Texas Vs. Tennessee (1939)

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.

23 Responses to “Texas Vs. Tennessee (1939)”

  1.   Randall Says:

    Thanks for this and many other posts. No doubt there are many who believe that the Church of Christ today is almost exactly the same as it was 60 or 120 or 180 years years ago. It is important for us to know and understrand our own history and how and why we changfed. Please keep on educating us.

  2.   clyde s. Says:

    I do have to say, having been raised in the CofC in north Texas in a time and place where churches were writing letters of “disfellowship” to each other over numerous issues, you’ve helped me understand some of the bigger picture for how it got that way by the time I came along and went off to Freed-Hardeman. At the time, it didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t understand it. It motivated me to be a preacher and try to bring Christians together instead of fragmenting them.

    I still don’t like it, but I understand it better now. A lot of that has to do with you (and Bobby V., Doug Foster, etc.) and the “classroom” of your writings and lectures–as always: Thanks!

  3.   Tim Archer Says:

    Wow! It’s kind of sad to know that voices like Armstrong’s were effectively drowned out throughout much of our brotherhood.

  4.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Brother Hicks,

    Where was the influence of ACU in all of this? In addition to FHU and HU, ACU has always held a very influential role within segments of the CoC just as the other two mentioned universities also were influential.

    I realize that at one time the journals (e.g, GA, FF) were a dominating influential force, even more so than the Christian colleges. Today it seems as though the influence of the journals is seriously diminished while the universities and their lectureships (along with the Tulsa Worshop) have become very influential, especially within their geographical region. Would you agree? Any thoughts on what has caused this shift?


  5.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Abilene has a mixed history. For example, when Jesse P. Sewell was President, it had more of a Nashville Bible School flavor to it. But the dominant themes and debates in Texas moved the school in the first half of the 20th century toward the Texas Tradition. By the early 1960s, however, Abilene became a resource for a growing renewal of grace and Spirituality (e.g., indwelling of the Spirit) through many of its teaches (including J. D. Thomas, for example).

    I think the growth of communication abilities have diminished journals in terms of influence and power whereas relational gatherings, large churches and influential preachers have taken a larger role in terms of shaping opinion. It is a difficult thing to assess.

  6.   caleb Says:

    Thanks for sharing some fascinating history and highlighting the forward thinking of JA Armstrong. I recently read F.C. Sears biography of Harding (Footsteps of Jehovah) and came away with a deep appreciation of not only Harding but his son in law as well.
    It saddened me to read the history of Harding when Foy’s repeated attacks forced Armstrong to resign. I know Benson helped Harding out tremendously financially, but imagine where Harding and we as a church would be today if the Tennessee tradition had not been muted for so long.
    Harding’s and Armstrong’s thoughts on the kingdom of heaven and the need to eschew all things not pertaining (politics, storing up wealth, etc.) inspire me so much. Stories of Harding refusing to take pay for preaching and leaving on missionary trips without enough money to return challenge my faith and my position as a paid minister. Both of their lives and beliefs would resonate well today’s generation.

  7.   mcgarvey Says:

    John Mark,
    With what I’ve seen so far from and about CEWDorris, it appears he is a variation within the NBS/TN tradition. He is a student of Lipscomb and Harding who is unafraid (similar to RL Whiteside it seems) to depart from his teachers. He does not follow the trajectory in all of the particulars; and I haven’t yet read enough to see how he fits with the larger NBS scheme. Yet he remains throughout his life a self-conscious disciple of DL, even into the discussion over institutionalism. There is much to sort through! I appreciate your post on DeHoff. He merits a full critical biography. Grace and peace, Mac

  8.   Frank Says:

    I think your theory is on-target (started to say “sound”). Is it safe to say that the differences between the TN and TX traditions has as much to do with dispostion, openness as it does with particular doctrines?

  9.   Frank Says:

    . . . and does the grace tradition forgive subject-verb disagreement?

  10.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    Interestingly, Harding continued with much of the TN tradition throughout its years through the Sears, F. W. Mattox, and Andy Ritchie, Jr. among others (also Ijams at Harding Grad). Harding College published some of Moser’s material in the early 1950s. But it became more accomodative to the TX tradition on many points as time went on.


    Yes, it is partly the openness and the willingness to hold diverse opinions that characterizes the TN tradition, though even this has its limits (e.g., IM).


    I thought Dorris would be a transistional figure of some kind though I have not studied him in any great detail. There were many such figures in the 1910s-1940s who began more in the TN tradition and slowly but not fully moved into the TX orbit (or accomodated it at many points). Some, I think, were attracted to the noninstitutional segment because of the counterculturalism they perceived there that was, in many ways, similar to Lipscomb and Harding at the turn of the century.

    John Mark

  11.   Jim Martin Says:

    John Mark,
    This is an outstanding post! As I read (and hear) you discuss the Texas/Tennessee traditions, so much begins to make sense. Thanks so much for your work in this area.

  12.   Terrell Lee Says:

    I wonder what effect there might be on our fellowship if leaders from all segments–divisions among us, formal or not–could recognize that to some extent we are shaped by our history. So much truth (or arrogance depending upon how we apply the statement) in Robert Fulgrum–“All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten.” (Quoting from memory.)

  13.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    DeHoff is a good illustration for what was happening. Hope all is well for you …

  14.   John Gaines Says:

    John Mark,

    I appreciate the good work you and Bobby V. have done with regard to the Tennessee and Texas traditions in our history, although I don’t fully agree with everything you have concluded. I have discussed some of my concerns with Bobby on an email list a couple of years ago.

    I understand that you use “Tennessee” and “Texas” as metaphors for differing mindsets rather than strictly as geographic descriptions. However, it remains confusing. NBH, for example, was a lifelong west Tennessean, but he has to be ranked along with FEW Jr at the forefront of the “Texas” tradition during the early/middle years of the 20th century. Moser, on the other hand, was a Texan by geography but he was not on the Texas side of the chart you and Bobby have offered us. You have acknowledged the difficulty in placing certain individuals and institutions firmly in one camp or the other. I don’t necessarily have a better alternative to offer, but surely a less confusing descriptor could have been found.

    I also think that historians tend to neatly categorize people and ideas which in real life don’t always mesh together so well. I don’t think most of these individuals thought of themselves as being part of one “tradition” arrayed against another. They had differences among themselves; that is true even for the most prominent men among the “Texas” mindset. Take Hardeman and Wallace, for example, on questions like churches supporting colleges. Throw people like G. C. Brewer and Gus Nichols into the mix, and it gets really interesting trying to figure out which pigeon hole they fit into. Maybe it would be more helpful to think in terms of a spectrum which people being placed as points somewhere on a line between one general mindset and another.

    If you make a list of 100 influential people in Churches of Christ today, it would be a hopeless endeavor to try categorizing them into just two groups. You couldn’t do it with any degree of accuracy. Maybe we had less diversity 50 or 75 years ago, but the same sort of problem still presents itself.

    Nevertheless, these are fairly trivial objections. There is a great deal of value in trying to gain a better grasp of where influential people stood in relation to one another and to the issues of their day. Maybe, somehow, there will be some lessons for us, either in things to do or things to avoid, as we try to figure out how to get along with one another today.

    In any events, thanks for what you have contributed to the discussion.


    John Gaines

  15.   John Gaines Says:

    Sorry to monopolize things, but re Harding, how would you categorize George Benson? I don’t know a lot about him other than that he was a missionary to China who came back to lead Harding into having a pro-government, pro-business emphasis. Do you put him in your Texas or Tennessee tradition?

  16.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    I appreciate the lengthy comment as it raises important questions. I will attempt to address some of them briefly. TX/TN are used accomodatively in the sense of the typology in this comment.

    In terms of individuals, it more a matter of by whom were they persuaded than where they were born. For example, Moser started out in the Texas Tradition but was influenced by others (including RC Bell at Thorp Springs) and ultimately came to hold TN positions. You are correct that Hardeman was a West TN native, but I would suggest that he resonated with the FF more than GA in the 1890s-1910s and was thereby shaped in particular ways. So, you are correct, it is not geography…it is theology and the theological orbit with which one identifies.

    We must remember, however, this is a taxonomy, and not a straight-jacket. A typology or historical taxonomy does not intend to locate each individual, but recognizes a historical fluidity as well as trends. So, there are many people who stand between the two traditions and take on parts of one and parts of the other. There are many transisitional figures who are “in-between,” one might say (e.g., T. Q. Martin, or even a John Lewis). Spectrum is not a bad way to go at it, but even there we need starting points. Indeed, my point is that Churches of Christ were primarily TN in the late 1890s but by the 1930s were moving TX. That was a movement across the spectrum and we would expect to see the fludity and transistional figures if my typology is close to accurate.

    At the same time, the papers in the 1890s-1910s recognized deep differences between FF and GA, as examples. McGary thought McQuiddy was a progressive liberal, and Harding thought (even Sommer) thought McGary was a sectarian. To read the periodicals of that period clearly indicates that they recognized that they were on two different trajectories. Wallace and Armstrong knew they were very different, for example. And such instances can be multiplied.

    I agree, John, that the situation today is much more complicated. And it was more complicated thatn two groups in 1890s-1910s (one would have to add Sommer, for example).

    I appreciate your input and contains some helpful reminders.


  17.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    No problem with monopoly…how can you do that on a blog? Well, I guess it can be done. 🙂

    Benson is an interesting case. I have not read him as widely as I have others, but here is what I know and what I might guess. 🙂

    His encounter with communism impacted him so that he was no longer TN in some ways (particularly when it came to money, politics, pacifism, etc.). But, at root, I think he was TN in the 1930sff. His understanding of providence, Holy Spirit, rebaptism, premillennialism (early in his career), etc. was quite standard TN orientation.

    Here is where I am uncertain, but would guess a bit more…his years as President slowly shifted his public orientation to some degree…more accomodative to the TX interests, but not totally so.

    My knowledge is limited, but would love to hear from others who might be more familiar with Benson.

  18.   Keith Brenton Says:

    I’ve got to get that book by Robert Hooper. (When he’s here in Little Rock, he always attends the church where I labor.)

  19.   Royce Says:

    I can’t disagree with most of what Armstrong taught. Point by point he seemed on point to me.

  20.   Clarence Richmond Says:

    John, very early in the Stone-Campbell movement, the members looked to “Editors” as keepers of orthodoxy, rather than to typical Bishops of the major denominations. While the major papers (GA & FF) themselves endured over long periods of time, their doctrinal positions (and tolerance for differing ones) often changed with the change of Editors. For example, B.C.Goodpasture accepted critical articles about the church , such as David Bobo’s series, “A Critique of a Great Brotherhood”(5/15/57, 12/12/57, and 1/30/58) is spite of opposition from some circles (presumable the TX tradition, in your metaphor), whereas Neil Anderson much later refused to reconsider such articles as acceptable, and in fact printed articles arguring that criticizing the church was the equivalent of criticizing God, more along the lines of the TX tradition.
    I think the Christian Chronicle has had a leveling influence on the greather brotherhood with it’s charter of objective news reporting rather than doctrinal proclaimations, intentionally rejecting articles and advertisements of one-sided argumentative nature. That said, it is still difficult to eliminate bias where an influencal segment of the brotherhood might take offense. After all, these publications are commercial enterprises and depend on support from a rather firmly entrenched but diverse clientele.
    Clarence Richmond Searcy, AR

  21.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    I don’t think I would agree that changes in doctrine and tolerance were “often”–which can be a relative term and subject to ambiguity. My point would be that from 1890-1910, there was no such changes in the Editors of the FF or GA. Indeed, I don’t think GA changed till 1930, and the FF did not moderate its Texas Tradition stance until into the late 1960s and early 1970s. I think there was fairly good consistency.

    Goodpasture, however, is an interesting case in point. He certainly moderated the Texas stance of Hinds and Wallace from 1930-1938, but he kept Texas Tradition staff writers (Whiteside and Woods, for example). The specific case of Bobo comes in the context of his agenda against non-institutionalism when Goodpasture exercised the powers of an “Editor-Bishop” with some relish and effectiveness. In any event, I think there is a difference between Anderson and Goodpasture, but Goodpasture’s agenda of conformity is also very similar to Anderson’s; they were simply dealilng with different issues.

    I agree with your point about the Christian Chronicle–and it is intentional in its attempted even-handed reporting. It is a presence of hope among us, I think.

  22.   James Says:

    Very interesting, especially since my family roots are people who moved from TN to TX in the early 20th century.

    I agree, it’s too bad DeHoff didn’t really “learn” those truths. Ironic to me, however, is that the list is what I was taught right down the list–at a school of preaching in Texas, of all places. I also had a fellow classmate leave for another school of preaching that was definitely a “Texas Tradition” hold-out for the same reasons DeHoff would have.

    My question over and over as I read of the early Restoration Movement and look around me is, “How in the world did we get here from there?” Your articles such as this help fill in those blanks. Thanks.

  23.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    James, by the 1960s-1980s the geography did not matter as much as the ideological lineage of those teaching, as you recognize. Who taught us makes a huge difference, but it is not the final determinate as some of our teachers–even if in a different “tradition”–always point us to Scripture as the final norm. For that I am deeply grateful. It gives permission to change if, indeed, we read it in Scripture for ourselves rather than through the lens of our teachers (whether Tennessee or Texas).

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