Theological Liberalism at Abilene Christian College (IV)

By Cecil Willis

Under the above title I have been discussing some charges and counter-charges as to whether there is theological liberalism prevalent among the Bible faculty at Abilene Christian College. Three Bible faculty members are Trustees of Mission magazine. Thus in the most recent articles, I have been discussing some of the articles contained in Mission.

Most recently I discussed an article by Warren Lewis which appeared in Mission, January, 1972. Considerable reaction is occurring as a result of some of the teachings in Mission, and some among the liberals are exerting as much pressure as they ran to make the three ACC Bible faculty members (Everett Ferguson, Thomas Olbricht, and J. W. Roberts I disassociate themselves from Mission and its teachings. I think it is significant that these faculty members have not of their own volition either disassociated themselves from Mission or replied to the serious error that constantly is being taught on its pages.

Reaction to MISSION

Several of you are aware of some of the controversy that has occurred between me and some of the liberal American missionaries in the Philippines. Well, Mission is even too liberal for them. Douglas LeCroy, editor of Philippine Christian, wrote Mission: “It seems that before, seemingly just to be-devil the rest of us, Lewis has just written smart-alecky articles on issues that are presently causing strife in the brotherhood. In this current one, he has attacked the integrity of the Scripture and the four Gospel writers in particular…. Such liberalism ought not to be tolerated in your journal. . . .” It is going to sound a little strange to some of the Filipino brethren to bear Brother LeCroy crying about liberalism, since he has made himself the avid defender of it in the Philippines. Brother LeCroy will find out that there is no such thing as a little liberalism. You either take it all or none at all.

An Interview

Last night I was reading the June, 1972 issue of Mission. In that issue, several people associated in various ways with Mission had participated in an interview with Ernest T. Campbell, who is the preacher for the Riverside Church of New York City. Riverside, a so-called interdenominational church, is the church for which the famous modernist, Harry Emerson Fosdick, formerly preached. The funds for their building were donated by John D. Rockerfeller, Jr., and its present value has been estimated to be $86 million.

The Mission interviewers captioned their interview article, “Conservative Minister Erodes Image of Riverside Church as Bastion of Theological Liberalism.” The “friends of Mission” who participated in the interview were Foy Richey, Lewis Rambo, Scott Smith, John Davenport, Rod Spaulding, Don Haymes, Walter E. Burch, and Jim Fowler. Note that they called Campbell a “Conservative Minister.” But notice a few things said by Campbell.

Said Campbell, “I was raised on the view that the Scriptures had to be taken literally to be taken seriously. There was no liberation for me until that one was broken down-that you can take the Bible with the utmost seriousness without taking it literally.” Regarding the virgin birth, Campbell said: “Now I happen to believe still that Jesus was born of a virgin. Its not a very big concept with me. It is not vital or central to my faith…. But I still happen to believe it; though with less vigor.” Then Campbell added, “that for the moment,” he does still believe in the virgin birth, but it is no major issue with him. And Mission called this man a “conservative”! Campbell added further, “Its not something that I preach; its not something that colors my life one way or the other.”

One of the Mission interviewers said: “We in the Church of Christ have a real fetish about being non-denominational, that is to say, in our origins we made a big thing out of having no creed.” This concept of non-denominational Christianity to this Mission interviewer is just a “fetish.” It implies that with him the church is just one denomination among many denominations, and this is one of the charges being made against Mission by some of their fellow-liberal brethren.

This man whom Mission labeled as a conservative” said: “When Billy Graham makes an allusion to the literalness of Jonah, I can see the people getting off at that stop. He doesnt really want them to get out there — what difference does it make, see? … For a man to get uptight on the historicity of Abraham, or the literalness of Joseph, or what actually happened at the Tower of Babel, is to man the guns on the wrong front…. Its a great thing when a man can handle higher criticism, and still love the scriptures.”

On one occasion, the Negro James Forman entered the Riverside Church and made his demand that white churches pay $500 million in “reparations” “for their complicity in Western structures that have historically denied opportunity and equality to black people.” The Riverside Church agreed to raise $450,000, though the fund will not be administered by Forman. However, one of the Mission interviewers posed this consideration to Mr. Campbell: “Maybe James Forman was the angel of the Lord, come down dressed in white garments, to tell you, look here, you know youre wedded to this damn thing. You cant be a church without it.” I believe, if I had been one of the interviewers, in view of this brother language, I would have demanded that he be specifically identified and the corrupt language attributed to the specific individual who used the curse word, rather than attributed only to “Mission.” And personally, I had not heretofore thought of James Forman as “the angel of the Lord.”

The Foundation-Advocate Coalition

The Firm Foundation and Gospel Advocate are now working together to try to stop Mission, and to try to get the three Abilene Christian College Bible professors to sever their connection with Mission as Trustees. James Bales said: “After sitting in on one of the early (Mission–CW) formation sessions, I had my apprehensions because of some who were taking the lead. Unfortunately my apprehensions have been confirmed rather than removed by the course the magazine has taken.” (Gospel Advocate, March 30, 1972) Bales stated that “I have been informed that the Board of Trustees of the journal has confidence in the editor, and they plan to keep him.” Since Bales charges that the editor, Roy Bowen Ward, “is, in my judgment, a modernist,” he said, “. . . it is my conviction that I should use whatever influence I have to appeal to the brethren to help change the nature of the journal or contribute to its cessation.”

Bales quotes a letter from Lewis Hale, which letter Hale gave Bales permission to use publicly. Hale had talked at length with Ray Chester, one of the Mission Trustees. Hale told Bales, “Some of the finest sermons I have ever heard were preached by Ray. Some four or five years ago when he was in a meeting at Edmond, Oklahoma, I asked Ray if he would preach those same sermons again. He said he would not, at least not as he did then, they would have to be modified. At the ACC Lectures a few years ago, Ray told me that he considered the churches of Christ (as we know them) to be one out of many denominations. . .”

Hale related a discussion with Chester, during the time when Mission was being planned. However, Hale said: “I never dreamed about attacks on the Creation story, undermining faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures, the absoluteness of truth, the un-denominational character of the church and a host of equally important matters.” Hale therefore concludes: “For this reason, I feel constrained to speak. I believe that men like Frank Pack and J. W. Roberts have been used to promote that which they do not believe nor endorse. If they knew they were staff writers for the purpose of giving a reading public to men like Neal Buffaloe and Roy Ward, I would like to think they would resign at once.” Bales ads, “I understand Pack has resigned.”

Bales charges: “Whether certain men on the Board and Staff realize it or not they are being used as a front under whose cover forces are at work to introduce modernism into the church.” Further Bales says, “. . . those associated with the journal have been content to leave the present editor, and some of his staff on the magazine even though it should be clear by now in which direction it is headed. Can they be without any responsibility for what the magazine is doing?”

You see, a good deal of pressure is being put on the three Abilene Christian College Bible faculty members to resign from Mission. Months have passed, and they continue to be listed as steady backers of Mission. Do you think perhaps Clevenger was right when he said, “The time is last approaching when the position of such men as are on the Bible faculty of Abilene Christian College must be made known to the brotherhood, and I have decided that L for one, will do what I can to expose the liberalism that prevails in the Bible Department here at ACC.”??

The Firm Foundation is also doing its best to get the three Abilene Christian College Bible faculty members to disavow the modernism which has been taught in Mission, but so far to no avail. Roy H. Lanier, Sr., one of the most respected of the Firm Foundation writers, reviewed the Warren Lewis article to which I referred in last weeks issue of Truth Magazine. Brother Lanier entitled his review, “Review of a Piece of Infidelity.” Lanier said, “I have received fourteen issues of the magazine and have learned that the majority of the articles reveal a decided distaste, and some of them a disgust, for the conservative positions commonly held among us and a decided effort to reform, or restructure, the doctrines and practices of churches of Christ. This movement is dominated by a group of young to middle-aged graduates of infidel and atheistic universities of the north and east and it seems that they are determined to lead churches of Christ into a socio-intellectual movement adapted in doctrine and practice to enjoy the fellowship of the denominational world.”

After reviewing this “Piece of Infidelity” written by Warren Lewis, Brother Lanier then adds: “But I cannot close this interview without saying something about the men who are responsible for such infidel teaching as this. Roy Bowen Ward is the Editor of the magazine…. But Editor Ward is selected, elected, to his position by the Trustees of Mission. Since Ward is their elected editor, they are responsible for what he endorses. If he endorses infidelity, and he is their representative, they are in the position of endorsing infidelity. I do not know all of these Trustees, though their names are printed in the magazine (p. 31). But there are three teachers in Abilene Christian College whom I do know. Being teachers at ACC, they are answerable to the brotherhood from which they draw students and financial support. If they continue to support such infidelity as is contained by Lewis, the brotherhood should know about it. If they do not intend to continue to support such infidel teaching they should tell the brotherhood in no uncertain language. And then they should clean up the magazine, turn it into an instrument of truth instead of infidelity, or take their names off the list of Trustees. . .” (Firm Foundation, March 14, 1972)

Brother Lanier continues: “The three teachers in Abilene Christian College who are Trustees of this magazine spreading infidelity are Everett Ferguson, Thomas H. Olbricht, and J. W. Roberts. I have no personal reasons for giving their names. They allow their names to be published in that magazine; they should not resent having their names given here as being partially responsible for this teaching going out to the brotherhood without their written disagreement and opposition. I think it is time for colleges depending upon the brotherhood for students and support to exercise some discipline met their teachers to see that they do not lend their names to encourage such infidel teaching as is being fed to the brotherhood in this magazine.”


Mission magazine is now in its sixth year. It has been putting out the same kind of liberal propaganda ever since it started. From its beginning it has been staffed, to a considerable degree, by Abilene Christian College and George Pepperdine College Bible faculty personnel. Several months have transpired now since the blasts of Bales and Lanier occurred, and the latest issue to arrive at my home (June, 1972) still lists the three ACC Bible faculty members as Trustees.

Now suppose these three ACC Bible faculty members capitulate to the pressure of such verbal blasts as those administered through the Gospel Advocate by James D. Bales and through the Firm Foundation by Roy Lanier, Sr. will this evidence a change of conviction? Or will it merely indicate that they too, like Eugene Clevenger, crumbled before administrative and brotherhood pressure?

Since Brother Lanier makes such a point about the Trustees being responsible for the infidelity taught through Mission, this raises another interesting little question. Brother Reuel Lemmons, who published -Brother Laniers article in the Firm Foundation, is on the Board of Trustees that employs these three professors.

I began this series of articles by a reference to an article by a young Brother Trainer in which he categorically denied there was any liberalism among the Bible faculty at ACC. With pressures like those referred to in these articles, cant you see how handy it was to President Stevens to have a conservative young man deny there is any liberalism at ACC? Brother Trainer agreed to write the article which appeared in the April 20, 1972 issue of Gospel Guardian in January. He had entered ACC the previous summer. He had not been there but about six months. Yet he assays to set at ease the mind of the brotherhood that there is no liberalism whatsoever in the ACC Bible faculty. I am sorry, Brother Trainer, but I am still not quite convinced!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 42, pp. 3-6
August 31, 1972