Resisting Babel

Allegiance to God and the Problem of Government

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Pub Date 03 Mar 2020 | Archive Date 15 Sep 2020

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If the kingdom of God demands exclusive allegiance, how  do followers of Jesus engage with a world shaped by political power? 
After the trauma of the Civil War, David Lipscomb, a Nashville  farmer and church leader, advocated for allegiance solely in the kingdom of God rather than in human governments. Resisting Babel tells the story of Lipscomb’s compelling, coherent, and eschatologically grounded vision, which fostered deep and significant religious reform in the United States and led to missionary zeal across the globe. That vision articulated a way forward for Christianity amidst the world powers, though it was later subverted by those powers, both by its own implicit assumptions from within and the overwhelming forces of Babel without. What happened among Churches of Christ during that time serves as a case study and parable of both possibility and warning for the modern church. 
In this new book, Hicks has assembled the leading voices on  David Lipscomb. Contributors include: • Richard T. Hughes, Scholar in Residence at Lipscomb  University, is the leading historian of Churches of Christ and has authored the standard work on its history. • Richard Goode, professor of history at Lipscomb University,  has written about and practiced Pilgrim political theology, which is indebted in part to David Lipscomb. • Lee C. Camp, professor of theology at Lipscomb University,  is a leading ethicist among Churches of Christ. • Joshua Ward Jeffery, AP History teacher at the Orme  School in Mayer, AZ, is a leading historian of the relationship between pacifism, the church, and World War I.

If the kingdom of God demands exclusive allegiance, how  do followers of Jesus engage with a world shaped by political power? 
After the trauma of the Civil War, David Lipscomb, a Nashville farmer...

Advance Praise

“In an era in which Libertarians have discovered David Lipscomb, it is critical that those who entertain Lipscomb’s religious commitments probe in detail and in-depth the nuances of his ‘political’ theology. Hicks, Hughes, Goode, Jeffery, and Camp in this book have done just that in an exemplary fashion. They have copiously documented Lipscomb’s outlooks on the kingdom of God, government, and race and their relationships, situating them in their twentieth century milieu. They have likewise meticulously surveyed the appropriate scholarship of the past fifty years. Their book provides much food for thought in the environment in which we now find ourselves. These scholars relentlessly challenge us to work out how we Christians should relate to the government and live in community and globally with other races.” —Thomas H. Olbricht, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Religion, Pepperdine University “Though little known outside the Stone-Campbell churches of North America, David Lipscomb has exerted profound influence on millions of Christians around the world. This set of essays by a first-rate assemblage of scholars seeks to help us understand an underappreciated aspect of his life, thought, and writings—his political theology, which was prophetic and profound—and apply it critically to our own day and age. It deserves a wide reading, and Lipscomb himself deserves far more attention from students of American religion and public life.” —Douglas A. Sweeney, dean and professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University “It’s hard to believe that Churches of Christ were once the largest peace churches in America. This was in part due to the rich theological legacy of David Lipscomb. Resisting Babel provides a concise introduction to his social and political legacy that is both sympathetic and critical. In so doing, it provides valuable resources for all disciples aspiring to bear faithful witness to the inescapably political gospel of Jesus Christ. Campbellites of all stripes have forgotten why and how to resist the Babels of our day, and if we don’t snap out of such amnesia, we’ll have little resources for resisting the declining relevance of our churches.” —John C. Nugent, author of Endangered Gospel, The Politics of Yahweh, and Genesis 1-11 and cohost of the After Class Podcast. “This scrupulously honest book demonstrates in the life of David Lipscomb both the revolutionary social vision of the gospel combined with the example of the early church—and the power of American culture to subvert this vision. Don’t just read it and weep. Read it and take stock and then take heed.” —Shirley Showalter, author, speaker, and former professor of English and president of Goshen College.. “At a time when many American Christians unquestioningly affirm patriotism, nationalism, and partisan politics as spiritual values, David Lipscomb’s voice rings out as one crying in the desert. His radical views on the relationship between Christians and civic government find renewed relevance in today’s society, both for members of Churches of Christ and those from other fellowships. Within the pages of Resisting Babel, scholars who have dedicated much of their careers to studying the American Restoration movement present this message to a new generation, with analysis, praise, and critique. These writers have done a great service to the modern church, better preparing her to engage the current American political system.” —Timothy Archer, director of International Ministry, Herald of Truth, Abilene, Texas. “David Lipscomb was radical before radical was cool. His life shows us that one can be deeply political without being partisan, that one can work for liberation and abhor violence. Lipscomb stood for and with the poor against their rich oppressors, and demanded of Christians that they not kill one another. The writers here show that rather than move with the confusing whims of Babel, Lipscomb stood firm on the Rock of Ages, not building a tower to heaven but bearing witness to the reign of heaven on earth.” —Justin Bronson Barringer, editor of A Faith Not Worth Fighting For “This timely book offers an unprecedented historical and theological exploration of the ‘apocalyptic’ tradition in Churches of Christ—its origins in Barton Stone, its contours in David Lipscomb's thought, its influence on Lipscomb's race relations, its comparison to competing political theologies, its waning in the twentieth century among Churches of Christ, and its usefulness for Christian thought and practice today. We are indebted to these authors for illuminating how Christians might critically appropriate David Lipscomb’s rich political theology in 2020 to bear faithful witness to the kingdom of God.” —James L. Gorman, associate professor of History, Johnson University.

“In an era in which Libertarians have discovered David Lipscomb, it is critical that those who entertain Lipscomb’s religious commitments probe in detail and in-depth the nuances of his ‘political’...

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Featured Reviews

A series of essays regarding the political philosophy of David Lipscomb: its antecedents, its influence, its collapse among churches of Christ, and what ought to be its legacy.

Richard Hughes begins by anchoring Lipscomb in the "apocalyptic" tradition from Barton Stone and through Tolbert Fanning. John Mark Hicks, over two essays, details the nature of Lipscomb's political philosophy and uses his views on slavery and segregation as a case study. Richard Goode argues that Lipscomb fits into the tradition of the Christian pilgrim more than the Christian anarchist. Joshua Jeffery explained how the pacifist position of Lipscomb came under withering political persecution during World War I and how the view collapsed in churches of Christ. Lee Camp concluded with an assessment of Lipscomb's political ideology and its points of application and consideration for Christians today. The book also includes a chronological bibliography for Lipscomb and his political ideology.

The work does well at anchoring Lipscomb in the radical pacifist tradition, finding no real value in earthly government, finding it impossible to profess allegiance to a nation-state, considering voting an endorsement of whatever the candidate will eventually do, nonviolent in posture, yet in his apocalyptic stance certainly having a word to speak about the political issues of the day and seeking to identify with those with whom Jesus would have identified.

A lot of Camp's recommendations are very good, although Lipscomb can be faulted for not maintaining the tension about government in Scripture sufficiently. Romans 13 and Revelation 13 are both true at the same time: God empowers government for good, and those in it are corrupted by the Evil One and the powers and principalities for their own ends. Yes, God gave Israel a king in His wrath, and yet God's expected government of His people would feature King Jesus. Good can be accomplished through the coercive power of the nation-state, but it will not be the ultimate good which is accomplished in Jesus. There is a word of life which is to be spoken to those in government, but the Kingdom of God ought to remain transcendent of nation-states and their petty nationalisms, patriotisms, and partisanships.

A good resource for considering Lipscomb's political legacy, and all the more as the embrace of partisan politics is more and more exposed for the compromise and idolatry it is.

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Fascinating. I'm admittedly a Christian Anarchist myself, but coming from the Southern Baptist Church... let's just say if they weren't in the Bible and they weren't a famous Baptist preacher, I likely didn't hear of any other Christian leaders of the first Millenium AD. So I had never heard of David Lipscomb, a late 19th century/ early 20th century leader in the Church of Christ denomination, before reading this book. Here, Hicks, Richard T Hughes, Richard Goode, Lee C Camp, and Joshua Ward Jeffery - all seemingly very learned historians on the subject at hand - discuss and dissect Lipscomb's beliefs and how they are reflected (or not) in the American Church today, both inside the Church of Christ denomination and within the larger community. If you're interested in this subject for any number of reasons, it is a fairly fascinating and illuminating discussion. But if you're not particularly interested in its subjects, you're probably not going to enjoy this effort as much, as it does tend to get quite academic and religious in its discussions. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and didn't note any overt problems with it, so let's end with a rating of "very much recommended".

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