Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ, Part 1

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 protected] 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 —

Review by John Dobbs

Review by Nick Gill

Review by Al Maxey

Review by Gil Yoder, Part 1

Review by Gil Yoder, Part 2

Review by Gil Yoder, Part 3

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ, Part 1

  1. mattdabbs says:

    Thank you for reminding me of this book. I read about it on John's blog and now here. I will be getting a copy. Books like this are needed every so often to correct our corrective tendencies. Much of what we find so dogmatic in many conservative churches of Christ are the swinging of the pendulum of much that was seen as a turn off to denominationalism and denominational churches. For instance we don't use the word witness or testimony even though those are perfectly useful words to use to describe talking with someone about Christ or our own conversion simply because "that's what those denominational people say" and not because the term is without merit.

    Without having read the book I at least can applaud the effort to help people see that the corrective often swings so far from what we were trying to avoid that we end up doing just as bad of things if not worse ourselves in the process.

    Jay, I also want to say thank you for this blog. It has been a blessing to me lately.

  2. Robbie Underwood says:

    I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard myself or others mention someone being saved, only to be amended or corrected along the lines of "they obeyed the Gospel" (a perfectly good term in and of itself, but by no means exclusive in scripture). It's one thing to be looked at funny for valid premises of points of doctrine: it's quite another to engage in these petty spitting contests that do little to bring honor and glory to Christ…….

    I have read Todd's book and find it to be profound for its concise articulation of the current dilemma. If you read this book, please read it minus any preconceptions (only what we ask others to do)

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  4. Eric Ramseur says:

    I am of the mind that there is only Biblical and Unbiblical. There is no in between spoken of in the Bible. For the sake of this blog entry, let's call it conservative and progressive. It seems that if no one can agree on the standard, then there is a defining word for everyone other than conservative and progressive. It all comes back to, people want to play fast and loose with scripture. Paul says, anyone who preaches a different gospel than the one he preached is to be accursed. I see 'conservative' and 'liberal' churches who are to be accursed. This is not a grace situation. People want to hang on to, "well, God's grace will cover it." What makes people so sure? 2 Thess 3:14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. This is a fellowship issue

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Eric wrote,

    This is not a grace situation. People want to hang on to, “well, God’s grace will cover it.” What makes people so sure? 2 Thess 3:14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. This is a fellowship issue

    Are you suggesting that there is no grace at all for any doctrinal error? Yes or no.

    If there is no grace at all for any doctrinal error, then we must agree on literally every doctrine to be saved. I don't think anyone actually believes that, although many have said that.

    If grace covers some mistakes, obviously enough, it doesn't cover all mistakes (I'm no universalist). Therefore, some doctrines are within grace and some are not. If so, how do we tell which ones?

    The conservatives have utterly failed to articulate a defensible standard. Therefore, their position is bankrupt, even incoherent.

    Of course, for me to say that, I have to be willing to meet the same test myself, and I have in several places. My first serious effort is posted at The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace.

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  8. Dan Moran says:

    The dividing line is sin. If one is engaged in deliberate… and continues in deliberate sin, they are not in the grace of God nor should be welcomed into fellowship. Making church attendance, communion and the 5 magical items of worship the primary reason for our Christian existence is the failure among the churches. Taking the NT and making it a legislation of law destroys its message of salvation, freedom from sin, from the law’s death penalty and from a loving brotherhood. If we knew how to divide the OT from the NT we would fare better, live happier and love more divinely.

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