George DeHoff (1913-1993), a native of Arkansas but a powerful influence in Tennessee throughout most of the 20th century, entered Harding College in the summer of 1934 and then transferred to Freed-Hardeman College in 1935. He experienced two different worlds in those years. He had previously attended Burritt College between 1929 and 1933 so he was primarily interested in biblical studies when he went to Harding and Freed-Hardeman.
At Harding, he studied under J. N. Armstrong and B. F. Rhodes–both Nashville Bible School graduates. At Freed-Hardeman, he studied under N. B. Hardeman, C. P. Roland, L. L. Brigance, and W. Claude Hall. Though both schools operated under the leadership of men in Churches of Christ, his teachers moved in different theological circles. George DeHoff followed the Freed-Hardeman path rather than 1930s Harding path.
Bobby Valentine and I have proposed a particular reading of Stone-Campbell history that recognizes a significant difference between the theology that shaped the Nashville Bible School (Tennessee Tradition as represented by the Gospel Advocate in the 1880s-1910s) and the theology that shape the Texas Tradition (represented by the Firm Foundation in th 1880s-1910s). We (along with others such as Robert Hooper in A Distinct People) have argued that the Texas Tradition scored a coup-d’etat in the 1930s when Foy E. Wallace, Jr. (1930-1934) and John T. Hinds (1934-1938 ) assumed the editorship of the Gospel Advocate–both of whom were Texans and writers for the Firm Foundation in previous years.
George DeHoff illustrates the battle for the soul of Churches of Christ that was raging in the early decades of the 20th century. The Texas Tradition captured DeHoff’s allegiance in the 1930s if not before. This is clear from a guest editorial published in the February issue of the 1939 The Bible Banner, edited by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. He blasted Harding College, particularly J. N. Armstrong, and supported Freed-Hardeman and N. B. Hardeman. (In the 1940s DeHoff would teach at Freed-Hardeman and even be considered for its presidency when Hardeman resigned.)
DeHoff’s editorial–which is actually a letter declaring Harding College unsound (sound familiar?)–indicates some of the continued theological differences between the two traditions. These were obvious and debated in the 1890s-1910s, but slowly the Texas Tradition was squeezing out the Tennessee voices by the late 1930s. J. N. Armstrong (d. 1944) was one of those voices. Here are a few of the particulars that DeHoff “learned” in Armstrong’s classes while at Harding. They represent some of the differences between Texas and Tennessee. The emphases are mine.
“I learned that many of our preachers are making a cold, formal system of legalism out of the gospel and their preaching is devoid of spirituality. John T. Hinds and N. B. Hardeman were called by name.”
“I learned that God’s providence is the same in both Old and New Testaments.
“I learned…that the Holy Spirit dwells personally in the Christian and not just through the ‘mere word’.”
“I learned that our preachers have preached too much on baptism and ‘have stressed it all out of joint’ and ‘overemphasized‘ it.”
“I learned that we are ‘creed bound’ and that ‘our unwritten creed’ is as strong as any denominational creed.”
“I learned that God is not going to be cheated out of his earth but in all probability will have heaven here on earth.”
“I learned that many of the pioneer preachers believed in premillennialism and no one kicked up a fuss about it.”
“I learned that Foy E. Wallace, Jr.., had caused far more trouble with his theory of the millennium than R. H. Boll had.”
Actually, I wish DeHoff had “learned” these truths instead of rejecting them. They represent Armstrong quite accurately (as well as the Tennessee Tradition at the turn of the 20th century). DeHoff made his choice. He chose what he thought was Bible teaching but it was actually the Texas Tradition come to Tennessee and sinking deep roots into its soil.
When I was at Freed-Hardeman in the 1970s we commonly referred to Harding as the “liberal school across the river” (Mississippi). Apparently, they were saying that in the 1930s as well….but for different reasons, at least on some points.
Contemporary “conservative” or “traditional” Churches of Christ are actually the remnants of the Texas Tradition. They were the “winners” in the struggle between Tennessee and Texas, and their victory was apparent in the 1940s. But the Tennessee Tradition did not die. It remained alive in several quarters (partly at Harding College itself) until a renewed emphasis on the personal indwelling of the Spirit, grace and fellowship arose in the 1960s (e.g., K. C. Moser) would persuade some young ministers that the Churches of Christ had made a wrong turn in the 1930s. The struggle for the soul of Churches of Christ continued…and still continues.