Book Review: A Treasury of Tennessee Churches by Mayme Hart Johnson

Mayme Hart JOHNSON. A Treasury of Tennessee Churches. Brentwood, TN: JM Productions, 1986. 142 pp.

Published during Tennessee’s “Homecoming ’86” Bicentennial celebration, Johnson’s book chronicles with text and photographs a wide sampling of houses of worship in the Volunteer State.  I counted 223 churches and synagogues in this diverse compilation.  Johnson shows us the comparatively primitive frontier log cabins and clapboarded frame meeting houses and the Gothic, Romanesque and Greek Revival santuaries of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  She also includes few modern variations of these styles constructed by larger urban congregations.  For each congregation Johnson has a brief text and photographer Doug Brachey has a corresponding photograph.  For every building Brachey has at least one photograph.  While most are black and white, many are color and he includes both interior and exterior views.

That Tennessee has so many churches poses a significant problem for authors of books such as this.  A volume highlighting the congregations of even one denomination would prove to be by itself unwieldy.    For that matter, a volume highlighting all the churches of Nashville alone could run into multiple volumes.  What Johnson and Brachey attempt, is, I think, a wise and fair compromise.  First of all they sought “outstanding examples” of the various styles of religious architecture.  Secondly, they sought out the oldest example available of each style.  Finally, they sought to showcase buildings associated with some famous personage in Tennessee history (e.g. Bishop McKendree or David Lipscomb). 

There are nineteen Stone-Campbell congregations featured in the book:

Central Christian Church, Murfreesboro

Central Church of Christ, McMinnville

Downtown Christian Church, Johnson City

East Main Church of Christ, Murfreesboro

Fayetteville Church of Christ, Fayetteville

First Christian Church, Knoxville

Fourth Avenue Church of Christ, Franklin

Gay-Lea Christian Church, Nashville

Granny White Church of Christ, Nashville

Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ, Nashville

Madison Church of Christ, Madison

Owen’s [sic, should be Owen Chapel] Chapel Church of Christ, Brentwood

Russell Street Church of Christ, Nashville

South Harpeth Church of Christ, Linton

Union City Church of Christ, Union City

Vine Street Christian Church, Nashville

West End Church of Christ, Nashville

Woodbury Church of Christ, Woodbury

Woodmont Christian Church, Nashville

I cannot speak to the accuracy of Johnson’s research on any area other than the churches listed above.  But in her brief essays (some are just a few sentences) there are some errors.  For example, she has the Lindsley Avenue Church constructing a “little building in 1894, and in 1920 they purchased the building which they now occupy from a Methodist church.”  Neither is true.  They constructed their first building in 1887 and purchased their current building from Grace Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  Grace Church was built in 1894 as a Cumberland Presbyterian Church, not a Methodist Church.  Additionally, prior to 1920 the congregation was known, variously, as South College Street Christian Church, South Nashville Christian Church or South College Street Church of Christ. 

Another example: Owen Chapel church is said to have been “built in 1859 on land donated by Jim C. Owen, who was baptized by James A. Harding, co-founder with David Lipscomb of David Lipscomb College in Nashville.”  The impression is left that Jim Owen was baptized by Harding prior to 1859 and then donated the land for the church.  James A. Harding in 1859 was eleven years old.  It is also ambiguous to speak of Harding and Lipscomb founding “David Lipscomb College.”  True, in a sense, but in fact, not so.  Harding and Lipscomb established the Nashville Bible School in 1891 thirty plus years after Owen’s Chapel was established.  Furthermore, Harding had not taught at the Nashville School for nearly twenty years…and Lipscomb was dead…before there ever existed an entity known as “David Lipscomb College.”  So, one could wish for a bit more perspicuity, especially concerning the details.

Now, on Ms. Johnson’s behalf, she very likely did the best she could with the sources available to her.  Further, since her research notes for the book are housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives it is possible to check her sources.  Another quick example: for Vine Street Christian Church she has a rather long (comparatively speaking…it is a column or more of text) description of the congregation.  My hunch is that it was supplied by someone at Vine Street…Eva Jean Wrather is suspect No. 1.  If Ms. Johnson was supplied information by a member at a congregation she likely had little reason to doubt its accuracy, especially when she had over two hundred churches on her radar screen for this book.  I think its fair to point this out.  I haven’t looked at her research at TSLA, but I’m interested to see what she had available to her.  At the same time, it is fair to point our inaccuracies and errors of fact.   

A Treasury of Tennessee Churches is out of print, but worth finding.  Johnson has written clear and succint descriptions and Brachey’s photographs provide not only illustration but documentation.  It may be that some of the buildings in this book are no longer standing.  It is an excellent starting point for historical research and a fine model for bringing academic and architectural research to the public in an accessible manner.  A volume like this for each county in Tennessee would be marvelous.   It is a beautiful book which accomplishes what it intends to do: to chronicle in brief text and photograph the rich treasury of Tennessee churches.

Book Review: Nashville Historical Newsletter Anthologies

Mike SLATE and Kathy LAUDER, eds. The Confederate Twenty-Dollar Irony and Other Essays from the Nashville Historical Newsletter. Nashville: Nashville Historical Newsletter, 2004. 72 pp.

Kathy LAUDER and Mike SLATE, eds. From Knickers to Body Stockings and Other Essays from the Nashville Historical Newsletter. Nashville: Nashville Historical Newsletter, 2006. 89 pp.

Editors Mike Slate and Kathy Lauder have compiled thirty-six short essays into two compact and well-illustrated volumes.  Authored by a wide range of Nashville natives, local historians, librarians, archivists and professionals, these essays touch upon the civic, political, economic, religious, military and cultural heritage of Nashville.  Each originally appeared either in the print or online version of the Nashville Historical Newsletter.  The essays are brief, clear and well-written.  They appear to be well-researched in the primary and secondary sources, but bibliographic information is wanting for many articles.  Though uneven in form, source lists and bibliographies are provided for several entries and both volumes are well-indexed.  Both volumes are richly adorned with supporting documentary, photographic and artistic illustrations, all in black and white.  Subjects for the essays range from the familiar to the obscure and they touch upon virtually every aspect of Nashville history.  Editors Slate and Lauder are to be commended for assembling a fine array of essays, in clear and readable form and presented in an attractive manner.  There are some books which become laborious after a few dozen pages.  There are other books which leave you wanting more.  This pair of short collections leaves me wanting more.   History of this sort…brief, accessible, responsible, interesting… certainly fills an empty niche in the literature on Nashville history.  You will be pleased with them.

Explorations in Stone-Campbell Bibliography: Addendum to 2009 Year-in-Review

Last week I quickly surveyed a few books published in 2009 which I think merit attention for their contribution to Stone-Campbell studies.  I neglected to include a milestone publication in Biblical studies.  About this time last year ACU Press issued The Transforming Word, a one-volume commentary on the Bible. 

It is a landmark achievement in that it is the first multi-authored one-volume commentary produced from within the Stone-Campbell movement (each of the three major streams are represented among its authors, although most authors are from Churches of Christ). Also, about six weeks ago it was announced that Books-A-Million will carry it in each of its retail stores, making it the first such volume of “ours” available in this way to the wider reading public. 

There has been a consistently strong tradition of commenting on the Biblical text from within the movement, particularly on the New Testament.  We have not published many commentaries on the Old Testament and still fewer commentaries engaged (much less employed) the methodologies of current Biblical scholarship for the sake of a wide readership.  Only in the last generation or so have Churches of Christ commentators with the highest academic credentials (Ph.D.’s in their field of publication) published commentaries and most of these have been for the academic community.  Our emphasis, historically, has favored in-house commentaries which eschewed “technical questions.” 

Now, whether you agree with this emphasis or not, and whether they acheived their purposes or even did a good job, is another matter for future posts.  The Transforming Word  is the first of its kind, and for this reason alone I think it should have been included in my earlier list.  As I have opportunity to read it, study with it, and read reviews of it, I may weigh in again on its merits.  For that matter, I smell a few installments of Explorations about commentaries brewing already.

Tolle lege!

Explorations in Stone-Campbell Bibliography: 2009 Year-In-Review

As we turn the page next week, I think it appropriate to review the year’s literature in the broad field of Stone-Campbell studies.  Though the publishers seem to have scaled back the volume of new titles, several significant studies came our way this year.  I make no claims for thoroughness here; no doubt I’m overlooking something.  If you think so, please chime in with a comment.  I’m concentrating here on Restoration history and theology that engages our history. The list below is in no particular order.

I think it safe to say the volume we have waited for the longest is the third installment of Eva Jean Wrather’s biography on Alexander Campbell.  Alexander Campbell: Adenturer in Freedom, A Literary Biography Volume 3 completes the set which was to have been published in the late 1940’s.  The manuscript, numbering 850 pages with 800,000 words, took her about 70 years to write.  Through a series of ups and downs (see the preface to volume 1 for the details) the mss did not to see the light of day until after Wrather died.  D. Duane Cummins edited with Eva Jean’s oversight the entirety of what is volume 1.  Her declining health prohibited her from assisting with the remainder.  Volume 1 appeared in 2005, volume 2 in 2007 and volume 3 in 2009.  Issued in three nicely done hardcovers by Texas Christian University Press, Wrather’s set will take its place beside Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell as required reading for AC.  We wish Eva Jean used footnotes, but she did not.  Nonetheless, the set is a significant achievement.

And the Word Became Flesh: Studies in History, Communication, and Scripture in Memory of Michael W. Casey edited by Thomas H. Olbricht and David Fleer (Pickwick Publications) was presented to the public at the 2009 Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb University in July.  It contains a number of first class essays on Restoration history as well as several other engaging essays in a wide range of areas such as Biblical studies, Biblical theology, rhetoric, communication and peace studies.  Mike made a significant contribution to Stone-Campbell studies, particularly Churches of Christ.  This collection is a fitting tribute to Mike and his work; they fill several previously empty niches in Restoration history. 

W. Dennis Helsabeck, Jr., History prof at Milligan College, has added to the work of Gary Holloway and Doug Foster in producing Renewal for Mission: A Concise History of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (ACU Press).  The first several chapters appeared some years ago under the title Renewing God’s People: A Concise History of Churches of Christ (2001; with Study Guide in 2006).  Helsabeck picks up where Holloway and Foster leave off in 1907 and takes the reader through the particular history of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (sometimes called Independent Christian Churches or 4-C’s).  I suggest it as a first-read for 4-C’s, followed by longer works such as those by James B. North and Henry Webb.

Lawrence A. Q. Burnley has rendered a needed service in situating the agency of African Americans in the Christian Church in denominational, historical, educational and racial contexts.  The Cost of Unity: African-American Agency and Education in the Christian Church, 1865-1914 (Mercer University Press) breaks new ground by contextualizing African American educational initiatives in this way.  In other words, Larry does here what hasn’t been done before.  He brings needed attention and analysis to what has largely been glossed over, footnoted or ignored in Stone-Campbell history. 

Earl Kimbrough’s massive biography of F. B. Srygley is another welcome addition to our literature.  The Warrior from Rock Creek: Life, Times, and Thoughts of F. B. Sryley, 1859-1940 (Religious Supply Center, Louisville, KY) nears 650 pages and touches upon every issue or controversy in Churches of Christ during Srygley’s lifetime.  One cannot hardly read an issue of the Gospel Advocate from the later 1880’s until 1940 and miss a Srygley.  I have not yet completed a close reading of Kimbrough’s book, but I have read much in it.  From what I have read, I commend it as a thorough  and well-researched biography. 

Lastly, The Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation (Chalice Press) from D. Duane Cummins is especially welcome for its emphasis on recent Disciples history (recent as in mid-twentieth century until now).  As with Earl’s biography of Srygley, I intend to give Duane’s latest book a careful read.  From what portions I have read, I expect to learn much.

Tolle lege!

Book Review: George Zepp’s Hidden History of Nashville

George R. ZEPP. Hidden History of Nashville. Charleston: The History Press, 2009. 160 pp.

George Zepp has compiled here over four dozen of his weekly “Learn Nashville” columns from Nashville’s paper, The Tennessean.  The success of the column—not only is it a local favorite, many out-of-towners regularly read it online—evinces Nashville’s locals, natives and friends desire to remain connected to their city’s past.  Zepp’s columns, and now this book, admirably fulfill their need.  He tackles local lore, larger-than-life legends, rumors, and tall-tales. He reaches back into the early days when Nashville was a wilderness outpost (one column describes how settler Timothy Demonbreun lived in a cave midway up the bluff on the Cumberland River) as well as the haunts and landmarks still alive in more recent memory (the spooky mansion on what is now Music Row).   He reveals the famous, infamous and obscure in well-researched, brief and highly accessible vignettes.  The scope is necessarily wide enough and the research is sufficiently deep enough to interest both the casual reader and satisfy those with more rigorous historical inclinations.  Numerous black-and-white photographs add considerably to the book’s historical as well as visual appeal. Regrettably, it is not indexed.  The inclusion of one in a future printing will increase significantly the book’s usefulness as a research tool.  I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Nashville history.  

Book Review: Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today

coverpichebIn short, I highly recommend Edward Fudge’s new commentary on Hebrews.  I have found it intellectually rigorous, exegetically responsible, theologically rich and pastorally sensitive.

I review this book from the perspective of one who has taught Hebrews on numerous occasions in both academic and congregational settings.  In my own ministry I have attempted to do what Fudge proposes to do in this book: to marry the head, the heart and the hands of the interpreter as well as those of his/her audience.  That is, I, along with Fudge, propose to bring both intellectual rigor and spiritual vitality to the exegetical task.  In Fudge’s language, this is a “bridge commentary” for the “serious Bible student who seeks scholarly content in non-technical terms” (p. 19).  It is an attempt to do in print what all of us who are confessing Christian exegetes ought to do with our lives: to allow and foster and seek a dynamic relationship between the life of the mind and the life of faith.  In this effort I congratulate him, because in my estimation he has done very well.

The book is arranged in a straightforward and simple way.  He has divided the text of Hebrews into 48 pericopae.  This alone betrays careful thought and analysis of the letter and comparison of a vast amount of literature and commentaries (no two commentators divide Hebrews in quite the same way).  Each pericope forms the basis for a chapter of the book which contains a title, the text, a “Why and Wherefore” explanation and commentary proper under the subtitle “Unpacking the Text.”  I find this arrangement most helpful and natural for thorough exegesis in narrative form such as Fudge proposes.  As I read the thought occurred to me over and over again: Edward Fudge has not only studied Hebrews, he has taught Hebrews.

His exegesis is based on the Greek text, but the absence of Greek in this case is a plus since a majority of his intended audience likely do not have the capacity to grasp these sorts of technical grammatical discussions. Instead, Fudge has compiled (from KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, ESV and HCSB) what he terms The Common Version.  No matter what version of the Bible is used by members of a Bible class, there will be substantial agreement between it and the text used in this commentary.

The introductory chapter is brief and addresses only the most essential information preliminary to exegesis.  Since many of the introductory matters concerning Hebrews are hypothetical, there is no real loss in Fudge’s brevity; it is adequate for the task at hand.  His bibliography is substantial and reflects his wide reading across denominational and confessional lines.  He has interacted with critical, mainstream Protestant, conservative and moderate evangelical as well as Catholic monographs and periodical literature.  By my count there are 51 monographs, 83 articles and 25 other reference works.   He has examined much of the relevant literature on Hebrews published in English this century.  Of these there are 27 items from authors of Stone-Campbell persuasion.  There are, however, some omissions of Churches of Christ scholarship from his bibliography: Burton Coffman, George DeHoff, E. M. Zerr are commentators widely read in Churches of Christ but not found here.  Also of significance is R. H. Boll’s short monograph.  Missing are the Annual Lesson Commentary notes on Hebrews, the 2006 Freed-Hardeman Lectures (particularly Jack Lewis’ and Kevin Youngblood’s chapters), and the Transforming Word Commentary just out from ACU Press.

I read in detail his exegesis of these pericopae: 1.1-4; 4.14-16; 5.11-6.3; 6.4-12; 7.1-3 and 12.18-24.  Fudge has provided for us a responsible historical-critical exegesis grounded in the language and structure of the text, sensitive to the social and rhetorical situation in life of the authors and recipients (as far as is known or hypothesized) and, furthermore, one that is pastorally sensitive in its application of the message of the text.  Fudge examines well both what it meant for the original author and recipients and he attends to what this text means for Christians today.

Where the text is ambiguous, Fudge trusts his readers enough to let them know such.  When the text is open to a possible interpretations, Fudge fairly presents options in clear terms.  Whether or not one agrees with specific points of interpretation, it will be clear that he is fair to the evidence and supports his conclusions with exegesis and theology.  As I read, I noted that in those places where I disagreed I felt compelled to “search the Scriptures more diligently.”  I am not at all surprised this book has received favorable reviews across a wide Christian spectrum.  Fudge has done his homework and is fair to the evidence; he also has something to teach us, and does so with clarity, candor and earnest spiritual concern.

I am pleased to recommend it; and I shall be pleased to use it as the Lord gives me opportunity to teach and preach from Hebrews in the future.

Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today

coverpichebEdward Fudge has a new book coming out.  Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is a narrative commentary intended to bridge the gap between scholarly discourse and popular exposition.  Tomorrow I will post to this blog my review of the book. Today though I will give the necessary info about how you can get your copy (my review will be positive: I think you should get a copy) and a few preliminary remarks Edward sent me.

Edward Fudge is an attorney, living in Houston, who cares deeply about the life of the mind and living out the faith in the marketplace.  His online presence is at  I first learned of him in high school (when I read his little pamphlet on tongues-speaking).  In college I came to appreciate his heritage in Churches of Christ from reading his autobiographical Beyond the Sacred Page and his scholarship in his earlier commentary on Hebrews (Our Man in Heaven) and in his in-depth study of endless punishment (The Fire That Consumes).  I have for years been on the receiving end of his occasional email ministry GracEmail.  It was through the email list that he announced his new book and asked for volunteers to read and review it on their blogs. 

The book will be available in print in a few weeks from Leafwood Publishers.  All the necessary information about how to get your copy is on the Leafwood website.

Here is a Q/A which covers the introductory bases well: 

A neglected book


Q:        Hebrews is not a book we hear discussed very often. Why do you suppose that is the case?


EWF:  You are right about that. This neglect is very unfortunate, in my view, because Hebrews is one of the most Jesus-focused, gospel-packed books in the New Testament. You will see the evidence for that on almost every page of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.


Q:        Why do most people miss this focus?


EWF:  It comes from a lack of real study of Hebrews. Folks go away from it without ever seeing and appreciating the book’s real message. They assume it is just an old book about even older Jewish rituals, sacrifices and priests, with no meaning or value for them. 


Who wrote Hebrews?


Q:        Do you know who wrote Hebrews?


EWF:  I know as much about it as anyone else, which is finally nothing for sure! J Origen told the truth about two centuries after Christ when he said that the author “is known to God alone.” It almost certainly was not Paul, for a variety of reasons. My personal vote among the candidates goes either to Barnabas or to Apollos.


Q:        Why do you favor Barnabas?


EWF:  The author of Hebrews calls his own work a “word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22). The same Greek expression is found at Acts 13:15, where it is translated as “word of encouragement.” There, Paul and Barnabas are invited to address a Sabbath synagogue audience, which they do for the next 31 verses. Their remarks are called a “word of encouragement.” Not only is Barnabas involved in that, his name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) – a comment on one of his chief characteristics. He is also a Levite, who would be very interested in the subjects of priesthoods, sacrifices, and their results. These themes  permeate Hebrews and can also encourage us today, as I show in Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.


Q:        What can you say in favor of Apollos?


EWF:  Well, for starters he is called “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). This fits Hebrews very well since its author clearly was exceedingly familiar with his ‘Bible,’ which was the “Old Testament” as we call it. (Hebrews actually tells the Story of the Son of God — from heaven to earth and back to heaven again — based on four different Psalms.) Apollos was also “an eloquent man,” as was the author of Hebrews). And he was from Alexandria, Egypt – a city of learning noted for a particular type of Scripture interpretation. The author of Hebrews reads his Bible in a similar manner.



Why was Hebrews written?


Q:        Do we know why Hebrews was written?


EWF:  Yes we do, although we don’t know exactly to whom, when, where, or precisely what was going on. But we do know that, for a variety of reasons, the original recipients of Hebrews were worn out, disheartened, tempted, and seemingly about ready to walk away from their faith. The book hints at some possible causes, including persecution, passing of time, being misfits in their culture, the appeal of sin, and so forth.


Q:        That situation sounds very up-to-date! How does the author of Hebrews respond to it?


EWF:  I love it! To revive his readers’ spirits and to renew their commitment, the unknown author re-tells the Story – the story of the Son of God who became a man, to live and die as our representative, and who is now in heaven representing us as our High Priest. Hebrews is thoroughly focused on Jesus! Its message is always contemporary. We can never go wrong by focusing on the Savior himself. I am very pleased that several reviewers have described Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today in those same terms.


A ‘bridge’ commentary


Q:        You call Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today a “bridge” commentary. What does that mean?


EWF:  When it comes to Bible studies, there are two worlds out there which often never come together. One is the ivory-tower world of academic specialists with all their scholarly issues and technical jargon. The other world is where most believers live and work and worship. Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today attempts to bridge this gap. For example, I worked from the Greek text of Hebrews but Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today doesn’t have a single Greek word in it. Although the bibliography covers eight pages and includes 80+ scholarly articles from theological journals, this book uses everyday language. By linking scholarship with simplicity, I hope to give the reader the best of both worlds.


A narrative-style book


Q:        You also describe Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today as a “narrative-style” commentary. Tell us about that.


EWF:  That refers to the fact that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is written as flowing narrative, although it discusses each verse of Hebrews in detail. It does this in 48 chapters, each covering a portion of the Scripture text. Each chapter begins with a very short section called “Why & Wherefore,” which relates that section to the big picture. That is followed by “Unpacking the Text,” which goes into detail, but in narrative style, with subheads to make it read more like a typical book.




Q:        I see that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is already endorsed by a considerable variety of notable scholars and church leaders, even before its release. Isn’t that a bit unusual?


EWF:  What is somewhat uncommon in the case of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is the theological and international diversity of the endorsements. Hebrews contains a number of quite controversial passages, about which Christian “tribes” traditionally disagree. I am very pleased, therefore, that this book is recommended by knowledgeable reviewers across the spectrum.


For example, the quotes on the back cover of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today come from Methodist, Calvinist, Church of Christ, Baptist, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal and Emergent church scholars. The full text of these seven endorsements, plus 29 others, fills the first six pages of the book. You can read the endorsements online already, with photos, biographical comments and (where applicable) website links of the reviewers here