I love Christmas! Mostly because I am an overgrown child. But judging by the look of this blog, you may have already picked up on that. No matter how old I get, or how much money we throw away, I still look forward to the big day–the hanging lights part, not so much. One thing my wife dislikes is the shortened period of daylight because it’s depressing to drive home from work after sundown. I love the earlier evenings, though, because it means that Christmas is coming!
My enthusiasm for the holiday is in no way deterred by the debate surrounding the origin of the Christmas holiday. Since my days in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement, I have seen some leaders advocate for December 25 as the true date of the birth of Jesus, while most I have seen take no position on the date, but certainly promote the celebration of the “official,” if not actual, anniversary of the incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Being the revivalists that they are, fundamentalists would never discourage church attendance by downplaying Christmas! In fact, part of my personal love for Christmas is probably rooted in the virtual show-and-tell encouraged by my beloved childhood pastor, who had the children bring their favorite Christmas gift to church to show it off and tell us about it.
Since about the year 2000, however, I have embraced Reformed theology, and since 2010, my wife, youngest daughter, and I have worshipped in a congregation of the Orthodox (as in, not liberal!) Presbyterian Church. The attitude and practice of my new denomination and theological tradition regarding Christmas is much more varied. I find a few who reject it entirely, many like myself who love and celebrate it with enthusiasm, and leaders who walk a very diplomatic public line between the varying opinions. The fact is that the Reformed wing of the Protestant Reformation is the historical source of the rejection of Christmas and Easter, although many sects and factions who reject these holidays often do so for reasons completely foreign to the Protestant Reformation.
So, the question of the true origin of Christmas continues to be an issue of interest for me. In the past I have promoted Touchstone Magazine‘s interesting article,” Calculating Christmas.” This article takes the “Mere Christianity” approach to defending the Christian origin of Christmas against claims of its pagan origin.In other words, it deals primarily with issues agreed on by each major branch of Christendom: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. Some details of Touchstone’s case remain a matter of debate; however, their full-throated affirmation of the Christian origin of Christmas appeals to a guy like me. Nevertheless, Touchstone’s ecumenical approach leaves a few issues outstanding as the issue of celebrating Christmas relates to a Reformed believer’s observance of the holiday.
Reformed theology subscribes to Scripture’s authority to regulate the worship of the church–a doctrine we call “the regulative principle of worship” (RPW). Nowadays, Reformed churches differ on how this principle applies to the observance of Christmas. Some, while rejecting the Catholic Church Calendar on the grounds of the RPW, retain the observance of Easter and Christmas. This view seems to predominate today among Reformed churches. Others reject even these two holidays in favor of only observing the Lord’s Day, applying the Old Covenant Sabbath principles to New Covenant worship. They say we celebrate 52 holidays on the Reformed “church calendar.” While the former agree with the latter on the primacy of the Lord’s Day, they do see a place for the commemoration of the anniversary of the incarnation and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in the life of the church, even on the Lord’s Day. The goal of the Protestant Reformation was to reform the doctrine and practice of the church according to the Scriptures and the customs of the ancient church (Clary, Glen. The Eucharist in the Didache; Abstract, p. v).
This year, I thought to inquire into further reading by a more Reformed source on the subject. Who better to ask than my own presbytery’s scholar on the customs of the ancient church, Dr. Glen Clary, Pastor of Providence OPC in Pflugerville, Texas, and a regular contributor to the Reformed Forum through his Ancient-Reformed Worship blog. Pastor Clary, who studied under the great Hughes Oliphant Old, directed me to his post, “The Origins of the Church Calendar.” This lengthy piece features quotes by many early writers like Chrysostom, Clement and Jerome on the subject of the history of the Church Calendar and the Easter and Christmas traditions. There is much interesting content in this article, to which I would direct your attention. Allow me to whet your appetite for the details by sharing Clary’s nuanced conclusions regarding Christmas, and leave it to you to go back to his article yourself to work through the evidence he presents (emphasis mine):
“Those who argue for the derivation of Christmas from this festival [the Roman festival of the Invincible Sun, dies natalis solis invicti] lay great emphasis on the role of Constantine, who is known to have been a devotee of the Sun prior to his protection of Christianity.
“However, it should be noted that although we find several places in the Church fathers where Christmas is compared and contrasted with Sol Invictus, it does not necessarily follow that Christmas was instituted as its substitute.
“One manifest weakness of this theory is that Constantine did not institute the observance of Christmas on December 25 in Bethlehem after dedicating the Church of the Nativity.
“As we have just seen in Jerome’s sermon, Bethlehem continued to observe January 6 as the Nativity until the end of the fourth century or even the beginning of the fifth.
“Furthermore, Constantine does not institute the observance of Christmas in the new capital of his empire either. Christmas first came to Constantinople in 380 when it was introduced by the newly installed bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus.
“One conclusion that we may draw from this historical data is that the nativity of Christ was not widely observed in the church on December 25 until the late fourth or early fifth century.
“That is not to say that Christians did not celebrate the nativity of Christ before that time. They certainly did! But the point is that December 25 was not regarded as a holy day by most Christians until pretty late in church history.
“The church calendar is something that evolved over a very long period of time. Even after the first two or three ecumenical councils, the church calendar was still in a state of flux.
“As diligent students of the church fathers, the Reformers were well aware of that fact.
“The Reformers knew that there was an unbroken tradition of Lord’s Day worship handed down from the apostolic age. And they were eager to preserve that apostolic practice.
“But many of them had misgivings about the church calendar. One reason for those misgivings was the lack of evidence from the ancient church to substantiate its apostolic origins.“
Dr. Craig Troxel, pastor of Bethel OPC in Wheaton, Illinois, will be speaking on the biblical meaning of the heart. He’s working on a book on this subject, so this conference will be a preview. The conference will take place at my church, Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas (1810 Brown Trail, Bedford, TX, to be exact)
The subject of this conference is specially related to a major theme underlying this blog. There is a distinction assumed by fundamentalists and evangelicals between the head, where one supposedly only crams facts about the Bible, and the heart, where it is said, that knowledge of the Bible must move before one genuinely benefits from his knowledge of the Bible. Dr. Troxel will explain how this is a fallacious concept. I look forward to being enlightened on the biblical teaching on the heart, and passing it on to you.
If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I highly recommend you join us by registering by first clicking at the link in the sidebar. If you live outside this region of north Texas, I hope some of you will make the effort to come.
“With All Your Heart:” Thinking (again) about What You Know, Love & Choose
If you are going to get at your real motives; if you want to grow in repentance and faith; if you desire true Spiritual renewal; if you are going to pursue sincerity and avoid the pitfalls of hypocrisy; if you need honest communication in your marriage; if you want to encourage believing friends with more clarity; if you long to pray and examine yourself with greater transparency—then you need to know what the heart is and where it is in your relationship with God. Interested? You should be. If you want to love God, obey God, seek God and know God, you must do so with “all your heart.”
- Friday 7:00 p.m. #1 – Knowing: The Mind of the Heart
- Sat. 9:30 a.m. #2 – Loving: The Desires of the Heart
- Sat. 11:00 a.m. #3 – Choosing: The Will of the Heart
- Break for Lunch 12:00–1:30 (Free BBQ grilled on-site!)
- Sat. 1:30 p.m: #4 – Keeping: Preserving & Protecting the Heart
A. Craig Troxel was born and raised in rural western Nebraska by the sixth generation of immigrants from Switzerland.
He is a graduate of Anderson University (B.A.), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.A.T.S.), and Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.).
He has served as the pastor of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois since 2007. He is Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and an Adjunct professor of Ministerial Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. He also serves on his denomination’s Committee on Christian Education. In addition he served as moderator of the 81st General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
He has published scholarly articles in Trinity Journal, Calvin Theological Journal, Westminster Theological Journal, Fides et Historia,Presbyterion, and in popular publications like Ordained Servant, New Horizons, and Modern Reformation.
Pastor Craig’s interests lie in preaching, spirituality, the doctrine of the church, and he is currently writing a book on what the Bible teaches about the heart.
He and his wife Carolyn live in Wheaton together with three of their five children, Phil, Tommy and Maggie. The Troxel family enjoys playing all sports, taking excessively long road trips, reading books and growing the ingredients for salsa in their garden.
Lastly, and most relevant to this blogger, Pastor Troxel was my pastor’s pastor when he attended Westminster Theological Seminary! I am very much looking forward to learning from him on this much-misunderstood topic. Register today and do so along with me!
Profaned Pulpit: The Jack Schaap Story was written by one-time member of FBC Hammond, Ind., student of Hyles-Anderson College, and close personal friend of Jack Schaap, Jerry D. Kaifetz, Ph. D. The book is part analysis of how cultic tendencies can distort the ministry of a local church, part treatment for victims of such abuse, as well as Kaifetz’s prescription for how a church can prevent such cultic distortion through accountability among their own leadership and congregation.
Ever watched Adult Swim’s Moral Orel? It’s like a spoof of Davey and Goliath, and serves as a platform for heavy-handed satire of the moralistic idiosyncrasies of some Christians. Most Christians would find it distasteful to watch, although it probably reflects more truth than our kind are willing to admit—when it isn’t’ caricaturing moralistic Christianity.
Upon watching a few clips of this show and seeing just how much they make it look like an edgy version of Davey and Goliath, I was reminded that this show isn’t only a satire of politically Right-wing Christians, but can step on the toes of liberal Christians as well. The fact is that Davey and Goliath was a production of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a theologically liberal denomination of Lutherans despite the presence of the word “Evangelical” in their name. But it is also true that a generation or more of conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals were raised loving Davey and Goliath and being conditioned to liberal forms of moralism. This must be a small reason why moral and social do-good-ism is an example of common ground shared by today’s conservative culture warriors and liberal progressives. The development of the contemporary political spectrum among Western Christians has a long and storied past, involving the influence of eschatology, pietism and revivalism among other things. These influences raise a question, the answer to which we may find instructive.
“On which is it better for the Christian church to focus her efforts:
civic moral activism, or her own doctrine and practice?”
I submit the following:
- Organized religious efforts toward civic moral activism are derived from a fundamentally utopian vision of eschatology and therefore society, and generally tends to minimize doctrine and practice.
- Organized religious efforts to maintain the purity of each denomination’s own doctrine and practice are drawn from a fundamentally realistic vision of eschatology and therefore society, and generally tends to minimize organized religious civic moral activism.
What’s eschatology got to do with it?
- An Augustinian interpretation of the millennium shared in its broadly among Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed branches of Christendom
- The Roman Catholic version promoted medieval Constantinianism (church over state).
- Lutheran and Reformed reformed amillennialism, tended to focus on doctrine and practice (confessionalism), but had little opportunity to engage in organized religious civic moral activism as we know it today.
- Post-Reformation Protestant Europe replaced Constantinism with ecclesiastical establishmentarianism (state over church); Confessional Protestants complied, affirmed the state’s role in defending the church from heresy, and theoretically denied the state’s right to affect church’s doctrine.
- Twentieth/Twenty-first century Reformed Amillennialism of three varieties (at least): Kuyperian, Two-Kingdom and Theonomic (aka, “Dominionist”)
- An “over-realized” (or utopian) form of amillennial eschatology
- Tended to engage in organized religious civic moral activism
- Held by theologically liberal progressives as well as fundamentalists in the early 20th century.
- Twentieth/twenty-first century Reformed Postmillenialists of two varieties (at least): Kuyperian and Theonomic.
- Anabaptist eschatology (Anabaptism a non-Roman Catholic version of medieval monastic mysticism)
- Tended to retreat from society and thus avoided both organized religious and individual civic moral activism.
- Adopted by fundamentalist Protestants during the bulk of the 20th century in reaction against theologically liberal Postmillennialists.
Two religious trends add complexity to the preceding eschatological and social tendencies: Pietism and Revivalism:
- Lutheran deviation
- Focused on personal piety, neglected doctrine and practice
- An essentially Wesleyan trend adapted by Calvinists (Reformed); partly inspired by Pietism.
- Focused on individual conversion and piety and promoted organized religious civic moral activism.
- It is better for the church to focus on maintaining the purity of her own doctrine, piety and practice, and to leave civic activism (moral or otherwise) to the individual.
- Thus, I find that an Amillennial, Confessional Protestantism that is relatively uninfluenced by pietism and revivalism is the ideal approach for the Christian church.
The preceeding is my attempt to organize the many things I’ve been learning over the years regarding the development of modern American Protestant confessionalism, liberalism, fundamentalism and evangelicalism. This being merely a blog post, and not an academic essay, those of you who are more informed on these issues are invited to critique my bullet points for the sake of accuracy. Those readers for whom the above raises questions or critical comments, these are especially welcome. You sharpen my iron, I’ll sharpen yours!
One topic I haven’t treated nearly enough lies ironically at the heart of the underlying theme of my blog, which theme is an expression of my experience as a fundamentalist turned Reformed confessionalist. The topic is the tension in modern fundamentalism and evangelicalism between so-called “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” Having been too busy living amidst that tension for the past couple of decades, I haven’t done a great deal of blogging about it since I started this blog.
To be truthful, this blog’s title and theme, “The Misadventures of Captain Headknowledge” is both an indictment and a confession. It’s an indictment for the kind of reason that you may have already read about on my “About Me” page. The confession lies in my honest recognition that I am the sort who has the tendency to, as it is sometimes put, read about the Bible, rather than actually take time to read the Bible.” This is certainly a flaw which stunts my spiritual growth in sanctification and the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the extent that my blog is a personal confession, it reminds me to cultivate my own spiritual growth. In the past, I was made to feel that many think this means I must therefore utterly repent of and entirely forsake my tendency to “read about the Bible.” But I disagree, and this is where the indictment part comes in. I regard that attitude to be an overreaction to an otherwise valuable gift of God. A love for reading theology and related Christian literature must not supersede my personal study and application of Scripture, but it needn’t be excluded from my life, either. Old Princeton scholar, Benjamin Breckenridge (B.B.) Warfield has the ultimate quote on this issue, from his book, The Religious Life of Theological Students (P & R Publishing Co.):
Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology. HT: Hot Orthodoxy
Such an imbalanced rejection of academic theology as unnecessary or unhelpful “head knowledge” in favor of so-called “heart knowledge” in its extreme forms often seems little more than an individualistic, experiential mysticism. This brings up another, I suppose, the final member of the Old Princeton (before their fall into theological liberalism) and his comments regarding this very problem. Reformed blogger, Jack Miller, recently posted an excerpt from J. Gresham Machen’s book What is Faith? Miller also includes his own remarks, but here’s a little of what Machen has to say on the question of subjective anti-intellectualism and the resultant mysticism against which this blog is in part an indictment:
The depreciation of the intellect, with the exaltation in the place of it of the feelings or of the will, is, we think, a basic fact in modern life, which is rapidly leading to a condition in which men neither know anything nor care anything about the doctrinal content of the Christian religion, and in which there is in general a lamentable intellectual decline. (What is Faith?, p.28)
But if theology be thus abandoned, or if rather (to ease the transition) it be made merely the symbolic expression of religious experience, what is to be put into its place?… Mysticism unquestionably is the natural result of the anti-intellectual tendency which now prevails; for mysticism is the consistent exaltation of experience at the expense of thought. (p.35)
You can read the rest of Miller’s post here.
My sentiments, exactly, Drs. Warfield and Machen!
When I was a child, and a member of a Dispensational Premillennial IFB church, I would often hear my pastor commenting on any given Sunday, “It’s cloudy today—this might just be the day the Lord returns.” At other times, he would conclude the opposite: “I didn’t notice any clouds in the sky, so I guess the Lord may not return today. But this is Texas, and the weather could change at any moment.” The literal presence of clouds in the sky was seen as a necessary condition of Christ’s Second Coming. Why is this? It’s because of the Lord’s words in Matthew 24:30.
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
(Matthew 24:30 ESV)
Was Jesus predicting that on the day of his return, it will literally be cloudy? No, Jesus was alluding to a prophecy by Daniel of the coming of “one like a son of man” who comes “with the clouds of heaven.” What would be the point of predicting whether it would be cloudy on the day of the coming of the Son of Man? Let’s look at Daniel’s prophecy to which Christ alludes (the key phrases will be highlighted):
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
(Daniel 7:13-14 ESV)
The first thing to notice is the fact that this prophecy contains poetic language. That’s why the ESV editors (and those of most modern English versions) format the prophecy in a poetic style. Ancient Hebrew poetry does not have the same standards for literalism as historical narrative does. It is true that the Gospel of Matthew is a historical narrative, and so it is literally true that Jesus quoted Daniel’s prophecy, but the prophecy Jesus quoted in this historical narrative Gospel account is still a poetic reference.
If the reference to clouds in association with the coming of the Son of Man bears poetic, symbolic meaning, then what might that meaning be? Let’s look at a few other poetic Old Testament passages that similarly associate clouds with the activity of Yahweh.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
If we are to take Christ’s reference to coming with clouds literally, then are we also to take Psalm 104’s statement that the LORD makes the clouds his chariot literally? Does an infinite, omnipresent Spirit need to stand on a cloud, hold a set of reins and be transported by means of atmospheric water vapor? Well, has he also literally laid giant wooden beams across a body of water and built chambers in which he might dwell? Does wind literally have wings? Of course it doesn’t. This is nothing but poetic imagery. So, what idea does this imagery of clouds convey? Basically, it conveys the idea of God’s terrifying power and authority. Notice how the Egyptians and their idols react to the image of the LORD riding on a cloud in Isaiah 19:
An oracle concerning Egypt.
Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud
and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
With these things in mind, let’s go back and take another look at Matthew 24:30: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
I hope we can more clearly see now, that the significance of the coming of the Son of Man “on the clouds of heaven” lies in the fact of his terrifying power and great glory whose appearing will make all the tribes of the earth mourn, and at which time will occur the Last Judgment and the ultimate consummation of his Kingdom. This is just one of many examples of the need to genuinely take into account the literary structure of a passage in order to determine its proper interpretation.
Tuesday’s The Dividing Line podcast, by Reformed Baptist elder and apologist Dr. James R. White, features a 2 1/2 hour long discussion of the Christological controversies of the first several hundred years of church history. Today, churches by and large are negligent in informing their members on the facts of the church history. This makes the average Christian a viable target for informed unbelievers who are out to smear the truth of God’s infallible Word as it has been defended and preserved in the earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7 KJV) of fallible servants of God and the church. Please take the time to listen to Dr. White’s summary of this important segment of Christian history warts and all, and share this with any believing friend who would benefit from the information that you think might actually listen to it. Click here to listen to “Christology 101”
This weekend C-SPAN2 is airing a speech delivered by David R. Stokes, the author of The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America (©2011 Steerforth Press) at a recent book signing in Austin, TX. It played last night at 9pm (Eastern), it has replayed once this morning, but you can still catch it one final time this afternoon at 3pm (Eastern).
The program has already been added to the BookTV online archive, so it may be accessed there if you miss this afternoon’s showing.
Dig my latest comment at Darryl G. Hart’s Old Life Theological Society. His post is titled, “Young, Restless and Lutheran?” He questions whether the broad approach of the Young, Restless and Reformed movement isn’t so broad that it might be more accurate to call it “Young, Restless and Lutheran,” given that, in Hart’s view, it’s less about Reformed theology in general or the five points of Calvinism in particular (no pun intended), and more about having been inspired by a bigger vision of God at the hands of John Piper channeling Jonathan Edwards, and generally begins reminding us all how much less Reformed they are than he and his Truly Reformed OPC brethren are (among whom I eagerly anticipate numbering me and mine). This is my summary, anyway, be it accurate or not.
I found the post and some of the resultant comments engaging enough that I just had to share my own experience at moving from Fundamentalism, through Evangelicalism and into Reformed Confessionalism. Although I write with tongue-in-cheek, the experiences are all very real (and they’re just the tip of the iceberg).
Confessions of a Restlessly Reforming Evangelical Fundamentalist:
Fortunately, I bypassed the whole Piper YRR movement (Piper’s creative and independent streak is waaay too Baptist for my taste) and swallowed the whole TR thing hook, line and sinker…Or so I thought. The further one goes, the more one discovers which exaggerates the differences between what it means to be Evangelical (in modern Western Christianity, that is) and what it means to be Reformed.
First, you fall for the 5 points; then you get over the hump about baptism (my logic was, “if the seventeenth century Baptists agreed with Presbyterians on so much,” as I was then coming to perceive, “then what makes them think Presbyterians are so wrong about baptism?”)…
…then you deal with stuff like exclusive “Acapulco” psalmody, and, for me living in a region where there is no glut of Reformed churches, I take the lazy man’s approach and say this isn’t an issue I have the luxury of standing for, even if I were persuaded of it. And some of their arguments I do find attractively compelling. If it weren’t for those of the advocates of instrumental hymnody.
Now that I’m preparing to join an OPC church, and begin reading all this vast literature about this “splinter group” of a denomination, I feel I’ve come full circle in some ways back to a Presbyterian version of my separatistic IFB background (even the local church planting missions emphasis is reminiscent of the IFB, without the Faith Promise giving campaigns), if you consider some of you more outspoken OPC guys’ position and attitude about TGC and T4G.
Yes, growing up among separatistic fundamentalists, yet consuming my fair share of big tent Evangelical media, it is quite a process in coming to a point where you can confidently call yourself “Reformed” without crossing your fingers behind your back.
“J. Frank Norris Week” continues! Last night I joined David R. Stokes, author of The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America at the Fort Worth Sundance Square Barnes & Noble Bookstore, where he spoke for a few minutes before sitting down to sign books. The pictures in this post are from last night’s signing. The text is my semi-formal, though concise, review of the book, which has also been posted at the book’s Amazon.com page. As emotionally dependent as I have become on this book, it was hard for me to step back and write an objective review that is comparable to a professional, or at least experienced, reviewer’s work until I decided to recommend the book in an email to another writer, who shall remain nameless. I gave him the following summary, and decided that this is about as good a review as anyone’s ever going to get out of me. Hope you find it helpful, and feel free to help us spread the word about this story that has been gratefully recovered from historical obscurity.
David R. Stokes is a columnist for Townhall.com. He is also a pastor of a non-denominational church in Fairfax, VA. He studied for the ministry at the same Missouri Bible College from which the late Jerry Falwell got his Bachelors degree before he moved on to bigger and better things. This Bible College, Baptist Bible College, to be precise, has its roots in the ministry of the man who is the subject of the book he is now promoting, The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial That Captivated America (2011 Steerforth Press).
Norris was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth Texas between the years 1909 and 1952 (the year of his death). In the early years of his ministry, he ditched the tame, sane, responsible approach to ministry in which one makes an effort to get along with everyone, for an approach that would generate so much heat it would draw huge crowds to him so he could introduce them to the Light, if you know what I mean. In the process, he was a self-appointed thorn in the side of the underground liquor and gambling interests in Texas, the budding theological liberalism in his alma mater, Baylor, the mayor of Ft. Worth and Star-Telegram founder and all-around entrepreneur Amon G. Carter. This got Norris in hot water with one of the mayor’s friends, another Ft. Worth business leader, Dexter Elliot Chipps, who stormed into Norris’ office one day, threatened to kill him, then walked out. Chipps’ mistake was that he didn’t keep going. He turned for some unknown reason and attempted to reenter the pastor’s office and was met with three or four bullets in the chest. The resulting 1926 murder trial was as big of a media circus as Norris’ hero, William Jennings Bryan’s, recent Skopes Monkey Trial had been, or for those of us in the 21st century, Casey Anthony’s.
The book is a narrative non-fiction work. It reads somewhat like a novel, but all the dialogue, and much of the narration, even, is directly lifted from his sources which include not only older bios of Norris (pro and con), but much of the most prominent journalistic accounts, legal transcripts and records, as well as personal archives of Norris, Meacham and Carter. The outrageous tactics of Norris in his early ministry make for quite a train wreck, and the history is fascinating, but for folks like myself who grew up in Fort Worth, it gives a lot of new information to an old legend that has lingered in the background of all of our lives, and provides quite a bit of closure as well. I’d like to share with you this fascinating tale that we could only wish were nothing more than a “Texas Tall Tale.”
David Stokes’ interview with 90.1FM KERA host Krys Boyd on her D/FW local NPR talk show, Think with Krys Boyd, has been uploaded. You can listen to it here.
And so, J. Frank Norris week continues at The Misadventures of Captain Headknowledge! Just wait until tomorrow…
Fairfax, Virginia Baptist Bible Fellowship local church pastor David Stokes grew up as a member of Detroit’s Temple Baptist Church, not twenty years after J. Frank Norris pastored that church at the same time that he pastored First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. In his day, Norris was known as the “Texas Tornado,” and the “Pistol-Packing Parson.” The memory of J. Frank Norris casts a long shadow for those whose lives were touched by his sensationalistic and controversial ministry. It must be as true for those like Stokes who grew up in the decades following Norris’ death, as it is for us down here in Fort Worth, who boast of relatives with stories of personal connections to the famous fundamentalist firebrand. For example, my own mother grew up playing with Norris’ grandson, George. He was my mother’s best friend’s boyfriend. My great-grandmother hosted the visiting preacher at her house, where lively discussions are said to have ensued between Norris and my great-great grandmother, charming them with the admission that “the only person who could ever change his mind was Mrs. Freeman.” Not only that, J. Frank Norris even performed the wedding ceremony for my son’s great-grandparents on his mother’s side. For better or worse, J. Frank Norris is one of the more colorful cast members in the dramatic history of Fort Worth, Texas. Featuring his battle with the Southern Baptist Convention over Baylor University’s teaching evolution and his own personal war against corruption in local politics as well as the Prohibition-era liquor trade itself, I’ve always said, even as a one-time devoted follower, that the life story of J. Frank Norris would make a great gangster movie!
It looks like the novel on which that movie could be based has just been written by David Stokes. The book is called The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America (©2011 Steerforth Press). The only difference is, Stokes’ story is more of a courtroom drama. But that’s alright with me. At 1pm Central time today, Stokes will be interviewed on the local NPR station, 90.1FM KERA on “Think with Krys Boyd.” (you can sign up for the podcast here if you miss it live). Tomorrow night, from 7:00 to 9:00pm Central time, Stokes will hold a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square just a few blocks away from the site of FBCFW during Norris’ ministry (see my previous post). On his Facebook page, Stokes reports “apparently there will be some “protesters” on Tuesday night when I speak at the Barnes and Noble in Fort Worth — should be interesting.” You can get familiar with one of those potential protesters at The J. Frank Norris Historical Society, started a year ago by a former associate of Norris’, Roy Emerson Falls.
If you’ve never heard of J. Frank Norris, or if you’ve always known about him–love him or hate him, you’ll be both shocked and in awe of the story of J. Frank Norris and the trial that failed to sentence Norris the electric chair for the death of Dexter Elliott Chipps.
Join me next Wednesday night, July 20 at the Barnes and Noble in Sundance Square in Fort Worth to meet the author of The Shooting Salvationist, David R. Stokes, get his autograph and/or a pic. I’m planning to post a review of the book just as soon as I finish my Advance Reading Copy. Probably next week.
PS–As an added bonus, you’ll probably also get to meet Rev. Roy E. Falls of The J. Frank Norris Historical Society protesting out front. When Stokes met him last year, he said he was sweet. A good time should be had by all (with the possible exception of Rev. Falls)!
Date: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Start Time: 6:00 pm End Time: 8:00 pm
(Time Zone: US/Central)
Location: Barnes and Noble – Sundance Square
Category: The Shooting Salvationist Book Tour
Phone: (817) 332-7178
Contact: Debby White
Barnes and Noble – Sundance Square
401 Commerce Street
Fort Worth TX 76102
You’ll see in my blogroll a link to The Shooting Salvationist Blog. In case you missed my post a few weeks ago, there’s a book on the verge of being released focusing on the murder trial of Texas Independent Fundamental Baptist leader and former pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, J. Frank Norris. My faith in Christ began and was early nurtured in a church founded by a pastor who studied under Norris, and so did David Stokes, the author of the upcoming The Shooting Salvationist–I here in Ft. Worth, and Stokes up in Detroit, Michigan, where Norris would eventually co-pastor Temple Baptist Church with Baptist Bible College founder G. Beauchamp Vick.
Anyway, I just noticed at The Shooting Salvationist site that author David Stokes has posted a video interview about his book. This post is primarily to share the link to this interview which may be watched here. Stokes also just posted today that on July 18, just a few days after the book is released on July 12, 2011, he will be at Book People in Austin for a speaking/signing event which will be broadcast on C-SPAN Book TV (I’ll update this post when I get a date for the broadcast).
This book had been previously released under a different title, which is no longer available. But if you’d like to see what I wrote about Norris and the story of his notorious public ministry (celebrated by many “Old Fashioned Fundamental Baptists”) and murder trial, click on the category “J. Frank Norris” in my sidebar or here.