Another Example: Texas and Tennessee Clash

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.”



25 Responses to “Another Example: Texas and Tennessee Clash”

  1.   Terrell Lee Says:

    What a judgmental, mean spirit! I simply don’t understand the mindset that acts/spreaks/writes in that style. I remember quite well a former professor from my late 1970′s stating that “blood-letting” was one of the reasons there was a preacher shortage. Young men either didn’t want to be a part of it or young preachers couldn’t handle it.

    May God give all of us a deeper humility.

    Thanks for sharing this kind of information.

  2.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    There is a part of me that wants to be gracious to Foy E. Wallace, believing that he just never saw the incoherency between “loving one another” and his militant use of power when it came to the pulpit and pen. But there is another part of me that says “he read the same Bible I am reading and you don’t need a bunch of degrees to learn what grace, mercy, meekness, etc… look like in everyday living.

    My undergraduate Restoration History teacher at Harding University believed Foy E. Wallace was the worst thing that ever happened to the CoC. I won’t go that far but it does seem that his influence was more for the ill than for the good.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3.   Josh Jeffery Says:

    When you mention that many in the TN tradition were pre-millennial, would you say that they were dispensational pre-millennialists like R.H. Boll, or more in the historic pre-millennial camp?

    Thanks,

    Josh

  4.   rich constant Says:

    You guys got me thinking I’m glad I never went to school
    and waited till I was 60 to find Professor John Mark hicks.

    boy oh boy
    I thank you all indeed
    i am learning so much, much more than i ever thought that i would.
    having a good time to learning.

    i feel so blessed being here with you all.
    you all make my life so much more meaning full.

    just wonderful

    rich

  5. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Josh,

    Most of the pioneer premillennialists (like Stone, Lard, Brents) were what would be called historica premillennialists. However, there were some who added to that historic position an expectation of the restoration of the nation of Israel and their conversion to the Christ (e.g., Milligan, and I think Harding as well).

    Dispensational premillennialism is of recent origin, and did not take hold until the early 20th century. Consequently, it is sometimes difficult to sort out. What seems apparent, however, is the there was wide latitude on eschatological views until the 1930s (even during the Boles-Boll debate of 1927).

    The Tennessee tradition was willing to have a diverse understanding present within the church whereas the Texas tradition was always exclusive in their eschatological views. The Russellism scare enabled Texas to paint Boll with a radical brush that suited their agenda of rooting out more than just the premillennialism.

  6.   Steve Allison Says:

    This explains a lot. The Texas tradition seems to have permeated the Arkansas of my youth. I heard Wallace in 1966 when I was a teenager. The thought patterns of the Texas tradition it seems to me provide a stepping stone to reductionist view of reality and skepticism. I wonder if anyone has pursued this line of thought.

  7.   randall Says:

    JMH,
    It was my impression that the postmillennial view of Alexander Campbell included an expectation of Israel’s conversion to the Christ – at least a little similar to the dispensationalists of today. Was this part of the reason the first Stone-Campbell missionary (Dr. Barclay) was sent to Jerusalem or was it simply b/c that was the birthplace of the church?

  8.   Cole Satterfield Says:

    “that Bogard whipped Hardeman on the Holy Spirit debate” This reeks of arrogance and reminds me of an era in our faith heritage that I’d just as soon forget.

    Kindly, Cole

  9.   Brian Says:

    You state that by 1941, Harding Coll. was the last holdout of the TN tradition. How does Lipscomb U. fit into all this TN/TX tradition?

  10. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Cole,

    I’m not so sure it reeks of arrogance. It may simply mean that he thought Bogard had the better argument. Wallace’s characterization, however, does reflect his militaristic conception of the battle in which he saw himself engaged.

  11. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Brian,

    David Lipscomb College in the 1940s is an interesting situation. Ijams ultimately resigned as President instead of firing one of his teachers who believed in premillennialism. There was a residue of the TN tradition at Lipscomb (particularly in Ijams, for example and S. P. Pittman) and the atmosphere there was never as “hard fightin’” as it was within the Wallace circles, but ultimately it did fire the teacher under the new President (Batsell Barrett Baxter, Sr.).

    Lipscomb remained a “kinder, gentler” Texas tradition through the 1950s-60s. :-) Indeed, by the 1970s, Lipscomb was regarded as “liberal” by Freed-Hardeman students such as myself and BBB, Jr. came under tremendous fire from many because of his “softness.”

  12.   John King Says:

    Think about how many times these Texas/Tennessee positions have flip-flopped their geographic bases. In its final years the Firm Foundation reflected more of the Tennessee position and the Gospel Advocate (at that same time) reflected more of the Texas position. Wallace certainly spearheaded that earliest shift in Tennessee.

  13.   Daniel Oden Says:

    And it was David Liberal in the 80s.

    “All my exes live in Texas- that’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee.” George Strait

    So it seems today that most CoC’s would be

    1. TX in theory, TN in fellowship
    2. TN
    3. This one is up for grabs- cons TX, progs TN
    4. Mostly TN
    5. Sadly, until the last few years, TX- but some pacifists are coming out again

    Is this estimate acceptable?

    Daniel

  14.   Brian Says:

    Growing up in Eastern NM, I guess we had more of a TX influence. In 1993, before I headed to Lipscomb, I was “warned” about Rubel Shelly. Funny thing is, I had no idea who he was. I had probably been in Nashville for several months that Fall before I came to the realization that my admissions counselor had taken me to worship at Woodmont when I visited campus the summer before I started school.

  15. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    There have been several geographical flipflops…so much so that ulitmately the TN/TX typology can get confusing! :-) Seriously, I TN/TX nomenclature is about origins more than it is geography.

    John is correct that the FF moved toward (and sometimes beyond, especially in hermeneutics when Lemmons denied examples were binding) TN tradition in the mid-1970s and 1980s. I think this is the result of the renewal of spirituallity, grace and openness in the 1960s, primarily led by Abilene and younger ministers who were influenced by some cultural movements and education.

  16. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Daniel,

    Your estimate is in the ballpark, in my opinion. However, I think the Holy Spirit question is much more diverse than “mostly TN,” especially in circles of which I am aware. Also, TN on providence? I doubt that is mostly true though there is substance to the guess. I would bet most would reject miraculous claims or miraculous hopes in answer to prayer. But much of this is ancedotal and depends on the circles in which we run or are aware.

  17.   Daniel Oden Says:

    True- it is always surprising how micro-environmental all our perceptions can be. I am surprised about miraculous hopes in answer to prayer. I think you are correct, but I also think we affirm this idea publicly in our neck of the woods, but perhaps not privately. We pray for miraculous intervention, but attribute recovery/rescue most often to God’s general goodness. Perhaps it is the other way ’round in other parts.

  18.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I think JMH’s observation that the TN/TX typology is more about origins than geography is correct. Steve mentions that growing up in Arkansas, his experience was the TX tradition. Having lived part of my life in Arkansas, I would agree that there is much of the TX tradition still alive there. But I also know that Harding University had a professor named Jimmy Allen who, though probably initially reflected the TX tradition, eventually came to adovate strongly positions that reflected the spirit of the TN tradition (e.g., grace, non-secterian fellowship, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, etc…). There is certainly much of the TN tradition being rediscovered in Arkansas as well.

    Though J. Allen never left the command, example, inference hermeneutic and the Baconian reasoning of that hermenuetic, he used to say how much his views began to change after reading “The Gist of Romans” by K.C. Moser. I also know Richard Hughes, in his book “Reviving the Ancient Faith,” credits J. Allen with helping revitalize the doctrine of grace in the CoC.

    Any ways, I think this is a good example of how the TN/TX typology is more about orgins than geography.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  19. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    The CEI hermeneutic and Baconian reasoning is something that both TN and TX had in common. It gave them an ecclesiological consensus even though there was significant theological differences over the Holy Spirit, faith/grace/baptism, providence, etc.

  20.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Yes. I was just pointing out that J. Allen had never left the CEI framework while many of us who now are sympathetic to the TN tradition have left the CEI approach.

  21. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I was confirming your point. :-)

    BTW, I am so disappointed in you, Rex. You should take a class in hermeneutics or something to help you, my friend. :-)

  22.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    That is why I hang out on this blog… to suplement where my memory has failed me:-} (which happens frequently).

  23.   rich constant Says:

    Rex
    wait till uou get older and brain fade set’s in….
    or a kinder way of expressing that is senior moment. :-)
    john mark why….
    do you not have spell check , like todd’s blog…

    was the answer that rex gave strike two on the hermeneutics of humor????

    blessings
    rich

  24.   Tim Curtis Says:

    Maybe that’s part of Rex’s problem. As I recall, we both had a class in Theo. Herm. Now, who was that prof.?

    Very intriguing posts. I put a link to them on my own blog.

  25.   WesWoodell Says:

    Tim – would that be the blog that doesn’t exist? (according to the link I clicked via your name)

    Hello, by the way :)

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