Review of Discovering Our Roots

Allen, C. Leonard and Richard T. Hughes. Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ. Abilene: ACU Press, 1988.

Now over twenty years ago, Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes attempted to confront the ahistorical assumptions of Churches of Christ head-on.  In a slender volume boasting only 158 pages of body text, the duo managed to compose a work of history that was both engaging enough to be readable and thorough enough to be convincing.  Moreover, the authors handled a sensitive issue with a tremendous degree of deftness, presenting the facts of history in an unaggressive yet challenging way.

The preface introduces clearly and concisely the idea that churches claiming to have no tradition are themselves a tradition, which in turn becomes the most problematic kind of tradition.  Using a medical analogy, the authors liken the problem to the loss of identity that accompanies the loss of memory (perhaps introducing in published form the notion of “identity crisis” that has become a buzzword among self-reflective Churches of Christ).  In conjunction, the authors also make a case for self-consciousness about tradition instead of a necessarily futile attempt to be traditionless.  In effect, the remainder of the book endeavors to bring the Churches of Christ’s tradition into popular consciousness.

The first eight chapters proceed sequentially through “our roots,” beginning with the Renaissance, moving to the Reformation, English Puritans, New England Puritans, Baptists, the Age of Reason, and ending with the American Experience.  The ninth chapter discusses the particular origins of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, and three subsequent chapters focus on Martin Luther, the Anabaptists, and the Holiness and Pentecostal churches, those being other kinds of restorationists with which to compare the Stone-Campbell movement.  A brief concluding chapter summarizes and reiterates previous points and ends with a plea for humility among Churches of Christ.

The book itself is reasonably well laid out.  Each chapter begins with a poignant quotation and ends with a series of questions that intend to prompt critical reflection.  Graphics featuring historical figures and the title pages of certain texts engage the reader without being overdone.  A limited index accounts for the last two pages of the volume.  Negatively, the body font seems too large, especially in proportion to the book’s block quotations, but it would have been awkwardly short if smaller font had been employed.

One point of weakness regarding content is the omission of a chapter on Presbyterianism, out of which both Stone and the Campbells came.  It seems a natural and significant contribution to the subject.  Primarily, however, Hughes and Foster have covered their bases and gifted Churches of Christ with a wonderful basis for the study of their own history.  Discovering Our Roots functions exquisitely as a primer, creating in the reader an eagerness to continue learning.  It is doubtful that the authors could ask for more.