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Review of Robert Gailey, Derran Reese, and Monty Lynn, Development in Mission: A Guide for Transforming Global Poverty and Ourselves

Robert Gailey, Derran Reese, and Monty Lynn. Development in Mission: A Guide for Transforming Global Poverty and Ourselves. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2021. Paperback. 224pp. $20.99.

Development in Mission attempts an ambitious goal, presenting a guide to Christians for building a theological foundation and practical framework of healthy and effective engagement in global poverty alleviation. Authorship is shared by Rob Gailey (Director of the Center for International Development at Point Loma University), Derran Reese (Director of Experiential Learning at Abilene Christian University), and Monty Lynn (Professor of Management at Abilene Christian University). All three bring significant cross-cultural experience to this work: Gailey as a missionary to Malawi, Reese as a missionary to Thailand, and Lynn as a former Fulbright Scholar.

The book is organized into three parts. The first lays the groundwork through an overview of the state of the world and development work, a theological framework, and a vision of distinctly Christian development practice. The second provides a survey of possible development sectors. The third discusses ways for churches and organizations to discern their path forward.

Chapter 1 explicitly attempts to move the discussion of church engagement in relief and development past the unintended paralysis and discouragement some may experience after reading texts such as When Helping Hurts (28). (Notably, Brian Fikkert, co-author of When Helping Hurts, writes an insightful foreword for this text.) These authors intend to help individuals, churches, and organizations chart a hopeful path forward that results in development that redeems and transforms all parties participating together in God’s mission.

The authors cut through the hubris of Western and evangelism-centric missiology by taking readers along on a brief survey of missio Dei theology in Chapter 2, where they argue that the global church are participants, not drivers, in God’s holistic mission to restore and renew all of creation (55). They challenge the reductionist view that salvation centers around “going to heaven” (53). They argue, “salvation is not the soul’s escape from the body and the created order. Instead, it is an embodied participation in God’s restoration of all things (55).” The authors urge resisting the tendency to prioritize some areas of mission work over others by emphasizing the scope of God’s mission: the restoration of all creation (58). This chapter broadens the horizon of what is and is not mission while assuring churches and organizations that they cannot attempt it all and should partner with and encourage others engaging in different areas of mission.

Having laid out a theological foundation for holistic mission, Chapter 3 sets out to describe a uniquely Christian approach to poverty alleviation. The authors agree that secular efforts such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals share much in common with Christians concerned with human and ecological need. Effective Christian poverty alleviation, however, incorporates the best and latest research from development studies and finds its life and direction in the missio Dei (64). A concept unique to Christian mission engaging in humanitarianism is the practice of self-sacrifice (kenosis) following the example of Jesus. This is not to say that secular aid workers do not sacrifice, but Christian practitioners believe deeply that relinquishing power and privilege is necessary for transformational development (74).

Chapter 4 constitutes the entire second section and introduces a diverse range of sectors through which individuals and organizations might engage in transformative development. The chapter discusses sectors typically associated with Christian mission, such as food, health, and Scripture translation, as well as some not always considered by Western evangelicals, such as peacebuilding and creation care. Each sector includes a theological frame as well as research and practical insights for further engagement and is intended to be read as needed rather than through from start to finish. This chapter provides readers with a go-to resource to orient themselves when taking an initial look at a new mission opportunity.

Discerning which sector of mission is suitable for each church or organization is the focus of Chapter 5. The authors admit that, “The journey that lies ahead for those who seek to join God in the work of transformational development can be both thrilling and overwhelming” (182). They remind readers that God initiates and sustains mission, and prayer and self-reflection are the beginning points for our participation. Churches and organizations should move patiently when considering congregational fit through their particular calling and context. Discerning which sector(s) to commit to and invest in can happen through the use and examination of mental models (189), root causes (192), and theories of change (193). Chapter 2 advised that churches and organizations cannot take everything on, and the authors now expand on this with a brief discussion of forming partnerships within a chosen sector to draw on the experience and expertise of others, especially local partners. Throughout this book, the authors commend the reader to approach mission humbly, and this section is no different: “it is paramount that a church approaches partners with a posture of listening” (199).

A key idea this book attempts to convey is that transformational development ought to be mutually transformational. As Christians from diverse backgrounds participate in God’s mission to renew all things, all should be transformed through the relationships they form. In other words, churches and organizations entering God’s mission should expect to be challenged and changed.

While the authors express their desire to include the voices of male and female scholars from the Global South (47), they primarily do this through relatively short quotes, footnotes, and an afterword by Ruth Padilla. The book would have been better had they given these men and women more room to speak to the Western Church.

While keeping an overwhelmingly hopeful tone, the authors consistently urge those attempting to engage in poverty alleviation to practice humility, deep introspection, and broad collaboration. This is an effective introduction to holistic mission and development for undergraduates, mission practitioners, and church leadership. This text may appear intimidating to church and organizational volunteers, but they should take note that the entire second section, 83 pages, does not need to be read all the way through. This makes it an ideal text for missions committee members to work through and discuss. Towards this purpose, a future revision could be improved by a discussion guide, potentially including expanded testimonies from the Global South.

Matt Nance

Executive Director

Christian HolyLand Foundation

Knoxville, TN

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Review of Jack R. Reese, At the Blue Hole: Elegy for a Church on the Edge

Jack R. Reese. At the Blue Hole: Elegy for a Church on the Edge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021. Paperback. 242 pp. $21.99.

Jack Reese’s new book At the Blue Hole is not a Sunday-school curriculum—although it should be read by everyone concerned about the future of Churches of Christ. It is not a study of the history of the Restoration Movement—although historical insights fill each chapter. It is not a Bible study—although the spirit of Scripture drips from every page. In this book Reese does not engage in biblical exegesis—there are no extended discussions of key biblical texts. Instead, Reese engages in cultural and historical exegesis—which should be of particular interest to readers of this journal. In At the Blue Hole, Reese mines the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement looking for deep truths and formative practices, forgotten moments and recurring patterns. And his historical and cultural analysis leads him to write this love letter to a dying church.

A Dying Church

That the Churches of Christ in the United States are dying is one of the key points of his first chapter. Drawing on data from Stanley Granberg and Tim Woodroof, Reese notes the following (16):

  • Most of the congregations in the United States are small and getting smaller.
  • 92% of them have less than 200 members.
  • The average Sunday attendance nation-wide is 94.
  • More than half of the congregations in the country average only 34 members.
  • Around 60 congregations per year in the US are shutting their doors for good.

What do such numbers mean for the future?

  • Church membership is expected to decline from 1.1 million to barely 250,000 in the next thirty years—less than a fourth of where they are today.
  • The number of Church of Christ congregations in the United States is likely to drop from 12,237 in 2016 to only about 2,800 in 2050, an 80% decline.

While the news is certainly sobering, it also opens the door to hope. As a patient will not seek treatment until he admits there is a problem, so Churches of Christ will not seek helpful resources until we are awakened out of our denial and complacency and come to grips with the dire reality of our situation.

There are resources out there for churches to draw upon. The book’s central metaphor is of a river meandering its way across the landscape, being shaped by its environment, making twists and turns, at times uniting with other tributaries, at times dividing into smaller streams, and ultimately finding itself a long way from its source. Reese argues that the resources to sustain us are to be found there at the source of our movement, buried in our past.

But instead of rushing to list the resources, Reese takes us on a journey to show how we came to be where we are. “This story will take some time to tell. The story is too important to tell quickly” (6).

Key Moments

For the bulk of the book, Reese focuses on three key moments from our past where choices were made—choices that not only represent our past but choices that shape our present. Because, as Reese frequently reminds us, “Choices have consequences” ( 37).

Two Movements Unite

The first framing story takes place in 1831, in Lexington, Kentucky. There, two representatives of the Stone movement and two representatives of the Campbell movement met together to discuss the possibility of uniting. The four men met and prayed for weeks. Then on New Year’s Eve, two congregations met together, and a representative from each group addressed the gathered crowd. After they each spoke, Barton Stone offered the right hand of fellowship to Raccoon John Smith, who was representing the Campbell movement. The two shook hands, and the union was confirmed. The next day, New Year’s Day, 1832, the two congregations celebrated communion together.

Reese introduces the scene in Chapter 1 but then dives deeper in Chapter 3. He makes it clear that there were significant differences between the two movements, but their unity was not based upon something as simple as agreeing with each other; rather, it was based on a passionate desire for unity that overcame the differences between them.

The Peacemaker and the Pallbearer

The second key story is a funeral in 1929, but again, Reese is in no rush to get there. It is fourteen pages into the chapter before you know whose funeral it is. Along the way, Reese discusses James Garfield, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Samuel and A. L. Cassius and offers an extended discussion of how churches are shaped by their culture.

The funeral was for T. B. Larimore. Since the union of 1832, identities began to harden and positions had begun to calcify. When the Civil War broke out, it not only marked violent division within the nation, it also highlighted division within the Stone-Campbell movement. T. B. Larimore was a giant of a figure who may have baptized over 10,000 people in his lifetime, but he steadfastly refused to take sides in the arguments of his day. He was criticized by both sides, but he remained in good relationship with both Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ until the day he died.

The pallbearer was Foy E. Wallace Jr., who would become editor of The Gospel Advocate and, later, The Bible Banner. His hard-charging temperament, his uncompromising style, and his black-and-white theological positions stood in sharp contrast to the humble and gentle Larimore. It would be the spirit of Wallace, not that of Larimore, that would continue to dominate Churches of Christ throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

Freedom and Conformity

The third key story takes place in Memphis in 1973. While the first story focused on unity in the movement, this chapter focuses on the quest for restoration. Campbell set the tone of the movement with his series “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things.” But for Campbell, restoring the ancient order was a means to an end: Restoration would lead to unity, and unity would lead to the thousand-year reign of God on earth.

Over time, this millennial vision was lost, and restoration of the ancient order became the goal itself. This was exemplified by the meeting in Memphis, where four men—Lynn Anderson, Landon Saunders, Harold Hazelip, and Batsell Barrett Baxter, all associated with the Herald of Truth—were interrogated before an audience of some 200 preachers. At issue were questions like church cooperation and the role of the Holy Spirit.

Reese points out that there were two fundamental flaws behind this line of questioning. First, the quest for restoration had become focused on externals, not core matters of the heart. Second, this quest demonstrated confidence in the ability of humans to come to agreement on all matters.

Resources for Life

Reese ends by identifying seven resources that flow from the wellspring of our heritage and can provide life and hope in the days to come.

Resource #1: Unity as the Wellspring of Grace

Unity must become a priority once again. And unity requires hard work—often including repentance and confession of past wrongs.

Resource #2: Restoration and Life

Here Reese describes the difference between bounded-set thinking, which focuses on drawing lines and establishing boundaries, and centered-set thinking, which focuses on the core issues that unite us.

Resource #3: Reasoned Inquiry

Churches of Christ have a long history of valuing education and reason. We should not be afraid to ask questions, listen to others, and be willing to change our minds.

Resource #4: An Ear for Harmony

Churches of Christ are known for singing in harmony. This requires us to listen to each other. Singing, then, whether a cappella or with instruments, could be a spiritual discipline that teaches us to listen and respond to each other.

Resource #5: Living Generously

While many congregations are wary of participating in “social justice programs,” our heritage contains a strong current of people willing to help those in need. Here Reese highlights David Lipscomb, who risked his own health to minister to cholera patients in Nashville in 1873.

Resource #6: Apocalypse Now

Campbell exhibited a confidence in the ability of humans to bring about the kingdom of God. But Stone exhibited an apocalyptic vision, in which his confidence was not in human ability but in God. Rather than embracing the power structures of this world, Reese calls on us to embrace the power of the Holy Spirit.

Resource #7: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

These two practices have played a central role in our heritage. But too often we have focused on the requirements of these practices and have missed their essence. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Properly understood, these practices change us and empower us to put others ahead of ourselves. Only by embracing our death through baptism and the Lord’s Supper can we experience God’s power to resurrect the dead and give new life to the dying.

At The Blue Hole is not a how-to book. It does not offer quick remedies or simple formulas. It will not satisfy those who are looking for black-and-white answers to some of the issues challenging churches today. Rather, it points us to helpful resources and asks us to do the hard work of telling the truth about our present situation and our historical choices that brought us here. Only then can we move courageously into God’s preferred future.

Terry Seufferlein

Professor of Bible

York College

York, Nebraska

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John Franke’s Missional Theology: A Review Essay

An earlier version of this essay was presented at The Forum on Missional Hermeneutics, Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, November 20, 2021.

What makes biblical hermeneutics missional? I believe the answer must ultimately be: missional theology. Of course, that sort of answer defers comment on the substance of the matter, but it also signals the significance of John Franke’s introduction to missional theology for the development of missional hermeneutics.1 For someone like me, who believes missional hermeneutics is a type of theological interpretation of Scripture in which missional theology uniquely shapes our readings, this book stands to meet a basic need. That is, unless we gain greater clarity about how to do missional theology, the constructive work from which missional hermeneutics should proceed will remain elusive.

On a personal note, I should also observe the significance of the volume’s publication for those of us who have come of age theologically with the missional conversation. I began as a freshman missions major in 2000, with the legacy of Lesslie Newbigin looming almost hagiographically over the theology of mission, the impact of David Bosch’s Transforming Mission still generating aftershocks, and the publication of Darrell Guder’s edited volume Missional Church catalyzing hope for a new era of Western mission. In other words, I undertook the study of mission history, practice, and theology at the advent of the missional turn. My ensuing experiences in mission and scholarship have been marked by the conviction that a paradigm shift, as Bosch would put it, is underway. In the last two decades, a vast array of articles, books, conferences, and curricular revisions have evinced the manifold transformations that such a shift entails. But paradigm shifts are not quick and tidy. They are chaotic and contested, advancing in fits and starts, and subject to methodological disarray. Missional theology’s development has been no exception. Twenty years is not long in the scheme of theological history, and we might have expected to wait longer for a consolidated articulation of missional theology from one of its leading exponents, so the publication of Franke’s introduction is a highly anticipated milestone on a journey well begun but far from complete.

Franke writes with the express purpose of offering a concise, accessible introduction. He opts for a discussion of essential elements—not a reduction but an identification of missional theology’s core constituents as he sees them: a theocentric, Trinitarian point of departure; a participatory ecclesiology; an ecclesially located practice; a pluralistic epistemology; and a teleologically relational synthesis. Each chapter, then, contributes to a five-part argument that represents both where missional theology has come from and what it presently is. The first two chapters recapitulate the influence of Bosch and Newbigin, elaborating the consensus commitments that uniquely shape missional theology. The third chapter is the book’s hinge. It indicates what doing theology with these commitments entails, focusing especially on the nature, task, and purpose of missional theology. The last two chapters address the essential methodological issue of pluralism and the concomitant problem of unity that follow from the commitments and practice of missional theology.

It is important that the book begins with theological commitments rather than methodological prolegomena. These commitments—the missio Dei and ecclesial participation—are the presupposition, not the product, of missional theology. In other words, as Franke presents it, the divine purposes called the Triune mission of God and the agency of the church in relation to them are confessional assumptions without which the practice of missional theology cannot proceed. This complicates his subsequent distinction between first-order commitments and second-order reflection in interesting ways (76–77). I will return to this point below. For now, I note my agreement: missional theology is essentially (though not foundationally!) teleological and participatory.

Those familiar with Franke’s work will recognize his concern with epistemological foundationalism and the advocacy of pluralism that unfolds in Chapter 4.2 But this is not idiosyncratic. Franke identifies a defining methodological component of missional theology. His claim is not only that plurality is a theological given but that a principled pluralism is axiomatic for missional theology. Moreover, he correctly locates interculturality in relation to the broader issue of epistemic pluralism. I note as well that Franke has been the leading advocate of intercultural considerations in missional hermeneutics, foregrounding a commonly neglected contribution of missiology in a discourse that has been especially concerned with Western culture.3

Franke’s move beyond principled pluralism to relational unity in the final chapter is a significant advance. To be frank, no one reviewing the literature of missional theology would likely conclude that unity is among its driving interests. Further, I find Franke’s discussion of unity to be the most provocative part of his argument. Taking a deep dive into christological waters, he claims that doctrinal agreement about even the person and work of Jesus is not the basis of theological unity. Rather, the presence of Christ in relation to which the church participates in God’s mission constitutes the church’s “solidarity” (160–61). From this perspective, it is the reality of Christ, not our second-order understandings of that reality, that ensure unity. This brings us back to the question of what counts as first-order commitment and second-order reflection. The remainder of my review considers this issue as it bears on missional hermeneutics.

My contention is twofold. First, the commitment to participation in God’s mission that ostensibly constitutes solidarity is a function of prior interpretive conclusions, not least regarding the identity and work of the Christ whose presence accompanies the church in mission. Second, the hermeneutical generativity of participation in God’s mission not only entails the church’s ongoing reflection on and expression of that theological commitment but reconstitutes it. In short, certain theological commitments drive missional theology, and those commitments are hermeneutically determined.

On the one hand, participation in God’s mission follows from a particular, hermeneutically determined understanding of God and the church. This is evident in the first two chapters of Missional Theology, whose affirmations are hardly shared by the church catholic. In particular, the Trinitarian, soteriological, ecclesiological, and anthropological implications of Franke’s basic commitments represent a missional reading of the biblical narrative, not a pluralistic account of God’s purposes and the church’s role in them. Thus, to say that all the church shares a commitment to “primary stories, teachings, symbols, and practices” is to say too little (76, 77) because these mean nothing apart from interpretation. Indeed, one wonders what this list might include. In any case, the conceit of missional theology as a whole is that Christendom’s non-missional embodiment of these commitments is wrong. In this sense, the idea that one might come to Franke’s Trinitarian affirmations without the ecumentical creeds is, I think, doubtful. But more to the point, the “teachings” and “practices” of the Christian faith are far from given, and the “stories” of Scripture have been told millions upon millions of times with conclusions that Franke would apparently reject.

This is not to deny that local, culturally contextual interpretations of Scripture and the rest will issue in plurality, much less to say that missional theology is a sectarian endeavor. Rather, the unity of the missional church with the rest of the non-participatory church is a prophetic solidarity. The affirmation of pluralism does not cover over the judgment of missional theology: the Western church largely fails to participate in God’s mission. This fact necessarily leaves the notion of theological unity based on participation in God’s mission in doubt. Franke is right: “the texts of Scripture should be read in community from an explicitly missional point of view as a means of forming communities for discipleship and participation in the mission of God” (93). Hence, there is a proper, if underdetermined, exegetical direction for any local, culturally contextual interpretation that would issue in missional solidarity. The missional direction and purpose of Scripture are not the determinations of an abstract or neutral exegesis but rather of a theologically committed reading in which the Trinitarian and ecclesiological doctrines expounded in Franke’s first two chapters already guide missional interpretation.

On the other hand, the theological commitments of missional theology are hermeneutically determined in two additional ways. One, participation itself is constitutive of missional hermeneutics. Two, participation shapes the ongoing interpretation of missional theology’s basic commitments.

As for hermeneutically constitutive participation in mission, Franke rightly affirms Newbigin’s claim that the church is the hermeneutic of the gospel (29). I have argued elsewhere that this is as true for the church as for everyone else.4 In other words, the church learns from its own embodiment of the gospel what the gospel means. Embodiment is not a linear consequence of interpretation but an encounter with the Triune God in the world through which the church deepens its own understandings of Scripture’s meaning and, so, returns to the text anew, theologically formed by participation. Moreover, this return provokes a reconfiguration of the church’s basic commitments. Both the Trinitarian teleology and the ecclesial participation with which missional theology begins are subject to revision because of the church’s experiences of participation in the Triune mission. Indeed, this is arguably the source of the missional reconfiguration of Trinitarian theology and ecclesiology that began in the World Council of Churches in the mid-twentieth century.5

Therefore, I am reluctant to grant Franke’s distinction between first-order commitments and second-order reflection. Commitments are the instantiation of reflection through embodiment, without which the solidarity of participation in God’s mission ceases to be the visible unity that Franke advocates (145). Yes, embodiment is inescapably plural, and Franke’s programmatic development of a principled theological pluralism that makes sense of this fact is necessary. Nonetheless, missional theology contends that plurality is a function of contextualization—as Franke puts it, a “critical awareness of the role of culture and social location in the process of theological interpretation and construction” (133)—not a break in the circle of commitment and reflection. If I am rightly detecting George Lindbeck’s influence on Franke, then another way of stating this critique is that postliberal theology’s distinction between the first-order story of Scripture and the second-order doctrinal plurality of reflection on that story is useful for explaining the major historical differences between Christian traditions, but it is not a particularly missional account of difference. For postliberals and postconservatives alike, the difference of difference-in-unity is an accident of sociocultural finitude in relation to first-order claims, therefore the unity of difference-in-unity is a function of sharing first-order claims (whichever those may be). By contrast, for missional theology, the difference of difference-in-unity is purposive. Contextualization is a positive hermeneutical agenda, not a historical accident. Indeed, I would argue that for missional hermeneutics, there is no first-order commitment except embodied contextual commitment; therefore, missional unity is not located in the identification of a class of “primary stories, teachings, symbols, and practices” that precede the effects of pluralism. Instead, missional unity is located in the shared hermeneutical agenda of “a community sent into the world by God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit” (155). So, I think Franke is right to say that the church’s unity is “found through participation in the mission of Jesus” (161), but I wish to highlight the hermeneutical nature of this “finding,” lest we conclude that the missional church is united by participation but still divided by interpretation. It seems to me that participation in God’s mission just is our shared hermeneutical endeavor. This interpretive existence as participants in the missio Dei—this hermeneutical ontology—constitutes our theological union, not despite difference but for the sake of difference. The same hermeneutical purpose that engenders plurality is what makes the church one. And given Franke’s fairly extensive interaction with Michael Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel, I underline that this hermeneutical existence is properly ontological, for the union of the church is ultimately a function of her union with God—theōsis.6

In conclusion, I think the structure of Franke’s introduction is highly instructive. The practice of missional theology (ch. 3) takes place in the tension between the God-church dialectic (chs. 1–2) and the plurality-unity dialectic (chs. 4–5). And Franke is to be commended especially for his representation of the nature, task, and purpose of missional theology. Only, I would add the caveat that together these represent the missional church’s essentially hermeneutical existence—not a method but a spirituality of participation in the life of the Triune God that manifests, in purposive solidarity, a pluriform witness to the manifold grace of God.

Greg McKinzie is an adjunct faculty member of the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University (Nashville, TN). He served with his wife, Megan, as a missionary in Arequipa, Peru, from 2008–2015, where he helped launch the Christian Urban Development Association ( He is also the founder and executive editor of Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis and the manager of In addition to numerous contributions to Missio Dei, Greg has published articles in Stone-Campbell Journal, Restoration Quarterly, and The Journal of Theological Interpretation, as well as Catalyst and Missio Alliance. He is a coauthor with Mark E. Powell and John Mark Hicks of Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future (Leafwood, 2020).

1 John R. Franke, Missional Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020).

2 See Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001); and John R. Franke, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth, Living Theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009).

3 See esp. John R. Franke, “Intercultural Hermeneutics and the Shape of Missional Theology,” in Reading the Bible Missionally, ed. Michael W. Goheen, The Gospel and Our Culture Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 86–123.

4 Greg McKinzie, “Missional Hermeneutics as Theological Interpretation,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 11, no. 2 (2017): 157–79.

5 See Darrell L. Guder, Called to Witness: Doing Missional Theolgy, The Gospel and Our Culture Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), ch. 2, for a rehearsal of this history in relation to contemporary missional theology.

6 Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, The Gospel and Our Culture Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

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Review of Jehu J. Hanciles, ed., World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons

Jehu J. Hanciles, ed. World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021. Paperback. 240 pp. $45.00.

I begin this review by stating what I most wish to convey to readers, missionaries, teachers of mission and world Christianity, and intercultural trainers: this book is required reading. You must purchase it, and you must read it.

Editor Jehu Hanciles is the D. W. Ruth Brooks Professor of World Christianity and the director of the World Christianity Program in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has lived and worked in such diverse contexts as Sierra Leone, Scotland, Zimbabwe, and southern California (formerly teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary). He is well-known in mission studies circles, having published significant works in the areas of the global expansion of Christianity and mission, Christianity and globalization, and the history of mission. He is a highly qualified editor for this volume, which arises from presentations given at a 2019 consultation of international scholars on the topic of world Christianity.

The list of chapter contributors reads like a Who’s Who of world Christianity studies. Included are such notable figures as Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi, Dana Robert, Emma Wild-Wood, Kwok Pui-lan, Paul Kollman, Kirsteen Kim, Raimundo César Barreto Jr., Dyron Daughrity, Gemma Tulud Cruz, and several others.

The book as a whole provides a critical engagement with the study of world Christianity. The authors challenge readers from varying perspectives to connect historical developments to important debates as well as theoretical and disciplinary issues. Throughout, the authors acknowledge the generation of seminal world Christianity scholars like Dale Irvin, Lamin Sanneh, and Andrew Walls, who paved the way for this fruitful conversation. These chapters, however, build in creative and energetic ways on those foundational ideas to advance the discipline of world Christianity as it challenges Western-centric approaches still prominent in academic contexts. World Christianity as a discipline “correctly depicts the great multiplicity of strands, traditions, and expressions that characterize the faith globally” while also rejecting “claims of universality or normativity for Western Christianity” (xi).

Particularly helpful were the introductory chapter and personal narrative by Dana Robert, and Kirsteen Kim’s critical discussion of “World Christianity Curricula” and ways to understand this in academic contexts (ch. 3). Thought-provoking are the chapters in the final section of the book (Section III: Expanding Horizons) that deal with issues of world Christianity from different contexts. Here scholars deal with Asian, Latin American, Chinese, and Middle eastern Christianities and discuss at length how discourses and curricula dealing with world Christianity might profitably engage these differing contexts.

Similarly stimulating was Chapter 5—“World Christianity and the Challenge of Interdisciplinarity,” in which authors Kwok Pui-lan and Gina A. Zurlo discuss the sociology of religion, gender studies (both feminism and masculinity studies), migration studies (especially important is Peter Phan’s claim that the church is an “institutional migrant” [91] that cannot be understood without attention to migration and immigration). Disappointingly missing, however, is a discussion of the contributions of anthropology and the anthropology of Christianity.

This important work alerts the world that the discipline of “World Christianity” has fully arrived. Furthermore, Hanciles and contributors make claims for disciplinary space, boundaries, and foci that should inform every student of Christianity in the twenty-first century. As I noted at the beginning, this book is a must for all of us invested in the world Christian movement and the global church.

Christopher L. Flanders

Professor of Missions

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, TX, USA

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Communicating catholic and Indigenous Christianity: The Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s Contribution to Global Mission

When the Anglican church began participating in global mission in the early eighteenth century, the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) became a means of encouraging orthodoxy and catholicity while also promoting indigenous global Christianity. Following a brief history and theology of the BCP, I support this claim by exploring two examples of Anglican mission practice in South India and New Zealand. I conclude with a brief missiological reflection on the place of a tool such as the prayer book for communicating the gospel and making disciples among all peoples today.

When the English Reformer, Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556) published the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, he offered a means for the English church to be liturgically catholic and culturally English. That is, the prayer book allowed the English church to belong to the whole (catholic) church in the world—including what the church believed and taught—and to have a structure for daily prayer, weekly worship, Scripture reading, celebrating the sacraments, and following the major feasts of the church year. Because the BCP was produced in the English vernacular, the prayer book also allowed them to be fully English in their worship life.

When the Anglican church began to participate in global mission in the early eighteenth century, the prayer book continued to be a means of encouraging orthodoxy and catholicity while also promoting indigenous global Christianity. Following a brief history and theology of the BCP, I support this claim by exploring two examples of Anglican mission practice—South India and New Zealand—and discuss the development of the prayer book in those contexts. I conclude with a brief missiological reflection on the place of a tool such as the prayer book for communicating the gospel and making disciples among all peoples today.

Prayer Book History

Since the birth of the Christian community, the church has had a plan for worship. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul instructs: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up . . . But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor 14:26, 40, NIV). In addition to valuing orderliness, Paul also speaks to the contents of worship. From a very early point, worship or liturgy (leitourgia or “work of the people”) included the public reading and preaching of Scripture, praying the Psalms, singing hymns, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, baptizing, praying, and gathering for meals among other practices.1

Driven by the conviction to remain orderly and maintain theological orthodoxy, the early church in the first five centuries developed liturgical plans for worship (e.g., Didache, Apostolic Tradition, Didascalia Apostolurum). These church orders or published liturgical manuals aided both church leaders who led worship celebrations as well as Christian worshippers. During the medieval period just prior to the English Reformation, a number of liturgical manuals were in use.

Prayer Book Components

The Book of Common Prayer contained six essential elements that contributed to sixteenth century worship.

Daily Worship. The BCP offered directions for morning and evening prayer that could be prayed in the home or at church. This daily corporate worship consisted of prayers of confession, praise, thanksgiving, intercessions, praying the Psalms, as well as readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Gospels.

Weekly Worship. It provided a plan for weekly corporate worship with a liturgy for the Holy Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist was preceded by the Great Litany, extended petitions that were “sober” and “penitential.”2 Cranmer began the BCP project by first crafting the Great Litany in 1544.

Church Year. The prayer book guided worshippers through the church year, including the major seasons and feasts of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, as well as the remainder of the year known as Ordinary Time.

Lectionary. In addition to the calendar, the BCP included a lectionary—a schedule for reading Scripture in daily and weekly worship. While the lectionary initially followed a one-year schedule, by the twentieth century it had been expanded to three years where much of the Scripture would be read in public worship during that cycle. Since the Psalter was central to Anglican worship, the full text of Miles Coverdale’s (1488–1569) 1535 translation of the Psalms was placed within the prayer book beginning in 1549.3

Other Services. The BCP included liturgical services for baptism (both for infants and adults), confirmation, marriage, thanksgiving on the birth of a child, ministry to the sick and dying, and burials.

Collects. A final unique feature of the BCP were collects—prayers set within daily, weekly, and occasional worship. Structured by a “petition . . . aspiration . . . purpose for the prayer” and “concluding appeal to Jesus as the mediator and advocate,” the collects “are among the most characteristic and recognizable features of prayer-book worship.”4

The BCP also included an appended section on Anglican doctrinal foundations, including the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. Later, the Thirty-Nine Articles, a non-comprehensive collection of statements of Anglican belief, were added to the appendix along with the Ordinal—services for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons.

Ultimately, the prayer book provided worshippers a sense of spiritual time and a rhythm for daily, weekly, annual, and lifetime worship. Alan Jacobs writes:

The completed Book of Common Prayer considers time in three aspects. First, in its [calendar], it treats salvation history, walking the people of God through the seasons of the church year, following the sequence of events from the Fall of humanity to the Second Coming and the Last Judgment. Second, it treats the passage of each human being through the stages of life, from birth to burial. And third, in the bookends of Matins [morning prayer] and Evensong [evening prayer], it treats the diurnal rhythms of each given day. The prayer book masters and orders time on each of these scales; it renders temporal experience accessible and meaningful for each Christian participating in the life of Christ’s Church.5

Cranmer’s work on the Book of Common Prayer was not a significant innovation. His major contribution was synthesizing the existing medieval prayer books and simplifying worship for English Christians. Jacobs notes, “the prayer book replaced a motley collection of liturgical manuals employed by priests and other participants in public rites, but it is also, and perhaps equally, the successor of some of the most widely used manuals of personal devotion from the Middle Ages.”6 In establishing morning and evening prayer, Cranmer reduced the seven daily prayer offices of the Benedictine monks to two offices, which framed the day in worship. This allowed those who had not taken monastic vows—lay working people as well as priests occupied with the work of the church—the opportunity to experience daily asceticism (spiritual discipline) within the routine of their daily lives.7

Prayer Book Timeline

In surveying how the BCP developed in the life of the Church of England and eventually became a text for worship around the world, it is worth mentioning some key dates in the prayer book’s history.8

1549, Cranmer presents the first edition of the BCP.

1552, Cranmer revises and publishes the second edition of the BCP.

1559, Third edition of the BCP published under Elizabeth I.

1567, BCP translated into Welsh.

1604, Hampton Court Conference and the fourth edition of the BCP.

1608, BCP translated into Irish.

1662, Fifth edition of the BCP—the last official English edition.

1789, First American BCP.

1879, BCP translated into Japanese.

1922, First Canadian BCP.

1928, American BCP revised.

1950, Liturgy of the Church of South India published.

1954, South African Prayer Book published.

1963, Book of Common Worship for India published.

1964, A Liturgy for Africa published.

1979, American BCP revised.

1989, New Zealand Prayer Book published.

2000, Common Worship: Services and Prayers of the Church of England published.

2019, American BCP revised (Anglican Church of North America).

This non-exhaustive timeline reveals a number of important points in BCP history. First, the prayer book was translated very early into the neighboring languages (Welsh, Irish) of the British Isles.9 Second, after 1662, there is no official BCP for the world or English-speaking world. Third, as global Anglicanism developed apart from British colonial control, the BCP in the English-speaking world (e.g., USA, Canada, South Africa) began to reflect the needs and concerns of those local contexts. Fourth, as the prayer book is translated into other languages (e.g. Japanese, Maori), it becomes an increasingly local product, a fact that I will support through case studies below. At present, the BCP has been translated into over 200 languages.10

Prayer Book Theology

Following the thesis that the BCP contributed to both catholicity and indigeneity, two theological aspects of the prayer book should be noted: (1) that it was (first) produced in the English vernacular and (2) that it contributed to unity in global church worship.

The Vernacular

Prior to 1549, and for over a thousand years, English Christians officially worshiped in Latin. Following the Western Roman Catholic Church, which elevated the Latin Vulgate Bible as well as the Latin liturgy, Western European Christians did not worship in the vernacular—their heart language.

Despite this general practice, the English church seemed to desire vernacular worship for centuries before the Protestant Reformation. Toward the end of his life, Oxford professor and parish priest John Wyclif (ca. 1328–1384) labored with two of his students to translate the Latin Vulgate into English. Anticipating Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of the believer (sola sacerdos), Wyclif was convinced that the English Bible should be in the hands of every believer. In the late fourteenth century, Wyclif raised up a movement of wandering preachers known as the Lollards, who preached the gospel around England and secretly distributed English Bibles.11 Later, in the fifteenth century, initial forms of English language prayer books could be found.12

As the Protestant Reformation spread across Europe, Bible translation into European languages increased—a clear expression of the Reformation values of biblical authority (sola Scriptura) and the priesthood of the believer.13 Though it was illegal to translate the Bible into English well into the sixteenth century, Moorman notes that “early in the sixteenth century the demand for an English Bible grew as the ideas of the reformers got more footing in the country.”14 Since the early 1520s, William Tyndale (1494–1536) had been secretly working on a translation in England. After fleeing to Germany in 1524, Tyndale successfully published his New Testament translation in 1526 and a portion of the Old Testament by 1530. In 1535, he was captured by English soldiers in Antwerp and was executed the following year.15

Though Tyndale was put to death during King Henry VIII’s reign, the king had expressed interest in the English Bible project as early as 1529. With Henry’s blessing, Miles Coverdale produced an English Bible in 1535, largely based on Tyndale’s work. At this time, King Henry officially lifted the ban on English Bibles and allowed them to be placed in churches. By 1538, three more English translations had been published, including the Great Bible (1538), which was based on Tyndale and Coverdale’s work. By 1604, King James I commissioned the Hampton Court Conference, and the Authorized Version was published in 1611.16

While the English church was experiencing its own Reformation, Cranmer introduced a worship plan—the Book of Common Prayer—that was also in the English vernacular. Jacobs writes, “For Cranmer . . . it was necessary for the English church, a theologico-political entity, that worship be embodied in one book, in one language, that mandated one use.”17 Defending vernacular worship against Roman Catholic detractors, John Jewel (1522–1571) cited Article 24 of the Thirty-Nine Articles (an informal Anglican confession of faith): “it is contrary to the word of God, and the practice of the primitive church to use in public prayers and administration of the sacraments any other language than what is understood by the people.”18

Prior to Cranmer’s introduction of the BCP, English priests had quietly read the liturgy in Latin while the congregation prayed or listened. Now Cranmer directed priests to celebrate the liturgy in a loud and clear voice. An English vernacular liturgical gathering not only promoted understanding, but it also invited and required participation. The faithful were hearing the Scriptures, praying, and participating at the Lord’s Table in their own heart language. Through worshiping in the vernacular, the Anglican value of “the law of praying is the law of believing” (lex orandi, lex credendi) could be fully experienced. The daily and weekly use of the prayer book provided a powerful means to disciple English Christians.19

Vernacular worship finds its basis in our Lord’s incarnation. In taking on flesh, assuming an authentic humanity, and dwelling among humans, Jesus not only showed the Father but also preached the good news of the kingdom. As Andrew Walls argues, since Christ made the gospel at home in first century Palestinian culture, the gospel should also be at home in every culture and understood in the local languages and cultural contexts.20 Similarly, Lamin Sanneh calls Christianity a “vernacular translation movement” because “the vernacular has a primary affinity with the gospel.”21 While Sanneh’s application is largely the translation of Scripture into local languages, the vernacular principle also extends to the church having a worship life in the heart language and cultures of its people. Cranmer’s work to develop the BCP in English and the work of others to translate the prayer book into over 200 languages demonstrates the vernacular principle in practice. Indeed, even though some Anglican churches (e.g. Uganda, Kenya, India) have chosen to keep the prayer book in a national language such as English—which may not be the worshippers heart language—these same churches have expressed the vernacular principle through local vocabulary, expressions, natural landscape, and metaphors.

Worship with the Global and Historic Church

In his influential work, The Christian Priest Today, Michael Ramsey writes about daily worship using the prayer book: “In the Daily Office we are lifted beyond the contemporary . . . praying with the church across the ages and with the communion of God’s saints.”22 Ramsey’s claim could also be applied to weekly worship (e.g., the Holy Eucharist), services during the church year (e.g., Advent, Holy Week, Pentecost), and other services (e.g., baptism, marriage, ordination). When believers open the prayer book for worship, they are praying the same prayers that have been prayed and are being prayed all around the world.23

In praying with the church, believers join with the historic and global church in shared orthodoxy. Vincent of Lérins (d. ca. 445) defined orthodoxy as what has been believed “everywhere, always, by all.”24 Paul called it the “pattern of sound teaching . . . the good deposit” entrusted to the Apostles who would share it with “reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim 1:14; 2:2). When Vincent says the gospel has been believed “by all,” he refers to the catholic church—the whole or universal church in the world and throughout time.

The prayer book allows the church today to be catholic (the whole church in the world) and orthodox (correctly remembering the good deposit or what the apostles received from our Lord). Through the lectionary, the church reads the canonical Scriptures and receives teaching from the Word each week. By regularly celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the church is nourished by the real presence of Christ and reminded of the gospel—our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. By reciting the Apostles and Nicene Creed, the church publicly declares faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and remembers God’s saving work for mankind. Though brief, the creeds are supported by the richness of biblical teaching from the Old and New Testaments. The creeds clarify the essentials of the gospel, showing what is and is not Christian faith.

Contextualized Prayer Book Worship: India and New Zealand

Since worship ought to be contextual and developed with the building materials of local culture, the prayer book should also be contextual. This has actually been encouraged since the sixteenth century. Article 34 of the Thirty-Nine Articles states: “Every particular or national church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.”25 Charles Hefling notes, “The prayer book is . . . more like a play book, the ‘script’ actors use for performing a play. In this case the ‘acts’ to be performed are acts of worship.”26 While the BCP includes some fixed elements (e.g., daily prayer, weekly Eucharist, baptismal liturgy), it was always meant to be translatable to local cultures. William Sachs adds, “At the heart of mission lay the task of adapting the church’s manner of worship. . . . Anglican missionaries became astute students of local cultures and adroit at translation of texts, especially the prayer book, and adaptation of its usage.”27 These values were essential to the launch of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in 1698—the oldest Anglican mission structure—whose mission included “printing of vernacular prayer books and other Christian literature in India.”28

As global Anglicanism became increasingly driven by mission more than imperialism in the nineteenth century, the contexts of Canada, South Africa, India, Australia and other nations called for distinct local expressions of the prayer book.29 During the 1988 Lambeth Conference, the assembled bishops from the global Anglican communion echoed Article 34, declaring: “each Province should be free, subject to essential universal Anglican norms, and to a valuing of traditional liturgical materials, to seek that expression of worship which is appropriate to its Christian people in their cultural context.”30

Church of South India

Protestant mission to South India began in 1795 when German Pietist missionaries Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1676-1752) were sent to minister in the Danish colony of Tranquebar at the request of Danish King Frederick IV (r. 1699–1730). As part of their work, the men labored to translate the New Testament into Tamil by 1714. Also, in partnership with the SPCK, these Lutheran missionaries worked on the Tamil version of the Book of Common Prayer.31

Despite British colonial control over India from 1858–1947, many labored to establish an indigenous Indian church. The Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) leader and strategist Henry Venn (1796–1873) advanced the idea of three-self churches (self-led, self-supporting, self-propagating).32 The greatest early example of a South Indian Anglican leader was Bishop Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah (1874–1945). Trained at the CMS theological college, Azariah served with the YMCA and later the Indian Missionary Society in cross-cultural ministry in Andhra Pradesh. One of a handful of non-western church leaders at the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, Azariah probably had the greatest impact when he announced to the delegation, “give us friends”—a call to equal partnership and collaboration in global mission. In 1912, Azariah was consecrated as the bishop of Dornakal.33

Though the Indian church experienced growth in the nineteenth and twentieth century, disunity among church traditions and denominations proved to be an obstacle. A desire for unity prompted discussions about a unified Church of South India (CSI). Beginning in 1919, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists began talking about becoming one church. In 1947, the Anglicans merged with the Methodists and the South India United Church (Presbyterians and Congregationalists who had already merged) to create the Church of South India. This coincided with India’s independence from Great Britain and allowed the Indian church to address its own church needs and cultural context. Though it initially had no official relationship to the Anglican church, the CSI became an official province of the global Anglican communion in 1998.34

The Church of South India prayer book project began in 1948 and came to fruition as the Liturgy of the Church of South India in 1950. It was later revised as the Book of Common Worship in 1963. The CSI prayer book was produced in the four main South Indian languages—Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada (sometimes called Canarese). During the 1960s when the English-speaking world was revising its prayer books toward more contemporary language—updating “thee” and “thou” language—the Book of Common Worship was already available in South Indian colloquial languages.35

Since the CSI was welcoming four Protestant traditions into one new denomination, the prayer book committee strived to be flexible in liturgical forms such as the Eucharist. The CSI prayer book also made some adjustments in ordaining clergy and allowed for more extemporaneous prayers during worship gatherings. Finally, the CSI liturgy also drew upon the Indian Orthodox tradition for some responses during the prayers of thanksgiving.

The biggest observable changes in the Indian prayer book pertained to the Eucharist.36 Following Gregory Dix’s teaching on the shape of the liturgy, the CSI Eucharist consisted of preparing the table, giving thanks, breaking the bread, and distributing it. Instead of a “Prayer of Consecration” for the bread and wine, a “Prayer of Thanksgiving” was offered instead. They prayed: “Be present, be present O Jesus, thou good High Priest, as thou wast in the midst of thy disciples, and make thyself known to us in the breaking of bread, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.”37 Finally, avoiding sacrificial language entirely in the Eucharist, the Indian celebrants prayed in a rather Zwinglian fashion and similar to Cranmer’s revisions to the 1552 BCP: “we do this in remembrance of him.”38

While the CSI prayer book project contributed to advancing local worship in the South Indian context, it became a model for twentieth century global Anglicans. After serving as convenor of the CSI prayer book committee, Leslie Brown (1912–1999) was consecrated as bishop of Uganda in 1952. While serving in Africa, Brown drafted A Liturgy for Africa in 1964, which encouraged further local prayer books around the world.39

New Zealand

Anglican mission in New Zealand began in 1814 when Samuel Marsden (1765–1838) of the Church Missionary Society partnered with an indigenous Maori leader to begin preaching the gospel. The Maori responded favorably to the gospel and by 1840 over one-third of the indigenous people were baptized Anglicans. With a prayer book developed in the local language by 1838, the Maori people prayed and sang hymns in their heart language from an early point in their church history.40

Despite this encouraging gospel advance, British citizens were also settling in New Zealand. In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, making New Zealand a British colony. Though there was inevitable conflict between missionary and colonial interests, the Church of New Zealand managed to continue with two cultural streams—the missionary church (Te Hahi Mihinare) for the Maori, and an English-speaking church for British settlers.41

During this period, George Selwyn (1809–1878) was set apart as the first bishop for New Zealand in 1841. Serving in that role for nearly three decades, Bishop Selwyn learned the Maori language, strived to ordain indigenous clergy, and succeeded in setting up a church constitution that freed the Church of New Zealand from British control.42

A self-led Maori Anglican church did not become a reality until the later twentieth century when Maori bishops were consecrated. Jenny Te Paa-Daniel notes: “This freedom enabled them to contribute to the common life of the church the manifold gifts and understandings of indigenous spirituality, through the medium of the Maori language in liturgical music, dance, prayer, and art.”43

Though a Maori-language prayer book had first been developed in 1838, between 1964 and 1989, a commission labored to produce a bi-lingual (Maori-English) prayer book for all New Zealand Anglicans. Influenced by A Liturgy for Africa (1964), the church began worshipping with A New Zealand Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa in 1989. Reflecting their freedom to have a play book for worship that reflected the cultures of New Zealand, they called it A New Zealand Prayer Book instead of The New Zealand Prayer Book.44

A number of characteristics in this prayer book reflected local Maori culture. First, in addressing God, the prayer book emphasizes God’s tender and gentle ways. He is called “God of grace,” “ever loving God,” “God of truth and beauty,” and “merciful God.”45 One particular prayer emphasizes this tenderness:

Abba God we call you Father

And your care for us is motherly as well

Protect our power to love and be loved,

And make us glad to be called your children

One whanau [extended family] in Christ.46

Next, the Maori adaptation of Benedicte omnia opera (“O All Ye Works of the Lord, Bless the Lord”) reflects the cultural and natural worlds of Polynesian peoples:

O give thanks to our God who is good:

whose love endures forever.

You sun and moon, you stars of the southern sky:

give to our God your thanks and praise.

Sunrise and sunset, night and day:

give to our God your thanks and praise.

All mountains and valleys, grassland and scree,

glacier, avalanche, mist and snow:

give to our God your thanks and praise.

You kauri [tall, straight tree] and pine, rata [tree with large red flowers] and kowhai [yellow-blossomed tree], mosses and ferns:

give to our God your thanks and praise.

Dolphins and kahawai [type of fish], sealion and crab,

coral, anemone, pipi [shellfish] and shrimp:

give to our God your thanks and praise.

Rabbits and cattle, moths and dogs

kiwi [national bird] and sparrow and tui [parson bird] and hawk:

give to our God your thanks and praise.

You Maori and Pakeha [non-Maori], women and men,

all who inhabit the long white cloud:

give to our God your thanks and praise.

All you saints and martyrs of the South Pacific:

give to our God your thanks and praise.47

Third, the liturgy for “Prayer at Time of Death” also developed within the Maori cultural tradition. Typically, when someone is about to pass this life, friends and family gather around and converse with the loved one as they are departing. So, the funeral liturgy also includes a direct address to one the departing:

Go forth N (Christian soul), on your journey from this world,

in the love of God the Father who created you,

in the mercy of Jesus the Redeemer who suffered for you,

in the power of the Holy Spirit who keeps you in life eternal.

May you dwell this day in peace,

and rest in the presence of God. Amen.

After the funeral, there is an additional liturgy for blessing the home of the departed, which includes cleansing the house and praying for God’s light and peace to fill the home for the loved ones remaining.48

Fourth, the New Zealand prayer book is contextual because its church calendar contains feast days for Maori saints. For example, Rota Waitoa, the first ordained minister (1853) is remembered on May 22, while Frederick Bennett, the first Maori bishop (1928) is commemorated on May 23. The church calendar also highlights some Maori martyrs.49

Finally, A New Zealand Prayer Book celebrates Maori culture through the artwork on its pages. As the project was coming together, thirteen original Maori paintings were commissioned to adorn the pages of the prayer book.50

Prayer Book Missiology

These case studies from South India and New Zealand represent just two accounts of global Anglican mission in which prayer book worship was central to communicating the gospel and making disciples.51 I conclude this study with some missiological reflection, particularly regarding mission in the twenty-first century and the relevance of employing a prayer book strategy in Anglican mission and in other church traditions.

Oral Peoples

A prayer book approach is meaningful for mission among oral learners—those who prefer to communicate through oral means instead of through print. Reflecting back on sixteenth-century England, Kenneth Stevenson reminds us that “few could read but all could listen to and understand the English text.”52 Paul Stanwood adds that “The genius of the prayer book is its recognition that the liturgy is for speaking (or for some singing) and listening, not principally for reading in quiet privacy.”53

While a prayer book is a written product, it invites worshippers to participate through spoken and auditory worship. A wonderful recent model of this comes through the account of the twenty-one Egyptian Coptic martyrs who were beheaded by ISIS in Libya in 2015. Because the Coptic liturgy is sung in its entirety, every member of the church is effectively a choir member, assisting the priest as worship leaders. After years of singing the liturgy, Coptic Christians learn the liturgy by heart. Because public worship opportunities in Libya were limited, the twenty-one men, who were temporary guest workers in Libya, turned the main room of their living quarters into a worship space where they sang the liturgy each day. During their forty-three days in captivity, they continued their daily worship, singing hymns, praying, and hearing Scripture guided by the liturgy.54

Since the elements of prayer book worship allow for participation through speaking and singing, it seems strategic to pursue this form of worship among oral peoples. While such worship can be facilitated by an actual book in hand, the liturgy can be said or sung from memory as many oral peoples have already demonstrated.

Communal Peoples

Cranmer’s worship plan was called The Book of Common Prayer—prayer and worship that happens in community. In more individualistic Western societies, liturgical worship challenges private, silent, and individual worship as believers are invited to be a part of the body of Christ. Writing in a twentieth-century British context, Martin Thornton adds: “Christian prayer always involves a corporate element, with liturgical prayer—common prayer—as its foundation and fulcrum.”55 This is communal value is evident in the prayer, Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise You God):

We praise you, O God; we acclaim you as Lord;

all creation worships you, the Father everlasting.

To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,

the cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

The glorious company of apostles praise you.

The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.

The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you.56

In communal societies, liturgical worship does not encounter such opposition because people are accustomed to praying aloud and participating together.57 Christians from communal cultures are better equipped to appreciate the fact that during liturgy, they are praying with the whole church in the world today and claim membership in the global body of believers in every age going back to the first century. While Western individual identity is often captured in Descartes’s famous statement, “I think therefore I am,” collective identity in the African context is expressed through the notion of ubuntu (“I am because we are”).58 When applied to the church and to worship, African believers understand their spiritual identity in relation to the whole (catholic) church. It should not come as a surprise that the nations with the highest number of Anglicans (e.g., Nigeria, Uganda, South Sudan, India) are also communal societies. The twentieth-century Indian priest Emani Sambayya (1905–1972) summarizes: “The prayer book services leave me in no doubt that I am always worshiping with the church. It is impossible to miss the “we” and “us” throughout its services. Thus in the Christian faith I not only find a new center of life, but also I am incorporated into a vast worshiping community, partly visible, and partly invisible. I worship God in the company of my fellow Christians as well as with the saints in glory, with angels and archangels, and with all the heavenly company.”59


Prayer book worship provides a powerful means to disciple believers. Anglicans assert that the law of praying is the law of believing. That is, the church comes to believe the gospel and learns to live it out by praying. Hefling writes, “Learning how to speak the prayer book ‘language’ . . . to have learned it well is to have assimilated and made one’s own . . . grammar of believing.”60 For example, praying the prayers of confession on a daily and weekly basis helps to instill into the mind and heart of believers the value of confession and repentance.61

Prayer book worship, particularly through the lectionary, also enables believers to engage Scripture. In morning and evening prayer and weekly services, Christians read the Psalms, passages from the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Gospels. Scripture is also threaded throughout the liturgies and prayers. Alan Jacobs asserts, “one could argue that Cranmer’s chief reason for implementing standard liturgies was to provide a venue in which the Bible could be more widely and thoroughly known.”62 We meet God and are transformed into Christlikeness through encountering the Word. In a twenty-first century world where many pastors lament biblical illiteracy, prayer book worship could offer a needed solution for getting Scripture back into the lifeblood of the church.

Finally, daily and weekly prayer book worship offers believers rhythms for worship (e.g. confession, prayer, declaring belief through the creeds, engaging Scripture). These spiritual disciplines are means of grace to shape the believer toward mature Christian belief and living. Such an approach might also facilitate discipleship in a noisy twenty-first-century world where people are overworked, tired, and bombarded with information in the digital sphere.

Leadership Development

Finally, the prayer book provides a central means to train church leaders, including lay leaders as well as those seeking ordination. Though church leaders ought to be apprenticed for practical ministry in a parish or local church setting, the prayer book can function as the primary training curriculum. Priests in training learn much about serving at the Lord’s Table, leading prayers, and facilitating the rest of the liturgy directly from the prayer book.

The BCP also contains a plan for many of the weekly and occasional services. I have a friend who was an ordained US military chaplain. For years, he struggled to plan worship services for his soldiers on base. He shared this struggle with an Anglican chaplain who offered him a prayer book as a resource. The chaplain began to use the BCP and eventually became ordained as an Anglican priest. I know another ordained pastor who was preparing to lead his first funeral service. Not knowing exactly what to do for the service, he downloaded the BCP funeral liturgy and simply followed it. Finally, during COVID-19 and the closure of our church space, I simply led my family through morning prayer on Sunday mornings in our home. At times, another family joined us, and together we shared the leadership of our “living room liturgy” by using the prayer book.63 In short, the prayer book offers a sustainable tool for training ordained ministers and lay people alike for the work of ministry.


In this paper, I have argued that the prayer book tradition—both the Book of Common Prayer and its subsequent global forms—has served as a key communication tool in mission, encouraging the church to be both catholic and indigenous. On one hand, the prayer book invites the worshiper to meditate on the gospel and essential Christian teachings from the Scriptures and historic creeds. On the other hand, global Christians are invited to craft prayers and construct liturgies that put the gospel at home within global cultures. The Liturgy of the Church of South India and A New Zealand Prayer Book are just two examples of this.

I have further argued that a prayer book approach connects with oral learners and communal peoples and also facilitates discipleship and leadership development. While Anglicans will not want to lose sight of the prayer book tradition in global mission, other church traditions might also consider a prayer book-like approach in efforts to communicate the gospel and make disciples of all peoples.

Edward L. Smither (PhD, University of Wales-Trinity St. David; PhD, University of Pretoria) is a professor of history of global Christianity and dean of the College of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University. His most recent books include Mission as Hospitality (2021) and Christian Mission: A Concise Global History (2019). Smither served for fourteen years in intercultural ministry in North Africa, France, and the USA.

1 See Donald K. McKim, The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 186; and Andrew B. McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).

2 See Alan Jacobs, The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 1–5.

3 See Jacobs, 27; see also Paul G. Stanwood, “The Prayer Book as Literature,” in The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey, ed. Charles Hefling and Cythia Shattuck (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 142.

4 Jacobs, 32.

5 Jacobs, 42–43; see also Gordon Jeanes, “Cranmer and Common Prayer,” in Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 26.

6 Jacobs, 64; see also Martin Thornton, English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1986), 257; and J. R. H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England (Harrisburg: Moorehouse, 1980), 187–88.

7 See Jacobs, 28–30; and Thornton, English Spirituality, 257–59.

8 See Jacobs, ix–x; Hefling and Shattuck, eds., Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 559–62; and Robert J. Wright, “Early Translations,” in Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 56.

9 See Kevin Ward, A History of Global Anglicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 24–32.

10 See “The Book of Common Prayer in Other Languages,”

11 See Moorman, 118–22, 140.

12 See Richard Pfaff, The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

13 See Edward L. Smither, “Sola Scriptura and the Recovery of Bible Translation in the Reformation,” in Celebrating the Legacy of the Reformation, ed. Benjamin Forrest, Kevin L. King, and Edward E. Hindson (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019), 273–90.

14 Moorman, 172.

15 See ibid.

16 See ibid., 172–73.

17 Jacobs, 24; see also Ward, History of Global Anglicanism, 20.

18 Cited in A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1989), 357.

19 See ibid., 362; Jeanes, 29.

20 See Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1997), 26–33.

21 Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1989), 7, 29.

22 Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today, rev. ed. (London: SPCK, 1985), 15–16.

23 See Thornton, English Spirituality, 264.

25 Cited in Book of Common Prayer (2019) (Huntingdon Beach: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019), 786.

26 Hefling and Shattuck, 1.

27 William L. Sachs, “Plantations, Mission, and Colonies,” in Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, 153, 163.

28 Ward, 33.

29 See Jacobs, 120.

30 Cited in Colin Buchanan, “The Winds of Change,” in Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 238.

31 See Ward, 219.

32 See Wilbert Shenk, “Henry Venn’s Legacy,” Occasional Bulletin of Missionary Research 1, no. 2 (1977): 16-19.

33 See Ward, 230–32.

34 See ibid.; Moorman, 452–53; Buchanan, 244–48.

35 See Buchanan, 244–48.

36 See ibid., 245–46.

37 Cited in ibid., 246.

38 Cited in ibid.

39 See ibid., 247.

40 See Ward, 286–90.

41 Jenny Te Paa-Daniel, “Indigenous Peoples: A Case Study on Being a Twenty-First-Century Maori Anglican,” in The Oxford Handbook of Anglican Studies, 327.

42 See Ward, 286–90.

43 Te Paa-Daniel, 336.

44 See Kenneth Booth, “The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia,” in Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 333–42.

45 Ibid., 334.

46 Cited in ibid.

47 See ibid., 339.

48 Cited in ibid., 338.

49 See ibid., 340.

50 See ibid., 341–42.

51 See Hefling and Shattuck, 271–442.

52 Kenneth Stevenson, “Worship by the Book,” in The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 9.

53 Paul G. Stanwood, “The Prayer Book as Literature,” in The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 144.

54 See Edward L. Smither, Christian Martyrdom: A Brief History with Reflections for Today (Eugene: Cascade, 2020), 63.

55 Martin Thornton, Spiritual Direction (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1984), 14.

56 Book of Common Prayer (2019), 17.

57 See Ward, 5.

58 See Mungi Ngomane, Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together, the African Way (New York: Harper Design, 2020).

59 Emani Sambayya, “The Genius of the Anglican Communion,” in The Mission of the Anglican Communion, ed. E. R. Morgan and Roger Lloyd (London: SPCK and SPG, 1948), 19.

60 Hefling and Shattuck, 3.

61 See Stanwood, 140; Jacobs, 122.

62 Jacobs, 27.

63 See Winfield Bevins, Living Room Liturgy: A Book of Worship for the Home (Franklin: Seedbed, 2020).

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David Lipscomb’s Political Eschatology

This study examines the eschatological ideas of David Lipscomb and how these relate to the development of his politic of the kingdom of God. Delving into Lipscomb’s writings on key New Testament passages and situating the refinement of his ideas in the historical context of the Civil War, this paper explores how Lipscomb’s identities as a biblical pacifist and a Southern sympathizer led him to articulate an idealized vision of the church’s mission that his postwar resentments allowed him to enact only in part.

David Lipscomb left a tremendous impact on the Stone-Campbell Movement writ large and on Churches of Christ in particular.1 Notable Restoration figures from the previous generation had profoundly influenced his view of Scripture,2 especially Tolbert Fanning whose views were a “provocative mix of Barton W. Stone’s apocalypticism and Alexander Campbell’s primitivism.”3 In this study, we will focus primarily on the common ground that Lipscomb shared with Stone and Fanning, as the three men’s apocalypticism significantly impacted their view of the kingdom of God, eschatology, and politics.4 Lipscomb believed the grand narrative of Scripture was seen in God’s repeated attempts to establish His kingdom on earth. Christians enter this kingdom now but still await the full realization and consummation of God’s kingdom on earth in the future. To clarify Lipscomb’s views, we will examine his comments on several relevant New Testament passages (Eph 1:9–10; Col 1:19–20; Rom 8:19–22) and suggest how they influenced his eschatology. Finally, we will note how Lipscomb’s lived experiences during and after the Civil War deeply impacted his political worldview.5

Lipscomb’s Biblical Eschatology

To understand Lipscomb’s view of the “end times,” it is helpful to grasp his understanding of the grand narrative of the Bible.6 In short, the Bible’s primary purpose and function are to establish God’s rule and reign “on earth as in heaven.” God first established his rule perfectly and entirely on earth in the Garden of Eden. Eden, and all creation, was an extension of heaven. Creation served as the outer courts of God’s temple, and God elevated man to serve and share his rule in creation. Man’s purpose was to serve creation as priests in God’s temple. This purpose was thwarted by sin when man switched his allegiance from God to obey the serpent. At that moment, Satan’s kingdom took hold of this earth, and all kingdoms that subsequently emerged were under the dominion of the wicked one. In support of this view, Lipscomb notes passages like Matt 4:8–9 and Rev 13:2, which picture Satan as owning, ruling, and having authority over the kingdoms of men. God did not plant these other kingdoms, and “every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up” (Matt 15:13).

Following the rejection of God’s kingdom in Eden, God separated himself from this sin-polluted world. He made repeated attempts throughout human history to reestablish His rule. The flood of Noah was God’s judgment on a sinful and wicked creation, but it was also an act of renewal and future hope. God chose Noah’s family to live under His reign and rule, but it did not take long for Noah to follow the path of Adam, bringing sin, rebellion, and the dominion of Satan back into this world. The culmination of human sin resulted in the Tower of Babel, which brought confused, sinful, prideful, and rebellious human governments to the scene. Since Satan reigned in these governments, they each followed the pattern of Babel, and Babylon came to represent all world governments. Under Satan’s rule, governments oppose God and exercise authority by violence, greed, and pride rather than obedience to the will of God.

Abram enters the Genesis story immediately after the events of the Tower of Babel, and his family becomes another divine initiative to reestablish God’s reign. Lipscomb interpreted Scripture’s metanarrative through these attempts to establish God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. Nevertheless, God’s designs are frustrated by human sinfulness, and Satan’s dominion constantly undermines God’s kingdom through evil and violent world empires. When the children of Israel take the Promised Land in the book of Joshua, they use violence and warfare to rid the land of the Canaanites. Lipscomb did not read these as attacks against sinful individuals who lived in Canaan, however, but as representative of the larger mission of punishing all who submitted to the rule of human/Satanic governments.

Regarding the conquest of Canaan, Lipscomb writes: “God’s special commission to them was to destroy all the nations inhabiting the land, all the nations with which they came in contact. The mission imposed upon them was perpetual enmity, the work to which they were called was a war of extermination against all people maintaining a human government. This war was waged against the people not as individuals or families, but as members and supporters of human governments.”7 In the Biblical narrative, human governments, including Babylon, Egypt, Canaan, Assyria, and Rome, are all incarnations of Satan’s will. All kingdoms of men reject, rebel, and compete against God’s kingdom. Even Israel, the family of Abraham, continually falls into this trap. The only way God could dwell with Israel in this sin-plagued creation was to consecrate and sanctify certain specific areas, like the tabernacle and temple, where he could live.

When Israel asks for a king in 1 Sam 8, God relates to Samuel all the terrible, sinful actions that a human king will inflict upon Israel. Demanding a human king is the ultimate betrayal of the kingdom of God. God says to Samuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8:7).8 They implicitly demand that God be removed and replaced as their ruler by requesting a human king. This passage was central in Lipscomb’s understanding of the main point of the Bible.

God’s initiative to establish his kingdom on earth found dramatic fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through Christ, God brought salvation, reconciliation, and eternal life to fruition. Through the Holy Spirit, God issued his kingdom laws to guide the church in his divine will for ages to come. The church is the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth. Unsurprisingly, world governments attack and violently persecute the church. Persecution is one way Satan’s kingdom tries to destroy God’s kingdom. However, the church will overcome, endure, and eventually see the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

Thus, while the church is God’s kingdom, it is not God’s fully realized kingdom. There is more yet to come. The will of God is not done in its perfect and most complete sense now. Answering a question about the kingdom of God in the Gospel Advocate in 1903, Lipscomb writes, “The kingdom was established and opened to men on the first Pentecost after the ascension of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit came to earth to give this kingdom laws and to take up his abode in these laws and guide that kingdom in its future growth to its final and perfect development.” The fullness of the kingdom of God in all its glory and perfection will come with the dissolution of all world governments as heaven and earth become one. Earth will literally become heaven when God’s will is perfectly accomplished in His kingdom. Again, Lipscomb writes about a day “when the kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdom of God and his Christ, when the will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven, and when earth itself shall become heaven and God shall dwell with his people and be their God and they shall be his people.”9

That day will come when all kingdoms of the earth are destroyed and God establishes his perfect, fully realized kingdom on earth. Earth will be made one with heaven, Eden will be restored, and God will again dwell on earth with humankind. God is tenaciously loving and patient. Rather than giving up on earth because of sin, he will instead redeem the world and reconcile all creation back to himself.

To sum up his views of this grand narrative and the trajectory of the story of God, Lipscomb writes:

God is holy. As a pure and holy being, he cannot tolerate guilt and sin. The two cannot permanently dwell together in the universe. When sin came into the world, God left this world as a dwelling place. He cannot dwell in a defiled and sin-polluted temple. He has since dwelt on this earth only in sanctified altars and temples separated from the world and consecrated to his service. He will again make this earth his dwelling place, but it will be only when sin has been purged out and it has been consecrated anew as the new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness.10

In his view, God’s ultimate plan is to dwell among his people in righteousness. Since sin polluted this world, God must remake this world into a “new heaven and new earth” to live with his saints again.

Reading the Bible with this grand narrative in mind, it is easy to see how Lipscomb’s eschatology and politics converge. While parts of his eschatology have been laid out above as the culmination of the Bible’s story, the remainder of this study will focus more extensively on some of his specific eschatological views. While largely consistent with his predecessors Stone and Fanning, his overall view, along with that of contemporary leaders like James A. Harding, has largely fallen out of favor within Churches of Christ and likely constitutes a minority position today. Lipscomb’s view of heaven is distinct from the views of many within Churches of Christ because he believes heaven will ultimately unite with earth, and earth will remain forever. Instead of a celestial, incorporeal, nonmaterial existence in a heavenly realm, eternal life will be a physical, embodied existence on earth. As God will redeem our bodies in the resurrection, he will redeem the heavens and the earth in the same way. Lipscomb’s soteriology was both personal and cosmic. He believed not only in the individual salvation of sinners by the grace of God but also that the death of Jesus reconciled all things back to God, even inanimate matter and all creation.

This eschatological perspective appears numerous times in his commentaries on the epistles of Paul. For example, in Eph 1:9–10, Paul writes about the purpose of God, “which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” In this passage, God’s plan includes uniting all things in heaven and on earth in Christ. The traditional perspective advocated by many is not that earth will be reconciled to God or united in God, but that earth will face destruction as saved humanity enters heaven. In contrast, Lipscomb claims: “All things in heaven as well as in earth are reconciled to him . . . everything in heaven and on earth shall be united under the rule of Christ. The government of Christ on earth is the kingdom or rule of heaven extended to earth. In the beginning, the earth was an outer court of heaven, in which God dwelt, and over which he ruled supreme, but his rule has been subverted and destroyed by the rebellion of man.”11 Lipscomb’s explanation of Eph 1:10 reaches back to his understanding of the grand narrative of the Bible: that God created the earth as a temple, or “the outer court of heaven” and that sin has subverted the rule of God. God’s ultimate plan is to win creation back to His purposes and rule a reconciled, united heaven and earth.

Lipscomb’s commentary on Col 1:19–20 provides another glimpse into his all-encompassing view of salvation and eschatology. Paul writes, “For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.” Ephesians 1:10 speaks of uniting all things in heaven and earth, and Col 1:20 speaks of reconciling them back to God. Regarding this passage, Lipscomb writes, “It is not God who needs to be reconciled, but the universe that is alienated from God. . . . Here Paul glories in the grand scope of Christ’s work of reconciliation of a universe out of harmony with God (2 Cor 5:18, 19) that is carried out by the Son (Eph 2:16). . . . There they meet and are reconciled in Christ. He said this was done by Christ, even of things on earth and in the heavens.”12

The power of sin reaches beyond human guilt and distorts all heaven and earth; the entire cosmos, universe, and every created thing are damaged and distanced from God. The power of Christ’s salvific death on the cross reaches out to human sinfulness and then reaches beyond to the entire cosmic order to set all things right. There is no damage to God’s world perpetuated by sin that will not be redeemed, reconciled, and made right in Jesus.

Lipscomb writes in great detail on this subject when he comments on Rom 8:19–22. His commentary on this pericope again depends on his understanding of the Bible’s overall story. Paul writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now…” In this passage, Paul zooms out beyond human suffering to the agony that encompasses all creation. Paul provides hope for both people and creation, that God has not abandoned his original intentions or the redemption that lies ahead. In this passage, Lipscomb defines “creation” as “the world, embracing all animated nature below man.”13

In his reading, this world was subjected by God to futility because “He who first placed the creation under man’s dominion also subjected it to the effects of man’s sin . . . and will make it a partaker of the blessing of his restoration.”14 Throughout the Bible, the land suffers because of man’s sins. For example, God did not curse Adam because of his sin in Eden, but God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17). Creation suffered the effects of man’s lawlessness. Thorns and thistles and drought and flood are all examples of the suffering of God’s creation that is out of kilter with his will (Deut 28:18; Hos 4:6–9; Hag 1:10–11). The law of Moses warns, “But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances . . . lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you” (Lev 18:26–28). Lipscomb’s interpretation of Rom 8 relies on this biblical theme. He views a coming eschatological day that will reverse this curse and restore all creation. When humankind is delivered from the effects and consequences of sin, Lipscomb writes, “then the whole creation will share this deliverance and be freed from the corruption and mortality to which it has been subjected by the sin of man. It shared the corruption and mortality of man’s sin, and will share his deliverance from it.”15

Creation is regularly personified in the Bible as experiencing human emotions. Creation praises God for his goodness and responds to human affairs. For example, sometimes the earth rejoices and “the floods clap their hands” and “the hills sing for joy together” (Ps 98:8). Sometimes, “the earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers” (Isa 24:4–6). Romans 8:19 and 22 say creation “waits with eager longing” and “has been groaning in travail together until now.” God created the earth for something glorious, but now it is suffering and longing for a better day.

The evidence of this suffering is everywhere. Lipscomb writes, “Animated nature suffers, vegetable nature struggles against, but succumbs to, death and decay, and the laws of all nature are disturbed and in commotion on account of man’s sin. . . . These pangs . . . point to a coming time of delivery, when ‘according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness’ (2 Pet 3:13).”16 The childbirth, referred to by Paul, is when this creation births new creation, and new heavens and new earth emerge for the glorious eternal reign of God. Isaiah 65:17 promises this future. Though sin has devastated God’s good world, great things are in the future for man and all creation. Lipscomb continues, “Paul has in these verses presented to us the far-reaching and appalling results of sin, and has given to us a picture of the future glorious state that shall come to man and earth when the deliverance from sin is completed. The earth will rejoice and be glad as well as man.”17

Lipscomb’s Eschatological Politics

From these expositional notes on a few New Testament passages, it is evident that Lipscomb’s eschatology flows naturally from his view of the narrative of Scripture. Salvation is coming for heaven and earth and all humankind through the reconciliation of Jesus on the cross. God is not abandoning or destroying his creation forever but is working to redeem it and dwell in it. God will restore Eden, and his intentions will come to fruition. When decay and death are defeated, he will completely and forever establish his eternal kingdom on earth as in heaven. The final destruction of the kingdoms of this world is a central element of this eschatological hope and ultimate salvation. They will wreak havoc on God’s creation no more.

In his book On Civil Government, Lipscomb writes about the destiny of human governments. These governments, which Satan rules, must be destroyed for God’s will to succeed. Lipscomb describes this day when he writes,

Christ had come specifically to rescue the world from the rule of the evil one, and to destroy all institutions that had grown up under his care, and to bring the world back to the dominion of God the Father, and to restore it to harmonious relations with the entire universe ruled over by God. . . . God will overrule the kingdoms and governments of the world to the destruction of each other that they may give way for his government. . . . God overrules these to the destruction of those institutions and punishment of the people that are not pleasing to him. But these human governments shall be “moved” and “burned up,” while his kingdom “can not be moved,” but with “a new heavens and a new earth,” shall be the dwelling place of the righteous forever.18

In the above paragraph, the convergence of Lipscomb’s eschatology and politics becomes apparent. Human governments, which stand in the way of God’s eschatological goals, must come to an end for the gift of God’s perpetual presence to finally be realized. Only then will heaven and earth be forever unified. This convergence of Lipscomb’s eschatology and politics provides the theological framework for his argument that Christians should have no part in politics, government, or warfare. He argued that Christians should not hold government positions, exercise the right to vote, or enlist in the military. Christians should certainly never kill or harm others in obedience to the government. If all human institutions and governments are ultimately the product of Satan, then to give allegiance to a nation, political party, or military is to give allegiance to Satan. Christians should give sole allegiance to the kingdom of God and trust in the Lord to accomplish his will on earth. Christians should not rely on governments of men to do the work of the kingdom of God. In Lipscomb’s view, this is the way of Jesus: “The life of Christ was a continual conflict with the rulers of the world. The civil power sought his life at his birth, desolated the homes of Bethlehem by the slaughter of ‘every male child two year old and under,’ dogged his pathway through life, arrested him, nailed him to the cross, murdered him, sealed his tomb, and set a watch to prevent his rising.”19 Lipscomb’s view can be summarized as follows: “Man’s duty is to learn the will of God, and to trustingly do that will, leaving results and events with God. . . . Man must in faith do what God has ordained he should do, what he has declared would be well-pleasing to him; and then leave all in the hands of him who overrules the universe.”20 In essence, this means that Christians should commit themselves to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible and make no exceptions when entering the realm of politics. If God commanded Christians to “love your neighbor as yourself” and even “love your enemies,” then Christians should do exactly that with no exceptions. Christians should not seek to harm or kill their enemies, even if governments order it. In his view, Satan ordering a Christian to kill should not convince a Christian to kill. Christian law comes from God. Even if governments arise that harm, destroy, rape, pillage, plunder, and engage in heinous evil, the Christian is not freed from the obligation to obey God. He cannot use violence to stop that worldly evil. Instead, he ought to entrust himself to God and rely on God to solve that worldly evil.

Lipscomb’s political views were formed and shaped by Fanning, his approach to the grand narrative of Scripture, and the time in which he lived. The Civil War played a significant, multifaceted role in shaping Lipscomb’s politics. Every interpreter of the Bible approaches the text from a perspective, and the tragedies witnessed by Lipscomb no doubt shaped his reading. As Lipscomb lays out his views of world governments and his rationale for a politic of the kingdom, he cannot but reflect on the tragedy of the Civil War. The war showed him the terrible consequences of removing religion and, specifically, the teachings of the kingdom from politics. He saw that his brothers embraced religion in every area of life except the political arena. They proved that they would set aside the peace of Christ to kill one another if their politics called for it. Regarding the terrible conflict taking over the country during his life, Lipscomb records:

Finally the years of sectional strife, war, bloodshed, destruction and desolation swept over our land, and the spectacle was presented, of disciples of the Prince of Peace, with murderous weapons seeking the lives of their fellowmen. Brethren for whom Christ died, children of him who came to heal the broken-hearted, to be a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, were found imbruing their hands in the blood of their own brethren in Christ, making their sisters widows and their sisters’ children orphans. It took but little thought to see that this course is abhorrent to the principles of the religion of the Savior, who died that even his enemies might live.21

Before the war, Lipscomb viewed human governments with skepticism, but it seems to have been the Civil War that fully cemented his kingdom-of-God-shaped politics. Lipscomb’s mentor, Tolbert Fanning, ceased voting in the 1840s. Lipscomb, however, voted even up until 1860.22 The war changed a great deal for Lipscomb.23 He lost several cousins, students, and teachers. The war also made it evident to Lipscomb that if a man was willing to kill his brother, and the brother of Christ, for his country, then that man’s allegiance was to his politics more than to God’s kingdom. If Christians ought not to fight and kill for God’s kingdom, indeed, they should not fight and kill for the kingdoms of men and the dominion of Satan. “The immediate outcome of his changed emphasis,” one prominent Lipscomb biographer observed, “was the acceptance of a Mennonite-like position toward the Christian and government.”24

After the war, many questions loomed concerning forgiveness and the hatred that still separated this country. This hatred still separated brothers and sisters in Christ, including, to some extent, Lipscomb himself. On September 11, 1866, Lipscomb responded at significant length to a question about whether Christians need to forgive unrepentant sinners who caused injury and harm. Should Christians on one side of the battle lines forgive those on the other? Lipscomb’s answer is revealing. He boils down all the sins of the war—all the violence, plunder, and murder—to the natural results of one primary sin: “yielding themselves instruments of an unrighteous power.”25 That sin was committed by Christians on both sides. They gave their allegiance to the government, and death was the natural result. Any person who supports, encourages, votes for, or engages in war is guilty of this same sin. Since both sides committed the same sins, they are in need of the same forgiveness. Peace should be the mission now. Lipscomb writes:

Forbearance, Christian forbearance, is what is needed now to allay the passions, heal the divisions and strifes, and put us in a condition that we may all be brought to see our wrongs, and that we may be prepared to avoid those difficulties in the future by keeping ourselves free from entangling alliances with the world-powers. Every one should strive to see how much of wrong he had done and make amends for it, and to see how much he can overlook and forgive in his brother. Thus peace and harmony will be restored to our divided and sundered brotherhood, and as one people in the Lord we may labor and toil and rejoice in the Lord.26

Lipscomb blamed great evils, violence, and most of the world’s hatred on the existence of governments. If there were no governments, then “citizens” from one nation would know little about people in other parts of the world. They would have no foreign enemies if governments did not make enemies and call for their citizens to hate and fight against those enemies. Enemies would only be personal, and violence would be on a small scale, except that governments mass-produce warfare and hatred. He tried to live without any political enemies. Regarding the Civil War, Lipscomb recalls,

In the beginning of the late strife that so fearfully desolated our country, much was said about ‘our enemies.’ I protested constantly that I had not a single enemy, and was not an enemy to a single man North of the Ohio river. I had never been brought into collision with one—but very few knew such a person as myself existed. In all of these hosts not one was my enemy; of these I was the enemy of none. . . . Yet, these thousands and hundreds of thousands who knew not each other . . . were made enemies to each other and thrown into fierce and bloody strife, were imbued with the spirit of destruction one toward the other, through the instrumentality of human governments.”27

Yet despite his intense study of the Bible and lofty vision of Christians devoting themselves fully to God’s kingdom, Lipscomb remained a man of his time and place. That time and place—the postwar South—did not lend itself too easily to letting bygones be bygones. As one prominent movement historian noted, “The Civil War dealt a stunning blow to the organized peace movement in the United States,” including within most Stone-Campbell churches.28 Even though pacifism survived, if only barely, among doctrinally conservative Southerners like Lipscomb, those pacifists were not immune to anger and resentment towards their Northern counterparts. Lipscomb biographer Robert E. Hooper writes that “although Tolbert Fanning was a pacifist, he maintained strong southern loyalties throughout the conflict. The same was true of David Lipscomb, Fanning’s student at Franklin College.”29 Similarly, Harrell observes that in March 1866, not long after the paper’s rebirth in January, Lipscomb and Fanning “denounced the course of the church in the North during the war” and thereby demonstrated that “the Gospel Advocate was going to fill the place among Southern sympathizers that the Christian Standard was designed to fill among the staunchly loyalist elements in the church.”30

Over the next few years, Lipscomb continued to criticize those within the movement, especially in the North, who had supported the war effort but now sought peace and reconciliation. While part of Lipscomb’s skepticism toward the organized peace movement was rooted in his broader opposition to extra-congregational societies, “The canny Lipscomb used every opportunity to remind northern church leaders of their warlike past.”31 His seeming resentment, which worked at cross-purposes with his desire for peace, did not go unnoticed in his day or in the writings of later scholars.32 It should be noted that Lipscomb was far from the only committed pacifist to be pulled in a different direction by sectionalism during and after the war. Eminent Civil War historian George C. Rable writes, for instance, that “Quakers had little sympathy with a slaveholders’ rebellion, regularly proclaimed their patriotism, and despite their pacifist principles were hardly neutral in the conflict. Yet, like many conservatives, Quakers claimed to shun the partisan strife and political hatred that had led to war.”33 The Southern pacifists of the Stone-Campbell heritage, Lipscomb included, might have found some interesting common ground with these Quakers, if not for their conflicting sectional tendencies.


Piecing it all together, David Lipscomb’s political views were shaped by the influence of Tolbert Fanning, his eschatology, and his experiences with the Civil War. His eschatology relates directly to his politics because his eschatology is about the ultimate realization of the kingdom of God, which hopes for a return to Eden and God’s complete rule and reign on earth. When God reigns on earth, there is no need for human governments in competition with him for human allegiance. To ask for a different king is to reject God as king. In Lipscomb’s view, Christians must live now as citizens of God’s kingdom while we await the ultimate coming of his reign on earth. In Eden, there was no warfare or human government, and in the new heavens and new earth, all world governments will suffer destruction, and God will reign supreme. Therefore, if Christians claim allegiance to God’s kingdom now, they should live within the laws of that kingdom. They should reject world governments and obey only God as king. Although Lipscomb himself was not always able to fully set aside his own sectional allegiances and resentments in practice, his vision of the reconciliation of heaven and earth nevertheless challenges us as we work to bridge divisions between people and to mitigate and transform the damage done by human systems today.

Travis Bookout is the preaching minister for the Maryville Church of Christ in Maryville, TN. He holds a Master of Divinity from Amridge University and is the author of King of Glory: 52 Reflections on the Gospel of John (Cypress Publications, 2021) and Cruciform Christ: 52 Reflections on the Gospel of Mark (Cypress Publications, 2022).

John Young is Associate Professor in the Turner School of Theology at Amridge University. He is the author of Visions of Restoration: The History of Churches of Christ (Cypress Publications, 2019) and Redrawing the Blueprints for the Early Church: Historical Ecclesiology in and around the Stone-Campbell Movement (Heritage Christian University Press, 2021).

1 For an excellent overview of Lipscomb’s life and work, see Robert E. Hooper, “Lipscomb, David (1831–1917),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 480–82. Two lengthier standalone biographies give considerably more detail. The first, Earl Irvin West’s The Life and Times of David Lipscomb (Henderson, TN: Religious Book Service, 1954), sought to reintroduce Lipscomb as a major figure in Restoration Movement history at a time when living memory of the editor was fading: “The few elderly people today who remember Lipscomb pass on stories of his life. Sometimes the memory of these people is inaccurate. How far one is justified in recording these reminiscences as authentic history is not an easy matter to decide” (2). The second, Robert E. Hooper’s Crying in the Wilderness: A Biography of David Lipscomb (Nashville: David Lipscomb College, 1979), acknowledges West’s key role in keeping Lipscomb’s memory alive but also seeks to offer a more balanced and complete view by “placing Lipscomb within the total framework of the Restoration Movement and seeing him as a preacher, editor, and educator whose contributions have lived long after his death in 1917” (3).

2 David Edwin Harrell Jr., in A Social History of the Disciples of Christ, vol. 1, Quest for a Christian America, 1800–1865, 2003 ed. (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 55, notes that “Tolbert Fanning was the early leader of Tennessee radicalism, which in the years after the war was dominated by David Lipscomb.”

3 John Mark Hicks, “David Lipscomb’s Political Theology: Submit but Don’t Support” in Resisting Babel: Allegiance to God and the Problem of Government, ed. John Mark Hicks (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2020), 25. For more in this journal on how Lipscomb’s understanding of Scripture shaped his social and political views, see John Mark Hicks, “David Lipscomb on the Urban Poor,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 3, no. 2 (August 2012), It should be noted that “students from Franklin College, Fanning’s school in Nashville, often accepted officer commissions in the Confederate army,” indicating that his views did not necessarily influence all of his students. See Robert E. Hooper, A Distinct People: A History of the Churches of Christ in the 20th Century (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Co., 1993), 15.

4 Admittedly, as David Edwin Harrell Jr. noted in Quest for Christian America, 44n68, “although the social ideas of second-generation leaders were not so different from those of the first, the millennial rationale is much less significant in their thought.” Yet there was clearly cross-generational carryover, as noted in Williams, Foster, and Blowers, The Stone-Campbell Movement, 381, which affirms that “Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, and David Lipscomb ultimately advocated pacifism as the most effective means of achieving peace and justice.”

5 The impact of the Civil War on the Churches of Christ has long been a topic of conversation in scholarly circles. For instance, Harrell, Quest for a Christian America, 172n105, critiques fellow church historian Earl Irvin West (among others) for overlooking the impact of sectional tensions on the Restoration Movement but also gives credit to West when he “comes closer than any other Disciples historian to recognizing the important impact of sectional bitterness on the ultimate division of the movement.”

6 For more, see Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 2, 1866–1906 (Indianapolis: Religious Book Service, 1950), 211–14, which gives a thorough “analysis of this theory [to] prepare the mind of the reader to understand how the impact of Garfield’s election was received in the South” (211).

7 Lipscomb, On Civil Government, 17.

8 Unless noted otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the RSV.

9 David Lipscomb, “Kingdom of God,” 328.

10 David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin, ed. J. W. Shepherd (Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company, 1913), 35–36.

11 David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, vol. 4, ed. J. W. Shepherd (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1963), 25.

12 Lipscomb, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, 263.

13 David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles: Romans, vol. 1, ed. J. W. Shepherd (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1953), 152.

14 Lipscomb, Romans, 152.

15 Ibid., 152–53.

16 Ibid., 154.

17 Ibid.

18 Lipscomb, On Civil Government, 94–95.

19 David Lipscomb, “The Christian’s Relation to Civil Government—Continued (Read at Huntsville, MO, July 16th),” Gospel Advocate, October 7, 1891, 628.

20 Lipscomb, On Civil Government, 7.

21 Ibid., 7–8.

22 Hicks, “Lipscomb’s Political Theology,” 25.

23 John Mark Hicks, “Lipscomb, the War, and the Kingdom Vision,” in Resisting Babel, 9, writes that “In hindsight, Lipscomb saw the Civil War as God’s chastening scourge that was necessary for the liberation of African slaves from their southern masters. This, too, shaped Lipscomb’s political theology.”

24 Hooper, “Lipscomb, David (1831–1917),” 480.

25 David Lipscomb, “Repentance–Forgiveness,” Gospel Advocate, September 11, 1866, 582.

26 Lipscomb, “Repentance–Forgiveness,” 582–83.

27 David Lipscomb, “Babylon,” Gospel Advocate, June 2, 1881, 340.

28 David Edwin Harrell Jr., A Social History of the Disciples of Christ, vol. 2, Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ, 1865–1900 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 243. A more recent work, Jack R. Reese, At the Blue Hole: Elegy for a Church on the Edge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021), 159, adds that “Churches of Christ in the South never got over their resentment. Fellow Christians had called them traitors. In 1866, the normally peace-minded David Lipscomb, serving as the editor of the Gospel Advocate, wrote about the 1863 resolution, ‘The society committed a great wrong against the church and the cause of God.’ ”

29 Hooper, A Distinct People, 15. A recent article by Wes Crawford, “Churches of Christ and Lost Cause Religion: One Southern Denomination’s Attempt to Find Identity in Post-Civil War America,” Restoration Quarterly 64, no. 1 (2022), highlights the widespread presence of the “Southern religion of the Lost Cause” within the Churches of Christ in the postwar years, noting that “though Lipscomb and his fellow leaders within Churches of Christ discouraged fighting in the war, they, nevertheless, seem to have fully embraced their identity as members of the Confederacy” (7). At the same time, we should also remember that Lipscomb could occasionally break free of these cultural trappings, such as when he “opposed the creation of racially segregated churches, even as his advice went largely unheeded” (Barclay Key, Race & Restoration: Churches of Christ and the Black Freedom Struggle [Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2020], 10).

30 Harrell, Quest for a Christian America, 168.

31 Idem, Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ, 245.

32 Wes Crawford, in Shattering the Illusion: How African American Churches of Christ Moved from Segregation to Independence (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2013), 38–39, finds that Richard Hughes’s earlier work, in its laudable goal of spotlighting Lipscomb’s eschatological views, nevertheless “downplays the strong pro-southern and equally strong anti-northern language of Lipscomb during this period. . . . The animosity present in Lipscomb’s tone suggests a strong sectional division between the editors of the Gospel Advocate and the editors of the Christian Standard.”

33 George C. Rable, God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 228.