Foy E. Wallace, Jr. dubbed Harding College “an incubus of error” and “unsound” in the May 1941 issue of The Bible Banner. Wallace’s assault against George Benson, J. N. Armstrong and Harding College is a good illustration of the tension between the Texas and Tennessee theological traditions within Churches of Christ. The emphases below are mine.
The testimony concerning George S. Benson. It has been brought out in direct testimony that after Brother Benson returned from China he taught that miracles were yet in force and that he was a witness to the casting out of devils in a man in China and, moreover, by a sectarian preacher! And it is also shown in this array of charges that until very recently Brother Benson admitted his premillennial views…Premillennialism is not all that is wrong at Harding. The byproducts of this theory are many. Brother Armstrong has been wrong on nearly everything, and has planted all of these errors in his schools in various locations, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. We can furnish plenty of witnesses from Oklahoma. Brother Harper has already furnished them from Arkansas. His teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit has been contradictory to the fundamentals of the gospel, which accounts for his public statements that Bogard whipped Hardeman on the Holy Spirit debate-he is more in agreement with Bogard than Hardeman or any other gospel preacher. His teaching on miraculous answers to prayer in connection with direct special providence is carried to the worst sectarian extremes….Brother Armstrong has taught this kind of foolishness all of his life in all of his schools. He has been wrong on the sectarian baptism question, and would hardly baptize a Baptist, if he wanted to be. He was dead set against the Firm Foundation in all of these controversies of the past and has never strengthened any young preacher along any of these lines. The young men who have come from Harding strong in the faith, are strong in spite of the fact that they attended Harding College and not because of it….”Harding needs to get right.” Verily, it does.
It is significant that Wallace identifies the Firm Foundation as the journal that would take the opposite view on all of these questions. Armstrong, a graduate and then teacher at the Nashville Bible School, followed his father-in-law James A. Harding’s theological trajectory. The battle between the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate in the 1890s-1910s extended into the 1940s when the last–for all practical purposes–holdout for the Tennessee tradition was Harding College. The early 1940s saw repeated attempts to force Harding College to conform to the expectations of the Texas Tradition (e.g., fire all teachers who believed in premillennialism). E. R. Harper and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. led the assault.
Theologically, some of the differences are apparent in the quoted paragraph.
1. Tennessee did not see premillennialism as problematic; indeed, many of them believed it. The Texas tradition was amillennial.
2. Tennessee believed that miracles still occurred in answer to prayer (though miraculous gifts to individuals had ceased). Texas believed providence operated by the laws of nature and miracles no longer happened.
3. Tennessee believed that faith in Jesus was sufficient for baptism. Texas believed that what one believed about baptism also determined whether a baptism was valid or not.
4. Tennessee believed in the personal indwelling of the Spirit. Texas did not.
5. Another difference, not mentioned in this litanny by Wallace, but would become a stinging issue within seven months is the war question. Tennessee was pacifistic in varying senses, but Texas (particularly in the person of Wallace) was hawkish on the war.
As Wallace indicates, these are no small differences. Armstrong, he thought, was wrong on “nearly everything.” These differences reflected a different orientation to kingdom life. Whereas Wallace (and the Texas Tradition as a whole) operated out of order, law and human mechanics (e.g., “five steps of salvation” were all human acts), Armstrong (and the Tennessee Tradition as a whole) operated out of mystery, grace and divine dynamics.
While they shared many views (e.g., on instrumental music, church polity, baptism for the remission of sins, etc.), these particulars were understood against two very different theological worldviews. They could live together comfortably when there was a significant common enemy (e.g., Baptists, Christian Church, etc.), but when they engaged each other they both knew that the other had, as Luther supposedly told Zwingli at Marburg in 1529, a “different spirit.”