.ivpress.com

The founders of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Restoration Movement) set out to right the wrongs of sectarian Christianity. Disappointed with and disenfranchised from the Presbyterian tradition, Thomas and Alexander Campbell envisioned a united group of believers worshipping one God on the soil of the newly established free, American nation. “By the 1790’s several dynamic leaders were promoting the idea that simple trust in the self-evident message of the Bible would overthrow the accumulated corruptions of the centuries, restore the church to its New Testament character and unify the bewildering profusion of Protestant sects on the American frontier,” says Mark Noll in the foreword.

Ironically, the efforts to cast off the chains of denominationalism in order to unite around the simple pattern of the New Testament gave birth to yet another American Christian religious group-a religious group that has often been accused of perfecting the very sectarian ideals it sought to destroy. Nevertheless, two centuries later, leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement (specifically representatives from the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches) have initiated a conversation with evangelicals with hopes of bridging the gaps created by decades, and centuries, of silence. William R. Baker serves as editor of Evangelicalism & The Stone-Campbell Movement, which offers essays by leading scholars of the Stone-Campbell Movement, such as Everett Ferguson, Thomas C. Alexander, Jon Weatherly, and John Mark Hicks. The work also contains evangelical critiques by such men as H. Wayne House and Stanley Grenz. An outgrowth of a Stone-Campbell subgroup of the annual Evangelical Theological Society meeting, this project seeks to open dialogue with the larger evangelical world. The authors believe both groups have much to learn from one another; they perceive this book as one step in that pedagogical process.

Two broad issues have historically stood at the center of disagreements between evangelicals and members of the Stone-Campbell Movement: conversion and ecclesiology. Accordingly, this book offers eight essays on the subject of conversion and four essays under the rubric “the church.” The essays dedicated to conversion fall under three categories: faith, the Holy Spirit, and baptism. A very telling aspect of this section does not concern the meat of the essays at all, but instead the space dedicated to one subset of conversion, namely baptism. This observation, which also caught the eye of the book’s editor, does not come as a criticism, but as a lens to view the enormous obstacle that stands in the road of this unity effort, namely the understanding of baptism’s role in conversion.

Another road block between evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement concerns the church. Everett Ferguson, Gary Holloway, and Robert Lowery offer readers a look into the unique ecclesiology of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, which consistently harkens back to two principles: the pattern of Scripture and the central role of Christ. As evidence of the dissonance between evangelicals and members of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Stanley Grenz, well-known evangelical author, criticizes the essayists on the primacy of these two pivotal aspects of Stone-Campbell ecclesiology.

I believe this book indeed accomplishes its intended goal of creating dialogue between evangelicals and members of the Stone-Campbell Movement, and I believe two other mountains were scaled in the process. First, the long-overdue conversation between Churches of Christ and Christian Churches received an impetus; two branches of this unity movement have moved one step closer to unity. Second, this work offers members of the Stone-Campbell Movement a much needed and greatly beneficial exploration of their past. In an age when many are in the habit of ignoring history and accepting any idea or doctrine under the heading “Christian,” Evangelicalism & The Stone-Campbell Movement challenges its readers to engage in careful and prudent inquiry of the paramount Christian issues of conversion, ecclesiology, and unity.

Contact T. Wesley Crawford at weskimc@hotmail.com

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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