The Scandal of Conservative Exclusivity – A Quick Review of Todd Deaver's New Book "Facing Our Failures"

“Should the use of instrumental music in worship be a test of fellowship? If so, what about praise teams, handclapping during worship, praying to Jesus, or female translators? Must we divide when we disagree over the veil, the qualifications of elders, or divorce and remarriage?

This book documents the extreme diversity of views held by traditional brethren who are in fellowship with each other. These brethren, often preachers and writers, disagree over the scriptural bounds of fellowship. They disagree over the proper criteria for determining those boundaries. They differ on which practices are biblically authorized and which are sinful. They even disagree over which issues we must be right about in order to be saved. The one thing they seem to have in common is a belief that fidelity to God requires us to be right on all these matters. And yet, in spite of their crucial differences on these very issues, they somehow remain in fellowship with each other.

Is this consistent? Study the evidence and decide for yourself.

As a former preacher of the traditional dctrine of fellowship, the author understands it well. He writes with respect for thse whose views he critiques, and he fervently pleads for Churches of Christ to acknowledge the failure of the traditional paradigm. A theology that is self-contradictory cannot be right. Deaver calls us to the difficult task of opening our minds to a different approach.” — from the back cover, Facing Our Failures: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ by Todd Deaver

 When a Deaver publishes, it is rarely ignored in our brotherhood. His grandfather and father are both well-known teachers, missionaries, and gospel preachers. The apple has not fallen far from the tree, as both Todd and his brother are gospel preachers and articulate writers as well. There’s a further connection between myself and the author, as his family partnered in mission work in Tanzania with my spiritual mentor, Joel Hestand, in the early days of Chmala.

So when I heard through the grapevine that Todd Deaver had written a book, I would have probably have ordered it regardless of topic or theme. It came well-recommended as a challenge to the “powers that be” in the Churches of Christ, so I was even more interested. So I tracked him down on Facebook, ordered a copy (you can follow the instructions HERE and get one for yourself), and finished it tonight.

This book matters. As one reader has told me, “We needed this book 50 years ago.” Rarely does a book do exactly what it promises — no more, no less. What you will find in its pages is exactly what the back cover says, along with masses of evidence, to the tune of 228 footnotes in 110 pages. Who said what. Who agrees with who. Who says who believes and/or practices one form of damnable doctrine but is not rejected for it, while rejecting others for other doctrines equally damnable according to their theories of inspiration, exclusivity, and felowship.

The scandal of the exclusive conservative paradigm is, in a word, inconsistency. Its results are two-fold: 1) no one who preaches it actually practices it, precisely because 2) practicing it consistently would lead each and every Christian to worship in a one-person church. Some commentators (Gil Yoder at Let Us Reason, for one) are content to accept that the eventual result of our current trajectory is infinite division. Deaver is not.

In five chapters, Deaver exposes the deep inconsistency lurking under the surface of our conservative fellowship arguments. Using the words of many noted conservative brethren, quoting them as favorably and accurately as possible, he shows us the wide distance between what is TAUGHT and what is PRACTICED in fellowship. My favorite passage (pp. 78-79) addresses the popular a capella argument that our stance is not about the instrument; rather, it is about authority. Here’s a tease: “But if that’s the reason we must so rigorously oppose instrumental music and withdraw from those who participate, why wouldn’t the same apply to every practice we believe to be unauthorized? Consistency would demand it.”

In his conclusion, he shares almost 20 different points where our doctrine and praxis are contradictory. “It will not do to say that fellowship is a thorny issue and the application of truth gets complicated. Our theology doesn’t allow us the luxury of being wrong. Given our paradigm, we must figure it out or lose our souls.” p. 105

Other quotes of interest:
“Please think about this, brethren. We preach and teach constantly on the importance of doctrine and the necessity of being united in belief and teaching. We ridicule the concept of unity in diversity. We cannot have biblical unity unless we are in doctrinal agreement, we contend. But if each of us were honestly to answer the question of exactly which doctrines we must agree on to maintain unity, we would be stunned by the diversity of positions taken.” p. 46, emphasis mine
“What is at stake, in fact, is nothing less than our identity as the true church.” p. 88 (my Mormon-experienced readers might hear echoes of their own theology in ours)
“According to our theology there can be no diversity when it comes to the boundaries of fellowship.” p. 93
“If our theology is correct, we have a lot of dividing left to do. We simply cannot continue to hold our present paradigm, maintain our existing circle of fellowship, and claim we are consistent.” p.101

God’s Spirit always works in unexpected and new ways — I pray that he will breathe his life into our churches and set us free from our own broken worldview. If he does, I pray that Todd’s writing (this text and its necessary sequel) will be a catalyst in a return to our roots as a unity movement. If he does not, if he allows our spiritual heritage to pass from the earth, Todd’s book will hopefully survive as an artifact chronicling our failure. I recommend this book to any Church of Christ member willing to allow their views on fellowship to be challenged, and especially if your congregation has trouble finding faithful works in which to participate.

Give a copy to your preacher, to your elders. It is worth the money.

We MUST face our failure, we must OWN it like Nehemiah — even if you yourself have never actively contributed to the deep fractures running between parties in the CoC — before we can see clearly to find a way forward.

I close with a poetic warning. He who has ears to hear…


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away

About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 1 January, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I read about this on Jay Guin’s site recently and I am very intrigued. What I wonder is how is this book being received by the conservative faction of the church? Are we going to see a response to this book in Spiritual Sword or Gospel Advocate?

  2. I have no idea. That is FAR above the pay-grade of a bible class teacher in Frankfort, KY.

    I hope we do see a response. Did you look at Yoder’s? He totally misses the point — Todd addressed exactly what he says is the fatal flaw in Todd’s argument.

    It isn’t that the theology CAN’T be practiced consistently — it is that it can’t be practiced consistently without nuking the brotherhood into dust.

    I don’t know that we WILL see a response from SS or GA, because I don’t know that Todd left them any weak points. His decision NOT to publish a solution is a brilliant exception to the general rule of “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.”

    There ARE no easy answers, or the good-hearted brethren quoted at length in Todd’s book would have found one. NO one likes it when paradigms must change.

    in HIS love,

    PS – When did you read it on Jay’s blog? I can’t find it anywhere over there. In fact, John Dobbs and Gil Yoder are the only people I’ve found who have reviewed it — you might guess that their opinions differ!

  3. Interesting. I’ll try and track that book down.

    I guess you know the old joke: “He was so exclusive that he only fellowshipped the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and had doubts about the Holy Ghost!”

  4. Precisely so. This post and the theme of the book encapsulate 90% of my reasons for leaving the Church of Christ. I do not disdain the CofC, but cannot agree with it either. There are wonderful, God-fearing, and righteous people in the CofC, but indeed, there are everywhere.

    I hope this book does wonders and reunites, at least in part, the body of Christ.

    Love your blog, Nick. Keep writing, please.

  5. Tim — I do indeed know that joke, and I think John Waddey is living that life. And it crushes me with sadness.

    Alicia — I am deeply sorry for the wounds you’ve suffered at the hands of the CoC. I share many of your grievances — the difference is that I am convinced that the Holy Spirit placed me here. I’ve got a deep investment since the Lipscomb community saved my life. I’ve got a lot more blogging left in me, Lord willing!

  6. Sorry, Nick. I read it on John Dobbs’s blog, not Jay Guin’s.

    The solutions part is fascinating and so difficult. I think one of the solutions has to be that the hermeneutic ultimately has to change.

  7. I’ve not discussed at One In Jesus. I saw a review at John Dobbs’ site, Googled over to Gil Yoder’s review, and ordered the book. Hope to get it in a day or two. I’m sure I’ll be talking about it.


  8. Awesome review friend……I will definately get the book….as one said earlier….wonder what the sword or advocate have to say?? They’ve already thrown out ACU?!? …Journey on……

  9. Great review Nick. I think you are so right that this book matters. I hope it stirs up a dust storm that brings revolution and spiritual rejuvenation to the church through more intense commitment to Christ.

  10. Kent – I believe that the missional hermeneutic is already leading the way — the essentiality of Todd’s book lies in its potential as a spiritual defibrillator. We have a serious emergency on our hands — too many congregations are flat-lining. Their resistance of and (far less common, but still true) blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is killing their congregations. Troupes of Christians, travelling lightly and serving the kingdom, cannot carry dead weight forever. This is triage time.

    Jay – It is RIGHT up your alley. You’ll be nodding on every single page — recognizing something you’ve seen or something you’ve done. I know I did.

    John – I pray that you are right, but I honestly fear that the self-preservation instincts you recently described will snuff out any kindled flames.

    Alicia – Have no fear. I want Fumbling to be a place of safety and honesty. And the CoC needs testimonies like yours. My “finding a spiritual home” is sort of a ‘you can’t choose your family’ situation more than a comfortable fit.

  11. LOL Trent, the conservatives are already thinking about whether or not Freed-Hardeman has become too liberal, since Ralph Gilmore defended clapping at the Open Forum a couple years ago.

  12. I like the fact that he is not disrespectful towards anyone in his book. He does not write with a condescending, arrogant attitude. That is a rare thing to behold!

  13. Thank you for the review of the book. I am in the process of reading it now, but it is a slow go, have a ton of other stuff to read for class.

  14. Just ordered the book; thanks for the review.

  1. Pingback: Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ, Part 1 « One In

  2. Pingback: Facing Our Failure: A review (part 1) «

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