Kenney Carl Moser (1893-1976) was one of the most significant players in the theological arena of Churches of Christ in the twentieth century.
My friend Bobby Valentine has recently demonstrated in a paper delivered at the 2007 Christian Scholar’s Conference at Rochester College (entitled “In with Wallace, Out with Brewer: K. C. Moser in the 1920s”) that K. C. Moser grew up in a solidly Texas tradition which was the right wing of Southern Churches of Christ at the turn of the century. I was uncertain of this in my original material and speculative about when he might have undergone a significant shift, but Bobby has convinced me. He discovered Moser’s contributions to a small periodical entitled the Herald of Truth in the early 1920s that clearly locates him in the Firm Foundation theological orbit.
[In my original articles, I use the language of “Texas” and “Tennessee” to describe two distinct theological traditions within Southern Churches of Christ. Texas refers to a hardline, rightist tradition (demanding rebaptism for those immersed among Baptists, for example) while Tennessee refers to the tradition that was shaped by the Nashville Bible School–particularly David Lipscomb and James A. Harding. Bobby and I defend this reading of history in our recent book Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding.]
Moser was born and bred in the Texas tradition, but he began to shift to a more gracious position. Bobby has further convinced me that this movement toward the Tennessee tradition was directly related to his changing understanding of spirituality, particularly the presence and function of the Spirit of God in the believer. This underlies his shifts on grace, faith, justification and sanctification. By the early 1930s Moser was no longer writing for the Firm Foundation but was a weekly contributor (even on staff for a while) to the Gospel Advocate. Bobby’s work, which I hope he will soon publish, clarifies Moser’s theological shifting in the 1920s and prepares us to better understand the controveries of the 1930s and 1950s. This shift was even unwelcome at the Advocate in 1933 as Foy E. Wallace (a Texas advocate and one time cohort of Moser) removed Moser from the staff of the Advocate.
Moser was regarded as a traitor to his old haunts. He was regarded as no better than a Baptist in Church of Christ clothing, especially in the light of his 1932 book The Way of Salvation. He was definitely an “outsider” in many ways in the 1930s and 1940s though befriended by key persons such as G. C. Brewer. By the 1950s, however, he was a breath of fresh air in the midst of ecclesiological fights over institutionalism (e.g., may churches support human institutions out of their treasuries?). His tract Christ Versus a “Plan” (1952) would set an agenda for future discussion that ultimately culminated in Moser’s theological commentary on Romans entitled The Gist of Romans (1957). The perfectionistic disputes of the 1950s disillusioned some and Moser’s theology of grace began to resonate with younger ministers. By the early 1960s Moser’s views were most characteristically described as an emphasis on the man (Jesus) rather than the plan (the five steps of salvation). He even taught at Lubbock Christian College from 1964-1972 where he had a tremendous impact on some young minds–both pro (scroll down to the letter from an elder in Texas) and con (scroll down to Tommy Hicks’ article). His influence continued into the 1970s and 1980s–even among young non-institutional ministers.
Moser, I believe, was one of the key players–if not the most important one–in renewing a theology of grace among Churches of Christ in the midst of polemical exchanges that amounted to ecclesiological perfectionism. Contemporary ministers within Churches of Christ owe a great debt to the perseverance and courage of K. C. Moser who taught a theology of grace when it was quite unpopular and regarded as treason.
I have uploaded to my Academics page my three major contributions to the study of K. C. Moser. The foundational document is my lecture for the 18th Annual W. B. West, Jr. Lectures for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship in October, 1993, at Harding University Graduate School of Religion entitled The Man or the Plan? K. C. Moser and the Theology of Grace Among Mid-Twentieth Century Churches of Christ (also available at Hans Rollmann’s Restoration Movement webstite). From this material I subsequently published two articles in the 1995 Restoration Quarterly. The first provided the historical context of Moser’s ministry and writing. The second article offered a theological assessment of the significance of Moser’s perspectives.
I recently put some additional material together about Moser in the context of his “man or the plan” controversy. I prepared some handouts for a seminar on Restoration Preaching at Lipscomb University’s Center for Spiritual Renewal. You can find them here: Moser Lectures at Lipscomb Handout. (Unfortunately some of the links in this piece are dead, and when they are up again, I will renew them.)
Not everyone, of course, agrees with my positive assessment of Moser. Just as the Texas Tradition opposed Moser in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and then opposed his reemergence in the late 1950s and 1960s, many continue the opposition today. Some even place him at the center of the disintegration of unity (read: conformity) among Churches of Christ. The Firm Foundation, in an article by Joseph A. Meador, parallels Moser’s supposedly divisive teaching with contemporary change agents and Dub McClish recently noted that that Moser’s “dormant seeds” have again sprouted. The cleavage between the Texas and Tennessee traditions still exists within Churches of Christ.
I believe the life and theology of this godly man is worth careful consideration–not simply from a mere historical vantage point but more importantly from the need to recontexualize his Christ-centered theology for the present. We stand on his shoulders and I am grateful for his life-long struggle to proclaim the gospel of grace in the midst of a people who resisted his message.