God in the Rear View Mirror: My Adventure with Wineskins

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Volume 4#1 and Volume 1#1

May. May 1992 specifically.

Last night I was digging in one of the half dozen boxes that remain in my garage from my move a couple years ago. Out came a stack of old magazines: Wineskins!

I flipped through the fifteen inch deep stack. I remember that one, that one and that one. Finally, I came to “Volume One, Number One” … May 1992.

This is May 2021. May 1992 was twenty-nine years ago. Wow! Casper and I grabbed a few issues and decided to reread some old stuff. But we read all of May 1992.

By May 1992 I had graduated with a BS majoring in “Old Testament” (looking back, even with a degree, I had shallow understanding of the Hebrew Bible). I was engaged but not yet married. I lived in a little apartment in St. Cloud, Florida. But in a couple of months I would be married, we moved into another apartment on Sherrod Ave in Florence, Alabama. Soon we would move to New Orleans and both Rachael and Talya were born there. I met Tom Olbricht in New Orleans and he impacted my life for the better ever sense.

I do not remember exactly how I learned Wineskins was coming, but my fiancé and I were inaugural subscribers. It followed us to Grenada, MS, then to Milwaukee, WI and then it went paperless at some point and my subscription died. Now it has been resurrected and I write for it.

We waited in eager anticipation for each issue which was devoured cover to cover. I would make copies of this, or that, article to share with friends and family who thought I was loosing my way.

In 1992 Harding Graduate School in Memphis, TN, hosted a lecture on Grace, Faith and Works. The docket included William Woodson, Richard Oster, some person named John Mark Hicks and the one we all were there for, Rubel Shelly. At the time I was still 55% in the Woodson camp but had been moving away from it steadily. Richard Oster came out and spoke on Ephesians and I was like wow! It was a model of exegesis. Woodson covered the same text and, compared to Oster, it was, even to my 1992 me, sophomoric at best. I remember him prodding the audience that he needed us to ask this or that question so he could address Shelly in the Q & A session. Then Shelly came out and what a display gentleness. I did not know if I agreed with him or not (Oster made me think I did, but I did not know jack about exegesis at the time if truth be told) but he made a fan out of me that day. Two men from that day came to have great influence in my life, Hicks and Oster.

From 2021, looking back, I can see now that Wineskins in many ways is sort of the story of the Valentines during the 1990s. I probably bought twenty subscriptions to Wineskins for people I was convinced needed to learn about grace. I recall writing an article and tried to submit it but I never heard back. So I assumed you needed to be famous to be published. I sent the article to IMAGE and Denny Boultinghouse literally called me on the phone to talk to me about it and then published in 1996. That started a wonderful relationship with Denny and we talked regularly until he passed away.

Wineskins, Volume One, Number One was edited by Mike Cope, Rubel Shelly and Phillip Morrison. Dan Anders, Sonya Colvert, Max Lucado, Jeff Nelson. Thom Lemmons, Joy McMillon, Larry James and Lynn Anderson all had articles. Reading through it has brought back a flood of memories.

The first issue sparked off a firestorm. The Spiritual Sword examined the “Purpose Statement,” and made much of the line that reads, “Our background and commitment is to the Church of Christ that was born of the American Restoration Movement.” Wineskins believes “The Lord’s Church [code language] is just another denomination.” The reaction of the Spiritual Sword crew to Wineksins, in retrospect, probably moved me further away from it.

But it was Doug Foster’s little article “The New Birth and Christian Unity: David Lipscomb’s Middle Way,” that made all hell break loose. William Woodson (along with Curtis Cates, Alan Highers, and many more) mercilessly excoriated Foster. All over a misprint in an opening heading that was not even part of the body of the article. The content of the article was accurate. David Lipscomb did in fact believe that Baptists were genuinely Christians. Woodson published his book Change Agents and Churches of Christ and continued the assault. Later there was a Gospel Advocate online forum and this article came up and Woodson was part of the discussion, I pointed out that in his book there was also a misquote and that Foster’s mislabeled quote did not affect the point of the article in the slightest. Woodson said I “sounded like the dog he ran over.” I wasn’t even on Foster’s side, yet. And who could forget the hoopla over Andre Resner’s “Christmas at Matthew’s House (vol. 1#11) in November of 1992! It is still a brilliant article today.

Wineskins always carried advertisements for books. Leonard Allen’s Distant Voices (I never had any interest in Stone-Campbell history till I read that book); Rubel Shelly, The ABC’s of the Christian Faith; Shelly and Randy Harris, The Second Incarnation; Cope’s, One Holy Hunger; and more. Then there was a video which Cope did one on Ecclesiastes (it was the “Old Testament!”). Like most preachers I was looking for stuff to help me preach.

By the late 90s, I lived in Mississippi. My eyes were slowly learning to see while we lived in New Orleans but it was Mississippi I got my baptism of fire with a culture of racism while everyone denied being a racist. One of the themes in Wineskins was that Christian faith had to engage the world around us, it is not simply a cerebral exercise done in a building and then forgotten. Being a Christian was not simply a series of approved acts of worship but living as a kingdom outpost bringing the leaven of God’s righteousness and mercy to the world. I had not given much thought to Christianity being anything but arguments over baptismal requirements, Wednesday night attendance, what can be done with money from the treasury and how money got into the treasury.

I also discovered that just because a congregation considers itself non-legalistic, does not mean it is a Colony of the New Creation but can in fact be stuck in the same structural evil as the folks deemed “legalists.” Whatever you do, do not talk about how Christians should deal with the racist culture we are swimming in. In 2021, I am not sure that legalism is substantively different from racist nationalistic civil religion that many progressives have pledged allegiance to (this is my opinion and you are free to disagree).

All of this time I was traveling to Memphis for graduate school which began in 1993. It has been an adventure. And the adventure continues. The 1990s was a wasteland as far as music is concerned (some great exceptions) but Wineskins was a blessing in the night. I moved from Spiritual Sword to Wineskins … sort of like K. C. Moser went from Foy Wallace to G. C. Brewer in the 1920s. My life has changed drastically since May 1992 and in ways I could neither dream nor imagine.

If you read this I am grateful. But I wrote this down basically for me. It is amazing how pulling a magazine out of an old box can cause you to look back and see God in the Rearview Mirror. As our Lord said to Peter, “someone … will take you where you do not wish to go.”

But what an adventure it has been.

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