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Book Review: Kingdom Come

November 15, 2006

Today I am reviewing Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding
by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine

Can we say anything good about 1906?

This book recovers a piece of forgotten history from the first decade of the twentieth century. Some of the finest examples of kingdom living to be found among Churches of Christ are found in the midst of that heartbreaking year of division. The “best” of Churches of Christ in 1906 is represented by the life, thought and practice of David Lipscomb (1831-1917) and James A. Harding (1848-1922), despite the fact that Lipscomb and Harding participated in the conditions which resulted in division.

The above statement from the preface sets the stage for the remainder of the book. The authors proceed to outline what they call the Nashville Bible School Tradition (NBST), the set of beliefs that defined the world view of these two men. It is a world view that was drowned out by the noise of the 1906 division, and largely died out at the end of the lives of its two most public articulators.

The majority of the book is devoted to describing the views that comprise the NBST. The authors affirm that Lipscomb and Harding defined the NBST, which consisted of the following views (based on my best effort to enumerate them):

1. Resident aliens: Christians are to be in the world but not of the world. Yet we are affected by the world in ways, and to an extent, that we scarcely realize. The Sermon on the Mount summarizes the counter-cultural principles by which we should live while residing as strangers in this world.

2. God rather than Country. They opposed the idea that America is a special Christian nation in God’s eyes. While they lived in America, their relationship to their country of residence was the same as Abraham’s relationship to the Canaanites, or as the first century Christians to the Romans.

3. Special Providence. God acts in supernatural ways to care for his children and to answer their prayers. They rejected the idea that God only works through the laws of nature set up in advance.

4. Personal Indwelling of the Holy Spirit: They believed that the Holy Spirit personally lives inside a Christian. They opposed the teaching that the Holy Spirit acts only through the written word of God.

5. Four Means of Grace: Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer. These were not merely acts of worship but were means through which God and the Holy Spirit work in the life of the individual Christian.

6. Passivism: They believed that Christians should not participate in warfare nor defend themselves with force.

7. Freedom to Think and Speak: They believed that opposing viewpoints on many subjects should be tolerated within the church.

8. Postmillenialism and Redemption of the Earth: They believed that Christ will return to rule the earth for a thousand years, after which the Kingdom will be transported into the new heaven and new earth.

I can attest to the fact most of these views have survived in churches of Christ, at least in the southeastern US. Only #6 and #8 would have been regarded as strange teachings in the mainline church of Christ congregations where I have been a member, though acceptance of some of the other positions was not at all unanimous.

After reading the section on passivism (a position I personally do not find persuasive), I wondered whether the NBST would grant their opponents the freedom to think differently on that topic, as advocated in #7. The line drawn by the NBST on the subject of passivism is not unambiguously drawn in scripture, as far as I can tell.

Personally I would have liked to see more extensive quotes from Lipscomb and Harding on these subjects rather than merely the authors’ description of those views. Maybe that’s just my appetite for Restoration history. There were some delicious morsels of that history throughout the book, and those alone make the book worth reading.

I would also have liked to see a clearer distinction between statements coming from Lipscomb and Harding, and those coming from Hicks and Valentine. On some topics, the passion in the book seems to come more from the authors’ views than from those of Harding and Lipscomb.

Passing over a few quibbles about details, I think the broad theme of the book is very appropriate for the church today. We need to examine the influence that the world has had on the church, and to pray that God will help us to throw off that influence. To that end, this book is a worthwhile read.

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3 comments

  1. Alan-I just purchased this book for our church library and will be reading it soon. I think it is a very appropriate book as well.Personally, I also see #2 as a big issue in churches today. We don’t talk much about it but in the language that people use, you get the feeling that many equate the US with being a Christian nation.Thanks for the review.Kent


  2. You are very gracious in publishing your thoughts on my book. I do hope it was stimulating for christian reflection. It is my prayer you are blessed by Lipscomb, Harding, Armstrong and Boll.Shalom,Bobby Valentine


  3. Hi Bobby,I think the most important aspect of the book for the church today is the idea that we are to live as aliens and strangers in this world. Most of us blend into the environment far too easily. It seems to be impossible to free ourselves from the influence of the world. Yet God calls us to do that, so it cannot be impossible. And nothing is impossible for God. I really appreciate that call from your book.



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