Understanding the Disciples: Some Suggestions for First Reads

Herewith I’m launching another occasional series of posts broadly titled, “First Reads.”  My goal is to survey selected areas from the broad and deep body of literature on/by/about/from the Stone-Campbell movement and suggest a few places to begin your study.  As a target audience for this series I have in mind interested folks who are willing to do a little digging but have neither the time nor the desire for extensive ongoing research.  I’m also working under a strong assumption that the first priority for any kind of study like this is understanding.  Critique all you want…but critique from understanding not preconceived bias.  Since I’ve not found these sorts of reading guides, I hope they’ll find a niche and serve a purpose.  I’ll try to live with lists of ten (or less) current resources; maybe that is too much, maybe too little, but ten is a start and that’s the point.

Understanding the Discipleschalice

1. www.disciples.org : The official website of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Here you will find the basic and most up-to-date information.  Especially relevant are these pages:  The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)The Four Priorities of the Church, About the Disciples, General Ministries, Regional Ministries.  You could spend hours on the site, but these four pages are a sufficient first step.

2. Mark G. Toulouse, “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005, 177-184.  It should go without saying that the ESCM is the first-read for anything Restoration Movement.  His bibliography is helpful (some items I list here), but there aren’t any cross-references to other articles.  Aside from that, you’ll want to start here.

3. Call to Unity, September 2008.  A periodical issued by the Council on Christian Unity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), theme of this issue of Call to Unity is ‘Becoming a Multicultural and Inclusive Church’ and features these fine articles, each of which is a first-read for its respective field:

–Raymond E. Brown, “History and Development of the African American Disciples”

–Timothy S. Lee, “From Coerced Liminality to in-Beyond the Margin, A Theological Reflection on the History of Asian-American Disciples”

–Carmelo Alvarez, “Hispanic Disciples in the US: Identity and Presence”

–D. Newell Williams, “The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): A Reformed North American Mainstream Moderate Denomination”

–Sharon Watkins, “For Disciples, Christian unity is both Given and Goal”

–Craig M. Watts, “Is Christianity a Religion of Peace?”

4. Howard E. Bowers, ed. Yearbook and Directory, 2008, of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Indianapolis: Office of the General Minister and President, 2008.  This is the go-to resource for current Disciple ministries, general units, regions, educational institutions, congregations and constituent groups.  It also lists ministers and guides you to the voice of the General Assembly on a host of topics over the years.  You’ll need old Yearbooks for the text of those resolutions and actions, but the current Yearbook will tell you where to go.

5. D. Duane Cummins, A Handbook for Today’s Disciples. rev. ed. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1991.  Only 66 pages, this booklet surveys history, theology, worship, mission and ethics.

6. Colbert S. Cartwright, People of the Chalice, Disciples of Christ in Faith and Practice. St. Louis: CBP Press, 1987.  Another slim volume, akin to Cummins’ above, with more focus on doctrine than history (though the two are intertwined throughout the book).

7. Debra B. Hull, Christian Church Women, Shapers of a Movement. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1994.  Among Stone-Campbell heirs, the Disciples are clearly the most egalitarian.  This book details some of the process which led them to a gender-inclusive church, but focuses on individual women who have, as the title reveals, shaped the movement.

8. Mark G. Toulouse, Joined in Discipleship, The Shaping of Contemporary Disciples Identity. rev. ed. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1997.  This is the current standard history, alongside Lester McAllister’s and William Tucker’s 1974 history.  Thoroughly footnoted, this is what you should read after Cummins and Cartwright.

9. Eugene M. Boring, Disciples and the Bible. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1997.  A deeper study of the history of hermeneutics, this book explains how Disciples have come to read and interpret Scripture as they do.

10. D. Newell Williams, ed. A Case Study of Mainstream Protestantism, The Disciples’ Relation to American Culture, 1880-1989. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.  I saved this for last since it is the meatiest item on the list.  A collection of several high-quality scholarly articles on a host of topics (Bible and Theology; Mission and Image; Education; Structure; Theological, Moral and Social Profile; and Ecology of Growth and Decline), this anthology delves deeply into what makes Disciples’ tick.  Obviously, the essays here will point you to more primary sources than you can read in a lifetime.

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