John Young, Visions of Restoration: The History of Churches of Christ (Cypress, 2019), reviewed by Cory Spruiell.
John Young is a historian and minister in Churches of Christ. This book reflects his ability and desire to give the church an accessible and readable survey of Churches of Christ as heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Visions of Restoration is a brief sprint through Church of Christ history from the “Big Four” (Stone, the Campbells, and Scott) to modern developments (such as Max Lucado or the Crossroads Movement). It is designed as an introductory work for personal or church Bible class level study. In many ways Young has accomplished what he set out to do.
After justifying the study in chapter 1, Young spends the next ten chapters tracing the history chronologically. In the final two chapters he picks up two often neglected topical studies, the African American experience and women within the movement. The appendix includes an annotated bibliography and suggested readings. The thirteen succinct chapters of the book are designed to fit within a teaching quarter and come with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. These features position the book as a solid resource for introducing the reader to the history of Churches of Christ and the broader world of scholarship in the field.
The book is selective by design. Young does not spend any time chasing rabbits, but focuses on the most important aspects of Church of Christ history. As such, even the moderate student of the history of Churches of Christ will not likely encounter much that they have not heard before. I will shamefully admit, much of the new information I gleaned came from the last chapters on African Americans and women.
In many ways the history Young records is a history of divisions within the church. The chapters are largely divided along the lines of splits or hermeneutical drifts in the movement. Some of these include instrumental music, the premillennial controversy, and the development of the “new hermeneutic.” Perhaps the most relevant of these in our present context is the move from sectarianism to social acceptance; a reality that continues to separate Churches of Christ into distinct tribes. Each enclave maintains their own periodicals, lectureships, and schools. He rightly identifies the cause of the many divergent trajectories as stemming from the rules of engagement set forth by Wallace during the premillennial controversy, radical congregation autonomy, and whether the silence of Scripture is permissive or prohibitive. Only his emphasis on the Christadelphians seems a little out of proportion (29-31, 105).
Overall, the work is impressive. Young is charitable, fair, and yet critical of his own faith tradition. Visions of Restoration would make for a great participant guide or companion to more comprehensive works. For instance, the chapter divisions fit well with Richard Hughes’ Reviving the Ancient Faith. Young’s work is a gift to Churches of Christ. For the average church member approaching the study of their faith heritage for the first time, this is a great place to start. It is readable, accessible, and interesting. With its excellent annotated bibliography, it also makes for solid starting point into the rest of the field. I hope many church members will benefit from what Young has done here. It will be my go-to resource for teaching Bible class or encountering a curious individual. I have already given my first copy away.
Cory Spruiell is a graduate of Harding University (B.A., Bible and Religion) and a student at Harding School of Theology (M.A., Theology). He is an associate minister at Cabot Church of Christ in Cabot, AR.