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Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, edited by Douglas A Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, by William B. Eerdmans (800 pp. $50.00).

This volume celebrates 200 years of history for the Stone-Campbell Movement, dating from Stone’s 1804 Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. Truly deserving the title “Encylopedia,” it documents the history, theology, and diversity of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

The editors themselves represent well the diversity and substance of the Movement: Foster, the Churches of Christ, Blowers, the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and Dunnavant (now deceased) and Williams, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). All are trained academically in church history and teach at significant institutions in the Movement: Foster, Abilene Christian University, Blowers, Emmanuel School of Religion, Dunnavant, Lexington Theological Seminary and Williams, Brite Divinity School. Wisely, they surrounded themselves with an editorial board and senior consultants totalling nearly 50 recognized scholars among the three streams of the Movement.

Significant contributions of the Encyclopedia include: 1) lengthy articles devoted to Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and Barton W. Stone which are not only biographically informative but more importantly theologically nuanced in terms of their perspectives and development; 2) the three-fold perspective offered on key ideas and events within Stone-Campbell history from its three major branches on such topics as Evangelism and Preaching; 3) easy access to brief information about key people, journals, colleges, events, and ethnic groups, for example, that spans all three streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement; 4) key theological topics—like God, the Holy Spirit, Justification, and Atonement--discussed in the context of the Movement’s significant thinkers and major influences, making it an invaluable resource for historical theology.

No other single volume encompasses such a broad range of service to readers. The result is amazingly successful. With such a huge undertaking it may seem unfair to question whether the editors were sufficiently balanced or inclusive. In dialogue with their editorial board and senior consultants, no doubt the editors painfully selected topics and edited articles seeking balance. Did they achieve this in every respect? From my perspective several anomalies must be noted.

On the whole, the Encyclopedia leans slightly toward mainline Christian traditions. For example, while an extended discussion of the ecumenical dialogues of Disciples with Roman Catholics appears plus a separate article entry for Roman Catholicism, little attention is given to the dialogue between Evangelicals and the Stone-Campbell Movement particularly among Churches of Christ (a cappella) and Christian Churches (independent).

As any encyclopedic work the articles are at times uneven. On the whole, the editors have helpfully sought to cross-reference and coordinate articles so that the work is as inclusive as possible. However, historical articles sometimes lack theological reflection and theological articles give little attention to history. For example, “Five-Finger Exercise” focuses only on Walter Scott (thus ignoring its subsequent changes and theological shifts) and does not think theologically on the negative impact this exercise had on the history of soteriology, though it appropriately lauds its initial use in the Movement’s early revivalism.

Also, “Education, Philosophy of” does not take into account of J. W. McGarvey’s magisterial piece in Lard’s Quarterly where he provides the theological and practical ground for seminary education beyond the liberal arts degree.

Other articles focus too narrowly on specific leaders and are not sufficiently inclusive. For example, the article on prayer summarizes Campbell, Stone, and Richardson, but this is hardly representative of prayer in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Sitting next to the substantive article on preaching, the contrast is chilling if one thinks that this reflects our heritage’s emphasis on prayer--or rather its lack of emphasis . The article “Bible College Movement” does not take sufficient account of Churches of Christ (a cappella), especially its significantly different conception of “Bible College” (from James A. Harding) as well as the contemporary participation in the AABC by some colleges among Churches of Christ (such as Magnolia Bible College).

One can critique the amount of space that is given to one person versus that given to another. For example, Richard McNemar seems to be given an inordinate amount of space, with David Lipscomb receiving a similar amount but James A. Harding very little. Some choices seem historically peripheral while other more substantial persons are unacknowledged. For example, Joseph Hostetler and Benjamin Lynn certainly had influence, but it does not seem to compare substantially with the influence J. M. Barnes had in Alabama Churches of Christ in the late 19th and early 20th century who has no entry. He was a graduate of Bethany College, planter of churches, defender of conservative perspectives and founder of Highland Home College, at lease as important to Alabama as was Franklin College to Tennessee. While Leroy Garrett’s Restoration Review has a separate entry, Carl Ketcherside’s Mission Messenger does not. “Open Forum” means something quite different and more influential among Churches of Christ than the seemingly marginal events discussed in the article under that title. Even in terms of significant opponents of the Stone-Campbell Movement, while Jeremiah Jeter is rightfully included, Andrew Broaddus does not have a separate entry.

The theological articles tend to emphasize the 19th century over the 20th century, something I notice in myself as I wrote the “Atonement” article. This is perhaps a matter of perspective (distance), research (tools available) and interest, and it varies from writer to writer. Some dimensions of theology are missing, like election and predestination, though perhaps this reflects the paucity of constructive engagement with those theological ideas rather than anything else. In the realm of historical theology, however, the Encyclopedia is solid, including articles on the necessary people and institutions. Also, the articles on “God” and “Eschatology” are illuminating.

Basically, all of this is nit-picking. It reflects my own proclivities and interests. Without doubt, this work has no equal, no peer and no pretender. It stands alone as the single most valuable resource available for historians and theologians of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Even if all my “nit-picking” points had been taken into account, they would not improve this volume substantially, since it already such an unparalleled resource.

While everyone might be disappointed that “this or that” was not included or disagree with some interpretative judgments, none should be disappointed with the product as a whole. Every minister and serious student of the Stone-Campbell Movement should digest this work carefully. Its multiple perspectives, serious interpretations, theological history, and historical identification of key people, events, and institutions are invaluable to those who want to understand two hundred years of Stone-Campbell history and theology. From the contribution of hundreds of minds and the result of competent editing, it becomes the standard in the field at the moment of its release by the publisher.

First Appeared in Stone-Campbell Journal Fall (2004).




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