The Mirror of a Movement (1)

Evolution and Modernism at Abilene Christian College

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

In 1965 William S. Banowsky published a 444-page book entitled THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT, subtitled "Churches of Christ as seen through the Abilene Christian College Lectureship." The jacket of the book informs us that Brother Banowsky "is the minister of one of the world's largest churches of Christ  the Broadway Church of Lubbock, Texas." We further are informed that he "holds the B. A. degree from David Lipscomb College, the M. A. from the University of New Mexico, and the Ph. D. from the University of Southern California. "

One so formidably prepared should therefore be in position to present an accurate account of the Abilene Christian College Lectureship. He reviews 46 years of Abilene speech making, including 349 speakers who gave a total of 753 lectures.

Importance of the lectureship

Though attaining a reasonable degree of objectivity in most instances, on some points Brother Banowsky overstates his case. It seems to be Brother Banowsky's opinion that had it not been for the ACC Lectureships, the church of the Lord would have just folded up and died. He says, "So astounding and widespread has been the Lectureship's leadership in these areas that one shudders to imagine what the present position of the church might be if the influence of the last fifty Februarys were suddenly erased from the record." (p. 257). On pg. 291 Banowsky states that the increased evangelistic fervor in the church is, "more than to any other human agent, directly attributable to the Evangelistic mood of a half-century of addresses in Abilene . . ."

One of the Abilene speakers is quoted by Banowsky as stating that "if 'we as a people'

ever intend to come into our own and to make the influence of the religion of Christ felt through us, we must build, maintain, and perpetuate a system of schools in which Christianity in its beauty and simplicity may be taught in some way coordinate with the state schools . . ." (p. 368). According to Banowsky and some of the Abilene speakers, the Church of Christ is some sort of flimsy, frail body that never would have survived had it not been for the formation of colleges and the instituting of lecture programs. Such statements indict the wisdom and power of God. If the church must depend on some humanly devised crutch for its existence, then God failed in His greatest workthat of designing and causing to be built His church.

The Church Is Handicapped

There are some other loose expressions in Brother Banowsky's book, some of which are completely inexplicable. For example, he says the church is handicapped in not having an organized missionary society. "The absence of an organized missionary society among churches of Christ created several unique handicaps in selection and preparation of qualified missionary workers." (p. 273). If the church is handicapped, then God handicapped it.

Christians in Denominations

Banowsky and some of the speakers whom he reviews apparently think that the Lord's people are scattered throughout the hills of sectarianism. Their position seems to be quite similar to that now promulgated by Brethren Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett. Brother Banowsky as saying quotes one ACC speaker: "We claim to be Christians only, but we do not claim to be the only Christians." Banowsky said that this speaker "then suggested that the arms of fellowship could not be openly extended to denominational believers, even though they were technically 'Christians."' (p. 209). Brother Banowsky indicates his agreement with such a position when he says of one sectarian preacher, " . . . in Los Angeles, Harry Rimmer became a Christian in 1920 and with publication prolificacy set about to reconcile the facts of science with the Bible." (p. 119). And Brother Banowsky was not quoting somebody else when he said "Harry Rimmer became a Christian in 1920."

Following the Denominations

Brother Banowsky affirms that the Abilene Lectureship has "performed the valuable service of urging the brotherhood to follow the lead of denominations which had initiated such programs (i. e. the founding of Bible Chairs at state collegesCW) during the nineteenth century" (p. 358, 359). The ACC lecture program is said to be a "Winona-type Lectureship at Abilene" (p. xii), like the one earlier conducted by some sectarian Fundamentalists.

One of the Lectureship speakers indicated that he was following denominationalists in other ways too. He said: "it is better to furnish every mission with preaching at least one Sunday a month . . ." (p. 290). In the Bible one reads about establishing churches; he never reads about anyone starting a "mission." Denominations do that. Brother Banowsky says: "From the days of William Carey, it has been granted that the churches born on mission fields must be freed as quickly as possible from the jurisdiction of the mother church. The Abilene men agreed with this concept and called it the indigenous method." (p. 280). So following the pattern set by denominationalism, on the Abilene Lectureship we hear discourses about "missions" and "mother churches," neither of which can be read about in the New Testament.

Evolution at ACC

The title of this article has to do with "Evolution" at ACC. I do not intend, by this title, to imply that the theory of biological evolution has been taught at ACC. If it has been, I do not know about it. In fact, Brother Banowsky says, "An analysis of their addresses reveals a united attitude toward the evolutionary theory, theistic or otherwisetotal rejection." (p. 120).

However, Brother Banowsky does show how the Lectureship has "evolved from city, to state, to national importance," and that now it has taken on "an international dimension." (p. 72). Too, there has been an evolution in the type of speakers used on the program. Many of the early speakers were uneducated so far as secular attainments were concerned. One of the early speakers was "the first preacher in Texas to earn the B. A. degree." (p. 81). Prior to 1930, only three speakers appeared on the program that had earned doctorates. One of these, with a Ph. D. from Harvard was called a "brotherhood rarity." (p. 108j. However, from 1951-1961, "thirty-one of the speakers possessed the earned doctor's degree." (p. 82).

Evolution of Thought at ACC

But evolution of the two kinds just mentioned are not of particularly great importance, though the kind of speakers now in vogue is indicative where ACC and much of the brotherhood are headed. But the evolution that I had in mind when I coined the title for this article is not unimportant. Brother Banowsky alludes to an evolution of ideas on the ACC platform. He contrasts the positions of current and recent speakers on the ACC program with the positions of earlier speakers. And he contrasts these positions on perhaps the most vital subject that could be consideredon the inspiration of the Bible!

In the opening moments of the first speech delivered at the very first ACC Lectureship program George A. Klingman said:

"It does not take a prophet to 'discern the signs of the times,' nor the son of a prophet to forecast the nature of the fight that must be fought within the next few years. The enemy has challenged us and must be met . . . we are under obligation to show that the Bible stands the test of criticism, the present age makes that demand upon those of us who believe in God and accept the Bible as His inspired word."

Brother Klingman said the coming battle would be pitched on the inspiration of the Bible. Certainly he did not anticipate that the battle would have to be waged on the Abilene Christian College Lectureship platform. But that is one of the places where it has had to be waged, and from that podium some of the most disastrous and insidious attacks on the inspiration of the Bible have been made. As one ACC speaker said, "This spirit (i. e. of modernismCW) has pervaded the Church . . . perhaps far more than any of us realize."

Brother Banowsky goes to considerable trouble to array the position of the early ACC speakers. Before we notice some of the specific assaults made upon the Bible's inspiration in Abilene, let us notice several quotations in which Brother Banowsky recognizes and admits that there has been an evolution in the position on inspiration on the Abilene Lectureship.

Position of the Early Speakers

In two chapters in his book, "Back to the Bible" and "The Bible and Science, ' Brother Banowsky more than once, indicates a difference on inspiration between the old-time speakers and the modern, more highly educated ones. "The verbal theory of inspiration, sometimes called the plenary theory, was clearly the position that the early Lectureship speakers defended. The early lecturers who touched upon the method of inspiration maintained that the Holy Spirit put the words into the mouth of the speaker or guided the pen in the writing of the words in the original documents. Maurice D. Gano . . . was the first lecturer to discuss in detail the 'how' of inspiration." (p. 106). "Earliest speakers were generally agreed that the Bible was absolutely or verbally inspired that God guided the writers both in thought and in the selection of every word used." (p. 110). "The possibility of biblical discrepancy was a thought which the vast majority (Note: This implies that there were some ACC speakers who did not hold this position CW) of Lectureship speakers did not entertain. In the early programs, the Bible was unanimously accepted as free from inconsistency" (pp. 137, 138).

The position on inspiration held by these early ACC speakers is the only position that makes the inspiration of the Bible means anything (See 2 Pet. 1:21; I Cor. 2:13; I Thess. 2:13). If God did not direct both the thought and the words, how can we ever know that His will correctly has been conveyed to us? If there are contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible, what assurance do we have that any of it is correct?

Position of Later Speakers

Speaking concerning the theory of biological evolution, Banowsky says "Later speakers discredited the theory with considerably more academic respectability." (p. 120). Some of those earlier speakers without so much "academic respectability" (sic.) probably would have spelled the word "respectability" "respectability," like Webster does. The early speakers apparently were not academically respectable to Brother Banowsky. Banowsky himself says "To fight evolution had been admittedly risky, but essential; to challenge science itself would have been suicidal." (p. 123). Actually gospel preachers have not found it to be "risky" to fight evolution, and have not found it to be "suicidal" to challenge "science" when it needed to be challenged.

Speaking concerning one speaker who now is completely in the camp of the modernists, Brother Banowsky says that he was ' perhaps less emphatic" in his attack on liberalism and in his defense of verbal inspiration. (p. 107). Banowsky says that B. C. Goodpasture, long-time editor of the liberal GOSPEL ADVOCATE published in Nashville, "appeared to recommend a more moderate brand of verbal inspiration than that advocated by many earlier speakers." (p. 109). He also quoted Goodpasture as holding the late date theory on the book of Job, when Goodpasture attributed the book of Job to the "Uzzean sage." (p. 129).

Although Banowsky says David Bobo in his 1960 lecture "expanded only slightly the views of Calhoun and Goodpasture," nevertheless "a striking contrast emerges when Gano's 1919 concept of verbal inspiration is resurrected along-side Bobo's 1960 address, 'Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. " (p. 109). "Bobo's language had a different ring from that of Klingman's Lectureship Opener..." (p. 140).

ACC speakers sought to deal with the so-called disagreements between science and the Bible. Banowsky says "in recent years, however, a few Lectureship speakers have questioned the wisdom of attempting 'overly optimistic' harmonies between the Bible and scientific findings." (pp. 130, 131). Virgil Trout "approved a moderate form of harmony" when he stated emphatically, "I wish to avoid with extreme care the making of sentimental or overly optimistic assertions about so-called 'harmonies of science and Christianity . . ." (p. 131).

To summarize the changed position on the inspiration of the Bible held by later ACC speakers when compared with early ACC lecturers, Brother Banowsky says, "Perhaps it would be accurate to conclude that the majority of the later speakers favored a modified verbal theory . . . they were nonetheless repelled by the mechanical or legalistic implications of the strict verbal view." (p. 111).


David Bobo's 1960 Address

One example of the modernism taught on the ACC Lectureship is David Bobo's lecture on "Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible." In the September, 1965 issue of TRUTH MAGAZINE, William Wallace had a well-documented article exposing Brother Bobo's modernism. Both Wallace and Bobo live in Indianapolis. That you might see that we are not making a mountain out of a molehill, we are going to quote somewhat extensively from Brother Bobo's speech. When Brother Bobo got done with the "Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible," he could call them the "Admitted Discrepancies of the Bible," for admit them is precisely what Brother Bobo did.

Brother Banowsky said, "Apparently referring to some of his brethren, Bobo said:

'In their efforts to deny all discrepancies they have resorted to unscholarly, ridiculous, and sometimes dishonest means. Regardless of how good and pious their intentions may have been, their methods have often been below the level of respectability. This likewise has continued down to the present time . . . Such behavior is sub-Christian and will never win the respect and confidence of intelligent people. In fact, it will do more to turn them from the faith; for if faith must stand upon such sophistry; they want nothing to do with it. It weakens faith far more than it strengthens it, and far more than any of the alleged discrepancies alone could. It is itself a discrepancy of faith"' (p. 139).

Brother Banowsky said of Bobo's speech, "Admitting that some of the discrepancies could not be 'reconciled or eliminated,' Bobo argued that they do not weaken the validity of the Bible." (p. 139). Speaking concerning I Samuel 16 and 17, Brother Bobo said: "This is one of the discrepancies for which no satisfactory answer has yet been found  What has that to do with the real value and spiritual relevance of the Bible? It is not the minute historical exactness that makes it the wonderful life-giving book that it is, but its spiritual quality and power." (p. 140). Bobo, in typical modernist form, said that we could still get some good out of the Bible in spite of the fact that it sometimes contradicts itself. If you can get any consolation and good out of a book of contradictions, you can get something from it most of us cannot get. Further alluding to Bobo's speech, Banowsky said: "He stressed that there are discrepancies in all of nature and that the Bible is not proved invalid simply because it contains those 'normal discrepancies which characterize all other manifestations of God-given life."' (p. 139).

Brother Bobo felt at liberty to admit discrepancies that could not be "reconciled or eliminated" because of his modernistic view of the inspiration of the Bible. In fact, his modernistic view of inspiration is precisely the reason for these discrepancies, according to him. The men who wrote the Bible wrote from their "own particular viewpoint and with his own set of emphasis" and "each necessarily leaving out what to him seems needless details," as though God had no superintending hand in it all.

Read carefully this fuller quote from Brother Bobo's speech:

"Another factor involved is the number of different writers participating in the writing of Biblical history, each inevitably from his own particular viewpoint and with his own set of emphasis. What different strands of tradition have lain behind them none can say with certainty. All these things, however, could not have failed to produce certain diversity underneath the over-arching unity of the Bible. In these facts we see both the origin and the explanation of many alleged discrepancies.

In cases in which the same story is related or alluded to by two or more different writers, each necessarily leaving out what to him seems needless details, their stories may seem to disagree and yet may not necessarily contradict or antagonize each other" (pp. 109, 110).

Brother Bobo admitted, "that on the surface there are innumerable discrepancies in the Bible." But he shook up some even in Abilene when he casually remarked, "NOTHING IS REALLY AT STAKE HERE EXCEP THE POSSIBLE THEORY THAT EVERY ORIGINAL WRITER . . . WAS MIRACULOUSLY GUARDED AGAINST ANY MINUTE LAPSE OR SLIP." Really, nothing is at stake, EXCEPT the VERBAL INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE, and Bobo apparently had long since disregarded that as a possibility.

One would have thought that there would have been universal objection to such a speech, but things had by 1960 undergone such a change in Abilene that "Lectureship Director J. D. Thomas reported mixed and strong reaction to Bobo's address" (p. 115). Years ago the reaction to such a modernistically saturated address would not have been "mixed" in Abilene. There would have been unanimous opposition. "Early speakers were generally agreed that the Bible was absolutely or verbally inspiredthat God guided the writers both in thought and in the selection of every word used." (p. 110). "In the early programs, the Bible was unanimously accepted as free from any inconsistency." (pp. 137, 138). But thought on inspiration has undergone a tremendous evolution in Abilene. And this evolution of thought is freely admitted and accurately chronicled by Brother Banowsky, one very closely associated with Abilene Christian College.

Things to Come

There are some other things, equally startling, that we want to study from Brother Banowsky's book, but these will have to be dealt with in later articles. Meanwhile, if you would like to order a copy of THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT by William S. Banowsky, that you might document these digressions yourself, order from Truth Magazine Book Store. Box 7245, Akron, Ohio 44306. Price: $4.50.

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 3, pp. 2-6 December 1965