Reading this book was an extended experience of clarity for me and I think it will be for you as well. There are things we hear that we just aren’t so certain are true but don’t have the background or information to back it up. It isn’t that we are upset, we just need clarity in order to see reality.
Leonard Allen’s new book, “In the Great Stream” offers historical background into the influences of Churches of Christ that accomplish several very important things:
1 – The book positions us in the broader Christians/denominational spectrum in regard to our influences, philosophy, and theology. Many of us grew up hearing and believing that our roots circumvented all the man made denominations and impurities of doctrines and simply went back to the first century and brought it into our day. Dr. Allen does a fine job of demonstrating how that is not true. He maps out the various influences and how they shaped the Restoration Movement at large and churches of Christ in particular in the centuries leading up to our movement. These influences are denominational/religious (Anabaptists, Free Church, etc) they are philosophical (John Locke and Thomas Reid’s “common sense”, rationalism, empiricism, and modernism), and they are cultural. The point of all of this is to demonstrate that regardless of our claim, we already have philosophical underpinnings that tie us to broader Christendom. This should be acknowledge more readily as the evidence has been put on the table. He gives many examples of things I heard growing up quoted from people who pre-dated Campbell.
2 – The healthy place of tradition in the life of the church and the resulting acceptance of a connection to the “Great Tradition”. Allen makes the case that our a-historical claim and lack of connection to the denominational world has resulted in an unnecessary (and inaccurate) disconnect from broader Christendom that has been unhelpful for our movement as a whole. I was taught the opposite – that any connection with those things would be absolutely detrimental. He spends quite a bit of time talking about the value of tradition and the necessary place of creeds in Christianity and how we have rejected some things that could have been quite helpful to us over the years. Having a creed or a Rule of Faith can anchor us, especially as those things are derived directly from scripture. Tradition and connection with other Christian groups isn’t just something we should accept, it is something we should celebrate and appreciate for a very ironic reason. Rather than other groups and church tradition pulling us away from the truth, they can actually help anchor us more firmly in the truth of the Scriptures!
3 – The history of Churches of Christ in relation to the Holy Spirit. Chapter 6 explains the view on the Holy Spirit starting with Stone and the growth of early Churches of Christ in the South in the early 1800s and then the advent of Alexander Campbell and his hyper rational approach that won the day. From there Allen highlights major influences in the Restoration Movement and the varying views on the Spirit that will surprise many in Churches of Christ. Our history is varied and it is important we recognize that because it is one more reminder that the first century Church didn’t just carbon copy itself and drop into the early 1800s to be lived out consistently until this day. Once again, this reminds us of our varied history and doctrine and how that can help us get along with others who have views that don’t overlap with our particular piece of the Restoration puzzle.
All of this is written in such a kind and considerate tone. I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate that. Much more could be said about this book and all of it positive. I hope you will inform yourself by picking up a copy, reading it and passing it along or getting a copy for a friend. You will not regret it!