Robert Graham and the Creation of Arkansas College

In the context of studies of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, the lives and impact of many first and second generation leaders have been examined in detail, but one significant Restoration figure who seems to have largely slipped through the cracks of history is Robert Graham.1

This study seeks to remedy that problem, providing a detailed account of the life, work, and legacy of this “singularly-gifted, well educated, and godly” protégé of Alexander Campbell,2 with special emphasis on his role in the creation of Arkansas College, and the legacy of that college long after its tragic demise during the dark days of the American Civil War.

The Road to Bethany College

Robert Graham was born in Liverpool, England on August 14, 1822. His father, William Graham, was a sea captain who sailed all over the world and occasionally took his young son with him,3 instilling in him the experience of travel and an “abiding love for the ocean.”4

When he was five years old, Robert and his parents immigrated to the United States,5 living in New York City for a time before settling in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania in 1831.6 Around 1835, when Robert was 12 years old, he moved to Pittsburgh where he became an apprentice to a carpenter for five years, and during those years his life consisted of long days of work in the carpentry shop while his nights were devoted to schooling.7

Graham’s parents were “rigid Episcopalians”8 and he was raised to “love God, to keep his commandments, and to reverence all sacred and beautiful things.”9 Later, at the age of 14, Robert attended a Methodist revival in Allegheny City, and there for the first time he was “deeply impressed with the importance of religion.”10 At that time in the Methodist tradition, conversion was shown by the outward manifestation of an emotional experience, and as Graham had no such experience, he was forced to enter the Methodist church on probation.11 He became a full member six months later, but remained uneasy because “there were many passages of Scripture he could not harmonize with the teachings of the Church to which he belonged.”12

It was not until the fall of 1838 at the age of 16 that Robert Graham first became associated with the Stone-Campbell movement, as he was introduced to a small congregation of Disciples in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.13 Through the influence of his friend, William Baxter, Graham re-examined his doctrinal views and as a result, was immersed in the Allegheny River on February 17, 1839 by Samuel Church, an elder of the congregation there.14 With his doctrinal questions satisfied, Graham would turn out to be a lifelong advocate of the Stone-Campbell Movement who would work tirelessly to spread the principles of Restoration.

Following the completion of his apprenticeship as a carpenter, Graham set up shop for a time in Allegheny City.15 There he developed such a good reputation for his work that when Alexander Campbell found himself in need of a carpenter to help with the construction of his Bethany College in West Virginia, Robert Graham was highly recommended to him, and Campbell invited him to come to Bethany to work.16 This chance acquaintance of Graham with Alexander Campbell would turn out to be providential, as Campbell would later describe him as the greatest discovery he ever made.17

Robert Graham’s life at Bethany College began on January 1, 1843, but because poor winter weather delayed his outdoor labor, Alexander Campbell convinced him to enroll in classes until the weather would allow work to continue on the building.18 Soon after, Graham represented one of Bethany’s literary societies at commencement ceremonies. He later called this “the turning point of my life,”19 as the oration he gave at that time so impressed Campbell that, in the words of one commenter, “Mr. Campbell saw, at once, that to confine such a heart and such a mind to the drudgery of a house-carpenter was like hitching a race horse to a plow.”20 At Campbell’s advice, Graham “laid down his carpenter’s rule to take up the Bible and the textbook”21 instead, with the assurance that Campbell would help him come up with the funds for his schooling.22

Campbell’s investment in Graham would turn out to be a wise one, as Graham was an excellent student, and when he graduated on July 4, 1847, he shared top honors with A.R. Benton and delivered the Latin salutatory.23 Also during his time at Bethany, Graham began his first regular preaching work, serving the congregation at Dutch Fork from 1844-1847, and married his wife, the former Maria Thornley, on December 24, 1844.24

Life as a Frontier Preacher

In December 1847, several months after graduating and at the request of Campbell, Graham embarked on a nine-month “collecting tour” of the Southwest. Campbell had printed both The Millennial Harbinger and hymn books for several years, and during that time had made many sales on credit for which he had never been paid.25 Therefore, Graham traveled to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—at that time considered to be the “very border of civilization”26—on his behalf to collect on these debts, and also to promote Bethany College.27

He would also preach wherever he went, and on December 29, 1848, he reached Little Rock, Arkansas, where at the urgent request of the congregation there he halted his tour for a week to preach day and night to large gatherings of people.28 At that point, the Little Rock Disciples tried to convince Graham to stay to preach for them permanently, but nothing “could induce him to turn aside from the task he had undertaken at the request of Mr. Campbell,” and on January 6, 1848, he left Little Rock and headed north.29

After a tedious, month-long journey on horseback, Robert arrived in Fayetteville on February 2, 1848.30 There he met a handful of members of the Christian Church, although until that point no actual congregation had been established in Fayetteville.31 As had happened in Little Rock, Graham was invited to preach, and he did, using the old courthouse as an auditorium. The crowd was so interested in what he had to say that he was encouraged to given an extended meeting, and word of it spread around to the surrounding towns and villages.32

One of those who got word of the meeting was John T. Johnson, the man who had been instrumental in uniting the Stone and Campbell movements and who had developed quite a reputation himself as a preacher and revivalist.33 Johnson had been making his own tour of the state of Arkansas and was in Van Buren, roughly 50 miles south of Fayetteville, when he heard about Graham’s meeting and “hurried on to Fayetteville to add his influence to the religious interest aroused.”34 For the next two weeks, the two men worked together, proving “to be true yoke-fellows as well matched as Paul and Timothy.”35 Graham, who “had an orator’s mouth and a wonderful command of language,”36 did the preaching, Johnson did the exhorting, and the result was the organization of a Christian Church “50 strong, with elders and deacons.”37

Following this meeting, the members of the new congregation sought to retain the services of Robert Graham at Fayetteville as the Christians in Little Rock had done, but once again, Graham remained committed to his mission on behalf of Alexander Campbell. Leaving Fayetteville, he continued his travels throughout the Southwest,38 preaching scores of sermons, holding revival meetings, and making many converts.39 Finally, he returned to his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 7, 1848 after completing a tour of thousands of miles, most of them traveled on horseback.40

Unbeknownst to Graham as he completed his tour of the Southwest, James Stirman, a merchant from Fayetteville and one of the original members of the congregation there, had traveled to Pennsylvania on business and while there, had met with Graham’s wife Maria to persuade her to allow her husband to move his family to Fayetteville and work with the church there if he so desired.41 When Graham returned from the South in August, he and his wife discussed the matter, and after seeking advice from both Campbell and Johnson,42 he decided to accept the offer from the church in Fayetteville and moved along with his wife and young son43 to Arkansas, arriving during the Christmas holidays.44

In Fayetteville, described by one minister as the “most moral and orderly town” in the state of Arkansas,45 Graham found fertile ground for the spread of the gospel and hit the ground running in his work with the young church. The congregation had been meeting for some time in the local Masonic Hall, and Graham put his carpentry skills to work building pews and other furniture to make the building more suitable for worship.46

As a preacher, Graham was talented and successful. John T. Johnson described him as a speaker of “eloquence and power,”47 while another Restoration evangelist, W. T. Moore, was even more effusive in his praise for Graham’s speaking abilities:
“He is a ready extemporaneous speaker, and, on a great occasion, is capable of exercising wonderful power over an audience. He possesses a strong, active, sympathetic nature, and this gives him great influence in the social circle. Few men have more ability to control the masses....”48
A popular speaker, Robert preached twice a month for the Fayetteville congregation,49 which also gave him time to travel from place to place and hold evangelistic meetings. He would travel far and wide on horseback, often preaching outside at stands built in the forest because the audiences would be too large to fit in the rural schoolhouses. Graham would sometimes deliver sermons of two hours or more in length, often to men who had ridden 20 miles or further to hear him speak.50 As a result of these efforts, Graham was able to plant churches in the communities of Cincinnati and Richland, and a third congregation along the Middle Fork of the White River.51 He was soon in demand in other areas of the state as well, and “before long was looked upon as the most influential leader among Arkansas Disciples.”52 Graham’s hard work reaped benefits for the Stone-Campbell Movement throughout the area, and under his leadership the Fayetteville Christian Church became the largest and most influential church in all of Northwest Arkansas.53

But the work was not easy. Speaking of Robert Graham as one of many “pioneer ministers”, N. M. Ragland, a later minister of the Fayetteville Christian Church, described the hardships faced by such men:
“It is difficult for a later generation to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made and the privations endured by the pioneer ministers and teachers of the word. Many of these scholarly, gifted, and godly men, preached the gospel without stipulated salary, taught five days in the week to support their families, and rejoiced in the high privilege of fellowship with Christ, who went about doing good, preaching the glad tidings to the poor, and who was in the world as one who served. There is no braver story in history than the story of the pioneer minister. It is replete with all that is heroic in faith, courage, labor, and sacrifice.”54
Graham soon found that the compensation for his work with the church in Fayetteville was not sufficient to provide for his family, so he began to teach to supplement his income.55

The Rise and Fall of Arkansas College

The Ozark Institute, a boy’s school located three miles northwest of Fayetteville in the Mount Comfort community, had been established in 1845 by Robert Mecklin, and in 1849, Robert Graham became Mecklin’s partner.56 That arrangement continued until the fall of 1850, when Graham, with the advice and support from his friends in Fayetteville and throughout the state, withdrew from that school to form one under his own management in Fayetteville.57 Twenty of Graham’s students from Ozark Institute followed him to the new school, Arkansas College,58 which, after meeting for a short time in a private home, was located on a ten-acre plot of land donated by William McGarrah of Fayetteville on December 31, 1851.59 The street running along the plot of land was called “College Avenue”, and remains the main north-south street in Fayetteville to this day.

Construction on the Arkansas College building began at the beginning of 1852, and once again, Graham’s skill as a carpenter proved very useful, as he served as the architect and superintendent of the work. J. W. McGarvey describes how Graham’s work on the college building earned respect for himself and support for his school:
“It was very strange to those farmers and rough mechanics to see a college man working as a carpenter, excelling them all in skill. And when heavy timers were to be carried on hand-spikes, they were amazed to see this college man holding the hand-spike against the men among them. So he won popularity, finished his college, and had a large patronage.”61
When it was finished, the building was large and elegant, with two wings and a library.61 On December 14, 1852, the Arkansas State Legislature granted a charter to Arkansas College, the first charter ever given to an institution of learning in the state.62 Robert Graham served as president and professor, and was joined in teaching duties by T.B. Van Horne and James M. Carpenter, with more teachers added as the college grew in numbers.63 On July 4, 1854 seven men graduated from Arkansas College’s first class, receiving the Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree, the first degrees ever given in the state.64

That Robert Graham would desire to establish an institution of higher learning is not surprising considering the close relationship between education and the Stone-Campbell Movement from the beginning. Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and Walter Scott were all educated men and recognized the value of education, and in 1840, with the creation of Bethany College, Campbell “established the theme of biblically centered holistic education”65 largely with the aim of supplying churches with educated ministers and evangelists.66 Bethany College would become a place of tremendous influence, as the graduates it churned out (like Robert Graham) would become the leaders of the next generation of the Restoration Movement, and many similar colleges sprang up,67 closely following Bethany as a model.68 Graham himself wanted to duplicate the success of Bethany, feeling that a “strong church college in Arkansas would make possible a dedicated and educated leadership for the young state.”69

Under the leadership of Robert Graham, Arkansas College certainly appeared to be heading in such a direction, rapidly developing a reputation “for the perfection of its discipline and [the] excellence of its teachings that far surpasses many older and distinguished institutions”.70 Soon the school was filled with almost 200 students from the southwestern states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Missouri, several more from the northern states, and a few students from as far away as England.71 The United States Government even chose Arkansas College as an approved school for the education of Native American youths.72 In the words of William Baxter, who succeeded Graham as the college president, “For hundreds of miles around, there was no institution at all comparable to it.”73 The students were by no means limited to those who had ties to the Restoration Movement,74 but it was certainly popular among those within Stone-Campbell circles. Writing to The Millennial Harbinger, evangelist Jacob Creath raved about Graham’s school:
“I would say to our brethren and friends in the Southwest, and I take pleasure in saying it, that this College is exclusively under the control of our brethren, and that if they wish their sons correctly and scientifically educated, and morally and Christianly trained in a thorough knowledge of the Bible, this is the place to do it.”75
For his part, Alexander Campbell was proud of the work of his protégé, referring to Graham in The Millennial Harbinger as “one of our best graduates of Bethany College,” and congratulating those at Arkansas College for possessing a President of such quality.76

The presence of Arkansas College in Fayetteville also did a great deal to enhance the reputation of the town. Along with the college, two female seminaries were located there, and soon Fayetteville became a popular location for families to live while educating their children,77 and was even known as “The Athens of the Ozarks” because of its reputation as a place of learning.78

In 1858, Graham was asked by Robert Richardson, one of his former professors at Bethany College and a close associate of Alexander Campbell, to leave Arkansas College to go to Kentucky University in Harrodsburg and serve as the Chair of Belles-Lettres and History.79 That Graham was willing to leave Fayetteville at a time when Arkansas College was beginning to experience great success may seem surprising, and he was in fact hesitant to leave,80 but, according to Disciples of Christ historian Lester G. McAllister, he was also beginning to feel uncomfortable in the South because of his political views:
“As happy in his work as he was there was a problem for Graham at this time. The issue of slavery began increasingly to be discussed. As political tensions mounted, Graham, believing in freedom for the slaves, felt more and more uncomfortable and compromised. In consequence, he resigned his pulpit and the presidency of the college that spring, accepting a teaching position in a college in Kentucky.”81
To make sure that both Arkansas College and the Fayetteville Christian Church were left in good hands, Graham convinced the trustees of the college and the leaders of the congregation to appoint his old friend, William Baxter, as his successor at both places.82 Baxter, who had been instrumental in uniting Graham with the Restoration Movement 20 years earlier, arrived with his family in Fayetteville at the end of 1858.83 From January to August of 1859, Graham traveled around Arkansas and Louisiana, visiting various congregations to evangelize and solicit funds for the college,84 and then he left for Kentucky. However, he left behind his wife and son in Fayetteville; Baxter and other friends had convinced him to do this in hopes that he “could be persuaded to return and remain in the South.”85

This would prove to be good advice, as Graham would return to Arkansas in the summer of 1860 after spending only nine months at Kentucky University.86 His quick departure from Harrodsburg was not due to any problems that had arisen there. On the contrary, in the words of Alexander Campbell, “His temporary connection with the Kentucky University greatly endeared him to the managers of that useful institution, and it was with the greatest reluctance that they consented to give him up.”87 However, his friends in Fayetteville wanted him back, and it was their influence combined with his sense of duty that led him back to Arkansas:
“Elder Graham had just resigned the Chair of Belles-Lettres and History in Kentucky University, which he had filled with such ability that inducements which few men would have resisted were offered to retain him; but he saw such a broad and promising field in the South-West that he resolved to forego comparative ease, honor, and emolument, and to enter upon such a life of toil as few men propose to themselves, simply from a conviction of duty and a desire to be greatly useful.”88
Specifically, Graham was returning to Fayetteville as the General Agent of the newly formed Southern Christian Missionary Society.89 In this new role, Graham planned to spend two-thirds of his time away from home, traveling with fellow worker John Trott throughout Arkansas and Louisiana, visiting churches “to arouse them to a sense of duty on the all important matter of converting the world”90 and also to promote Arkansas College.91

But when Graham returned to Fayetteville, he found that the atmosphere had changed considerably in the year he had been away, as the tensions between the North and the South which would eventually lead to war had taken firm root.92 The political climate of the time distracted people from spiritual matters and limited the effectiveness of Graham and Trott as they traveled around the state.93 Things only worsened after the fallout of the presidential election of 1860:
“By the time we reached the southern border of Arkansas we found it was useless to go farther. The day on which Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated--March 4, 1861--we sadly turned our faced homeward. Soon the lurid flames of strife broke forth. Situated, as we were, on the boundaries of Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and the Cherokee Nation, we were subject to the struggle of conflicting opinions, which was unknown to states remote from Mason and Dixon’s line. The conflict raged with increasing fury till nearly all that made our town a place of beauty was destroyed, and the population scattered far and wide. Within a few months the labor of years was lost....”94
The loss of “the labor of years” that Graham refers to is almost certainly the dissolution of Arkansas College, which began almost immediately. With the failure of the Southern Christian Missionary Society, Graham returned to Fayetteville and was there when the news came of the Arkansas State Legislature’s decision to secede from the Union.95 The news of secession greatly affected Arkansas College, where, despite the efforts of President Baxter, young men stirred by duty to the Southern cause and the pressure of public sentiment left school to enlist.96 The graduating class of 1861 would be the eighth and final class of Arkansas College,97 and before long, many of those students would be killed in battle. As Baxter said later, “...thus was one of the brightest pages in my life’s history soon sadly blurred with blood and tears.”98

Any hopes that the excellent work of Arkansas College could resume after the war were dashed on the night of March 4, 1862, when the college, along with the furniture and library, was burned to the ground during troop movements through Fayetteville prior to the Battle of Pea Ridge.99 Graham and Baxter stood by watching: “As the smoke curled skyward in the calm of midnight, this shrine of learning, the abode of peace, fell a sacrifice to the fierce spirit of war and destruction.”100

Graham had now been in Fayetteville for almost a year since his return from his failed tour on behalf of the Southern Christian Missionary Society, and while in town, had preached as he had the opportunity. However, the preacher who had once been so popular and in such great demand now faced sharp criticism:
“It had not escaped the observation of some of the warm advocates of secession, that his prayers were much the same as before the war broke out; the Confederacy, its army, and executive were never mentioned, and the reason of this was obvious to many. On one occasion, just after he had preached, he was interrogated in such a manner as to render a reply indispensable. ‘Mr. Graham,’ said a secessionist, ‘why do you not pray for our rulers and army?’ He replied, ‘There is only one Scriptural ground on which I could do so.’ ‘What may that be?’ ‘Why,’ said he, ‘we are instructed to pray for our enemies.’”101
With a reputation as a Union sympathizer in a town held by the Confederacy, Graham soon began to fear for his safety and with Arkansas College now destroyed, it was a good time to leave. Leaving his family behind until it would be safer for them to travel, on July 27, 1862, Graham left Fayetteville on horseback, traveling through the Confederate lines and avoiding Rebel pickets and made his way to the Federal lines in Cassville, Missouri.102 From there he traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio where he was later joined by his wife and son.103

One might think that the sad and sudden end to Graham’s educational dream in Arkansas would have left a bitter taste in his mouth, but such was not the case. Looking back on his lifetime of ministry, Graham counted his days in Fayetteville as the happiest of his life:
“I have never regarded the life of a pioneer preacher among us a peculiarly hard one. I liked it fifty years ago, and were I young again I should like it still. The years spent on the frontier and among the poor were years of physical toil, of sacrifice, and of some privation, but there were compensations, many and precious....Of all my ministerial life, perhaps that spent in Arkansas was marked by the greatest ‘trails and triumphs,’ and, it may be added, by the greatest enjoyment.”104

Later Life and Work

Although much could be written about Robert Graham’s life following his departure from Fayetteville during the Civil War, for the purposes of this study, a brief summary will suffice. Graham remained in Cincinnati for two years where he served as a minister for the Eighth and Walnut Street Christian Church, before fulfilling a “long-cherished desire” by moving to California from 1864-1866, where he worked one year each with congregations in Santa Rosa and San Francisco.105

Having spent a year teaching in Kentucky in 1859, Graham returned to Kentucky in 1866, where he would remain involved in college education for over 30 years, first as the President of the Liberal Arts College of Kentucky University (1866-1869), then as the President of Hocker Female College (1869-1875), and finally as the President of the College of the Bible in Kentucky (1875-1895).106 As the College of the Bible President, Graham was described as “dignified, competent, industrious, loyal to the truth and an excellent college professor.”107 While at the College of the Bible, Graham became part of “The Sacred Trio” of himself, J. W. McGarvey, and Isaiah Grubbs, who had all been students at Bethany College and were renowned as exceptional teachers.108

In 1895, he stepped down from the presidency but remained a professor until 1898 when, at the age of 76, he retired from active work. He passed away three years later, on January 20, 1901.109

The Legacy of Robert Graham and Arkansas College

Although perhaps better known for his later years as the President of the College of the Bible in Kentucky, Robert Graham was likely at the peak of his influence and effectiveness when he was in Arkansas, where he served as the unquestioned leader of the Stone-Campbell Movement from 1850-1860.110

Sadly, the Civil War systematically destroyed what was potentially Graham’s greatest achievement, first by taking the young men of Arkansas College to serve in its armies, then destroying its campus, and finally by prompting its leaders to leave the area.111 With its demise, Graham’s dream of producing the next generation of leaders for the Stone-Campbell Movement in Arkansas was shattered, and in the words of one commentator, “It was a tragedy both for the church and for the state.”112

But despite the destruction of the college, the tireless efforts of Robert Graham were in large part responsible for planting a seed in Fayetteville which helped to establish it as “The Athens of the Ozarks” because of the opportunities it provided for learning and education. That seed would come to fruition in 1871 with the establishment of Arkansas Industrial University there, which later became the University of Arkansas.113 Students of the university today may be unaware of their school’s ties to the Stone-Campbell Movement and may have never heard of Robert Graham, but the close link between the two institutions remains.

In the final analysis, that, along with a lifetime of persevering faithfulness characterize the life of this carpenter, frontier preacher, and educator who was “the most earnest, indefatigable, and successful laborer in the cause of education and religion in the Southwest.”114

• • •

1Roy L. Griggs, “Robert Graham: Pioneer Defender of Truth,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 118, 127-28.
2M. N. Ragland, A History of the First Christian Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR, 1925), 3.
3M. D. Clubb, “Robert Graham,” in Churches of Christ: A Historical, Biographical, and Pictorial History of Churches of Christ in the United States, Australasia, England and Canada, ed. John T. Brown (Louisville: John P. Morton And Company, 1904), 427.
4Ragland, First Christian Church, 4.
5Robert Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” Christian Standard 32 (March 21, 1896): 359, writing about his own early life states that he was five years old when moving to the United States. This conflicts with Frederick D. Kershner, “Comets and Constellations: Robert Graham,” Christian Standard 77 (March 7, 1942): 223, which says that Graham had “...emigrated with his parents to the United States when he was eight years of age.” It seems likely that Kershner simply confused Graham’s age upon arrival in America with his age when he and his family settled in Allegheny City.
6Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” 359. Griggs, 119.
7Dwight E. Stevenson, Lexington Theological Seminary, 1865-1965: The College of the Bible Century (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1964), 68. W. T. Moore, ed., The Living Pulpit of the Christian Church: a series of discourses, doctrinal and practical, from representative men among the Disciples of Christ, with a brief biographical sketch and steel portrait of each contributor (Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll & Co., 1867), 207, further states that Graham joined a literary society at this time and “made considerable progress in the study of history, Belles-Lettres, Biblical Criticism, Natural Science, etc.”
8Moore, 207.
9Ragland, First Christian Church, 4. Speaking of Graham, Ragland says that, “His piety, inbred and inborn, was as natural to him as breathing.”
10Clubb, 427.
11Griggs, 119.
12Moore, 207.
13Clubb, 427.
14Griggs, 119; Moore, 207.
15Ragland, First Christian Church, 4.
16J. W. McGarvey, Chapel Talks, delivered before the student body of the College of the Bible in 1910 and 1911 (Lufkin, TX: Gospel Guardian Co., 1956), 82-83.
17Peter M. Morgan, “Robert Graham (1822-1901),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 367.
18Ragland, First Christian Church, 5.
19Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” 359.
20Ragland, First Christian Church, 5.
21Stevenson, 68.
22McGarvey, 83, “Mr. Campbell was the editor and publisher of the only hymn book of our people at that time, and he devoted the profits of this publication to the education of young men for the ministry. By this means he enabled Robert Graham to accept his advice.” Kershner, 223, seems to question Campbell’s generosity by noting that the amount loaned to Graham was later paid back with interest, but Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” 359, emphasizes that it was he, not Campbell, who insisted on repaying the loan with interest in 1854.
23Clubb, 427.
24Graham, “Trials and Triumphs,” 359.
25McGarvey, 83; Griggs, 120.
26Morgan, 367.
27John Rogers, The Biography of Elder J.T. Johnson, (Cincinnati, 1861), 277, states that Graham succeeded in raising scholarships for Bethany College and procuring additional subscriptions to The Millennial Harbinger on this tour. Later records indicate that Graham remained a representative of The Millennial Harbinger throughout his time in Arkansas. Robert Graham, “News from Arkansas,” Millennial Harbinger 4, no. 5 (July 1855): 407; Alexander Campbell, “Bro. Robert Graham,” Millennial Harbinger 4, no. 6 (March 1856): 180.
28Ragland, First Christian Church, 6.
29Ibid., 6.
31Marian Tebbetts Banes, The Journal of Marian Tebbetts Banes (Fayetteville, AR: Washington County Historical Society, 1977), 38.
32Ibid., 38.
33Richard L. Harrison, “John T. Johnson (1788-1858),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 431.
34Banes, 38.
35Ragland, First Christian Church, 9.
36Ibid., 8.
37Rogers, 277.
38Banes, 38-39.
39Ragland, First Christian Church, 14.
40Ibid., 14.
41Virginia Lynn Vego, “The Restoration Movement in Arkansas, 1832-1860,” (Master’s thesis, University of Arkansas, 2009), 37-39.
42Graham, “Trials and Triumphs,” 359.
43Ragland, First Christian Church, 38.
44There is a great deal of discrepancy regarding the arrival date of Graham and his family in Arkansas. Recalling the event almost 50 years later, Graham, “Trials and Triumphs,” 359, says they arrived in “the fall of 1848”. Griggs, 121, places the event in December 1848, while Moore, 208, dates it in January 1849, and W. J. Lemke, Early Colleges and Academies of Washington County, Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR: The Washington County Historical Society, 1971), 59, puts it as late as February 1849. Nevertheless, the majority of sources, including Ragland, First Christian Church 38, Vego, 39, and Roy W. Roberts, The First Christian Church Fayetteville, Arkansas: One Hundred Twenty Five Years of Discipleship 1848 to 1973 (Fayetteville, AR, 1973), 1, all place their arrival “during the Christmas holidays” or “around Christmas.” This seems to be the best estimate, and could arguably harmonize with sources that place the Grahams’ arrival in December or January.
45Jacob Creath, “A Word of Cheer from Bro. Creath,” Millennial Harbinger (January 1860): 292.
46Ragland, First Christian Church, 38-39.
47Rogers, 277.
48Moore, 208.
49Vego, 41.
50McGarvey, 83-84.
51Ragland, First Christian Church, 40. Cincinnati is near the border of modern-day Oklahoma, and Richland is a community 15 miles east of Fayetteville. The Middle Fork of the White River is just east of Fayetteville.
52Lester G. McAllister, Arkansas Disciples: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Arkansas (N.p.: Christian Church Disciples of Christ, 1984), 19.
53Banes, 59.
54Ragland, First Christian Church, 39-40.
55Vego, 41, mentions that Graham’s salary for the church was $400 a year. This is possibly contradicted by Graham himself in Graham, “Trials and Triumphs”, 359, where he states, “For one congregation I worked twelve years, receiving not one cent of salary.” Although he does not specifically identify the Fayetteville church as the congregation to which he was referring, he was with the church there for twelve years and there are no records that indicate that he worked with any other church for as long. Regardless of this, the sources agree that whatever income (if any) he received from his work with the Fayetteville church, it was not sufficient to provide for his family.
56McAllister, 29.
57M. N. Ragland, History of the Arkansas College 1852-1862 (Fayetteville, AR, [1925?]), 6.
58Lemke, 15.
59Ragland, Arkansas College, 7. William S. Campbell, One Hundred Years Of Fayetteville: 1828-1928 (Fayetteville, AR: Washington County Historical Society, 1977), 54-55, describes how McGarrah refused to sell the land for the college to Graham, but was glad to give it him.
60McGarvey, 83.
61Ragland, Arkansas College, 7.
62Ibid., 8-11. Some sources claim that Cane Hill College, also located in Northwest Arkansas, was the first school in the state to receive such a charter, but Arkansas College received its charter from the Arkansas State Legislature one day earlier.
63Ibid., 13.
64McAllister, 32. William Campbell, 55, describes how many of the original graduates went on to have distinguished and well-known careers in various fields.
65John L. Morrison, “Philosophy of Education,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 293-94.
66Erret Gates, The Disciples of Christ (New York: The Baker & Taylor Co., 1905), 290-91.
67Pat Donat, “‘Shrine of Learning’ Falls,” Northwest Arkansas Times, March 9, 1977, states that Arkansas College was one of approximately 50 colleges operating at that time under the Churches of Christ/Disciples of Christ.
68McAllister, 31.
69Ibid., 30.
70Lemke, 67.
71William Campbell, 55.
72Lemke, 60; Vego, 41.
73William Baxter, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, or, Scenes and incidents of the war in Arkansas (Cincinnati: Poe & Hitchcock, 1864), 10.
74Vego, 42-43, states, “Even though the Disciples of Christ ran the college, it attracted students from all religious backgrounds; in fact, most students had no affiliation with the Disciples upon entering school there, but after some time became joined to the Fayetteville congregation.”
75Creath, 292.
76Alexander Campbell, Remarks on “News from Arkansas,” Millennial Harbinger 4, no. 5 (July 1855): 407-08.
77Ragland, Arkansas College, 7.
78Ibid., 5.
79Cloyd Goodnight and Dwight E. Stevenson, Home to Bethpage: A Biography of Robert Richardson (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1949), 193. Moore, 208. Kentucky University was the current manifestation of the school that had once been Bacon College, and would eventually be the College of the Bible.
80Griggs 121-22. William Campbell, 55, suggests that it was political differences that caused Graham to resign his position at Arkansas College. No other sources suggest this, but it is true that Graham did have trouble because of his political views after his return to Arkansas at the eve of the Civil War in 1860.
81McAllister, 25. William Campbell, 55, also mentions Graham’s political views as the reason for his leaving Fayetteville.
82Ragland, Arkansas College, 16.
83Ibid., 16.
84McAllister, 25. Lemke, 68.
85Ragland, Arkansas College, 16.
86McAllister, 26.
87Alexander Campbell, Remarks on “Letter from Bro. R. Graham,” Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 4 (January 1861): 50.
88Baxter, 12.
89McAllister, 26; Clubb, 208. Graham’s role within the Southern Christian Missionary Society is noteworthy since differences on the issues of missionary societies and instrumental music in worship have traditionally been identified as the main causes of the division between Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ, Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 15-16. Graham, who passed away before the formalized division in 1906, seemed to be on both sides of the argument: while clearly approving of missionary societies, even in the late 1890s, he served as an elder of the Broadway Christian Church in Lexington Kentucky “where no insturmental music was yet permitted in the worship,” Kershner, 240.
90Robert Graham, “Letter from Bro. R. Graham,” Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 4 (January 1861): 49.
91Ibid., 50.
92Griggs, 122.
93McAllister, 26.
94Ragland, First Christian Church, 67.
95Banes, 86.
96Baxter, 30-33.
97Ragland, First Christian Church, 54.
98Baxter 33-35.
99Ragland, First Christian Church, 66. William Campbell, 55, states that, “Both Federal and Confederate troops are charged with burning it. It will never be determined.” Baxter, 24-25, 90-91, writing with Union sympathies, is quick to point out that Confederate General Ben McCulloch was responsible for the burning of Fayetteville, but he does not specifically blame the Confederates for the burning of Arkansas College.
100Baxter, 91.
101Baxter, 160-61.
102Lemke, 62.
103Ibid., 62.
104Graham, “Trials and Triumphs”, 391.
105Ibid., “Trials and Triumphs”, 391, 359.
106Stevenson, 69.
107Kershner, 224.
108Stevenson, 67-68. Morgan, 367, writes, “In the exceptional faculty of his ear it is said that J. W. McGarvey was admired, Isaiah Grubbs was loved, and Graham was revered.”
109Clubb, 427.
110McAllister, 36, speaking of Graham, states, “The loss of his leadership was great. Graham had proven himself scholarly and progressive. His influence was wide and lasting....” Graham, “A Word from Arkansas,” Apostolic Times (April 1869), cites a letter from a Christian brother from Arkansas named Flippin, who, almost ten years after the fact, laments the loss of Graham and his college.
111McAllister, 37, “When former students and graduates of Arkansas College returned at the end of the war in 1865 they found ruins, their teachers gone and many of their classmates either dead or scattered.”
112Ibid, 38.
113William Campbell, 55, speaking of the relationship between Arkansas College and the modern day University of Arkansas, states, “...Upon its ashes, and the rock of its influences rose a cultural ideal that set majestic halls in the western gates of these seven hills.” Lemke, 5, 15, says, “...The establishment of the state university in Fayetteville in 1871 was largely due to the antebellum schools that had give this county a reputation for education that no other section could match,” and that, furthermore, of these antebellum schools, “...none attained the fame that came to Arkansas College in Fayetteville.” Graham, “Trials and Triumphs”, 391, himself mentions the connection of the two schools, saying that although the college was broken up during the war, it “reappeared to some extent in the State University now there....”
114Baxter, 10.


Mourning Into Dancing

What a year it has been.

Just a little over 11 months ago, Caroline and I found out that she had suffered a miscarriage. It was a horribly dark time for us, and it was hard to imagine that things could ever get any better.

And then, just last week, we had the privilege of bringing home our beautiful daughter, Kinsley Abigail.

I am reminded of the words of Psalm 30.11-12:
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
Beautiful words that ring so true for me today. God is good!


Ancient Words On Christian Marriage

I am preparing to officiate a wedding this weekend (my first!), and interestingly, I came across these words from the late 2nd century theologian Tertullian in an unrelated book I am reading:
What a marriage is that between two believers! They have one hope, one desire, one way of life, the same religion. They are brother and sister, both fellow servants, not divided in flesh or in spirit—truly “two in one flesh,” for where there is one flesh there is also one spirit. They pray together; they prostrate themselves together; they carry out fasts together. They instruct one another and exhort one another. Side by side they are present in the church of God and at the banquet of God; they are side by side in difficulties and in consolations. Neither ever hides things from the other; neither avoids the other; neither is a grief to the other.

—Tertullian, To His Wife, 2.8
Quoted in Everett Ferguson’s Early Christians Speak, p. 226


“Let The Lower Lights Be Burning”

One of my favorite church hymns was written by Philip P. Bliss in 1871:

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy, from His lighthouse evermore;
But to us He gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.

Dark the night of sin has settled, loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing, for the lights along the shore.

Trim your feeble lamp my brother; some poor sailor tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor, in the darkness may be lost.

Let the lower lights be burning! Send the gleam across the wave!
Some poor, fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.

Apparently, Bliss wrote this song after hearing a story from the famous evangelist D. L. Moody in one of his sermons. On a dark and particularly stormy night, a large passenger boat crept toward Cleveland Harbor. This particular harbor was marked by two lights, one on either side of the harbor, which were called the upper and lower lights. To make a safe entry into the harbor, it was necessary for the incoming ships to see both lights.*

As the boat approached the harbor, the captain asked the pilot, “Are you sure this is Cleveland?” “Quite sure, Sir,” replied the pilot. “Where are the lower lights?” he asked. “Gone out, Sir!” was the reply. The pilot turned the wheel, but in the darkness, he missed the channel. The boat crashed on the rocks and many lives were lost that night. Moody’s closing words were, “Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning.”

I love this song because it reminds us that while Jesus is the Light of the world, Christians also have a role to play in pointing people to Him. As Jesus said in Matthew 5.16, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” and the sad truth of the matter is that there are many people who spend their entire lives stumbling in darkness because the Christians they come in contact with every day fail to let their lights shine as they should.

I also love this song because of the sense of urgency and even desperation it conveys—if we let our lights go out, for even a moment, it may be at that moment that some desperate soul is frantically straining to find the lights of the harbor.

And finally, I love this song because it convicts me—I know that too often, my lamp is too feeble to be seen by anyone who needs it.

*See Ed Reese, “The Life and Ministry of Philip Bliss,” and “The Upper and Lower Lights,” in Moments in the Book.


“He just sets the example…”

An interesting comment from a guy on an ESPN article on Tim Tebow (specifically in regard to Tebow’s overt Christianity):
“There’s a guy who doesn’t waiver. What I haven’t heard from Tebow is a demand that you live like he lives. He just sets the example and hopes others see the benefits. I’m not a religious man, but that’s exactly the way it should be done. Lead by example.”
I’m an unabashed Tim Tebow fan. I have no idea how he continues to win games while completing less than 50% of his passes, but I think he is an overwhelmingly positive role model.


Miles To Go

When I am weary and feel nearly overwhelmed by all the things I have to get done, I draw encouragement and resilience from my favorite Robert Frost poem:

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Here’s to keeping the promises and traveling the miles!


Not So Fast

The stories coming out of Penn State concerning former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual assault of multiple boys and the subsequent cover-up by the university have been shocking and sickening.

I came across the following picture and caption today:

“State College artist Michael Pilato paints over the portion of his mural that shows former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in downtown State College, Pennsylvania, November 9, 2011. REUTERS/Pat Little”
I thought the picture was more than a little ironic—it’s only natural that Penn St. fans would like to paint over Sandusky and pretend the whole thing never happened, but isn’t that the same feeling that led to the cover-up?

Here’s the deal: Sandusky’s sick actions, and especially the ensuing cover-up, tainted the entire football program. Either leave the mural the way it was and try to convince yourself that the on-field success isn’t tainted by Sandusky and Co., or whitewash the entire wall.


I Like My New Camera

(Click for Larger Version)

That is all.


Michael Dirda on Arthur Conan Doyle

My brother pointed me to this article on Victorian author Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. I loved this quotation:
Appropriately, Conan Doyle once named “unaffectedness” as his own favorite virtue, then listed “manliness” as his favorite virtue in another man; “work” as his favorite occupation; “time well filled” as his ideal of happiness; “men who do their duty” as his favorite heroes in real life; and “affectation and conceit” as his pet aversions.
A lot of people might find that to be a description of a boring man; I think it’s awesome.


Links Between Daniel And Esther

From a series of Esther mosaics by Lilian Broca.

The Book of Daniel has been one of my favorite biblical books for a while now, and I’ve always enjoyed the Book of Esther as well, but it wasn’t until hearing a lesson on Esther last weekend that I was struck by the degree of similarity between the two:

-Faithful Living of God’s People in a Hostile Environment: Many of the following similarities can be traced to the overriding similarity in the setting of both books. Daniel follows the lives of Daniel and his three friends as they live godly lives during a time of captivity in Babylon, working in conjunction with powerful kings (first Nebuchadnezzar, then Belshazzar, then Darius). The Book of Esther focuses on the lives of Esther and Mordecai as they live in Susa under the reign of Ahasuerus/Xerxes.

-The Emphasis of the Physical Beauty of Young People: Daniel 1.3-6 mentions that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were chosen for the king’s service because they were, among other things, “without blemish, of good appearance.” They were taken aside and were to be given special training and a special diet to prepare them to assist the king. Similarly, Esther was chosen as part of the harem of Ahasuerus based on her great beauty (Esther 2.3, 8) and was similarly treated with a special diet and also given cosmetic treatment (vv. 9-12).

-The Changing of Names: Daniel 1.7 is clear that Daniel and his friends are given new names in Babylon (Daniel becomes Belteshazzar, Hananiah is called Shadrach, Mishael is now Meshach, and Azariah is called Abednego) which seems to be an attempt to change the identity and allegiances of the young men. The Book of Esther is not as explicit, but Esther 2.7 mentions that Mordecai was “bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther….” Hadassah is a Hebrew name, which indicates that her name must have been changed to Esther at some point while she was under Persian influence and authority.

-Accusations Against God’s People: In both Daniel and Esther, we have the theme of wicked men bringing accusations against God’s people. In Daniel, political officials who are jealous of the level of authority that Daniel has achieved under Darius realize that the only way they can get him in trouble is to outlaw his devotion to Jehovah, and they then inform Darius that he has violated the law by continuing to pray to his God (Daniel 6.1-14). In Esther 3, Haman’s rage over Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him leads him to propose a scheme to Ahasueras to eradicate the Hebrew people (Also, this incident could be compared to the refusal of Shadrach, Mishael, and Azariah to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image in Daniel 3).

-Faith in God’s Ability to Save in Difficult Situations: In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Mishael, and Azariah are confident that God has the ability to rescue them from the fiery furnace. In Daniel 6, Daniel seems to be unfazed by his punishment of being thrown in the lion’s den. When Mordecai learns of Haman’s plan to wipe out the Jewish people, he reflects a similar attitude, telling Esther that the Jews will be delivered one way or another (Esther 4.13-14).*

-Stubborn, Determined Faith: One awesome theme of both books is the portrayal of determined, defiant faith from the characters. Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, and Esther all realize the possibility of dying for their actions, but are determined to remain faithful regardless. Their declarations of stubborn faith in Daniel 3.16-18 and Esther 4.16 are among my favorite passages in Scripture.

-Promotion of God’s People to Places of High Authority: A final related theme of both Daniel and Esther is the way that God leads his faithful followers to places of high authority in their respective foreign lands. Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego (Daniel 1.20, 2.46-49, 3.30, 5.29, 6.1-4, 6.25) Esther, and Mordecai (Esther 2.1-18, 5.1-8, 6.10-11, 10.2-3) all find favor in the sight of their superiors and are elevated to positions of high authority.

These are just some of the similarities that struck me between the two books; I’m sure there are more that could be listed. As I mentioned above, I think a lot of the similarities stem from the overall similarity in setting, as we have the stories of people trying to be faithful to God in a surrounding culture which doesn’t always support that lifestyle. In that sense, I think the books of Daniel and Esther are incredibly relevant to Christians today as we strive to live as “sojourners and exiles” in our world (1 Peter 2.11).

*Much has been made of the fact that Esther is the only biblical book which does not explicitly mention God. While this is interesting, I don’t think it is particularly significant, as the idea of God providentially caring for His people is as central to the Book of Esther as it is to the Book of Daniel.


The Connection Between Our Inalienable Rights

“You can pursue liberty all you want to as long as you don’t tread on somebody else’s life, and that includes the life of the unborn.”
—Herman Cain


Neale Pryor (1935-2011)

A week ago Sunday, Neale Pryor, a longtime preacher, scholar, and Bible professor at Harding University passed away after a lengthy illness. Originally, I hadn’t planned to write anything about him here, but as time passed, I felt that I couldn’t let the passing of such a man go unmentioned.

Dr. Pryor was one of three absolutely outstanding Bible teachers that I had at Harding, and I sat through a lot of his classes—he was my teacher in multiple college courses, I often went to his mid-week Bible study, and I sat through his Sunday morning auditorium class at the College Church of Christ for most of my time at Harding. In a Bible class setting, I would estimate that I’ve heard more lessons from Dr. Pryor than I have from any other teacher.

Of course, there were reasons that I kept coming back for more. In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone who simultaneously so impressed me with his biblical knowledge and scholarship and his humble spirit. As we discussed what were sometimes controversial issues in class, you could always tell that Dr. Pryor had good reasons and support for his views, but he never made anyone feel stupid for disagreeing with or not understanding him, and he was willing to admit that he didn’t have all the answers (One thing Dr. Pryor said that has always stuck with me was that he had come to suspect that when he got to heaven, he might find that more people had “made it in” than he expected. If that was the case, he assured us that he wouldn’t find a corner to sulk in—he would enjoy their company!).

In 1 Corinthians 11.1, the Apostle Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” A lot of the people that Paul was writing to in Corinth probably hadn’t known Jesus personally, so imitating the lifestyle of Paul (someone they did know personally) as he himself attempted to imitate the life of Jesus was something that was easier to grasp. I think the same thing could be said of Dr. Pryor—during his years at Harding, he gave a tangible example to countless students of what imitating Christ looked like. To me, that was what was most impressive of all about him—as good of a teacher as he was, he was an even better man.

Dr. Pryor liked to quote his favorite verse a lot: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26). For him, the main priority in life was always clear, and he lived his life accordingly. Congratulations to him for finishing the course and keeping the faith, and for joining that great cloud of witnesses.

I look forward to meeting him again.


Reyes: Not The Way It’s Done

New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes won the National League batting title Wednesday, but it will go down as a tainted accomplishment in the eyes of many.

Entering the day with a 2-point batting average lead over the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, Reyes led off the game with a bunt single and then pulled himself from the game, eliminating the chance for any later bad at-bats and the risk of his average dipping.

Certainly there’s no rule against what he did; it’s just incredibly lame. As ESPN’s Rob Parker writes (emphasis added),
Coincidentally, Reyes’ decision came on the 70th anniversary of Ted Williams sealing his historic .406 batting average in 1941. Williams, the Boston Red Sox slugger, played in both games of a doubleheader on the final day of that season, even though he began the day with his average at .400. Williams believed he didn’t deserve a .400 average if he sat out the two games against the Philadelphia A’s, and he wound up going 6-for-8, finishing with the improbable .406. Most people think that mark will never be broken.
Clearly, Reyes had no similar qualms about the need to “play it out.” Reyes is a free agent, and most people think that he’ll be somewhere else next season. Perhaps the worst thing for Mets fans is the fact that their last memory of a great player will be a disrespectful and ultimately selfish one.


Living From Jefferson’s Bible

If you know much about Thomas Jefferson (beyond the fact that he was instrumental in the crafting of the Declaration of Independence and later became the third President of the United States), you’re probably aware that he is well-known for his unorthodox religious ideas.1

Among other things, Jefferson’s worldview was heavily influenced by Enlightenment thought, and caused him to dismiss the miraculous elements of Christianity as unbelievable. Corresponding to his beliefs, Jefferson created his own version of the New Testament, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Using a razor, Jefferson literally cut out the parts of the Gospels that he didn’t like (things such as the incarnation, miracles, divinity, and resurrection of Jesus) and created a new book that was more palatable for him.

Christians today who claim to live according to the teachings of the Bible find this to be absurd—obviously you can’t just pick and choose which biblical teachings you wish to follow. After all, at the point when you start dismissing certain teachings because you don’t like them, you’ve basically ceased to follow the teachings of Scripture altogether and have turned yourself into the ultimate source of authority.

And yet…

For all of our insistence that we live based on the teachings of Scripture, if you look at the lives of Christians from a broad perspective, I would suggest that we, too, are guilty of creating our own versions of what the Bible says. We might not physically cut out passages with razorblades, but we practically do the same thing by ignoring certain teachings and living our lives in clear violation of others.

Probably there are many such teachings that we could use to illustrate the point, but just limiting ourselves to the words of Jesus, we can easily find several examples:

(1) Jesus’ Teachings on Divorce—

Statistics show that up to half of first marriages end in divorce, and subsequent marriages are even more likely to fail.2 Furthermore, religious belief doesn’t seem to have a great impact on these statistics, as conservative evangelical Christians are only marginally less likely to get divorced than non-believers.3 How do those statistics mesh with the teachings of Jesus?

At one point in His ministry, Jesus was asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all. He responded by saying that, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.4

In our current climate of widespread divorce for a variety of reasons, this isn’t a passage that is talked about too often, and when it is discussed, it’s often explained away—I recently heard an intelligent, well-educated Christian minister argue that perhaps Jesus wasn’t limiting “unfaithfulness” to sexual immorality, but was also including “emotional unfaithfulness” as a legitimate reason for divorce. Although I am no expert on 1st century Jewish life, the idea of “emotional unfaithfulness” is a modern Western concept that is completely foreign to the New Testament text. In the context of Matthew 19.4-6, where Jesus talks about man and wife joining together to form one flesh, it is an explicit sexual reference. The unfaithfulness that He mentions in v. 9 (or “immorality” in the NASB) is clearly sexual unfaithfulness—Jesus is saying that the only legitimate reason for divorce is once spouse cheating on the other sexually.

This is undoubtedly a hard teaching for us to accept (as it was for Jesus’ original audience—see v. 10)—but does that give us license to ignore it?

(2) Love Your Enemies—

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a good deal to say about how we should respond to people when they mistreat us, and how we should feel about our enemies in general.5 Maybe we struggle to identify “enemies” in our everyday lives, but once again, this is a teaching of Jesus that we often neglect.

For example, I hear lots of public prayers on behalf of “our servicemen and women overseas” but I rarely (if ever) hear prayers for the individuals that those men and women are fighting against.

Certainly I have no problem with praying for US military personnel, but shouldn’t we pray for the other side as well? Regardless of how we feel about militant terrorists (and let me assure you, I’m not filled with warm feelings for them), isn’t this exactly the sort of thing Jesus was talking about?

(3) Treasure in Heaven—

Also in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urged His audience to focus on building up spiritual wealth rather than the accumulation of earthly treasure.6 And this was not an uncommon topic—Jesus spoke about money a lot, and surely His teachings have implications for us, people who claim to follow Jesus who also live in the wealthiest society in the wealthiest time in history.

And what do those teachings say? Over and over again, they are consistent: spending our lives chasing after and accumulating possessions is foolish and wrong, greed is a sin, and we should use what we have to bless others.

I’m not denying the importance of good stewardship and providing for our families, but when multitudes of people around the world are dying due to starvation, contaminated water, and preventable diseases, how big of a house, how many cars, or how much money in the bank do we accumulate before stewardship becomes idolatry?

I could go on, but if you’re the average Christian, I’ve probably already stepped on your toes by now (I know I’ve stepped on my own).

I think living according to the teachings of Scripture is a noble pursuit, and for the Christian, is a necessary one. But by all means, let’s not get so wrapped up in talking about following God’s Word that we neglect actually doing it.

• • •

1 Jefferson is often described as a Deist, but this might be an oversimplification of his religious views. Regardless, he was certainly influenced by deist thinking.
2 http://www.divorcestatistics.org/
3 http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released
4 Matthew 19.1-12.
5 Matthew 5.38-47.
6 Matthew 6.19-34.


Observation #12

It’s often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions—I’ve always thought it would make more sense if the road to hell was paved with blazing fire bricks (or something along those lines).


New Church Website

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been working on a new church website in my free time. It’s taken quite a while because my free time has been somewhat limited, but finally, it’s up.

There’s still a bit of content to add, and not all of the features are functional yet, but it’s a start. I like it more than the older version.


The Problem of Pain

I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, and rather than wait six months to write about a book like I normally do, I thought I’d go ahead and post some brief thoughts.

Compared to some of his other works (Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters), The Problem of Pain really wasn’t my favorite—parts of it are somewhat hard to follow, there’s a semi-weird chapter on animals, to an extent, he seems to undermine the doctrine of the Fall, and he also suggests a Christology that is lower than I am comfortable with.

Nevertheless, it’s still C.S. Lewis, which means that there is a lot of good stuff in The Problem of Pain. Below are some quotations that I particularly enjoyed…

Free will necessitates suffering:
“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”
(Lewis, p. 25)
On what we wish God was like:
“What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see the young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.”
(p. 31)
One of the more famous C.S. Lewis quotes that I had heard and like before but never knew where it came from is found in The Problem of Pain:
“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
(p. 46)
Lewis suggests and then explains what he calls “the humility of God”:
“…It is a poor thing to strike out colors to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had…It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts.”
(pp. 95-96)
Is it suffering of good people the hardest thing to explain? For Lewis, the answer is “no”:
“The sacrifice of Christ is repeated, or re-echoed, among His followers in very varying degrees, from the cruellest martyrdom down to a self-submission of intention whose outward signs have nothing to distinguish them from the ordinary fruits of temperance and ‘sweet reasonableness’. The causes of this distribution I do not know; but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do not.”
(p. 104)
On the Christian’s submission of his own will:
“Christian renunciation does not mean stoic ‘Apathy’, but a readiness to prefer God to inferior ends which are in themselves lawful. Hence the Perfect Man brought to Gethsemane a will, and a strong will, to escape suffering and death if such escape were compatible with the Father’s will, combined with a perfect readiness for obedience if it were not.”
(p. 113)
An allusion to the “least of these” passage in Matthew 25 and the ethical implications of following Jesus:
“In the fullest parabolic picture which He gave of the Judgement, Our Lord seems to reduce all virtue to active beneficence: and though it would be misleading to take that one picture in isolation from the Gospel as a whole, it is sufficient to place beyond doubt the basic principles of the social ethics of Christianity.”
(p. 114)
And in reference to the flak that Christians often take for their hope of heaven (I love this quote):
“We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky’, and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric.”
(p. 149)
Of course, there are other good parts to the book, but the excerpts above at least give a taste of the book’s contents.

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