The Grace of Troublesome Questions

Vocation, Restoration, and Race

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Pub Date 07 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 29 Aug 2022

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A compelling story of how one man, in light of his Christian faith, questioned the exclusivist claims of church, nation, and race.

Richard Hughes never chose a vocation. Rather, a vocation chose him, requiring that he first make sense of two exclusivist narratives. On the one hand, the church of his youth claimed it was the one true church—the whole of Christendom, really—outside of which there was no salvation. On the other, he absorbed equally exclusivist assumptions common in his West Texas world—that the United States was God’s chosen people; a nation in sync with the way the Almighty, from the beginning of time, had meant for the world to run; a nation called to enlighten and redeem all humankind. 

In The Grace of Troublesome Questions, Richard Hughes shares his life-long research and quest to address these basic tensions as well as a third exclusivist assumption that he discovered embedded within himself and within his nation later in life—the pervasive notion of White supremacy. Each of these three claims—the one true church, the one true nation, and the one true race—was rooted in a notion that Hughes knew well: the claim on the part of believers that they had restored a golden age of pure beginnings. While that vision literally defined his boyhood church, Hughes also knew that none of those exclusivist, tribal claims squared with the teachings of the Christian faith. Filled with personal stories and penetrating analysis, The Grace of Troublesome Questions offers readers a behind the scenes guided tour of Hughes’s scholarship, and the clear and compelling vocation that has fueled his life’s work. 

A compelling story of how one man, in light of his Christian faith, questioned the exclusivist claims of church, nation, and race.

Richard Hughes never chose a vocation. Rather, a vocation chose him...

Advance Praise

“In this autobiographical theology, Richard Hughes offers readers a transformative collection of writing that reflects decades of scholarly and spiritual labor. No one has loved, studied, or wrestled more with the American Stone-Campbell religious tradition than Richard. And no one has expressed with more clarity its massive gifts and flaws, always with an eye to pressing it to become the ‘beloved community.’ Thank you, Richard, for your example of faith so evident in this volume.”

—Douglas A. Foster, Scholar in Residence, Graduate School of Theology, Abilene Christian University

The Grace of Troublesome Questions is a serious reflection on the meaning of Richard Hughes’s scholarship and life. Hughes’s compelling and technically rooted memoir provides a guide for those unwilling to turn their back on their religious tradition while awakening to the lament of the oppressed. In short, Richard Hughes is one who embodies the noble principle that he and his tradition advocate—‘the importance of an unbiased and open search for truth.’”

—David Fleer, Director, Christian Scholars Conference

“This book is a genuine treasure! It collects a careers’ worth of scintillating insights and profound spiritual wisdom from one of the finest scholars associated with the Churches of Christ. Within the volume’s expansive topical scope, every chapter is filled with illuminating nuggets. Hughes is always the master of his subject and invariably manages to think outside the box. As only one example, his chapter comparing the Churches of Christ and the Mormons remains a brilliant classic a generation after its genesis. To top it off, Hughes is a superb communicator who delivers his insights in beautiful, clear prose.”

—Grant Underwood, Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding, Brigham Young University

“A veritable cornucopia of insights and challenges, this collection of essays distills a lifetime of theological reflection, historical insight, and earnest Christian discipleship, always anchored in the teachings of Jesus and the example of the Early Church. Richard Hughes never disappoints. His writing is provocative, confessional, courageous, and inspiring. You will see the world differently after reading this book!”

—John Roth, Editor, Mennonite Quarterly Review; director, Mennonite Historical Library, and professor of history, Goshen College. 

“In The Grace of Troublesome Questions, Richard Hughes invites you to join him on the sacred journey that shaped his work and changed his life. Pay attention and it will change your life as well.”

—Robert M. Randolph, former Chaplain to Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“A careful reading of this collection of writings by Richard Hughes yields rich rewards. Readers see the historian’s mind at work as he reflects upon ‘the restoration vision’ and offers astute observations about our current vexed moment in history. Interspersed with retrospective personal essays about his unfolding vocational journey, readers are offered a glimpse into the heart of this loving husband, grateful student, devoted teacher, and humble scholar. There is a prophetic element, too, as we are invited to resist white supremacy and confront Christian nationalism in its more subtle forms. Finally, he urges us to consider the question, ‘where do people of faith go from here?’ For those familiar with Richard’s work, this collection will be a joyful reminder of what you already know to be true of his great mind and capacious heart. For those who are not, prepare to be elevated—inspired and challenged—in your understanding of American Christianity.”

—Hannah Schell, Editor of Vocation Matters, blog of the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), and coauthor, Christian Thought in America: A Brief History

“In this autobiographical theology, Richard Hughes offers readers a transformative collection of writing that reflects decades of scholarly and spiritual labor. No one has loved, studied, or wrestled...

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Featured Reviews

Get Out of my Head :-)

As a PK within the Disciples of Christ (which shares its Stone/Campbell roots with the author’s Churches of Christ), this was a very interesting book with respect to how each tradition evolved to where they are today. In many respects, it filled in a lot for me (and I thought I already knew a significant part of our history). More importantly, despite the optimism found early within the movement, our theology didn’t evolve within the true spirit of Christ … in fact, the author connects many of the flaws within out theology to many of the pernicious ills within (American/Western) society … calling us to task for our tacit (and sometimes explicit) support for slavery, segregation, et. al. He does so be exploring several social myths within [White] American society that I have generally seen as well, so I was favorably receptive to most of his arguments. If you are generally unsympathetic to BLM and/or typically “stay in your lane” in your treatment of those people on the margin, this book may be a tad uncomfortable (surprise, these are troublesome questions right … and he has some particularly harsh words for evangelicals specifically). Although I was i general agreement with many of his myths, I have come to realize that I actually have not gone far enough (so yeah … it was uncomfortable for me as well).

The book is divided into five (5) sections with the first section outlining the need to re-examine restorationist theology (and how it was originally formed) and the last section a general acknowledgement of the many people that help the author “see” his truth … and actually change his own understanding of the issues (much like my own father did as a contemporary … change of self is hard and admirable). Section two examines the restorationist movement as a whole with a surprising contract to evangelical theology that I was not aware of (given how the restoration movement and evangelicals appears to have evolved toward each other, this was not that surprising). Section three hits hard and is where the cracks in the current theology fails with respect to “The Kingdom of God” … It should not be overly controversial viewing that Jesus ministered to the margins … but our ability to turn a blind eye to those people with appear theological justification is. Section four is the call to action … and is the hardest part of the whole book. While there are no specific steps to follow, it becomes clear that we are called to do something (and the author turns to the examples of the Anabaptists/Reform churches for a road map). Just understanding the national myths and systemic biases of our society is a good start (and is helpful for fostering empathy and even love), but the hard part has always been taking the next step …


Section One: Called by Troublesome Questions
- Chapter 1: The Grace of Troublesome Questions
- Chapter 2: The Apocalyptic Origins of the Churches of Christ
- Chapter 3: Two Restoration Traditions: Mormons and Churches of Christ in the Ninetieth Century

Section Two: Called by a Book - Making Sense of the Restoration Vision
- Chapter 4: Called by a Book
- Chapter 5: Restoring First Times in the Anglo-American Experience
- Chapter 6: What Restorationists Don’t Fit the Evangelical Mold

Section Three: Called by the Upside-Down Kingdom of God
- Chapter 7: How a Teacher Heard the Call of Racial Justice
- Chapter 8: The Summons from the Biblical Text
- Chapter 9: Why I Am Not an Evangelical Christian

Section Four: Called to Question - The Restoration Vision, Innocence, and Race
- Chapter 10: How a Naive and Innocent Student Discerned the Umbilical Cord That Tie His Church to His Nation - And the Nation to His Church
- Chapter 11: The Restoration Vision and the Myth of the Innocent Nation
- Chapter 12: How Slavery Still Shapes the World of White Evangelical Christians
- Chapter 13: Resisting White Supremacy
- Chapter 14: Christian Nationalism and Racial Injustice: Where Do People Faith Go From Here?
- Chapter 15: How Can We Rethink the Restoration Vision ?

Section Five: The People Who Issued the Many Calls That Shaped My Vocation
- Chapter 16: The People Who Shaped My Vocation
- Chapter 17: Finding Someone to Love
- Chapter 18: “Next Time, Send Jan”
- Chapter 19: They Believed in Me: The Grace of Good Teachers
- Chapter 20: Five Words That Made a Difference - And the Man Who Spoke Them


I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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