A book review I just wrote.
Todd Deaver. Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ, Oliver Springs, Tennessee: self-published, 2008. No ISBN; 135 pages; $9.95 plus $2.95 shipping and handling; email@example.com or (865) 435-9471. Forward by Dr. Randy Willingham.
This may be the most important book produced within the Restoration Movement in many decades. If it receives the response it deserves, the Churches of Christ will be dramatically changed for the better. Either the Churches will better articulate why we take the position on fellowship that we do, or else we’ll admit our inconsistencies and begin the search for a better position.
For many years now, the Churches have been increasingly divided between, for want of better terms, a “conservative” movement and a “progressive” movement. There are many points of disagreement, but the central disagreement is over the grounds for fellowship: whom should we consider saved?
Deaver meticulously and respectfully reviews conservative Church of Christ literature to determine what the Churches have said is their theology of fellowship. He then compares the articulated theology with our theology in practice. He finds that there is no single theology. Rather, each writer has a different standard for who remains saved (and so in fellowship) and who should be treated as fallen away.
Many seem to argue that any false doctrine or practice damns. Others argue for a standard distinguishing certain damning error from non-damning error. But even our most influential conservative writers do not agree on a single standard.
Moreover, Deaver convincingly demonstrates that no one consistently applies the standard that he articulates. Rather, each writer makes exceptions contrary to his stated position — often providing a much broader scope of fellowship in practice than would be expected from what’s been written.
Deaver’s book is heavily footnoted, giving the positions of many well-known contemporary authors. He’s done a masterful job of showing our inconsistency. And yet he offers no alternative position, instead promising a future book that will propose a better standard. For now, he only wishes to make the point that the doctrine of fellowship currently taught within the conservative Churches of Christ is internally inconsistent, not built on the scriptures, and never consistently applied.
He challenges his readers to offer, if not a different doctrine, a better justification for it — or else to admit that our fellowship doctrine must be rethought entirely.
A number of people have already posted blogs summarizing and reviewing this book. I commend to your reading –
Now, of these, only Gil Yoder would be considered a part of the conservative movement. And even though Al Maxey mentioned the book in June, and Yoder reviewed it in October, it received no other mention on the internet until John Dobbs’ review a few days ago. Such is the difficulty of getting the word out on books that challenge conservative orthodoxy (neither the conservative nor the progressive press has any interest).
Yoder is to be commended for linking to ordering information and linking to Maxey’s review. This is the sort of intellectual honesty that allows for brotherly debate.