LEARNING FROM THE DENOMINATIONS
For over sixty years I had in my library works by various denominational writers. I read and received benefit from them. Since I retired from full-time local work (almost twenty years ago) I have greatly reduced my library, but I still have a modest one and have retained in it works by various denominationalists. I continue to buy and read books by denominationalists as well as by members of the Lord’s church. (How I do I detest the denominational use of “Church of Christ” or “CoC” to describe authors, scholars, preachers, colleges, etc., but I do not fall out with those who think they must resort to such sectarian and denominational terminology to express themselves).
As Bible majors at Freed-Hardeman College in the mid to late 1950s we used texts written by denominationalists in various Bible courses. I am thinking particularly of courses in Critical Introduction to the Old Testament and Critical Introduction to the New Testament taught by the late great Frank Van Dyke. But in our Bible courses we also used as primary texts and as supplementary texts books written by faithful and able scholars in the Lord’s church (Milligan, McGarvey, Lard, Boles, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., G. K. Wallace, and others).
I am on record (unabashedly so) as being suspect of leaning too heavily on the conclusions of men who apparently have very little understanding of some of the most basic truths and concepts of Bible teaching, but I have never believed or said that we should not read them or that we cannot learn from them. Just here, however, I am reminded of an incident the late B. C. Goodpasture related to me many years ago. A person had said to him, “But brother Goodpasture, we can learn from the denominations.” Goodpasture’s laconic response was, “We already have!” However, in the seasoned judgment of the erudite editor of the Gospel Advocate, what we had “learned” was not what we needed to have learned! In far too many instances, we had learned the doctrines, practices, language, and views of the denominations. And such “learning” shows in many ways and in far too many places today!
We all need to be familiar enough with the Bible to be able to “spit out the bones” of error espoused by sectarians and false teachers, but I question whether all who read from denominational writers have that ability. I have seen far too many depart from the faith due to their attending denominational seminaries and divinity schools and their exposure to denominational theologians. Thus, I am not a big fan of such institutions and their theological views. Yet my bias against them seems to be no more pronounced than the bias of some among us for them.
Over the years, I have seen both popular and scholarly denominational preachers, professors, and writers come and go (and they all do eventually go and their popularity fades, only to be replaced by the next one(s) to come down the pike), “but the word of the Lord abides forever” and does not change (I Peter 2:24-25; cf. Isaiah 40:6-8). As an example, I have read from N. T. Wright, a bishop in the Anglican Church, but I have not seen anything from him that causes me to go “hog wild” over him, as some of my brethren seemingly have done. And he is but one of several that some have become infatuated with and trotted after over the years. Any truth that he states comes from the word of God, not from human wisdom. I am reminded of a statement by N. B. Hardeman in his sermon “Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth,” preached in the first tabernacle meeting in Nashville in 1922: “I have yet to find the man who knows one single solitary thing of the great beyond that the rest of us could not know if we apply the admonition given by Paul to Timothy” (i.e., II Timothy 2:15) (Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. I, Gospel Advocate Co. , p. 30).
As a further observation, I do not think that all Bible scholarship is of the academic variety. I have a high regard for such leaders and preachers of the past as Gus Nichols, Franklin Camp, Frank Gould, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., G. K. Wallace, Guy N. Woods, Homer Hailey, Roy Lanier, Sr., A. G. Freed, N. B. Hardeman, R. L. Whiteside, and a host of others. Among those of academic credentials I prize the abilities of W. B. West, Jr., Jack P. Lewis, Everett Ferguson, F. Furman Kearley, Rex Turner, Sr., William Woodson, Thomas B. Warren, Earl West, Clyde Woods, and others—all New Testament Christians. (By the way, during my second year at Freed-Hardeman, four of us guys—including both Clyde Woods and Alan Highers—shared living quarters in a private home in Henderson, TN, so I have known something of the commitment of both Clyde and Alan, even from their undergrad days).
Bottom line of this essay: I do not object to the reading of denominational scholars. Bible truth is truth regardless of who presents it. But when denominational preachers and scholars miss it so badly on so many basic matters (including the action and purpose of baptism, the undenominational nature of the church, the organization of the church, acceptable worship, the role of women in the church, etc., etc., etc.), I cannot and do not get overly excited about their conclusions on a lot of other matters. Of course, I do not get overly excited (in a positive way) about some of the conclusions of my leftist/progressive brethren who apparently have “learned” from and been adversely influenced by denominational “scholarship.” I am much more impressed by faithful men in the Lord’s church who, regardless of their academic credentials, know, teach, and preach the Book from God.
Hugh Fulford, April 7, 2020