Culver City, California
It was the happy privilege of this writer to hear brother Ed Harrell speak a few years ago in his extraordinarily fine lecture at Florida College on "The Social Gospel." This lecture was of such import and stature that it was put in written form immediately and subsequently printed in some of the religious periodicals published by our brethren (see Gospel Guardian, Vol. 12, p. 225; The Preceptor, Vol. 9, p. 115, 132).
For some time I have been aware that brother Harrell has been preparing a book on the social history of the Disciples of Christ (the fruit of work done for his doctor's degree dissertation), and I have looked forward with eager anticipation to the completion of it. QUEST FOR A CHRISTIAN AMERICA: The Disciples of Christ and American Society to 1886 (Vol. 1) by David Edwin Harrell, Jr., was published in May 1966, by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1101 Nineteenth Ave., South, Nashville, Tennessee. The price of the book is $5.95, and it contains 224 pages. (Editor's NoteThis book may be purchased from Truth Magazine Book Store.)
For those who are students of American religious history, and in particular those who are interested in Restoration Movement literaturethis book is a must. For those who are interested in understanding the roots of the social gospel philosophy of today, this fine work sheds much light upon this phase of interest.
It might be explained that brother Harrell uses the term "Disciples of Christ" in a broad sense to refer simply to those disciples of that time who were deeply concerned about the restoration of New Testament Christianity. He explains that this group "has never had an exclusive name; Alexander Campbell preferred 'Disciples of Christ,' Barton Stone's followers preserved the popularity of the name 'Christian Church,' while in many localities the name 'Church of Christ' was most widely used" (P. 5).
In the "Preface" to the book, brother Harrell states:
"The proclivity of the 'restoration movement' to proliferate has not weakened since the separation of the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ around the turn of the century. Two distinct religious bodies have grown out of the Disciples of Christ by mid-twentieth century one ecumenical in outlook and theologically sophisticated; the other largely sectarian. In the Churches of Christ the same pattern has been followed. The more cultured element of the group is well on its way to denominationalism (or at least to a position much nearer to the mainstream of American Protestantism), while a smaller segment of the church remains committed to the most legalistic implications of the restoration plea" (p. vii).
The fundamental approach of the book, as has been stated, is a social one. Brother Harrell shows how that sociological factors, to a great extent, shaped the thinking of the Disciples; yet, on the other hand, the thinking of the Disciples many times had a great effect on society. To state this in brother Harrell's words:
"But the most intriguing facet of this study involves interpretations of impact and motivation. The hard facts which tell the story of what men did and thought on a specific social issue are coherent and meaningful in terms of Disciples history and American history only if they are put into the context of people being molded by a vital, creative Christian message and in turn being shaped by the turbulent society of nineteenth-century, America. In short, the problem of interpretation is two-fold: a study of the contribution of Disciples to the social consciousness of the nation and an analysis of the sociological impact on the church's social thought" (p. 21).
This work has been limited to cover the time period of 1800-1865. A second volume is already in preparation, covering the period 1866-1900.
Fully discussed are the attitudes of the early disciples toward premillennialism, slavery, war, liquor, tobacco, worldly allurements, the "Christian Sabbath," marriage and divorce, capital punishment, etc.
To sum up, it is an excellent work, thoroughly documented, yet vibrantly alive with the story of the nineteenth-century pioneers of Christianity and what made them do what they did.
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 11, pp. 12-13 August 1966