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Reactionary Theology

I picked up an old book that I have on baptism written by a guy from the old International Churches of Christ (ICOC) back in when the ICOC really was cultic.  This book focuses on water baptism and makes the case that if one is not baptized in water by immersion with the heart of a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35) then they are not saved.  He builds his case from Matthew 28:19 and a host of other baptism passages mainly from the book of Acts to reach his final conclusion that baptism in water by immersion is essential to salvation.

Now anyone would know that this teaching comes from the Restoration movement and I have many friends within this movement.  One of my favorite theologians is Dr. Jack Cottrell and he identifies with the restoration movement.  I enjoy the teaching of Dr. Douglas Jacoby and he too is with the restoration movement along with other theologians such as F. Lagard Smith.  The Restoration movement finds its roots in the life and teachings of three main men: Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone.  Sometimes the movement is called “the Stone-Campbell movement.”  I have read many of the works of Alexander Campbell and he was a deep thinker and a debater.  He once debated the famous 19th century infidel, Robert Owen.  Campbell also took on others who were willing to debate him over many issues.

I think there is much good that came out of the Restoration movement.  Their adoption of the creed “the Bible only” was a good step.  They also sought to return to the form of the New Testament Church in both practice and theology.  Yet I see in the restoration movement what I see in many other movements, an overreaction to the church around them.  For instance, I agree with the Restoration movement that the evangelical church has made too little of baptism.  Pardon the pun but the evangelical church has watered down the issue of baptism.  On the one hand is the practice of infant baptism which I believe is not taught at all in the New Testament but then the evangelical church has placed so much emphasis on “faith alone” to save that we ignore the New Testament commands to obey Jesus.  Jesus taught baptism for disciples (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16) so just obey Him and be baptized.  The New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized disciples.  All disciples of Jesus were to be baptized.  How can we declare someone saved then who would not be willing to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38)?

Yet I think that too much stress can be given to baptism as well.  Baptism, alone, does not save.  Water does not save.  Only Jesus saves.  Even my restorationist brethren would (or should) applaud me there.  We should make much about Jesus.  We should tell people to be baptized but we should be careful to make much about Jesus and His work on the cross as the basis for our salvation and not water baptism or church membership or anything that we do.  Even faith can be stressed too much when we are not saved by faith in faith but by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Jesus is our salvation.  Who He is.  What He has done.  His intercession at the right hand of the Father on high (Hebrews 7:25).  All of salvation is focused on Christ and His shed blood.  We should sing, praise God, rejoice in, and celebrate our salvation in Jesus.  We are not saved in our faith, in our works, in our obedience to God, etc. but we are saved in Christ Jesus alone.  From beginning to end, Jesus is our Savior and He is the One that we look to always for our salvation (2 Peter 1:10-11).  We persevere in faith in Him and this ensures our eternal salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23; Hebrews 6:4-20).

Baptism points to Jesus.  Baptism doesn’t point to the power of the water.  Baptism in water points directly to the work of Christ.  Baptism confesses before all the people that we are disciples of Jesus Christ and our passion is to live for Him alone. The book of Acts records no debates over baptism.  They just did it.  They just obeyed Jesus.  So should we.  Rather than debating what baptism does, let us focus on preaching Christ and then baptizing people who repent of their sins (Acts 3:19). Baptism is truly the place of celebration as we praise God that a sinner is confessing Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10) but let the focus always be on Jesus above all else.

In closing, we tend to react to others teachings.  When the evangelicals of Alexander Campbell’s day rejected their movement, the movement began to teach that their view of baptism alone was the only true teaching and many of them began to teach that unless you were baptized by a restorationist, you were not saved.  This brought comfort to those in the movement and anger from those outside.  It was a reactionary theology in my opinion.  Much the same as the early Pentecostals and their emphasis on speaking in tongues as the initial, physical evidence of the baptism in the Spirit.

I pray that we are balanced in our teaching on baptism.  Make much about baptism but make more about Jesus our Lord.  We get so easily sidetracked with debates over end times, baptism, church government, etc. but we should make Jesus the focus first and from our love for Him and one another, debate these issues.

By the way, if disciple = Christian (Acts 11:26) then Jesus commanded Christians to be baptized in Matthew 28:19.  Therefore, the teaching of the old ICOC that one had to be a disciple of Jesus before baptism and thus became a Christian is false.  This teaching leads only to works-righteousness and brings guilt and shame.  Christians are disciples but not all disciples are Christians (John 6:66-71; Acts 8:9-24).

Jack Cottrell on Original Sin (Part 1)

Dr. Jack Cottrell is one of my favorite Arminian writers.  His books include The Faith Once For All, What the Bible Says About God the Creator, What the Bible Says About God the Ruler, What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer, Romansand Baptism: A Biblical Study.  Dr. Cottrell teaches theology at Cincinnati Christian University which is part of the Restoration movement and the Christian Churches.  I do recommend his books.

To open up our look at Dr. Cottrell’s views regarding original sin, I first will allow Dr. Cottrell to briefly give the major views regarding original sin.

1.  Pelagian View of Original Sin

This view holds that all humans are born in a state of spiritual purity, without any depravity or corruption and with free will intact.  All babies are born in a state of natural innocence,without bearing any guilt from the sin of Adam.  Adam’s sin only affects us indirectly, in that our sin-filled environment influences us to imitate his sin.  Thus Pelagianism really teaches that there is no such thing as “original sin.”  Many in the Restoration movement have held to this view including Moses Lard who wrote, “there is no proof that Adam’s sin ever touched or in any affected the spirit of one of his posterity.  The spirit is as free from its influence as though the sin had never been committed.”

2.  Semi-Pelagianism

This view is still too mild to be called “original sin” in any complete sense.  This view says that the only hereditary spiritual effect of Adam’s sin is a state of partial depravity.  Every baby is born partially depraved, having a soul that is corrupted with spiritual sickness or weakness with a bent or inclination toward sinning.  Still, it is not a “total” depravity; free will is not lost.  Also, as in the previous view, the child is born innocent, and thus free from guilt and condemnation.

This view was the view that prevailed in the early Church from Irenaeus to Augustine though of course it was not called semi-Pelagianism until after the theological conflict of Augustine and Pelagius.  During the Reformation, the Anabaptists held to this view and where greatly persecuted because of it and their view of adult immersion baptism.  This was also the view held by Restoration leaders such as Alexander Campbell.  Campbell wrote, “We are all greatly fallen and depraved in our whole moral constitution in consequence of the sin of Adam.  However, this does not involve an invincible necessity to sin; thus there is still freedom of the will nor does anyone suffer guilt and everlasting punishment as the result of Adam’s sin.”

3.  Roman Catholic Church View

This view agrees in part with the above view but also adds that we all inherit a state of guilt and condemnation from Adam.  An infant who thus dies in infancy remains in a state of limbo.  (Note that the RCC recently rejected the teaching of limbo and instead now places the infant in purgatory instead).  While the infant is in limbo, they are neither in a state of bliss nor pain.

4.  Classical Doctrine of Original Sin

This view was first proposed by St. Augustine and carried over into Protestantism by Martin Luther and John Calvin.  This view holds that all humans are born 1) in a state of total depravity or bondage of the will.  All infants are born with a corrupt spiritual nature and his free will is gone.  He is totally unable to come to faith and repentance apart from the sovereign intervention of God.  2) All are born guilty and condemned to hell because of Adam’s sin apart from the grace of God intervening.

Thus this view holds that all people are born without exception guilty sinners, lost, judicially under the wrath and curse of God.  As one Calvinist writer noted, “I became a wicked guilty sinner in the Garden of Eden.”

Up next Dr. Cottrell will take on the biblical basis for original sin as held mainly by those above.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/29/2012 at 6:10 PM

What About Those Who Reject Total Depravity?

There are some who identify with Arminians who reject total depravity.  Most of those who reject total depravity would not claim to be Arminian.  For instance, F. Lagard Smith who wrote the book, Troubling Questions for Calvinists…and the Rest of Us, rejects total depravity but does not claim Arminianism either since Arminians hold to a form of total depravity much like the Calvinistic view.  Some like Dr. Jack Cottrell, author of the classical Arminian view on election in the book, Perspectives on Election, and the author of the book The Faith Once For All, rejects the Calvinistic teaching on total depravity and the Augustine view of original sin.  Most theologians from the Restoration Movement such as Douglas Jacoby or John Mark Hicks reject both Calvinism and Arminianism (as far as I know) mainly because they reject total depravity.

The question then arises, should we accept those who reject total depravity as taught by John Calvin or James Arminius?  While Arminius was not in full agreement with Calvin or total depravity (with regard to the loss of free will), Arminius did teach the traditional Augustine view that we are born depraved.  Arminius would not doubt agree that we are born sinful and that our only hope is the grace of God to move upon us for salvation.  Most Restoration teachers including Alexander Campbell, I believe, would reject such a teaching.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, for instance, teaches that we are not born “sinful” or that we are born totally depraved but rather we are born in a state of grace, saved if you will.  Because of the flesh and the world and the devil, we sin and at that point we are guilty of our own sins and thus in need of a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  In his book, The Faith Once For All, Dr. Cottrell lays out his viewpoint not just from logic but from the Scriptures themselves.  Cottrell examines all the major passages about original sin including Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12-21.  Dr. Cottrell believes that the Augustine view of original sin is not only illogical but unbiblical.

For me, the bottom line issue is what does the Scriptures say?  I respect what Augustine, Calvin, Arminius, Henry, or Wesley had to say about biblical passages but the main issue for the disciple of Jesus is what does the Scriptures teach.  We can learn much from great theologians in the Church even if we don’t fully agree with one another.  Yet should we draw the line in the sand and deny people salvation based on their rejection of original sin?  Jack Cottrell, for example, does teach that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  He denies that works obtain salvation or that we can obtain salvation by living sinless (since this is impossible).  What he denies is that infants are born sinners.  He believes that babies are born innocent of any transgressions of God’s Law and therefore are not judged for their sins since they have not sinned.  They are born in a state of what he calls “original grace” as Adam and Eve were in Genesis 1-2 before the Fall.  Jesus reversed the curse (Galatians 3:13-14) and now we are born innocent of sin.  After we reach an age of accountability before God and we sin, we then are held guilty for Adam’s sin.  No, says Cottrell, but for our sins are we held accountable (Ezekiel 18).

Some say that such a view is nothing more than semi-Pelagain.  Cottrell prefers “pre-Augustinian” as the correct view.  He believes that Augustine overrated to the Pelagian errors.  He believes that Calvin was nothing more than the teachings of Augustine preached anew.  In his estimation, Arminius did not move further enough from Calvin and Augustine.  He believes that Campbell did.

My point is not to really debate the issue.  I do find many of Cottrell’s views appealing.  You are free to read his books and examine them with the Scriptures but I believe that Cottrell does a good job of seeking to build his case for his rejection of original sin from the Scriptures and not from theologians who agree with him.  My point in writing this is simply to acknowledge that we must always preach Jesus as the Savior and seek to glorify Him.  Salvation is not found in Arminianism or Calvinism or any other isms but in the Person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Jesus is fully alive right now and He sits at the right hand of God.  We can pray to the Father because of Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16) and we can be saved because of Jesus and His sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  Salvation is not found in a church or a denomination or a movement or in a creed but in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must know Him (Philippians 3:9-11).  Jesus said that eternal life is found in knowing God personally (John 17:3).  Salvation is not found in crossing every T or dotting every I.  It is found in the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:12).  He alone is our Mediator before God (1 Timothy 2:3-6).  I am thankful that Jesus saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and not Baptists or Pentecostals or Arminians or any thing else.  He just saves sinners who come to Him and acknowledge that they have sinned and need His forgiveness (1 John 1:7-10).

Praise God for Jesus!

Alexander Campbell’s Review of the Book of Mormon

Having been studying in preparation for my upcoming visit with a couple of LDS missionaries in my area, I found this review by Alexander Campbell on the Book of Mormon to be fascinating. Campbell was a contemporary of Joseph Smith and though they never met I believe they did exchange a few letters. Smith was quite familiar with Campbell’s emphasis on baptism as a point of division among Christians as well as a point in which much could find unity. In the Book of Mormon, Smith held pretty much to a standard view of most Restoration pastors and theologians of that era with Campbell included. Later Smith would modify his view on baptism by teaching that the Holy Ghost (not Spirit) is given by the laying on of hands by only LDS priesthood holders. This would forever divide him from the Restoration movement over baptism.

Obviously, the LDS Church and the Restoration movement are quite different in many ways and the LDS are far from orthodox Christianity. Alexander Campbell, for example, held to orthodox views on all major issues from justification being by faith to his affirming the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture to his holding to the biblical view of God including the trinity, the deity of Christ, the involvement of the Godhead in the work of Christ’s atonement, etc. Smith and the Mormons reject all those doctrines. Even Campbell’s view on baptism must be read in its context as I think that his was a reaction against the views of baptism in his day (especially in light of the debate over immersion versus sprinkling) much as the classical Pentecostal movement was a reaction to the Holiness movement of the late 19th century in America. While Campbell later did teach that baptism is included in God’s plan of salvation he was not outside of the thinking of such men as Luther, Zwingli, or even Calvin who himself held to infant baptism.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/18/2010 at 7:19 PM

Lessons Learned From Alexander Campbell

I have been reading a book by Richard Cherok entitled, Debating For God, which covers the life of Alexander Campbell’s defense of Christianity during the 19th century against various attackers but the most famous being Robert Owen, the man who launched the socialist revolution in England that spread to become modern-day Europe and communism in general.

Campbell was a master debater. To use a phrase familiar to Southerners, he took Owen to the woodshed. Owen believed three evils needed to be eradicated from society in general. They were: private property, traditional marriage, and religion (do you see anything familiar to today?). Owen had been a successful mill owner in England where his reforms within his industry had improved the lives of its workers, provided higher wagers for the workers, and had limited the use of children (as was the custom in early 19th century European industries). Owen came to America to open a commune called “New Harmony” in Indiana that he purchased from another socialist George Rapp. New Harmony, Indiana was to be Owen’s test at his theories of social reform where he would free people from the bonds of the evil trinity that he saw at work in modern culture.

New Harmony failed. However, Owen did not blame the failure on his theories but upon the minds of the people who came to New Harmony. He believed the spirit of independence on Americans prevented him from being successful. Owen continued to preach his socialism and before he left to return to England, he debated Alexander Campbell in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Owen had previously ran an ad in a New Orleans paper challenging the “professors of religion and clergy” to debate him over how religion has done one thing good for the betterment of humanity and how religion has brought nothing but slavery to the minds of men. No one took his challenge and Owen felt justified in his views and that religion could never stand in a serious educated debate. And then came Alexander Campbell.

Campbell was the opposite of Owen. His family had migrated to America in the late 18th century and upon coming to America, he and his father had launched a movement to restore Christianity back to its New Testament roots. Deism was in a revival period in America and the majority of the people of the United States could best be described as skeptics, atheists, agnostics, materialists, and deists. Most evangelical reactions to the deist movement were simply to ignore them. However, Campbell differed in that he took them head on. He took their challenges concerning evolution/creation, salvation, revelation, God and His nature, and inerrancy of Scripture seriously. Campbell believed strongly that the Bible was God’s Word and if it is true then nothing can stand against it. Campbell was the perfect man to debate Owen.

And so they did. Debates in the 19th century did not run for a few hours but a few days. Debates were the entertainment of the day and as many as 1200 people stood outside waiting to get inside to hear Owen and Campbell debate.

The debate was clearly in Campbell’s favor. Owen had no answers for Campbell’s ability to not just defend Christianity and its historical claims but Owen simply was trying to use the debate (as politicians do today in so-called debates) to preach his socialism. At one point, the crowd even begin to laugh as Owen would recite his Twelve Virtues of Socialism over and over again when he was backed into a corner by Campbell. Owen never was able to disprove Campbell and in the end Campbell was named the winner by far.

What do we learn from Alexander Campbell who continued to defend Christianity against her attackers until his death in 1866?

1. Campbell’s Faith in God

Campbell didn’t just believe that a God existed but he believed that God was personal and that we could know Him. He believed that God heard our prayers and that He was with His people (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). He believed that while we must faith in God (Hebrews 11:1), this faith was not just blind belief but was based on God’s own self-revelation in the Bible (Hebrews 11:6).

Many in his day (and our own) believed that God was simply not knowable. God, no doubt, created all things but He simply left us alone after that. This was the deist doctrines preached by the likes of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklyn, and Robert Owen. If there was a God, who cares? That was the common thinking of many skeptics in Campbell’s day.

Yet Campbell believed that the deists were wrong. He believed that general revelation demands that God would speak. He didn’t just create Man and all creation but He also went further to reveal Himself in His Son (John 1:18; Colossians 1:15) and in His Word (Psalm 19:7-14).

2. Campbell’s Faith in the Bible

Campbell believed that the Bible was the Word of God. He believed that the Bible was unique in that it was the only true and reliable source for revelation. Campbell refuted even evangelicals who claimed that deists should not be attacked so strongly since Deism held to belief in general revelation. Campbell refuted this claim and he believed that the Bible was God’s special revelation wherein He has given to humanity a way to know God Himself, His salvation that He has brought to us in His only begotten Son, and truth from error.

In our day, we have many in the Church who claim to believe in God yet they deny the inerrancy of the Bible. Campbell believed in inerrancy. He never uses this term (neither did Luther, Calvin, Arminius, or Wesley but one clearly sees that they did from their statements about the Bible and its divine revelation) but Campbell believed the Bible was inspired by God’s Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and that holy men of God wrote the Bible as they were moved (or carried along) by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Campbell stood firm in his belief that God had not just revealed Himself in creation but He also had given us His Word to teach us His ways and for us to live according to His Laws (Micah 6:8).

Campbell believed that they way to defend Christianity is not to run from the authority of Scripture but to stand upon it. He noted that Jesus had used Scripture to defeat Satan in Matthew 4:1-11. He noted that the Bible itself is called a sword and that Christians should use this sword to defeat lies of the enemy and defend the truth of Christianity (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). In his debates, Campbell often quoted Scripture. He did use “common sense logic” but he also believed the Bible gave us a pattern to follow. His “restoration principles” derived itself from this Scottish common sense. He believed that if we followed God’s pattern (the book of Acts in principle) then God would build His Church and His kingdom (Acts 2:47).

Many want us to abandon the doctrine of inerrancy and authority of the Bible but like Campbell, I believe firmly that the Bible is the only source of true revelation without error. I too believe that we need to defend Christianity against error by applying ourselves to studying and knowing God’s Word. I too agree with Campbell that general revelation is not enough apart from special revelation given through the inspiration of the Spirit (Romans 10:14-17).

3. Campbell’s Temperament

What strikes me about Alexander Campbell’s defense of Christianity is how he did it without malice. Like 1 Peter 3:15-16, Campbell believed that truth would win and yet we Christians needed to be pacifists in our temperament. He felt the character of Jesus demanded such (Matthew 5:10-16; 1 Peter 2:21-24). When attacked by deists, skeptics, and atheists in the newspapers of his day, Campbell refused to argue with them over his flaws or his sins but he would gladly debate them over the claims of Christianity.

Campbell was a brilliant man. He was well read in not just the Bible but he knew Greek and Latin. He read countless books on various subjects ranging from science to politics to history. Yet despite his wealth of information and his ability to debate, he sought to answer people gently and with respect. Even Robert Owen went to his deathbed with nothing but respect for Campbell though he never became a Christian.

Campbell felt that those he debated probably would not be moved by his defense of the gospel but perhaps they might repent because of his behavior in Christ. He did feel that many who heard him debate would be moved to become Christians but he knew that his character must follow his doctrines (1 Timothy 4:16).

How true. How we need to not just defend Christianity but live it! I know many who know much about the Bible but their lives are full of holes and inconsistencies. As Paul wrote, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). Or as Peter wrote, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). We, in our zeal for truth, must also beware that God has called us to be people of holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and this begins with seeking peace with all men. It is better to be righteous than right!


I believe that Alexander Campbell may have been the best defender of the Christian faith in the 19th century. He was their Ravi Zacharias or William Lane Craig. And, he was not a Calvinist! In fact, in one debate the deist tried to use the teachings of John Calvin against Campbell. Campbell refuted the deist by first pointing out he was not a Calvinist and then he went on to debunk what Calvin had written (in this case it was determinism). Campbell should be read by Arminians for his zeal for the gospel and for his passion for defending God’s truth against errors. Campbell did not shy away from debates and he did debate several evangelicals over the issue of baptism and salvation.

I believe he is a life that we should read and study. His passion for God’s truth and his passion for defending God’s truth is worth copying.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/02/2010 at 6:14 PM

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