Modernism in Bible Class Literature (I)

Cecil Willis
Marion Indiana

To an unbelievable degree, modernism has made its inroads into the churches of Christ. The next score of years probably will demonstrate that classical modernism will be the main battleground among us.

Within the past year or so I have saved for review about half a dozen articles written by members of the churches of Christ which either advocate or defend theistic evolution--the theory that God created by the process of evolution. Many church members will not believe that any preachers in the church would attempt to defend theistic evolution. But as soon as I can get the time to write up the series, I will amply document what I now assert.

R. B. Sweet Company

The R. B. Sweet Company (Box 4055) of Austin, Texas is an extensive publisher of journals and Bible class literature. To illustrate, they publish the TEENAGE CHRISTIAN, the CHRISTIAN WOMAN, and the CHRISTIAN CHRONICLE. Besides, they are in the process of printing a new series of commentaries entitled "The Living Word Commentary," which will consist of nineteen volumes, all of which will be authored by a brother with a doctor's degree. I have not yet learned what a doctorate in philosophy would do for one to qualify him particularly to write a Bible commentary.

These new commentaries already are under fire for their modernistic authors. At least two writers have resigned their assignments because of the modernism of others on the writing staff. Two books have been written (AX ON THE ROOT}, and a third is in preparation, to expose modernism in the liberal churches of Christ. The Sweet Company publications get a good part of the criticism in these books.

Sweet's Class Literature

The Sweet Company recently has put on the retail market two new sets of Bible class literature, THE LIVING WORD and NEW JOURNEYS THROUGH THE BIBLE. This latter series should not be confused with the original JOURNEYS THROUGH THE BIBLE, which was published first in 1947 and has been widely used and praised. The original JOURNEYS THROUGH THE BIBLE is now owned by the Cogdill Foundation, Box 7598, Orlando, Florida 328O4,

It is reliably reported (several brethren have so stated in print) that one of Sweet's new series of literature was bought from a denominational publishing house, in the material that I have surveyed personally there is very little that deals explicitly with the plan of salvation or with the uniqueness of the church. Instead, mostly these books consist of some Sunday School morals which any Methodist church could teach. A few buttressing paragraphs have been very conspicuously thrown into the sectarian class books to try to make them acceptable to the brethren.

Theistic Evolution

Several months ago one of Sweet's new class books was quoted in a Journal published by a brother as saying, "Evolutionists are concerned with the 'how'. Genesis tells about the 'who'. The Bible does not tell how God created the world." Immediately a considerable pressure was put on the Sweet Company, and the charge was made that they fostered theistic evolution in their class literature. Several noted preachers, several journals, and several bookstores criticized the theistic evolution of this class book.

Ralph Sweet said publicly, and repeated the statement to me privately, that the statement would be eliminated in the literature. Apparently some effort now has been made to re-write the literature so as to make the material acceptable to the brotherhood, but all the evolutionary overtones have not been removed, as I shall show in these articles.


Traditionally the fight on evolution (at least among those who believed in God) has been over fiat creation and theistic evolution. "Fiat creation" simply means that God spoke the heavens and earth into existence; "theistic evolution" maintains that God "created" through the evolutionary process, and that this process involved great periods of time.

Particularly in this article I am referring to some statements found in a class book GENESIS AND MY LIFE, which is from THE LIVING WORD series and is designed for SENIOR HIGH. I am quoting from TEACHER GUIDE No. 104. This book was received through the mail, and was mailed from Austin on September 16, 1969. This date is of importance because last January (1969) Ralph Sweet said that this offensive material (which also teaches false doctrine) was going to be either eliminated or corrected. As of September, 1969 the Sweet Company was still mailing out material that either overtly taught or implied theistic evolution.

However, to be fair I might add that some good and strong statements have been added to the book. Rather than stating that "The Bible does not tell how God created the world," this TEACHER'S MANUAL now quotes some pertinent passages on the point. Among the passages cited are Heb. 11:3: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." This TEACHER'S MANUAL says: "Note how God spoke the universe into existence. Psalm 33:9 says, 'For he spake and it was done, he commanded, and it stood fast.'"

There are some other such statements, all of which are taken from the first lesson in this class book entitled GENESIS AND MY LIFE. Most of the quotations are made from the TEACHER GUIDE section. The authors add: "The Creation did not happen by natural processes or self-causes. God spoke." "God spoke and worlds were created" and "As God spoke worlds into existence ....."


Perhaps you are saying that this sounds good enough for you. If it does, it is only because I have not had the space in this article to give you the evolutionary part. That I will do in another article to follow next week.

It seems obvious that the Sweet Company capitulated to brotherhood sentiment regarding theistic evolution. The quotations to be given next week will indicate that their concept regarding it has not changed (as of September- 16, 1969) one iota. They merely added enough Biblical terminology and passages to try to get the brethren off their back. If they believe in theistic evolution, let them say so, and then attempt to defend it, like some of the more modernistic brethren overtly have done in the ultraliberal paper called MISSION.

On the other hand, if they really do not believe in evolution, their GENESIS AND MY LIFE still needs a lot of cleaning up, and this fact I intend to document next week.


January 22, 1970