Gospel Advocate: “That Liberalism Among Us”


Not the July 2014 issue, which actually has a typewriter on the cover. Young readers: We used typewriters back before computers were invented. They were made out of T Rex bones.

I subscribe to the Gospel Advocate. I just like keeping up with the more conservative wing of the Churches of Christ, and the Gospel Advocate is pretty typical of the “mainstream” conservative Churches.

In a very interesting turn, the July 2014 issue includes a reprint of a 1968 article by Batsell Barrett Baxter. Baxter was the face of the Churches of Christ in the “Herald of Truth” TV broadcasts of the 1960s and chairman of the Lipscomb Bible department. That is, he was as prominent as one could get in Church of Christ circles.

At the top of the page, this text is quoted in a large font–

Real liberalism is a denial of the existence of God or the denial of the inspiration of the authority of the Bible.

Near the end, Baxter writes,

To label anybody with whom we differ in our brotherhood as “a liberal” hinders the fight against real liberalism. By being patently untrue, it actually pushes the thoughtful, faithful Christian toward the position of real liberals and hurts the cause of sound Christian doctrine and practice.

Amen. For far too long, we’ve tolerated the abuse of language in an effort to marginalize our opponents through slander — as though the ends might justify the means. And yet, ultimately, it’s the slanderer whose cause is most hurt.

The Churches of Christ have a long history of labeling our internal opponents as non-Christians. We shout “Liberal!” “Situation Ethics!” “Secular Humanism!” “New Hermeneutic!” “Postmodern!’ and on and on it goes, when rarely do these terms actually apply to our Church of Christ opponents.

In fact, the issues that divide our Churches are about what the Bible says, not whether the Bible is true. It’s about interpretation, not inspiration.

And I’m thrilled that the editors of the Gospel Advocate have deemed Bro. Baxter’s article worthy of reprinting. It’s an important reminder and an important step toward a better, more production conversation about what the Bible really says.

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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29 Responses to Gospel Advocate: “That Liberalism Among Us”

  1. Gary says:

    Baxter basically threw himself into the breach between CoC conservatives and moderates at the infamous 1973 Memphis meeting and thereby helped the CoC to avoid schism. The cause celebre among conservatives then was the Herald of Truth. They were prepared to divide the church over their opposition to its alledged liberalism but they were not powerful enough to do so in the face of Baxter’s public stand for Herald of Truth. By now there is an effective division in Churches of Christ as the most conservative congregations have divided themselves from the rest but Baxter’s action in Memphis probably delayed division for at least a generation. Baxter could sound pretty conservative himself at times (such as criticising churches that observed Christmas) but overall he was a great peacemaker for Churches of Christ. His mantle fell on Harold Hazelip who continued to lead in a more progressive direction.

  2. Dwight says:

    I try not ot read any of the Christian publications, except the Bible of course. These artilces in these magizines tend to preach to the choir and tend to focus on what others are doing wrong and/or what we are doing right. They are alignment tools that speak as truth and as if they have the authority, where as the authority is scripture. Now having said that there are some very good articles in them, but sometimes very bad and to disagree with the article is like disagreeing with God, except they are not God. I am not against writings, but writings (the writers) should allow for some pushback and scriptural correction and be humble, which is hardly the case with many of these publications.

  3. Mark says:

    I figure most people who are hurling “liberal” as an insult don’t realize what liberal Christianity really is. I have seen liberal Christianity basically put the Bible on the same levels as Aesop’s fables. Basically, it is a nice story book that may or may not be true. Those opponents branded as liberals are often people sitting on the same pew as those hurling the accusations. I guess the schism has already occurred though it was a quiet one.

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  5. Dwight says:

    Liberal is scriptural, but it was used in the context of giving with liberality or freely without concern for anything but the need. The word has been misaligned and misused, much like denomination. We throw words around and have our own meanings to define them and the people we throw them at. In giving we should be liberal and in love and in many things and should not be conservative. but should be consdervative with God’s word. So a Christian should be liberal and conservative or just a Christian. The more we put labels on others and segment them the chances are that God is putting a label on us in the same way.

  6. Monty says:

    Dwight said,

    “They are alignment tools that speak as truth and as if they have the authority,”

    Well said. The word creed comes to mind, exactly what Stone/Campbell were opposed to.

  7. Wes Dawson says:

    While I agree with the above article almost completely, I could not help but notice the terms “conservative” and “mainline”. In my opinion, these terms along with “anti” and other such terms used to describe those who do not agree with us are just as dangerous as “liberal” and “liberalism”. Personally, my beliefs have changed and I hope matured in my 67 years. My position has been all over the place at one time or another and finally settled somewhere in the middle. Noticed the way I phrased that, my position depends entirely on my personal view of it and the Bible. Others might view me as elsewhere. I will not use that to deride them and I hope they will extend me the same courtesy. As long as that is true we can discuss any differences without debating them. We need to forget labels.

  8. Dwight says:

    Wes speaks wisdom. LAbles compartmentalize us by well…labels and tht is the first tihing we see instead of the person. Jesus and the apostles never said to the saints, “Call yourselves Christian.” Man called the saints Christian and it was a good descriptor, but not carved into stone by God. Even the Corinthans were chided for lining up behind names and contending with each other. Names, at least names that we decide upon are the definition of denominational, but this is not the danger, the danger is when we put those names as our only names and separate along those names, which is sectarinism. Denomination is not bad, as Christian is a denomination of Christ, but sectarianism is, even in the name of Christ.

  9. Mark says:

    If you can not listen to some else’s point of view without hurling an insult, then you have a major problem. Notice I did not say believing it, just listening to it. This is why it bothers me when university students can’t listen to an opposing viewpoint at commencement and caused all the stink over some speakers back in March to May. It is the same as some lectureships appearing to have a “blacklist” of speakers who can’t be invited. It screams that there is nothing that can be learned from someone with whom you disagree even slightly.

  10. Gary says:

    Mark, one such incident last year in the city I live in involved a physician who had gone out of his way to allude to gays as being comparable to practitioners of bestiality and pederasty. In that instance he insulted a number of the very students who would be in the graduation ceremony he was invited to address. It’s not surprising that they and a host of fairminded straight students then strenuously objected to his addressing them at their graduation. I believe in freedom of speech but I think many people don’t understand that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of one’s speech. When someone insults others and makes irrational and outrageous claims they should not be surprised when their opportunities to speak publicly are reduced. When addressing idol worshippers in Athens in Acts 17 Paul did not insult them but went out of his way to compliment them and to establish common ground with them that would make dialogue possible.

  11. Mark says:

    I think the speaker should be invited there in advance of commencement for a talk followed by a public Q&A session where he can defend his position. Both the right and the left in the US tend to make comments and then jump behind the fence where they are protected. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from speech I don’t like. It means I can speak too. The right always protects rightist speakers and the left protects their own as well. Churches and universities will have speakers that people may not agree with and leadership will insulate the person and prevent any public discussion of the controversial issue. It is the insulation and forbidding of discussion that does not set well with me.

  12. Dwight says:

    Among Christians we have a tendency to use the as a dagger and we do more harm to the person and the weilder than help in the end. Among Christians we don’t know how to talk to each other about God and this translates into we don’t know how to talk to others. We have become debaters where we are defending our positon rather than discussers reasoning with the scripture. The conservative side is very much in this vein. It is lack of humility and caring. I have on two occasions given my work to another for critiquing who agreed to do so and then had my preacher come back to me in hand with that study telling me I am wrong for teaching it. I am still upset, but then again it is hard to be totally upset when this is the attitude we have been fostering.

  13. While Wes’ point is well-taken, my experience in this specific instance is that CoC folks tend to prefer to be sub-denominated when their particular views are under discussion. Fail to do this and be accused of tarring the whole group with a broad brush. Progressives will deny holding certain views which conservatives hold as holy writ. The best we can probably do here is let each member decide which sub-denomination he wishes to be identified with. Or if he wants to decline any such association at all.

  14. Wes Dawson says:

    That was indeed my point that I decline any denominational or sub-denominational association. Though I obeyed the gospel during a gospel meeting at a church of Christ and was baptized by a Church of Christ preacher, I view all who are penitent, baptized, believers in Christ as my brothers and sisters regardless of what they call themselves. I believe that we must be One In Jesus as brother Guin’s blog title indicates, and as Paul pointed out to the Corinthians who were calling themselves by divisive names. Apparently they were even using the name of Christ to divide themselves.

    Salvation is a more personal thing than most of us seem to think. In the end, the Lord will not ask where did you attend worship. He will be asking what we did with our own life and how well we carried his message of love and salvation to others.

  15. Dwight says:

    Also a nother r tendency is to put the local “church” first in association, when really it is Christ and then Christ body/congregtion that is first in the ladder. One of the things I have learned lately is that if you call yourself a name you denominate yourself, which isn’t sinful in itself. After all if you call yourself a Christian you are a denomination of Christ. But when we use that name and tie ourselves to only that name and refuse other names and then align ourselves to that name, we have crossed over into sectarianism or separating ourself out, which is wrong. I know of many who say that the only scriptural name is coC, but then will admit that name Assembly of God is scriptural, but this doesn’t make them right and then admit that there are coC that are wrong, so in the end the name makes no difference at all, which they won’t admit to. The biggest struggle is to get away from name calling and dividing along those names and get back to Christ. As seen in the government it is often harder to back away from something once it has been set in motion.

  16. Jay Guin says:

    Wes wrote,

    While I agree with the above article almost completely, I could not help but notice the terms “conservative” and “mainline”. In my opinion, these terms along with “anti” and other such terms used to describe those who do not agree with us are just as dangerous as “liberal” and “liberalism”.


    I was for many decades a member of the mainstream, conservative Churches of Christ and we referred to ourselves as “mainstream” (as opposed to the non-institutional, no Sunday School, and one cuppers, etc.) Churches of Christ. We thought of ourselves as “conservative.” I try to refer to subgroups within the Churches of Christ by the terms they themselves prefer. When I correspond with preachers and elders among the conservative Churches of Christ, they often refer to themselves as “conservative” without any evident discomfort.

    Just so, I’m familiar with the vitriol that usually accompanies “anti” and so, as suggested by non-institutional readers here and non-institutional friends of mine, I say “non-institutional.”

    If all labels are banned, then conversation about the groups and their views becomes well nigh impossible — and it’s a conversation that continues to be very much needed. I mean, we can’t improve the division by refusing to talk about it.

    On the other hand, I am not “liberal” and to call me a “liberal” is a slander for the reasons stated by Baxter. Hence, I prefer “progressive” — although I don’t wear the term comfortably. I just haven’t been able to think of a better one.

    I’ve often opened the floor for the readers to suggest a better vocabulary. Lately I’ve been thinking of “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” as possibilities. Although these terms have carried all sorts of meanings over the years, in current usage, the progressive elements of the Churches of Christ are somewhere in the evangelical spectrum, and while I was part of the conservative Church of Christ sub-community, I would have been comfortable being called “fundamentalist,” that is, until the press began using “Muslim fundamentalist” to mean “terrorist,” which kinda ruined the word. And “evangelical” carries its own baggage.

    So I’m out of ideas.

  17. Dwight says:

    I think Jay makes a valid point. When we approach a baker we call him a baker, beccause that is what he does and what he considers himself to be, even though he doesn’t always bake all of time. We call people by what they do and call themselves. But that person is not “the baker” as in the only baker wohthy to be called that. About the only exception to this rule is “the Christ” where there is only one of Him. But we can associate things with people by what they do, but being careful not to lock them in that way. When we as churches lock ourselves in under one name we are making a sectarian distinction, because we usually disregard all other decriptves of us and use that to separate from others of other names. I consider myself to be a progressive primitive in that I think that I am progressing towards what the 1st century saints thought, but this is only my opinion of myself and others will define me by other names. It is what happens.

  18. Stubbs says:

    Not a fan of the Progressive label. Something along the lines of “extended fellowship” seems like a better description. Jesus extended fellowship to all; well beyond the traditional lines and comfort-level of religious leaders and some of his followers. We can have sound, Christ-centered biblical teaching while extending our fellowship to other believers, all races, all people (especially those that may make us uncomfortable at first) and all geographies.
    Traditionally we conservatives set up so many barriers in fellowshipping others and in my experience liberals are in-tolerant of others that do not believe as they do.

  19. Dwight says:

    Perhaps saint, Christian, disciple of Christ, brother, child of God is a better descriptive than anything. I had a friend that called himself a legalist, because he argued that he followed the commands of God, well yes we are commanded to love God, but if we are doing it only becuase of the command we are missing the point. We are to love God in the same way He loved us and God was under no command to love us.

  20. Wes Dawson says:

    Jay, Dwight, Stubbs:

    You are right about the fact that it is hard to express the beliefs you are speaking of without some sort of label. Otherwise, it requires a lengthy explanation. I tend to do the explanation which often loses people who are impatient with long explanations.

    It was being derisively labelled “Progressive” that led me to your blog and others like it, so maybe being labelled can be a good thing. I still am not sure that the label was accurate in my case, but I have learned many things as a result.

    There seems to be more patience, love, concern, searching the scriptures, and other good things than I have found elsewhere. Maybe not perfection, but certainly pressing toward the mark.


  21. Dwight says:

    Lables and slogans are too often used. We are often more dynamic and complex than our label or slogan would seem to indicate. Within the religious community we rely a lot on slogans or tag lines to say and promote a thought to the outside world, but this really says little about what is on the inside. We tell others what we think we are or what we want them to know, but that may or may not be the truth. The Pharisees went around looking holy, but were less than so. The humble Jesus looked like a vagrant, but was a King, prophet and priest. On singular items lables are good, but on people who are complex they can sy too little and imply too much. But alas we have them and it is hard to break the mind set on ourselves and others.

  22. George Guild says:

    “Christian.” “Saved (by God’s grace).” “Child of God.” Of these titles, I like “Christian” best of all. “We are Christians ONLY, but NOT the only Christians,” is a slogan that is new to me. I am not a “dyed in the wool” church of Christ-er. In other words I was not raised in this denomination, but have been apart of it for about 15 years.

    It has been difficult learning the specialized language because when I was told of the “Church” I had no idea that this was actually code for “we are the only ones going to heaven (the quite small congregation in the city of which we live).” This excluded everyone else Not associated by their attendance to their building on Sunday. Along with other words, it took me a long time to balance and recognize how “Liberal” was also a specialized term that would have passed un-noticed by those who were not initiated.

    This specialized language reminds me of when I was studying occultist groups, who intentionally use a specialized language to conceal their meaning to those un-initiated.

    “We are Christians ONLY, but NOT the only Christians,” is very useful and a slogan that I know hold dear.

    To me this (above slogan) makes better sense than “We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent.” –OKAY, WHERE IS THAT IN THE BIBLE?– I have not found it. When in truth churches of Christ are ALWAYS speaking on what the Bible is silent about. Example: Where in the Bible are the Hermeneutical rules of “Direct Command, Approved Example, and Necessary Inference”??? Book, Chapter, and Verse please.

    I prefer the rather large term of being called a “CHRISTIAN” over any other. I prefer the SEE (via fruit) if someone else is also a Christian, instead of automatically excluding someone from God’s Kingdom.

    What I have realized is that when people say Who is a Christian and Who is not according to things NOT written in Scripture, THEY ARE TAKING CHRIST OFF HIS THRONE, AND PLACING THEMSELVES AS JUDGE.

    Romans 14:4 “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (ESV)”

    When someone calls you a “Liberal” they are making a judgment. Are their definitions common or occultic? Better yet Would Jesus Call You a Liberal? If Jesus would not call you a “Liberal” then those who label you such are passing false judgment on a servant of Jesus.

  23. George Guild says:

    To help clarify my point a bit… a “Liberal” Christian is one that holds to a different philosophy than the true genuine, Bible revealed Christianity.

    Not a political party leaning (like Democrat, left, far left liberal). NT Judean parties: Pharisees conservative party, Sadducees liberal party, and Herodian Roman progressive/regressive – any way that Caesar went – party. So are we Pharisees conservative party Christians, Sadducees liberal party Christians, and Herodian Roman progressive/regressive party Christians?

    How about just Christians (and not the only Christians).

    A “Liberal Christian” is a contradiction. In other words you can not deny Christ (liberal) and be a Christian. For someone to claim that you are “Liberal” when you in fact claim Christ, is a slander. This is equal to saying that they (liberal Christian) are not Christian at all. To say that you are not a Christian at all is to remove Jesus from pronouncing true judgment of who is and who is not a Christian.

    Most of those that I have encountered in the “Religious” world (code for not church of Christ), understand “Liberal” in the Christian context as being what the above Batsell Baxter says in this article.

    Also by judging someone on a hermeneutic that is not your own (they do not hold to our -“Direct Command, Approved Example, and Necessary Inference”-, they are not Christian) is also removing Jesus from pronouncing true judgment of who is and who is not a Christian.

  24. Gary says:

    Whether Christians are liberal or conservative in regards to their understanding of the nature and inspiration of Scripture has no bearing on their status with God or authenticity as Christians. The heart of Christianity is the Gospel of Christ not the New Testament. Probably no one understood Alexander Campbell’s Restoration Movement (or Current Reformation as it was then often called) better than his colleague and biographer Robert Richardson. Richardson was a conservative on the issues of his day including instrumental music. Nevertheless his words regarding the place of Scripture should be remembered today by all Christians both liberal and conservative: “Men seem to have lost sight of the obvious distinction which is to be made between the Bible and the Gospel. It should never be forgotten that the Apostles and first preachers of the Gospel had no Bibles, and not even a New Testament, to distribute; and that there was no such thing among the early Christians as a formal union upon the “Bible alone.” Nay rather it was a union upon the Gospel alone. Let the Bible be our spiritual library; but let the Gospel be our standard of orthodoxy. Let the Bible be our test of Christian character and perfection, but let the Christian confession be our formula of Christian adoption and of Christian union. In a word, let the Bible be to us every thing designated by its Author, but let “Christ crucified” be not only our peace with God, but our peace with one another.”

  25. George Guild says:

    Amen Gary,

    Dale Carnegie said “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” From “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

    Christian is the name that defines me religiously. Christian is named after the Lord that I serve. Christian is the name that the redeemed of the Lord are called by, of which I am one.

    To Jesus the name Christian must have a sweet because it is the name of those whom He has saved and collectively are named His BRIDE.

  26. George Guild says:

    To Jesus the name Christian must have a sweet SOUND because it is the name of those whom He has saved and collectively are named His BRIDE.

  27. There is a difference in description and division. You and I can disagree and describe our divergent positions, but the decision to divide over said positions is an entirely different matter. Not being able or willing to make this distinction is perhaps the biggest source of pain in the CoC.

    In terms of simple descriptive accuracy, “progressive” probably is most appropriate for the left-most stream of the CoC. I don’t think they can really claim “mainstream” status. A progressive group is one that is moving from one place to another, while a fundamentalist group is one staid upon an existing spot. I am not at all certain that the majority of CoC congregations (you can’t be both minority AND mainstream, guys) fit the idea of truly progressive thought. I think the mainstream is better described as those groups who are “unwilling to condemn or disfellowship progressives, even if we have no intention of making such changes as they have made”. Perhaps “tolerant” is a more appropriate description.

    From right to left, a revised scale for your consideration:

    Hardshell: (We can’t change or God will kill us, like he’s going to kill everyone else.)

    Conservative: (Change is dangerous and might kill us, so we won’t risk it. Let someone else take that chance if they want to, we are not going to get caught standing next to them, just in case.)

    Tolerant: (God is not going to kill us over these traditional dividers, so we will “live and let live” with CoC folks who do things differently from us. They are just as much a part of the family as we are.)

    Progressive: (God is not going to kill us for trying to follow Jesus, so we aren’t afraid of that anymore. And that “us” includes a lot more than the people in our denomination. Not only can we change the way we do things, God seems to want us to change some of those things.)

  28. Alabama John says:

    if the COC majority had its choice it would simply be the right and wrong or the hopeful and lost.

  29. Matthew says:

    Jay, thankful to see you reading the Gospel Advocate. I appreciate your interaction with the mainstream churches of Christ.

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