Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 15, 1966
NUMBER 19, PAGE 4-5a

"Quest For A Christian America


Our first reaction to this tome by Brother David Edwin Harrell, Jr. was one of "suffocation by documentation." We have never read a book with such a deluge of foot-notes and annotations. The bibliography at the end of the volume covers twenty pages, and lists more than three hundred books, periodicals, biographies, published sermons and addresses , tracts, pamphlets, church histories, unpublished manuscripts, etc. which furnished the factual grist for Harrell's mill. The book is not easy reading. It was originally prepared as a doctoral dissertation (Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University), and is a condensation of that work. The book is a study of the "Disciples of Christ" movement for the years 1800-1865, and particularly focuses on the sociological backgrounds of the movement.

The average reader will find this history hard going; we believe it will not be as popularly proclaimed as, for example, Earl West's two volumes on the "Search For The Ancient Order," It is, however, a far more scholarly work than West's, shows a deeper insight into the backgrounds of early Restoration history, and for whatever interpretations the author does attempt (too few in our judgment) gives overwhelming documentation. A second volume, now in process of preparation, will cover the years 1866-1900. This will leave the current period, 1900-1966 for a still later work.

To the serious student of church history, and to any one who is truly concerned about the presently developing "denominational status" of a large segment of the non-instrument Churches of Christ, this book will have an almost hypnotic fascination. Its picture of the emergence of the "Disciples of Christ" from a "movement" to a "sect" to a "denomination" is so completely detailed as to leave little room even for a discussion of the thesis, much less a negation of it. Harrell gives far more significance to the sectional, social, political, and economic factors behind the eventual fracturing of the Restoration Movement into "Disciples of Christ" and "Church of Christ" than most students and authors of the past have done. Again, however, his prodigious documentation leaves little room for dissent.

Harrell's penchant for the vernacular of the sophisticated secular historian was a bit disconcerting --- at least to this reader. We simply had not thought of Campbell and Stone as "sectarians" (that epithet had been reserved for their opponents), but certainly the objective historian would realize that most religious leaders of their day would have regarded the Restoration Movement as sectarianism of the most rapid and pernicious kind. From Harrell's pen the word "sect" loses a bit of its usual malodorous connotation. For by worldly and secular standards these nineteenth century Christians did constitute a sect, in much the same way as the early Christians were regarded as "the sect of the Nazarenes." And if it is occasionally good for us "to see ourselves as others see us," Harrell's book can serve a salutary purpose. Still, however, it comes as something of a shock to find the conservative point of view usually equated with the "disinherited", lower income group of farmers and rustics, while the liberals are, generally speaking, made up of the more cultured, affluent, and privileged class. Without exactly realizing how it happens, one becomes aware of a growing uneasy feeling that liberalism is associated with culture and education, while conservatism usually is found mostly among the ignorant and the poor. Is it really true, one asks, that instrumental music came generally to be accepted by those churches able to afford the instrument, and was opposed generally by those churches not able to buy an instrument? And was their strong opposition to the instrument motivated far more than they realized by their economic limitations? Harrell does not say so. Not exactly, that is, But....

The thing that gripped us, however, and gave an uneasy and portentous feeling of sheer tragedy was the eerie, uncanny parallel between the emergence of the "Disciples of Christ" denomination and the currently developing denominationalism in the more liberal element in the Churches of Christ. We do not see any possible hope for a reversal of the trend. It never was reversed in that previous debacle; slowed down a bit from time to time, perhaps, but, never reversed.

Brother Harrell has done a brilliant piece of work. We rather agree with Dr. Walter W. Sikes of the Vanderbilt Divinity School that it will stand permanently as the definitive social history of the Disciples of Christ in their formative period." The book contains 224 pages (exclusive of index and bibliography) sells for $5.95, and can be ordered from the Gospel Guardian Company.

F. Y. T.