The “Dirt Philosophy”

In the Fall of 2013, I took an American Restoration Movement course at Harding School of Theology. In this class, we had to read Richard Hughes’ 2008 Reviving the Ancient Faith. Coincidentally, I got to meet Richard Hughes in Baltimore this past Fall and I was able to express to him personally my appreciation for his book. As I read through the book, there was a controversy which occurred in the 1850s which piqued my interest. I chose to do further research on the Fanning-Richardson controversy because I felt that this controversy was significant and has implications for Churches of Christ in the twenty-first century.

Prior to doing this research, I had never heard of Robert Richardson. I don’t think I had ever even heard his name. He was born in 1806 in Pennsylvania and as a young boy attended the school over which Thomas Campbell presided.[1] As a youth, he became impressed with the Campbells’ “zeal for and loyalty to the Scriptures.”[2] Walter Scott moved to Pittsburgh to take a teaching position and lived in the Richardsons’ home. Over time, Scott took keen interest in the young man and became his greatest influence. It was Scott who urged Richardson to consider baptism for remission of sins. After studying the issue, Richardson learned that Scott was holding a meeting in Shalersville, Ohio and rode on horseback 130 miles to be baptized by him.[3]

Richardson was more personally connected to Alexander Campbell than any other early Restoration leader. Alexander married Robert Richardson and Rebecca Encell in 1831.[4] Upon seeing a series of articles written by Richardson, Campbell urged him to move to Bethany and begin writing for the Millennial Harbinger in 1836.[5] Richardson had no idea this request would lead to nearly three decades serving as co-editor of the Harbinger with Campbell. In addition to co-editing the Harbinger, Richardson taught at Bethany College. He had a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania.[6] He taught physical science, anatomy and physiology, and French during his nearly three decades there.[7] At the end of Campbell’s life, he and his family personally selected Richardson to write Campbell’s Memoirs which continues to be one of his greatest contributions to the Stone-Campbell Movement.[8] Campbell’s family selected Richardson to deliver the eulogy at his funeral.[9] His relationship with Campbell led one author to give him the distinction “Campbell’s alter ego.”[10] Richardson’s contribution to the early Movement was considerable. W. T. Moore listed Richardson as one of the “Big Four” leaders of the early Restoration Movement alongside both Campbells and Walter Scott.[11] So, why hadn’t I heard about Robert Richardson?!

In 1857, Richardson began a series in the Harbinger entitled “Faith versus Philosophy” which would span ten articles.[12] This series would pit editor against editor, the Millennial Harbinger against the Gospel Advocate, Bethany College against Franklin College. Tolbert Fanning, the founder of Franklin College in 1845 and the Gospel Advocate in 1855 would wage war against Richardson, and eventually Campbell would be forced into the controversy. In these articles, Richardson sought to address a growing problem he saw in the Reformation Movement to which he belonged; namely, that Lockean empiricism had invaded the Movement and was sucking it dry of all spirituality.[13]

For a number of years, Richardson had expressed concerns about the direction of the Movement. For example, in 1843, Campbell debated Presbyterian Nathan L. Rice.[14] In the debate Campbell affirmed the position: “In Conversion and Sanctification, the Spirit of God operates on persons only through the Word.”[15] Richardson disagreed with Campbell’s use of the word “only” and said this could not be supported by a “Thus saith the Lord” and considered it an opinion rather than a subject for religious debate.[16] In 1844, Richardson published three articles entitled “The Crisis” under the pseudonym “Silas” in which he expressed his concern for the Reformation Movement’s lack of theology regarding the Holy Spirit.[17] Thus, Richardson’s frustrations with the Movement had been ruminating for years.

The hermeneutical strategies of Campbell and other early Restoration leaders weren’t unique to them. By in large, Campbell inherited many of his views from European philosophers and scientists. The early Restoration leaders were not shy about being influenced by Francis Bacon and John Locke. First, the Restoration leaders were influenced by the Baconian inductive approach as applied through Scottish Common Sense Realism. Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum laid out his inductive approach to scientific research which is basically synonymous with what we refer to as the scientific method. The Baconian method emphasizes gathering data through observation and after examining the data, stating those conclusions that the data elicits. Those conclusions are just self-evidently “true”.

The effect of Baconianism on the Stone-Campbell Movement cannot be overstated. The first school of higher education in the Movement opened in 1836 and was named Bacon College after Sir Francis Bacon. The name alone was a symbol of the Movement’s commitment to Baconian rationalism.[18] Campbell would say in a speech at Bethany College, “We are in science and philosophy Baconians and not Aristotelians. We build on Bible facts and documents and not on theories and speculations.”[19] Through this method, Campbell and his followers would apply the methods of natural science to the Bible and would conceive of it as a book of “facts.”

The second major impact on the early leaders was Lockean empiricism. John Locke (1632-1704) was a classic physicist in England who produced some very important essays during the enlightenment period; most notably An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Letters on Toleration which were both highly influential in the Stone-Campbell Movement.[20] In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke laid out his understanding of knowledge, faith, and opinion. Knowledge consists in those things which can be verified by the senses and known certainly. Faith consists in those things known by revelation and not sense experience, and opinions are all the things which are not known by sense experience or revelation.[21] For Locke, it was important to distinguish between what is known certainly and what is known by opinion and speculation. Locke was among the first philosophers to ground Christian belief in sense experience and reason. The basis of Locke’s epistemology was that the human mind is a tabula rasa and through sense experience, humans come to understand the world from without.

In the religious environment of the early Stone-Campbell Movement in the Second Great Awakening, both Baconian philosophy and Lockean empiricism proved to be important tools at getting to certainty in Bible “facts.” These philosophies provided a vehicle for the early Restoration leaders to apply the scientific method to the Bible. Just as the natural scientist gathers facts from empirical observation, the Biblical scientist gathers facts from Scripture and makes his case. By reasoning from the facts, one could attain certainty in religious knowledge.[22] However, there is a potential problem with an approach that applies the scientific method to the Bible. Science had despiritualized and demystified the universe. Before the advent of modern science, a tornado would have been attributed to the hand of God. After the advent of modern science, we understand about air pressure and weather patterns and we have a rational explanation for tornadoes. We don’t need to God to explain tornadoes. When the scientific method was applied to the Bible, it had a tendency to do the same thing. Thus, since we have the Word of God that we can hold in our hands, we don’t need to explain spiritual phenomena by appealing to the Holy Spirit.

During the 1850s, Tolbert Fanning was one of the most outspoken opponents of “spiritualism”. He began a series of articles in the 1856 Gospel Advocate entitled “Metaphysical Discussions”. He took aim at what he called “transcendental and spiritual philosophy.” In the fourth essay on this topic, Fanning laid out the history of philosophy. When discussing John Locke, he wrote, “John Locke, the real author of the Baconian philosophy and all correct thinking in England since his day, was born in 1632.”[23] By describing Locke as the author of “Baconian philosophy” and “all correct thinking in England”, Fanning betrayed his philosophical biases. He went on to note Locke’s emphasis that “knowledge comes through sensation and reflection”; “the mind is a blank sheet upon which may be written impressions according to external influences”; “all our information is from without”; and that beyond those things which “come into the mind through the senses… we can gain no knowledge.”[24] Fanning employed Lockean empiricism as a sword to combat the growing threat of transcendentalism and spiritualism within the Movement.

For a number of years, Richardson had been concerned about what he considered a growing sickness in the Movement. He expressed his concerns in the article “Misinterpretation of Scriptures- No. I” that the “letter” had been elevated over the “spirit”.[25] These concerns materialized into a later series entitled “Faith versus Philosophy”. President Fanning had supplied him with a prime example of the sickness. Richardson did not believe there was any flaw in the basic principles of the Movement (i.e. right of private judgment, Bible as guide in religion, and rejection of creeds and speculative philosophy).[26] However, those great principles had not yet led to Christian union, and the great hopes for the Movement had not been fully realized. Richardson attributed this failure to a “serpent” that had cunningly entered “Eden” and seduced members with the “charms of forbidden knowledge.”[27]

In his third article, Richardson diagnosed the disease:

To come directly to the point, then, I would state that, in my judgment, the error consists in the introduction of theories and speculations in direct violation of the very fundamental principles of this Reformation; in other words, that it is to be found in the commingling together of human opinions with the Divine teachings and thus adulterating faith with human philosophy.[28]

Fanning was the perfect example of this error. Fanning believed he had completely discarded all philosophy and charged anyone embracing speculative philosophy as an infidel. The irony of Fanning’s articles is that in his denunciation of all philosophy, Fanning had actually openly employed Lockean philosophical theory. Richardson says:

Surely, then, unless President F. thinks incorrectly or not at all, it must be admitted that John Locke is the author of his thinking, and that he is, however unconscious of it, a philosopher of the School of Locke, or, what is usually termed A SENSUALISTIC DOGMATIST.[29]

By accepting Locke’s tabula rasa theory and that knowledge only comes to the soul externally through sensory experience, Fanning believed that mankind is entirely dependent upon the Bible for any knowledge of God. Richardson would later call this philosophy the “dirt philosophy” because of its tendency to materialize all knowledge.[30] He charged that Fanning was guilty of employing philosophy “without having the slightest suspicion of the influence.”[31] Richardson believed that many in the Movement, like Fanning, were violating one of the core principles: the rejection of creeds, traditions, and philosophies.

Richardson thought the dirt philosophy was particularly dangerous. “One of its most striking features is, that it constantly seeks to resolve everything into sensation, or into mere words.”[32] He continued, “It is, hence, naturally and directly antagonistic to everything spiritual in religion.” After imbuing the mind the dirt philosophy “gradually dries up the fountains of spiritual sympathy.”[33] In a private correspondence with Isaac Errett in 1857, Richardson also charged Campbell with espousing the dirt philosophy:

The philosophy of Locke with which Bro. Campbell’s mind was deeply imbued in youth has insidiously mingled itself with almost all the great points in the reformation and has been all the while like an iceberg in the way- chilling the heart and benumbing the hands, and impeding all progress in the right direction.[34]

Richardson provided an example of the application of the dirt philosophy on hermeneutics. Some reformers were interpreting the phrase in Ephesians 5:18 “be filled with the Spirit” by its parallel passage in Colossians 3:16 (“Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you”). He said the whole point of comparing these two passages is to make the “Spirit” interchangeable with “the word of Christ.”[35] The spiritual had been reduced to the material. The dirt philosophy had done its work. Richardson knew that the Baconian/Lockean method had been used as a weapon against “vain and enthusiastic notions of ‘spiritual operations’” which had prevailed in the Second Great Awakening. However, the collateral damage caused by using the philosophy as a weapon was that everything spiritual about Christianity had been carnalized. The pendulum had swung to the opposite extreme and Christianity had been reduced to forms and ordinances which he regarded as the “logical machinery.” Richardson said, “In the midst of their tirades against ‘miraculous agencies, ghosts and sights and dreams,’ they seem to have lost sight of the real connexion [sic] between the word and the Spirit of God.”[36]

Once Fanning read “Faith versus Philosophy- No. 4” where he was given as the prime example of one “imbued with speculative philosophy”, he swiftly replied.[37] With regard to the accusation that he was imbued with Lockean philosophy, Fanning replied, “John Locke denied all theories and speculations, and therefore was, strictly speaking, no philosopher.”[38] For Fanning, Lockean epistemology was not an actual philosophy since it purportedly denied all other philosophies. He simply equated Lockean epistemology with the truth of the Bible. In response to this evident self-contradiction, Richardson simply said in a footnote, “comment is unnecessary.”[39]

Fanning also went on the offensive against Richardson. Whereas he had been termed a “sensualistic dogmatist”, he charged Richardson with “transcendentalism”, “spiritualism”, the sins of Jesse B. Ferguson and modern spiritualists like Theodore Parker and Andrew Jackson Davis.[40] In Fanning’s “Sixth Reply to Prof. Robert Richardson”, he would sum up his position:

We admit very candidly that our faith has come by hearing and our hearing has been by the word of God. We profess no religious belief beyond what is written or “verbal.” Words limit our confidence in religious truth. We also freely admit that we acknowledge none but a “formal religion,” and we can with a good conscience pronounce all men infidels and profane scoffers at spiritual truth who profess anything beyond “verbal truth or truth taught in words,” or beyond the “formal religion” of the Bible. We are not ashamed to admit our position.[41]

Notice his emphasis on the “verbal truth or truth taught in words”. This is exactly what Richardson was critiquing- a Spirit-less view of the Bible. He charged that the philosophical theories of John Locke had caused this and had diseased the movement.

Surprisingly, Alexander Campbell stayed silent throughout most of the dispute. Fanning often appealed to Campbell to intervene and state with whom he sided. A Baptist publication had picked up on the debate and published an article in 1857 entitled “On Which Side is A. Campbell.” Campbell was forced to respond. In the Millenial Harbinger, he retorted that he thought that Professor Richardson had been “infelicitous in the choice of a subject, and again in his manner of treating it.”[42] While critiquing his choice of topic, he did not necessarily side with either Richardson or Fanning as to the content of the debate. Cloyd Goodnight and Dwight Stevenson record that behind the scenes Campbell severely chastised Richardson for the articles.[43] Following the last article of the series “Faith versus Philosophy”, a notice was included that Richardson was leaving the Harbinger.[44] The damage had been done. Richardson resigned and left Bethany to accept a teaching position at Kentucky University where his colleague Robert Milligan had been named the President.[45] For the moment, it seemed Fanning had prevailed.

In the February edition of the Harbinger, a short article by Alexander Campbell appeared entitled “Faith versus Philosophy” in which Campbell completely reversed his position.[46] He pointed out that the real issue had never been “faith versus philosophy” but should have been better titled “the ‘Gospel Advocate,’ versus the ‘Millennial Harbinger,” and ‘Franklin College,’ versus ‘Bethany College.’”[47] He also expressed his opinion that Fanning had “greatly exaggerated the magnitude of the issue he had formed.”[48] Fanning was distraught and humiliated by Campbell’s article. Fanning even asserted that men across the nation were beginning to call for his resignation at the school because Campbell had sided against him.[49] In Campbell’s response, he defended Richardson by stating that he had never espoused any spiritualism or transcendentalism.[50] Campbell concluded the discussion:

I, therefore, conclude that President Fanning is super-excited by some ignis fatuus of his too vivid and excitable imagination. I am not, however, without hope that on more grave reflection Bro. Fanning will recover from this panic and be satisfied that there is not a false philosophy, a false theology, a false christology, nor a false science of any sort, promulged [sic], accredited, winked at or permitted in the whole course of education in Bethany College.[51]

As far as Campbell was concerned, the controversy was over.

This debate was but a foreshadowing of the major division ahead for the Disciples. The controversy ended just on the cusp of the Civil War that would divide not only a nation but the Stone-Campbell Movement as well. The hermeneutical differences would continue to cause division until unity was no longer possible. By the end of the 1800s, the Movement would be split. The Fanning-Richardson controversy is a lens to explore this divide.

Churches of Christ in the South would continue to embrace the basic hermeneutical methods of Fanning through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.[52] Churches of Christ maintain a strong emphasis on Biblical interpretation and a “Thus saith the Lord” constitutionalist attitude toward Scripture. The basic hermeneutic is still Lockean with an emphasis on Bible facts and the written word. It was Locke who had first emphasized “commands” and “examples” for understanding the Bible. Campbell didn’t invent that hermeneutic. He borrowed it from Locke. Many in Churches of Christ still hold to a “word only” understanding of the Spirit’s work. As one of the most influential leaders in Churches of Christ in the South, Fanning’s views continue to exert considerable influence on Churches of Christ.[53]

On the other hand, Robert Richardson’s legacy has been mostly ignored. Though highly regarded by esteemed leaders in his day, he has been all but disinherited by his later heritage. A few works have appeared recently advocating for the recovery of Richardson’s contributions.[54] What was so controversial about Richardson’s articles? Why was Fanning’s inferior argument the one accepted by many in Churches of Christ? “And perhaps the most important question, what accounts for the fear that surfaces among the leaders of the Restoration movement in relation to this episode and its focal issue?”[55] Perhaps it is because Richardson’s critique cuts to the very core of how we understand the Bible.

The lack of spiritual progress in the Movement deeply concerned Richardson. He attributed the source of this impediment to rationalistic Lockean philosophy which had unbeknownst to its hosts invaded and sapped the Movement dry of spiritual moorings. Richardson believed deeply in the principles of the Restoration Movement. However, he also believed that the Church had removed the true source of spiritual vitality and progress that was essential in accomplishing the core principles. His proposed solution required a recovery of a Biblical and practical theology of the Holy Spirit:

We may rest assured that no partial advance will be sufficient; no partial preaching of the gospel will accomplish God’s work. It will not do to stop with baptism for remission of sins and leave the convert deprived by false philosophy of all true faith in the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the impartation of which is the great end of the gospel ministration, and which is the true source of spiritual life and power, both in the individual Christian and in the church itself.[56]

Perhaps Richardson has something to share with Churches of Christ in the twenty-first century. Perhaps we are overdue for a renewed emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Churches of Christ need to recover a strong doctrine of the Holy Spirit and a strong emphasis on personal spiritual progress in the lives of believers. Richardson encourages us to emphasize spiritual progress empowered by the Holy Spirit as a corrective to a hyper-rationalistic hermeneutic that emphasizes the letter over the spirit.



[1] Cloyd Goodnight, Life of Dr. Robert Richardson, (194?), 1-11.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., 4-5, 12-13. After being baptized, Richardson helped Scott with The Evangelist until moving to Bethany.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] Ibid., 23.

[6] Paul M. Blowers, “Richardson, Robert (1806-1876)” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, et. al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 649-50.

[7] Ibid., 52.

[8] Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Embracing a View of the Origin, Progress and Principles of the Religious Reformation Which He Advocated, 2 vols. (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing Company, 1890); Goodnight, 273.

[9] Goodnight, 157; Robert Richardson, “Address at the Funeral Services of A. Campbell,” Millennial Harbinger 37, no. 3 (March 1866): 139-44.

[10] Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement, rev. ed. (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1994), 246.

[11] William Thomas Moore, A Comprehensive History of the Disciples of Christ (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1909), 282.

[12] Two articles were incorrectly labeled as “Faith versus Philosophy- No. 5”.

[13] Richardson’s preferred label for the Stone-Campbell Movement was “Reformation Movement”. This illustrates something of his views about the Movement. Fanning, on the other hand, preferred “Restoration Movement” and when referring to Richardson’s writings would always put “Reformation” in quotations. Tolbert Fanning, “Professor R. Richardson’s Philosophy,” Gospel Advocate 3, no. 8 (August 1857): 253; Tolbert Fanning, “Professor Robert Richardson’s Theology as Set Forth In The Millennial Harbinger for September, 1857,” Gospel Advocate 3, no. 10 (October 1857): 320; Tolbert Fanning, “President A. Campbell’s Notice of the Gospel Advocate and Its Senior Editor,” Gospel Advocate 4, no. 5 (May 1858): 135, 141.

[14] Edward H. Sawyer, “Campbell-Rice Debate” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, et. al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 145.

[15] Alexander Campbell and Nathan L. Rice, A Debate Between Rev. A Campbell and Rev. N.L. Rice on Christian Baptism (Lexington, KY: A. T. Skillman and Son, 1844), 611-613.

[16] Cloyd Goodnight and Dwight E. Stevenson, Home to Bethpage: A Biography of Robert Richardson (St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication, 1949), 123.

[17] Robert Richardson, “The Crisis- No. I,” Millennial Harbinger, ser. 3, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1844): 17-19; Robert Richardson, “The Crisis- No. II,” Millennial Harbinger, ser. 3, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1844): 61-62; Robert Richardson, “The Crisis- No. IV,” Millennial Harbinger, ser. 3, vol. 1, no. 6 (June 1844): 272-73. See also Darren Ross Johnson, “Tolbert Fanning vs. Robert Richardson: Battling for the Birthrights of the “People of the Book”” (master’s thesis, Emmanuel School of Religion, 1999), 27.

[18] Richard L. Harrison Jr., “Bacon College” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, et. al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 55.

[19] Alexander Campbell, “Bethany College,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 5, vol. 1, no. 4 (April 1858): 213.

[20] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Doverbooks (New York: Dover Publications, 1959); John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, Library of Liberal Arts 22 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1955).

[21] This distinction is prominent in Richardson’s Principles of the Reformation chapter 1.

[22] Allen, Things Unseen, 58.

[23] Tolbert Fanning, “Metaphysical Discussions- No. 4,” Gospel Advocate 3, no. 1 (January 1857): 3.

[24] Ibid., 3-4.

[25] Richardson, “Misinterpretation of the Scriptures- No. I,” 502.

[26] Robert Richardson, “Faith versus Philosophy- No. I,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 3 (March 1857): 135-36.

[27] Ibid., 135.

[28] Robert Richardson, “Faith versus Philosophy- No. 3,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 5 (May 1857): 255.

[29] Robert Richardson, “Faith versus Philosophy- No. 4,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 5 (May 1857): 274.

[30] Robert Richardson, “President Fanning’s ‘Reply’,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 7 (August 1857): 433-34.

[31] Richardson, “Faith versus Philosophy,- No. 4,” 274.

[32] Robert Richardson, “Faith versus Philosophy- No. 5,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 6 (June 1857): 329.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Goodnight, 361; In Memoirs he would highlight that Thomas Campbell had introduced Alexander to Locke’s essays. He notes that Locke’s essays “seem to have made a lasting impression” on the young Campbell, 33-34. Alexander Campbell referred to him as the “great Christian philosopher” in “Locke on Toleration,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 3, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1844): 11-12.

[35] Richardson, “Faith versus Philosophy- No. 5,” 333.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Tolbert Fanning, “Reply to Professor Robert Richardson,” Gospel Advocate 3, no. 6 (June 1857), reprinted in Robert Richardson, “President Fanning’s ‘Reply’,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 7 (August 1857): 435.

[38] Ibid., 445.

[39] Robert Richardson, “President Fanning’s ‘Reply’,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 7 (August 1857): 445.

[40] See Tolbert Fanning, “Professor R. Richardson’s Philosophy, As Set Forth In The Millennial Harbinger For August, 1857,” Gospel Advocate 3, no. 9 (September 1857): 273-88; Tolbert Fanning, “Sixth Reply to Prof. Robert Richardson,” Gospel Advocate 3, no. 11 (November 1857): 337-43.

[41] Fanning, “Sixth Reply to Prof. Robert Richardson,” 339.

[42] Alexander Campbell, “The Religious Herald and Prof. Richardson,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 14 (October 1857): 577.

[43] Goodnight and Stevenson, 176-77.

[44] Robert Richardson, “Faith versus Philosohpy- No. IX,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 12 (December 1857): 703.

[45] Goodnight, 131-32.

[46] Alexander Campbell, “Faith versus Philosophy,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 5, vol. 1, no. 2 (February 1858): 86.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Tolbert Fanning, “President A. Campbell’s Notice of the Gospel Advocate and its Senior Editor,” Gospel Advocate vol. 9, no. 3 (March 1858): 69-70.

[50] Alexander Campbell, “Gospel Advocate,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 5, vol. 1, no. 4 (April 1858): 231.

[51] Alexander Campbell, ”Our Colleges- Bethany College,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 5, vol. 1, no. 4 (April 1858): 236.

[52] See Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1974), 1:345; James Wilburn, The Hazard of the Die: Tolbert Fanning and the Restoration Movement (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Company, 1969), 200-203. Both authors uncritically accepted Fanning’s position in the controversy.

[53] Richard Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2008), 73.

[54] Stephen Berry, “Room for the Spirit: The Contribution of Robert Richardson,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 21, no. 3 (July 1986): 83-90; Pat Brooks, “Robert Richardson: Nineteenth Century Advocate of Spirituality,” Restoration Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1978): 135-49; Steve Singleton, “Robert Richardson on the Holy Spirit: Balance Between Rationalism and Spiritualism,” Stone-Campbell Journal 1, no. 2 (Fall 1998): 155-66.

[55] All these questions appear in Allen and Swick, 59.

[56] Robert Richardson, “Faith versus Philosophy- No. VII,” Millennial Harbinger ser. 4, vol. 7, no. 19 (October 1857): 551.



  1. You were correct—I liked this article. 🙂

    A few random (disjointed) thoughts:

    –Your concluding paragraph is very strong, and I agree that this emphasis of Richardson is something we need to hear.

    –This observation has nothing specifically to do with the main point of your post, but I am a big fan of Hughes’ book, and I think he tries to be fair for the most part. That being said, his preference of Stone over Campbell comes through clearly, and greatly influences much of his analysis.

    –I think calling Richardson Campbell’s alter-ego significantly overstates their similarities, but it is not surprising to me that Leroy Garrett would want to suggest it. 🙂

    –Fanning is a perfect example of the problem that many people (myself included) often find themselves in: we assume that we can divorce ourselves from our biases and preconceptions and be truly objective about things. Perfect objectivity is rarely, if ever, possible for us.

    –I think Fanning’s harsh response to Richardson is more understandable in light of Jesse Ferguson controversy which you mentioned. From our perspective today, there is a HUGE distinction between a teaching of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Richardson) and the idea of spiritualism (Ferguson). I think the distinction back then would have been much murkier, and that it was easy for Fanning to (falsely) assume that the former necessarily led to the latter. Sadly, it seems to be human nature to respond to one extreme position by adopting the opposite extreme position.

    Thanks for this, Garrett; the research was impressive. Was this originally a paper for your class?

    1. Thanks for the read Luke. Great thoughts! I did write my paper for class on this. I cut out 1,000+ words to make it blog-able. Haha I cut out a section that explained why it got so heated. First was the Jesse B Ferguson issue which you mentioned. The second was that Fanning had already had a debate with Robert Milligan, Richardson’s colleague at Bethany. Both Fanning and Richardson looked at their controversy as round two of an ongoing disagreement.
      If you’re interested you should check out Richardson’s book on the Holy Spirit.

      1. If you think that’s bad, you should seen it before I edited it. haha I knew that post wouldn’t be for everyone. Just putting it out there for the few that might be interested.

  2. I connect with your article, first because my daughter recommended it and it will generate a lot of discussion for us, and second because I have recently written a book (“Filling The Temple: Finding A Place For The Holy Spirit”) that directly addresses this topic.

    Although philosophy impacted the beginnings of our Restoration movement and its direction, I am not to quick to think only badly of its influence. Those (Bacon, Locke, etc.) attempting to find the best ways to reason probably found some. To think clearly and responsibly is surely better than loopy and careless thinking. And for all of our critiques of those who seem to vest too much emphasis in the written text of Scripture, the Bible still remains the essential revelatory source for knowing God.

    In this, I come away with a high regard for Campbell and many others of the early pioneers. His sixth debate point against Rice was not intended to keep the Spirit out of Christian spirituality, but to mark as unbiblical those views of conversion that would make a hearing of the Gospel unnecessary. John Piper has written a recent book making the same point, indicating that some to this day look for the Holy Spirit’s direct influence to fairly coerce a conversion, apart from any support or contribution from the convert. In short, Campbell’s context was limited to the Spirit’s role in conversion (and he used “sanctification” to mean the initial sanctification that attends conversion). Campbell was right, and his position has enduring value.

    And philosophy alone cannot be handed full blame for the Spirit-less spirituality that attends some in churches of Christ. Much can be handed to heresies attached to views of the Holy Spirit and to the backlash this has generated among our people. We have, at times, been so eager to avoid the false teachings that we tossed out the Spirit as well, just to be safe! If anything, the influence of dated philosophies was probably only a contributing factor, if not a scapegoat for our failures.

    Our saving grace, however, is our back-to-the-Bible approach to spiritual authority. At times we have mined the texts for “facts” and have organized them in theologically suspect ways. But that essential impulse has driven many of us to find Christ Jesus, to find the Spirit dwelling in our hearts, and to know God through the entirety of a grand Biblical narrative. That impulse has driven us to the utmost care in forming our beliefs and practices.

    Yes, we have made many mistakes and followed many wrong paths. But there are those of us inn the present generation who have used every one of them as a learning experience (“experience is the name everyone gives his mistakes!”). But with every blunder, the “back-to-the-Bible” guidance system does exactly what our pioneers said it would. It has led to truth.

    What really excites me are signs that the denominational world shows signs that may signal a tremendous fulfillment of the Restoration dream in the very near future. The “new perspective on Paul” is dismantling Reformed objections against baptism, which even debaters as great as Campbell were unable to accomplish. Look at Francis Chan’s belief in the salvific role for baptism as well as his careful belief in power from the Holy Spirit!

    And I sense that our people are hungry for the Spirit’s presence, and I am hopeful that my book offers a meaningful theology that takes over where J. W. McGarvey left off. Clinging traditions and clumsy philosophies will not hinder us if we ever go back-to-the-Bible. That is the genius of our Restoration.

    Yours in Christ Jesus,
    John G. Krivak

  3. Thanks, Garrett, I also appreciate your thoughts, both here and the article on keeping Millennials in our fellowship (and my daughter at least as much).

    I should add that when Campbell insisted, “In Conversion and Sanctification, the Spirit of God operates on persons only through the Word,” he meant the word “only” in the precise sense of “always.” In other words, the sage of Bethany insisted that Christian conversion always required a hearing of and a response to the Word of God (the Gospel). He did not, however, restrict the Spirit’s activity to “ink”, but cheerfully admitted other “secondary causes” (such as linking an evangelist with a convert, or even the intervention of supernatural beings). The Spirit’s manifold activity swirls all about the convert, as external nudgings. But the Word–always–is the saving revelation that prompts, from within, the relational responses which issue in salvation for every authentic conversion. Campbell’s debate with Rice, lengthy as it is, is still a cracking-good read!

    Campbell’s writings, even from the early Christian Baptist, show a lively spirituality with a keen awareness of supernatural experience. He believed in the Holy Spirit. Those who try to make Campbell (or the entire Restoration Movement) out as being so steeped in rationalism as to bypass genuine spirituality do not know the man (or the Movement).

    John G. Krivak

  4. My apologies, if my abounding interest in this topic has left others behind and led me to dominate the string of responses.

    I just read an article discussing which influence, whether reason or religion, played a larger role in shaping the thinking of our nation’s Founding Fathers (see Sound familiar? Both in their case and, in particular, in that of Alexander Campbell and our Restorationist Fathers, I cannot see why the answer can not confidently be both!

    Assuming the influence of whatever strands of rationalistic, Enlightenment philosophies were then at play, what exactly are we claiming (or denying) for our predecessors? Can it be claimed that Campbell was rationalistic, ergo unloving? That he was rationalistic, ergo unspiritual?? Does it follow that an “ir-rational” person should necessarily be loving and spiritual?

    A survey of Campbell’s life and writings disproves both assertions. So what fair deductions may be made, other than simply to say that Campbell was a man of his times (and could scarcely be otherwise). And, should we take utmost care, mindful of our proclivity toward “chronological snobbery”, to avoid criticizing the thinking of his day with the cultural drift (largely invisible to us) that owns our own cultural time and place?

    One means of assessing the true value of our heritage is by examining the ongoing value of the thinking of that day. I have already asserted that the “back-to-the-Bible” strategy has yielded much of enduring value. Campbell, whether by reason or religion, seems to have landed on at least three transcendent markers that guided his day and offer the same in ours:
    1. That NT urgings to Christian unity obviate the wrongness of denominationalized Christianity, and that such divisions should be opposed and, where possible, removed.
    2. That ecclesial clergy and authority structures are the key impediment to such progress, and this because Biblical forms of church leadership have been replaced.
    3. That, all claims by Reformed and Calvinistic theologies to the contrary notwithstanding, a truly Biblical understanding of Christian conversion necessarily requires baptism.

    In all these areas, Campbell bucked the popular thinking of his age. Whatever the influence of Locke & company, these achievements cannot be denied him.

    And, should we go wobbly on such concerns, the cause may have less to do with our superior grasp of theology and Biblical doctrine, and more to do with the hyper-tolerance and aversion to critical thinking that are spawned by the Zeitgeist of our own cultural biases. We may be more open to accepting denominational Christianity for no better reason than the philosophical currents that sweep us along (and will be subject to scrutiny and criticism by our own successors not long after our lifespans time out).

    So, I ask: if Campbell was so tainted by philosophy, how did he get things so right?

    John Krivak

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