Rationale for ‘Top 5’

A few days ago I blogged:

Who are the top five individuals from the Stone-Campbell yesterday every person in Churches of Christ should know?  Can be 19th-20th century, preacher, publisher, editor, male, female, white, black, whatever.  I’m concentrating on Churches of Christ, so 20th century Disciples are out of bounds.  Other than that, the field is wide-open.

You get 5, and only 5…so who do you pick?  Explanations aren’t necessary (welcome, solicited, but unnecessary), just names.

And the response has been great.  Thank you to those of who responded.  The exchange between Don and John Mark has been, for me, enlightening.  Here’s my rationale for that initial (poorly-worded) post:

I’ve been invited to do a weekend retreat for a small Middle Tennessee congregation concerning our Stone-Campbell heritage.  The direction I’m thinking about pursuing is this: looking at aspects of the Stone-Campbell story through the personal stories of five individuals.  Sort of biography-meets-church-history, with a devotional and motivational twist.  A goal of the weekend is to put church history to work for the goals of transformation, reflection and even inspiration.  It is learning about our past for the sake of sharpening our understanding of the past, yes, but also to let voices from our past discipline us and help us with out discernment for the sake of the future.

So, I’m limited to 5, maybe 6 presentations, and my audience will be folks from a small Middle Tennessee Church of Christ who know some, but not a lot, Stone-Campbell history.  Several grew up in other communions and have no real knowledge of all the water under the bridge that makes Churches of Christ tick.  But they are with us now and have adopted our past.  That is why I’m limiting myself to subjects from Churches of Christ and leaving out Disciples.  I’m staying close to home, so to speak.

That’s the context behind my question.  Now, my question was poorly worded, although I think everyone sort of knew what I meant.  Don and John Mark’s (very helpful) exchange highlights part of the problem.  Who is influential, why, and in what way(s)?  And who gets to determine that?  And we should pay close attention lest we seek out only those voices we want to hear. 

One more thing, my host congregation is a mainstream Church of Christ.  We could have this same discussion for the Noninstitutional or One-Cup Churches of Christ.  We could have this same discussion for African-American Churches of Christ.  It may well be that some of the suggested names would not be as influential in those circles as they have been in white mainstream churches.  This highlights another problem…when brainstorming for this series my mind drifted to white mainstream leaders…to the the men in dark suits who more or less set policy for the course we pursued throughout much of the 20th century.  But there are other voices no less important, but often ignored or overlooked.  There are other voices who, given my location, I may not first be inclined listen to, but who nonetheless have contributed to where I am and have something to say to me.  Our history can discipline us by raising our awareness and broadening our horizons beyond what we have always know and the household brotherhood names we’ve always heard…if we will let it and if we will be diligent to seek out other voices.

In 2004 ACU Press published a book edited by Christian Chronicle editors Lindy Adams and Scott LaMascus, Decades of Destiny: A History of Churches of Christ from 1900-2000.  The Chronicle solicited input for the event of the decade and person of the decade for each decade of the 20th century.  Here are the nominations for person of the decade:


GP Bowser

James A. Harding

David Lipscomb

WW Otey


JN Armstrong

RH Boll

TB Larimore

David Lipscomb

GHP Showalter


Sarah Andrews

H Leo Boles

AL Cassius

SH Hall

Marshall Keeble

Jesse P Sewell

GHP Showalter

Foy E. Wallace


H Leo Boles

GC Brewer

Clinton Davidson

George W. DeHoff

NB Hardeman

George Pepperdine

Foy E. Wallace, Jr.


George Benson

GC Brewer

The ex-GI’s

Otis Gatewood

Olan Hicks

Marshall Keeble

Andy T. Ritchie


GP Bowser

Otis Gatewood

BC Goodpasture

VE Howard

Marshall Keeble

Jack Lewis

Lemoine Lewis

FW Mattox

James Walter Nichols

E Lucien Palmer

WB West

Guy N Woods

M Norvel and Helen M Young


Jimmy Allen

JC Bailey

Batsell Barrett Baxter

Marshall Keeble

Carl Ketcherside

Reuel Lemmons

Juan Monroy

KC Moser

Ira North

Carl Spain

“Big Don” Williams


JC Bailey

Batsell Barrett Baxter

Alan Bryan

Clifton L Ganus, Jr.

Don Gardner

Berkeley Hackett

Jimmy Movell

Churck Lucas

Ira North

Marvin Phillips

Ira Rice

Landon Saunders

Guy N Woods

Norvel Young


Lynn Anderson

Leroy Garrett

Otis Gatewood

Harold Hazelip

Ira North

Tom Olbricht

Rubel Shelly

Stanley Shipp


Lynn Anderson

Max Lucado

Mac Lyon

Jerry Rushford

Rubel Shelly

Helen Young


Does this context help explain my rationale?  Does it affect what your suggestions would be of the 5-6 voices I should attend to? 


4 thoughts on “Rationale for ‘Top 5’

  1. Ah, so! You are speaking at a retreat on “Stone-Campbell history” for members of a Middle Tennessee congregation who know not even enough about it to be dangerous. JMH . . . bless his heart . . . can run one of these seances in his sleep . . . and probably has.

    The first task is to determine “what they know” so that you don’t waste time “reinventing the wheel” or telling people something they think they already know. Your second task is to demonstrate that you know some things that they need to know or that will clarify their understanding of their common or uncommon knowledge.

    You might begin by asking them each to name one “historic” person or, alternatively, one “historic” event in the history of Churches of Christ, and to tell what they know about it.

    “Alexander Campbell.”

    When did he live?

    . . . .

    What did he do?

    . . . .

    Who else?

    And so on.

    Another way of getting at “what they know” would be to ask,

    What are the essential characteristics that the Churches of Christ share in common with other ‘Christian’ religious groups?

    What are the essential characteristics that distinguish the Churches of Christ from other ‘Christian’ religious groups?

    “Instrumental music.”

    Really? . . . that’s right. I’ve never seen a musical instrument in a Church of Christ . . . except that funny thing the song leaders used to use. . . .


    That’s it. Why don’t we have an organ or some other instrument, like, for instance, our brothers and sisters in the Disciples of Christ?

    “Not in the Bible.”

    Really? . . . . I seem to remember that John in the Revelation hears in heaven music that he says is like “harpers harping on their harps,” and there are all those Psalms that have instruments in them. . . . Now I don’t want to start an argument about “bringing in the instrument.” Rather, if not having instruments is an essential part of our identity as Churches of Christ, then we ought to understand, historically, how we came to be that way. Somebody–some historical persons in historical time–had a choice, and made it, and persuaded others . . . or did not persuade them . . . and here we are. Who chose? What did they choose? When did they choose it? Why did they choose in the way that they did? What are the consequences of that choice?

    And so on.

    Once you have established what the “floor” is for a useful and stimulating conversation, then you can have it. i suspect that for most of your auditors, another set of romantic eulogies to the “pioneers” will not be all that exciting or useful. What is useful is to begin to see how we got to where we are from where they were. If you do that right, there will be excitement to spare.

    If you are determined to pursue your purposes through the medium of biography, then you might think about posing a classic dialectic: Satz und Gegensatz (Thesis and Antithesis).
    Whose life and work defines and shapes the Churches of Christ? Whose life and work defies or challenges that definition? (JMH poses this kind of dichotomy quite effectively with “Tennessee” and “Texas,” but i am not sure that the distinctions he finds are as geographically simple as his typology may lead us to believe. i am interested, historically, in what we may find the synthesis of “Tennessee” and “Texas” to be, and where we may find it.)

    Foy Esco Wallace James Lacy Lovell

    Marshall Keeble Richard Nathaniel Hogan

    David Lipscomb Austin McGary

    or, if you be truly brave,

    David Lipscomb Selina Moore Holman

    Many years ago, when i was very young and very angry, and had learned something about “sacrifice” but little about mercy, having been schooled among the Churches of Christ, i took a leaf from Richard H Rovere and composed a chart of “the Church of Christ Establishment.” That document is occasionally rediscovered by persons who admire the kind of thing that it is. You can find a loving and reasonably exact replica of it at

    This chart is, i think, a faithful portrait — from what many might think to be a perverse angle — of the Churches of Christ in the mid-1960s. i do not suggest that you ever consider doing something like this . . . especially if you want to continue to be invited to share your studies with churches and institutions of learning. Yet you may find some heuristic value in thinking about the persons and categories named in this document, and the relationships among them. That thought may shed some light on the task you have set for yourself.

    God’s Peace to you.


  2. Thanks Don. There is great hueristic value in your thesis and antithesis proposal. SC history is like a web, touch one part and the whole moves. Your comment highlights the fact that we can’t do history well by rehearsing the biographies of individuals. There is too much else at play in the equation. I also think your strategy for how to find the “floor of understanding” is also helpful.

    Given my time constraints, and the strategy I have proposed, what other suggestions do you (any of you) have? The devil is in the details, and that’s where my struggle is at the moment: I’m thinking about what to present, and how.

    Thanks, Don.

  3. I appreciate and enjoy Don’s approach. I always–yes, always!–learn something when I read Don. He is a real joy!

    I like his approach about asking the question–who do they know, why, and what was significant.

    I could even let you in on one of my “seances” as Don calls them. 🙂

    On a more serious note, I appreciate Don’s note that “Texas” and “Tennessee” are not neat geographical centers. Indeed, I think Texas (as a geographical category) was probably evenly divided between FF and GA in the late 19th century in terms of allegiance though FF won out by the early 20th century when FF had more subscribers in TX than GA did in 1930. I use the typology as a theological one rather than geographical. But there was geographical significance in the first generation…after that it was a geographical mix….and ultimately a theological mix (a Hegelian synthesis where “hot” Texas flavored the final stew).

  4. Yes, let me know when you will have another seance!

    Don, you mentioned your interest what we may find in the synthesis of the TN and TX traditions. The more I uncover of CEWD the more I think I see in him one example of how the two traditions are intertwined. But there is much much much more for me to discover, not to say read, before I can confirm this…much less flesh it out.

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