Written by cycleguy on August 26th, 2020

Caution: this is a fairly long post.

I grew up in a church tradition which was somewhat mixed. Part Baptist. Part Christian Church/Church of Christ. Mostly the former, at least for the first 17 years of my life. That all changed when we got a new pastor who then encouraged me to attend a Bible college in KY. I made a real spiritual decision to attend there…they said I could play basketball.  🙂 After a few games I was starting as a Freshman. Goal accomplished. While there I became exposed to what was called the Restoration Movement (RM).  I had never heard of that until my Senior year. But after 3 classes I was hooked. Hook, line and sinker as they say.  I became almost rabid in what I “preached” as doctrine.  Baptism for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit was the only valid baptism. All others were lost.  Non-eternal security. The evil of denominations. Among others. I became very legalistic.

The founders of this movement were Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W Stone and Walter Scott, with Alexander becoming the figurehead. Think Martin Luther. John Calvin. John and Charles Wesley. All men whom I honestly feel never wanted to start something that would become isolated from the norm. They became known as the Reformers, hence the Reformation Movement. Their goal was to reform the church, to shake off the shackles of Catholicism with its abhorrent practices, and present something different. Campbell’s movement was called (by him) the current Reformation. By others it was called the Restoration Movement because it was seen as an effort to restore the ancient order of things.

I left that movement/denomination years ago. I have no allegiance to it. But I have to admit some curiosity when I saw a book recommended on one of the blogs I read:

A Life of Alexander Campbell (Library of Religious Biography (LRB))

I decided to buy it since I tend to be a somewhat eclectic reader.  Granted there are some books I avoid like a plague (anything with Bethel or Hillsong involved); any name it/claim it book; any “God wants you to feel better about yourself” book; or an out and out “secular” book.  I do like to read biographies from time to time as a change of pace, so I bought this book.

WOW were my eyes opened!

When one learns of another initially, there is almost an aura which surrounds the “hero.” Further study dims the halo. Even further study takes the halo away. While I was grateful for my time in the RM when I was there, I have been away from it long enough to be somewhat jaded. When I read this book,  I found myself having mixed feelings. While awed by Alexander’s mind, I was somewhat taken aback by his attitude.  He was often arrogant and condescending to anyone who disagreed with him. He was (are you ready for this?) somewhat of a white supremacist (not the KKK kind but the kind who believed the white race was superior). He didn’t have slaves and thought slavery was abhorrent, but did not see the Scriptures as denying the right to have them. He lamented the Civil War.  He was opinionated and had a brilliant mind to support that. He was also benevolent and untiring in his effort to further the cause of Christ and the “ancient order of things.” He loved to debate and was involved in several.  It was actually during one of his debates that he cemented his belief in baptism for the forgiveness of sins. But he was also open to “brothers in error,” those who were not immersed and had never been taught of its importance/”essentiality,” who could be considered his brothers.  I found as I read an exasperation developing because he could be inconsistent in his teaching.  He could appeal to both the sectarians (we are the only ones) and the ecumenist (everyone will make it) depending on how one took his writing.  He could preach on immersion in water as the point of forgiveness, yet also preach the absolute sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice as the only requirement for salvation. 

Foster summed him up with these words: “AC was a complex, brilliant, indefatigable, arrogant, racist, aggressive, prolific leader who made a lasting impact on the Christian world. He was a man whom God used and whom God chastened. His spiritual descendants have inherited every one of his characteristics. They have been passionate for the truth of Scripture and the will of God. They have been tempted and have often succumbed to the arrogance of believing they alone were legitimately struggling to follow God (a belief, however, not unique to Campbell’s heirs).  A dominantly rationalistic approach to truth resulted in internal divisions within the movement whose name he now shares, ironically, with Barton W. Stone.” (p.331)  {My note: It is sometimes known as the Stone-Campbell Movement} 

Further note: in 1906 a split occurred  when the church of Christ (non-instrumental) wanted to be known in a census as separate from the movement. A further split occurred in the late 1920s when the more liberal side known as the Disciples of Christ decided some of the core doctrines were not true, like the Virgin Birth and others).  

Jo wondered why I was reading this book- “You aren’t in school anymore.”  I told her I feel I am because I can never stop learning. At times I slogged through this book (especially the earlier part) because of some details the author needed to give. But at other times I didn’t want to stop reading.  AC’s sharp mind deteriorated into dementia, a sad ending to a shining light. I don’t know that I will ever read this again, but I do know I will keep it in my office for possible future reference.  If you like biographies, especially of religious figures and figureheads, you will enjoy reading this. I have a greater appreciation now for my past, but more so for my decision to pursue another path.


6 Comments so far ↓

  1. This does sound like a fascinating biography, Bill, and Campbell certainly was a complex individual. I don’t think this would be up my alley, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • cycleguy says:

      You are correct in saying he was a complex individual. It was good to read but you are right in thinking it might not be up your alley. I think a lot will feel that way, not just you. But thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  2. The thing is, leaders, whether religious or any other type, had to speak to their audiences in a language and manner that they could understand at the time. In certain historical periods you had to seem/or be arrogant, strong, forceful or whatever to make your point. Such style would not work in today’s society.

    Societies change. The message remains the same.

    God bless.

    • cycleguy says:

      That’s a great point Victor. And it is true. But it can also be overblown to the point of offending. However, at the very basic level you absolutely correct. There were those in his day and age who thought he was…but they were also in their actions and response. Some religious hills are hard to give up to another. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Thanks for insight on the Campbell read. I like bio’s but also do not want to waste my reading time if it’s too complexed. Always interesting to me even though it shouldn’t be the lives of some of the deep thinkers and writers. Even in the blog world I have run across authors who make me shake my head after I have tried to read them. Makes me wonder, what do I have missing that I can’t go where they are. Then I realize I am not suppose to go where they are. I see things through my own complex world. I say I am a simple women but my husband would not agree with that. I do not have nothing box in my mind, all boxes are full of bit and pieces of so much. Sometimes I write something and I know there is more there but it’s so much work to get it out, I quit early. So I always wonder on people such as Campbell, just how deep does there mind go? Thank God, He uses all of us, simple and complex for each of us needed one or the other or both to get us to where we say yes to Him. One of the things I have learned with our mission is not to dumb down or step up the gospel of Christ. He is who He said He was and is, all the time, in everywhere, for every one, the simple and the complex. Blessing brother.

    • cycleguy says:

      I found the book was easy to read. The author did a great job of minimizing Campbell’s thoughts to “normal” thoughts. Least so I could understand them. 🙂 But you are right Betty. God has made us who we are and that is good enough for me. Thanks for taking the time to respond.