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To come directly to the point, then, I would state that, in my judgment, the error consists in the introduction of theories and speculations in direct violation of the very fundamental principles of this Reformation; in other words, that it is to be found in the commingling together of human opinions with the Divine teachings and thus adulterating faith with human philosophy.
Fanning was the perfect example of this error. Fanning believed he had completely discarded all philosophy and charged anyone embracing speculative philosophy as an infidel. Richardson says:. Surely, then, unless President F.
Richardson thought the dirt philosophy was particularly dangerous. The philosophy of Locke with which Bro. Richardson provided an example of the application of the dirt philosophy on hermeneutics. The dirt philosophy had done its work. However, the collateral damage caused by using the philosophy as a weapon was that everything spiritual about Christianity had been carnalized. He simply equated Lockean epistemology with the truth of the Bible.
Fanning also went on the offensive against Richardson. We admit very candidly that our faith has come by hearing and our hearing has been by the word of God.
We are not ashamed to admit our position. This is exactly what Richardson was critiquing- a Spirit-less view of the Bible. He charged that the philosophical theories of John Locke had caused this and had diseased the movement. Surprisingly, Alexander Campbell stayed silent throughout most of the dispute. Fanning often appealed to Campbell to intervene and state with whom he sided. Cloyd Goodnight and Dwight Stevenson record that behind the scenes Campbell severely chastised Richardson for the articles.
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Richardson resigned and left Bethany to accept a teaching position at Kentucky University where his colleague Robert Milligan had been named the President. Fanning even asserted that men across the nation were beginning to call for his resignation at the school because Campbell had sided against him. I, therefore, conclude that President Fanning is super-excited by some ignis fatuus of his too vivid and excitable imagination. I am not, however, without hope that on more grave reflection Bro. Fanning will recover from this panic and be satisfied that there is not a false philosophy, a false theology, a false christology, nor a false science of any sort, promulged [sic], accredited, winked at or permitted in the whole course of education in Bethany College.
This debate was but a foreshadowing of the major division ahead for the Disciples. The controversy ended just on the cusp of the Civil War that would divide not only a nation but the Stone-Campbell Movement as well. The hermeneutical differences would continue to cause division until unity was no longer possible. By the end of the s, the Movement would be split. The Fanning-Richardson controversy is a lens to explore this divide.
Churches of Christ in the South would continue to embrace the basic hermeneutical methods of Fanning through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. The basic hermeneutic is still Lockean with an emphasis on Bible facts and the written word.
He borrowed it from Locke. Though highly regarded by esteemed leaders in his day, he has been all but disinherited by his later heritage. The lack of spiritual progress in the Movement deeply concerned Richardson. He attributed the source of this impediment to rationalistic Lockean philosophy which had unbeknownst to its hosts invaded and sapped the Movement dry of spiritual moorings.
Richardson believed deeply in the principles of the Restoration Movement. However, he also believed that the Church had removed the true source of spiritual vitality and progress that was essential in accomplishing the core principles. His proposed solution required a recovery of a Biblical and practical theology of the Holy Spirit:.
It will not do to stop with baptism for remission of sins and leave the convert deprived by false philosophy of all true faith in the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the impartation of which is the great end of the gospel ministration, and which is the true source of spiritual life and power, both in the individual Christian and in the church itself. Perhaps Richardson has something to share with Churches of Christ in the twenty-first century. Perhaps we are overdue for a renewed emphasis on the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps Churches of Christ need to recover a strong doctrine of the Holy Spirit and a strong emphasis on personal spiritual progress in the lives of believers. Richardson encourages us to emphasize spiritual progress empowered by the Holy Spirit as a corrective to a hyper-rationalistic hermeneutic that emphasizes the letter over the spirit. Douglas Foster, et. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, , Joplin, MO: College Press, , Revell Company, , This illustrates something of his views about the Movement.
Rice, A Debate Between Rev. A Campbell and Rev. Skillman and Son, , Harrison Jr.
That being said, his preference of Stone over Campbell comes through clearly, and greatly influences much of his analysis. Perfect objectivity is rarely, if ever, possible for us. From our perspective today, there is a HUGE distinction between a teaching of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Richardson and the idea of spiritualism Ferguson. I think the distinction back then would have been much murkier, and that it was easy for Fanning to falsely assume that the former necessarily led to the latter. Sadly, it seems to be human nature to respond to one extreme position by adopting the opposite extreme position.
Thanks for this, Garrett; the research was impressive. Was this originally a paper for your class? Thanks for the read Luke.
Great thoughts! I did write my paper for class on this. Haha I cut out a section that explained why it got so heated.
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First was the Jesse B Ferguson issue which you mentioned. Both Fanning and Richardson looked at their controversy as round two of an ongoing disagreement. Garrett, your post had 56 footnotes. Just putting it out there for the few that might be interested. Although philosophy impacted the beginnings of our Restoration movement and its direction, I am not to quick to think only badly of its influence.
Those Bacon, Locke, etc. To think clearly and responsibly is surely better than loopy and careless thinking. And for all of our critiques of those who seem to vest too much emphasis in the written text of Scripture, the Bible still remains the essential revelatory source for knowing God.
Response to Dr. Richard Hamm’s Paper on Disciples Polity – Council on Christian Unity
In this, I come away with a high regard for Campbell and many others of the early pioneers. His sixth debate point against Rice was not intended to keep the Spirit out of Christian spirituality, but to mark as unbiblical those views of conversion that would make a hearing of the Gospel unnecessary. Campbell was right, and his position has enduring value.
And philosophy alone cannot be handed full blame for the Spirit-less spirituality that attends some in churches of Christ. Much can be handed to heresies attached to views of the Holy Spirit and to the backlash this has generated among our people. We have, at times, been so eager to avoid the false teachings that we tossed out the Spirit as well, just to be safe!
If anything, the influence of dated philosophies was probably only a contributing factor, if not a scapegoat for our failures. Our saving grace, however, is our back-to-the-Bible approach to spiritual authority. But that essential impulse has driven many of us to find Christ Jesus, to find the Spirit dwelling in our hearts, and to know God through the entirety of a grand Biblical narrative. That impulse has driven us to the utmost care in forming our beliefs and practices. Yes, we have made many mistakes and followed many wrong paths.