The End of Lincoln Christian University: Why it Matters

By C J Dull

On May 31, 2024 Lincoln Christian University will close its doors.  It will truly mark the end of an era for the Independent Christian Churches, however hackneyed and trite that may sound. The formative years of this group are often considered a titanic struggle between two contrasting personalities, Dean Walker on the left and R C Foster on the right. The former perfected the art of turning eccentricity into profundity, while the latter was clear to the point of being accusatory, turning the debate skills he learned at Harvard on the whole religious landscape.  Yet on an institutional level, the two major figures were Leonard Wymore of the North American Christian Convention and Earl Hargrove of Lincoln.  

The discussion below will focus more on the contribution of Lincoln, which is not quite as obvious as the North American. Yet it should be remembered that at the end of May the two most significant institutions of the Independent Christian Churches during its formative period will only be history—or more bluntly, dead. That can hardly fail to be significant or perhaps crucial or essential for the group as a whole. Some may infer that this is a good time to echo the concluding words of the Springfield Presbytery and sink into the larger Christian world, however defined, but it seems rather that stripping the romanticized emphasis on unity is preferable.  

Intriguingly, while Emmanuel and Lincoln proposed different emphases, they derive from a common source, the Kerschner Butler School of Religion. This “common source” did produce different approaches. Emmanuel maintained an interest in contacts with the restructured Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) while Lincoln was quick to dissociate itself from them. Hargrove was motivated to enter the ministry while a member of a Disciples congregation and did his theological work at Phillips Seminary–thus, the irony of his original motivation and its contrasting later policy. One area in which he did maintain his Disciple interests was his view of women in the pulpit. He seemed particularly impressed by their ability to keep congregations loyal and coherent during a difficult period. When Prof. Heine (alumnus and professor of Lincoln) published a seminal article on the subject in 1977, it was not a new emphasis. Female graduates of Lincoln often found active careers in the churches. Eleanor Daniel was probably the most prominent Independent during this period, having served as a seminary professor and/or dean at all three seminaries and having demonstrated that she was “the expert” on Christian Education. Again, the irony of a school—and its female members–working to preserve a constituency that was not particularly sympathetic to such participation.  

The rise of Lincoln to a position resembling hegemony seemed to owe a great deal to timing and environment. Most are not impressed when we speak of those coming from “small farms”.  It often betokens a kind of sparse, parochial, sometimes remote background, mitigated only by hard work. Those in eastern Tennessee may easily conjure up images of tax defiance and moonshine. “Small farms” in central Illinois are a different story. They are generally flat—hence all the jokes about being located in a cornfield—fertile and mechanized. The congregation in Assumption, IL, where Ben Merold became somewhat prominent, also included Leroy Trulock, a very large implement dealer. Agricultural entities may be various sizes, but they generally are quite sophisticated in their approach to the practice. Most state universities in this area have schools of agriculture that are well-funded and often have vast extension services, the local one being the U of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Though an agricultural environment may not usually be associated with cosmopolitan awareness, in most such places the day begins with radio announcers giving the market and other reports often on a global scale. I recall quite distinctly giving a perfunctory greeting to a cousin who farmed and being rewarded with a lecture on the difficulty of competing with Brazilian soybeans. No doubt some remember those unbelievably impressive old consul radios able to reach almost anywhere in the world, which were a staple of many of our grandparents. It’s no wonder that their descendants found missions a congenial field. Lincoln, and regional Bible Colleges, had an immediate impact in missions, partly due to the agricultural environment, but also due to the fact the student body included many veterans of WWII.

The endorsements in Lincoln’s catalogue (and many others) by the American Legion as well as references to the GI Bill of Rights make it clear that many of the students were veterans of WW2 and Korea, and thus older and more disciplined—perhaps even more aggressive–than previously entering students. Such descriptions as more mature, more serious or solemn, and even more sophisticated may have been appropriate. Thus, we see the balancing of a specific regional area with a cosmopolitan emphasis—encouraged by the World Wars but already there, both of which impacted Lincoln and its influence on Independents.    

The conception that a Bible college can serve as a regional center for evangelism did not originate with Lincoln. Aside from historical examples (e.g., medieval western monasticism), probably the first example among the Independent Christian Churches was the formation of Pacific Bible Seminary, a Cincinnati clone, in 1928.  Alberta Bible College and Atlanta Christian College had similar missions before WW2. Yet, Lincoln—started after the war—demonstrated that the model was indeed productive. The one caveat is that Lincoln’s success was evangelism not in any simple or pure sense but largely by strengthening existing congregations. Especially in their early days, the faculty and many of the students were able to support themselves through supply preaching or even regular pastorates. 

Historically, then, the preference for Bible colleges came out of Lincoln, in the fifties. It appeared to have phenomenal success in rejuvenating congregations there (they regularly talk about 500 congregations within a hundred miles), and the model of a Bible college as a center of evangelism was born. The lack of interest in producing new liberal arts colleges was a combination of factors: (1) money—most of the supporting churches were rural and small; (2) public university education was strong and inexpensive in these states; and (3) liberal arts colleges (e.g., Eureka and Culver Stockton) had demonstrated both a susceptibility to critical views (which were not acceptable in this wave) and a declining ability to produce preachers. While Lincoln inspired the creation of Bible colleges as centers of evangelism, the staffing of them usually fell to other schools (e.g., Johnson, Minnesota, Cincinnati).

The other notable shift that was centered on Lincoln was the focus on theology. At a time when higher criticism was influencing churches and seminaries, all three of the seminaries of Independents opposed critical scholarship in the first generation. Emmanuel did the same as Butler and embraced it in the second generation. The other two in the second had degrees largely outside formal seminary areas, and often these disciplines are not particularly fond of NT scholarship, often considering it a kind of exotic scholasticism. During this period the preeminent discipline in our seminaries became theology, especially the work of Jack Cottrell at Cincinnati and James Strauss at Lincoln. With the closing of both Cincinnati and Lincoln, schools seem to be returning to an emphasis on basic biblical exegesis.

However, the lasting focus on preachers and preaching may be the result of Lincoln and other regional schools. The supply of preachers seems to have upgraded the position of the sermon. While preaching has always been important, often its most skillful practitioners had been certain professionals such as circuit riders or evangelists. In this period the sermon tends to take on a position as an essential part of the service, almost like a sacrament or ordinance that must be part of the service, even if it is delivered by one untrained in theology or church history. 

This focus on preaching, supported by Lincoln and regional schools, must be combined with two other key influential figures. It is difficult to understand the ministerial ethos among Christian Church preachers without understanding P. H. Welshimer. He took a congregation of 350 in 1903 and within 20 years had one of a couple thousand with an emphasis on the Sunday School, the simple Gospel and considerable sophistication in methodology. He was becoming prominent about the time a young man named Donald McGavran was graduated from Butler University, which gave Welshimer an honorary doctorate. The “church growth” McGavran later described in missionary terms he first saw personified in Welshimer.  McGavran took-up Welshimer’s emphasis on the priority of evangelism and “the simple gospel,” which has resulted in a kind of theological minimalism in the church growth movement and his successors in big churches. Ministers of large churches (even more so with the prevalence of business training) especially concentrate on adding members with a minimum of theology and a maximum of activity—ranging from familiar good works (e.g., Habitat for Humanity, prison work) to aerobics to parenting, debt-reduction or even pie-making workshops.

Thus, the key influences of Lincoln, have been the focus on preaching, on regional emphases and needs, practical ministries, church growth, and theology. With the closing of Lincoln, there is no question which, among these, will be its enduring legacy.[1]

Reflections on “The End of Lincoln Christian University: Why it Matters

By Paul Axton

C. J. Dull is one of the premiere historians and Greek scholars among “Independents”, so I asked him to reflect on the significance of the closing of Lincoln Christian University.

My tenure at Lincoln was only one year, and in that year, I studied almost exclusively with James Strauss. Though I could not always understand his precise point, Strauss’s charisma, breadth of reference, and enthusiasm worked a profound influence. His mode of doing theology inspired his students, like myself, to pursue higher degrees in theology. My work, in psychoanalytic theory and philosophy, may be unusually arcane but is one example of the directions inspired by Strauss. Though Strauss, like most all of his contemporaries, was limited by the paradigms of modernity, his legacy at Lincoln seems to have created space for those working in postmodern theology, philosophical theology, and historical theology. Strauss was a large personality and a dynamic speaker, with a wide presence and visibility in our churches, such that he made room for the subsequent outstanding theological faculty which gathered at Lincoln.

In the classroom, Strauss was famous for his various witticisms. When he would ask a question and receive no reply, he indicated we could ask any passing truck driver on Hwy 30 to answer. He referred to the slow infiltration of the “principalities and powers” into the Church as the frog in the kettle syndrome. The frog is happy to sit in the warm water and misses the fact that he is adjusting gradually to being boiled to death. Maybe evangelicalism as a whole, but certainly Independents, are now submerged in the boiling waters of pragmatism.

C J describes the cross purposes in Lincoln’s focus on preaching, church growth, practical ministries, and theology. Theology turns out to be the loser in a group geared toward church growth and pragmatics. It is not clear theological depth can survive among Independents. Lincoln was the key exception and now the primary exhibit, that this is the case. Sadly, any truck driver on Hwy 30 probably knows this.

[1] There are some interesting ways in which the regional schools have had something of an enduring effect.  One more salient aspect, but probably mostly under the radar, is the position of communion in the order of service.  Most older congregations continuously operative almost universally have preserved communion at the end.  Virtually everyone else has it just before the sermon.  Of course for years, if not decades, having a regular preacher was at best a luxury.  It was often the practice to have the song service and end with communion following.  If a preacher was available, his contribution was added after communion and became the de facto end.  The ready supply of preachers made available by the regional schools then systematized the position of communion in the center of the service so successfully that most members now cannot conceive of any other position.

Nature Versus Grace: Why My Seminary Education was Confusing

In the Western world in the post-apostolic period, there was no more important thinker than Augustine (born A.D. 354), as his peculiar biography and form of thought have become the key influence for both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology. Because of his own difficulty in overcoming sexual lust, and because of his reading of a mistranslation of Romans 5 in which he understands that all have sinned in Adam, he concludes there is inherited guilt, total depravity or loss of free will, conjoined in his doctrine of original sin. All are conceived in sin and damned from the moment of conception. For “as soon as our first parents had transgressed the commandment, divine grace forsook them.”[1] Nature was from that moment literally “disgraced” as the grace of human nature was utterly lost. Thus, for Augustine, human nature is no longer such that humanity is free to obey the creator as the very possibility of not sinning is lost. Indeed, it is not possible for humanity not to sin or even to choose the good or to choose Christ, as all are guilty and depraved. The result of Adam and Eve’s transgression was, therefore, according to Augustine, a complete change in nature for the whole human race. The original righteous state of humanity has been replaced by “original sin”; a sin transmitted not by imitation but by mystical propagation. Nature knows no grace, for through our first parents it has suffered disgrace.

Augustine’s departure from the first 400 years of church teaching was acknowledged at one level in my education, but unbeknownst to me his understanding was smuggled in as the starting point of my theological education. Molly Worthen in her book detailing the crisis of authority in American evangelicalism mentions my old professor, Jack Cottrell, and describes him as among “specific individuals” who “smuggled Reformed thinking into Restorationist circles”[2] (I have detailed this here). Cottrell couches his theology in an extreme version of the Augustinian nature/grace split (logically entailing the extremes of Calvinism, which he attempts to overcome, while still holding to a version of original sin.). As a student I struggled to navigate this contradictory system of theology, which illustrates the profound and confused nature of this Augustinian departure.  

Creation Trumps Redemption

 Where orthodox theology turned to Christ as central in comprehension of all things, with Christ as the point of comprehension or the one in whom all things (history, creation, revelation and redemption) cohere (as in Col. 1:16-17 and Heb. 1:3), Cottrell posits a split between creation, redemption, revelation, and Christian experience. As he describes it, “In summary, we are saying that the Creator is the essential center of our lives; the Bible is the epistemological center; and Jesus Christ is the existential (or experiential) center.”[3] The presumption is that God as Creator is the ontological core, while Christ is added to this centrality. His role as revealer, creator, sustainer, the Alpha and Omega, is passed over for a God whom we presumably know through nature and law and in spite of sin.  

Cottrell presumes that it is not in Christ or in redemption that we encounter God’s original or true purpose: “Shall we interpret creation in the light of redemption, or vice versa?” Very much in the spirit of Augustine, he explains that redemption is added to creation and was not part of God’s original plan. We would not want, he explains, the undue “elevation of Jesus and his redemptive work as the touchstone or central fact around which everything else revolves and (by which it) must be interpreted.” Here he departs from the biblical principle that there is one Jesus Christ, the only Son of the one Father, who alone has made known (“exegeted,” Jn 1:18) the Father. He reduces redemption to the resolution of the sin problem, and misses that God had purposed from before the beginning to bring creation to fullness in Christ (Eph. 1:10).

Christ is Redeemer and Not Revealer

Cottrell is eager to refute what he calls the “Christological fallacy” or “the attempt to make Christ an epistemological principle, rather than the Redeemer he came to be.” Just as Augustine splits nature against grace – playing off salvation against nature – Cottrell will accentuate the split between Christ as Revealer and Redeemer, presuming that, while Christ plays a revelatory role, “there are many other ways in which God can reveal and has revealed himself and his truth to the human race. Thus our knowledge of God and his works comes to us from God as God, and not necessarily from God as Redeemer.” Though he allows Christ is “the highest revelation,” Cottrell relativizes this role under practical preference for the “many other ways” of revelation in creation and the Bible.

Christ is primarily redeemer, in Cottrell’s view, and this role is pitted against revelation, as Christ’s redemption (penal substitution) does not pertain to revelation nor does revelation pertain to redemption. Cottrell distinguishes Christ’s redemptive work from revelation and specifically the revelation of Scripture: “because of the reality of revelation and inspiration, this knowledge (primary knowing) comes to us in written form in Scripture,” in contrast to Christ. His conclusion: “The Reformers are still right: the Bible is our ‘formal principle,’ our epistemological principle. Jesus Christ is not.”

So, he pits the epistemological centrality of the Bible against the centrality of Christ: “If we mean what is epistemologically central, then the answer is that THE BIBLE is central.” He seems to deny the truth of John (1:8) and the truth presumed throughout the New Testament, that Christ provides both epistemological and redemptive access to the Father (the Bible knows no distinction between revelation and redemption). As Jesus explains to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Nature and Law Precede and Determine Grace

Cottrell goes on to explain that God the Creator is central to our lives, both in terms of ethics and understanding. The will of God, he concurs with Luther, comes to us on the basis of law: “law (grounded in the creation-relation) must precede gospel (grounded in redemption).” True to Luther and Calvin (and the economy inaugurated by Augustine), he sees the economy of redemption and relationship to God as law based, so that Christ is doing nothing more than working within this legal economy. There is no shadow/substance comparison here (as in Paul and Hebrews) as the law is the adequate frame of salvation. There is no need to reorder or change the natural understanding of God and the given notion of law. What is needed is someone to keep the law, and we know Christ’s redemption on the basis of the law which comes to us through both nature and the Old Testament, and which he fulfills by keeping. This stands in contrast to the apocalyptic picture of cosmic re-creation through resurrection (pictured in John, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, and Revelation) which founds a new form of humanity on a different foundation.

Christ Provides an Experience

 Cottrell allows for a narrowed role for Christ’s centrality: he is “existentially (or experientially) central in our lives.” He clarifies that this pertains specifically to feelings: “our strongest felt relationship to God is the relationship we have with Christ our Lord and Savior. He is the One whom we know most about and to whom we feel the closest.” If it weren’t for the elimination of Christ from knowing, ethics, creation, and ontology, this focus on feeling might not be so damning, but Christ is accorded only this role of experience and feeling. We feel honor and gratitude due to Christ, and he is central in worship (which presumably must be feeling and not knowledge centered) and service, but we must not make too much of Christ. As Cottrell warns, “let us not demote Christ and distort truth by trying to make Him an epistemological tool.”

The Multiplication of Dualisms

The problems with this understanding – imagining that experience, knowledge, and redemption are separate realms; picturing law and nature as complete and adequate apart from God’s grace; the focus on the Bible as an independent epistemological source apart from Christ; indicate the inherent contradictions which Augustine bequeathed to Western theology. Cottrell seems to be a case in point of the confusion and splits caused by Augustine’s original sin. The dualities are irreconcilable and they seem to endlessly multiply, in that not only is nature ungraced or disgraced (as if there is such a thing as nature apart from God’s gratuitous gift), but epistemology is pitted against redemption, and redemption apparently does not include or require a revelatory component (if it is purely a legal exchange between the Father and Son). The soul is pitted against the body, the church is visible and invisible, and ethics is divided from redemption. Of course, at each intersection this is a blatant contradiction of Scripture and the early church.

The Deception of Sin is Disregarded

In the doctrine of original sin, the original lie foisted on the first couple and a continuing part of the definition of sin, is passed over. It is presumed that what is wrong in the world is not that people have been deceived in regard to the law, but that the law is an adequate measure of sin. In other words, Augustine’s original sin foists the original lie upon us. By focusing on sin and presuming that human nature is the problem, the cosmic nature of the problem is traded for an individualistic problem pertaining only to human interiority. People know enough to get into trouble but are incapable of doing anything about it.

The Cosmic Nature of Sin is Obscured

The problem here is not that Augustine takes sin too seriously, but he mystifies it, individualizes it, and reduces the problem and answer to human interiority (focused on the soul). But the failure of humanity in the first Adam is corporate (as is the resolution in the second Adam): it has cosmic consequences in the reign of death, the law of sin and death, and the subjection of creation to futility. The specific nature of this futility (the root meaning of the word), is that a lie reigns in place of the truth. The truth of Christ is not additional information to what has already been received, but the counter to the lie, an overcoming of the prevailing darkness, and a defeat of the reign of death.

Revelation Is Redemption

The twisted presumption that the revelation of Scripture stands apart from the redemption of Christ misses the presumed veil that covers those who would exegete Scripture or understand God apart from Christ. Paul pictures the “same veil” that Moses placed over his face as continuing to obstruct those who would read the law and Moses apart from Christ. “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ” (2 Cor. 3:14). Only through the removal of the veil can the true meaning of Scripture and full glory of God shine forth. This does not occur by means other than the lifting of the veil through Christ. His redemption is revelatory; it is a seeing of God rightly, and this occurs only through “the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). In turn, this revelation is redemptive: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Co 3:18). The obstructing lie of sin has been removed and with it the truth of God in Christ is revealed in redemption.

The Gospel Precedes and Constitutes Scripture

Christ seems to bear no knowledge content for Cottrell apart from Scripture, which ignores how the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ opens the Scriptures to the Apostles. For the first generation, the Scriptures refer to the Hebrew Bible, which are now read in light of Christ (and not the other way round). The death and resurrection of Christ act as a catalyst in apprehending Scripture in a new way. The preaching of the Gospel enacts a new form of understanding or wisdom, which in light of the old wisdom would be dismissed as foolishness (I Cor. 1:18-24). The preaching of the Gospel is not dependent upon Scripture in the first instance, as it consists of the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ, but in light of this proclamation “the wisdom of God” is revealed. Now there is a means of making sense of Scripture as Christ brings about a coherence it does not otherwise possess.[4]

This exegesis of Scripture and God on the basis of the Gospel constitutes the New Testament. Christ is the hermeneutical lens, the means to wisdom, the ground of epistemology, and this ground is worked out in conjunction with Scripture. The point of reading the Bible is not to find the original meaning; quite the opposite – the point is to apprehend Christ, where the original meaning, taken as its own end, might obscure this reality.

Christ’s explanation of Scripture, with himself as center, to the two on the Road to Emmaus, is not lost to us but is recovered and expanded upon throughout the New Testament. Paul does not read Genesis as an end in and of itself – and his reading may in fact seem to distort the original story, but his point is to show forth the second Adam in conjunction with the first (e.g., Romans 5 & 7).  It turns out the two sons of Abraham represent two covenants (Gal. 4:24 ff.) and yet, there are not two such covenants revealed apart from Christ, prior to Paul’s explanation. The snake of Moses foreshadowed the crucifixion and the giving of eternal life (John 3:14). The Exodus, Passover, the Sabbath, the Temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood, and creation, have to now be read and understood in light of Christ. To reverse this, and to lift up Scripture over Christ is to lose the meaning and substance preserved in the Old and New Testaments through the preaching of the Gospel. Apart from a Christological explanation there is no coherence but only confusion and contradiction.

[1]  Augustine, City of God, XIII, xiii.

[2] Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press; 1st edition (November 1, 2013), 85.

[3] Jack Cottrell, “What is Central in our Lives?” Restoration Herald (November, 2014). All references to Cottrell are from this article.

[4] See John Behr, Formation of Christian Theology: The Way to Nicaea Volume 1 (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood New York, 2001), 25-28.

The End of an Era: Reflections on the Closing of Cincinnati Christian University

My wife and I met at CCU as did her parents, Mark and Pauline Maxey, and two of her brothers and their spouses. Faith’s extended family, including 3 uncles and an aunt, attended Cincinnati Bible Seminary (CBS) before it was designated a university and her uncle, Victor Maxey, was the school librarian for much of his life and much of the life of the school. Her Aunt, Isabelle, attended the school in its third year of operation. Isabelle’s father, R. Tibbs Maxey, drove her there in a Maxwell touring car from Boise Idaho and the old car had to be backed up Price Hill as it could not otherwise make the steep grade. Tibbs had experienced the divisiveness of liberalism up close, with Disciples’ organizations taking over two of the churches he had organized and he had watched the liberals capture his alma mater, the College of the Bible in Lexington, so he had a vested interest in the new school.   After hearing J. Russell Morse’s appeal for workers in China, Isabelle used her preparation at CBS in a lifetime of missionary service in Asia.

Faith’s father would make the journey to the school with his brother Tibbs and with Max Ward Randall from Minnesota Bible College. Mark was impacted at CBS by the teaching and preaching of Ira Boswell. During the Memphis convention, in which it was clear the liberals were making their move to capture the convention and the brotherhood, when the chairman had tried to quiet the objectors by intoning, “Let us pray,” Boswell had jumped up on a bench and shouted, “Pray nothin! I feel like fighting.” As Mark described him, “that was only part of his nature. He was at the same time one of the wittiest and most inspirational men I ever listened to.”

The outstanding class, in Mark’s memory, was a course on the Campbell debates taught by R. C. Foster. Cincinnati had been the sight of two of these debates and was in close proximity to the third, the debate on baptism with Nathan Rice, which had taken place in Paris Kentucky. This proximity to history and the sense that the tides were changing marked the atmosphere of the school. In Mark’s description: “The battle had not yet been won so the events related to the struggle were vigorously debated both in the classes and in the assemblies. The students knew what the issues were and why.” The “war” in Mark’s depiction and in his life-time of work had as much to do with allowing for freedom within brotherhood organizations as it did with higher criticism and theological liberalism.

Cincinnati was also the location of the United Christian Missionary Society and, due to World War II, two key informants of the Philippine struggle for independent missions, Juan Baronia and Ben Allison, were available. CBS became the center of a movement of independent missionaries and missions and Mark’s work for his B.D. thesis would detail the struggle against the UCMS as it occurred in the Philippines.  

Part of the significance of this depiction is its close ties to a specific historical projection, key personalities, and the story as it was being experienced. The Campbells and Stone had so grounded their reading of Scripture on reasonable interpretation that the broader sweep of Church history, inclusive of creeds and tradition, were largely brushed aside. Their own struggles, their deep intellectual engagement, their approach to Scripture and their particular experiences came to constitute its own significant history. This sense of continuing the historical struggle was passed to the early heirs of the movement.

The second-generation teaching at the school and the third generation of students, of which I would count myself, were bound to have a very different experience and sensibility. Neither Stone nor the Campbells hesitated to pose novel interpretations of Scripture and they were not anxious to establish a systematic theological understanding. The first generation at CBS were also practitioners of a new form of organization which was dependent upon a sense of individual freedom and the powers of individual interpretation.

 I may have gotten a distilled version of the anti-theology, anti-clergy, and anti-credentialing, in the person of Seth Wilson. Wilson (who made a point of his lack of ordination and credentials) had served as R. C. Foster’s teaching assistant at CBS, and though he never received a graduate degree, he was one of the founding faculty of Ozark Bible College. Ozark was in the mold of CBS, but specifically in the mold of R. C. Foster through the person of Seth Wilson. At that time, Ozark had no courses in theology. In its place we studied Acts, the life of Christ, and the epistles of the New Testament, and of course we had a class in Restoration History. One of my memories is of John Relyea, who would serve and die in the jungles of Papua New Guinea as a missionary, arguing with Seth in class that it was nonsense to be against a systematic theology as we all had one, either consciously or by default. Seth dismissed him, accusing him of thinking like a German.

The passage of CBS into the hands of a second generation of teachers is perhaps most notable in that with the hiring of Jack Cottrell, the school would undergo its first shift away from the inclinations against establishing a systematic theology. George Mark Elliot, who taught theology to Cottrell at CBS, like the Campbells and Stone, had engaged the theological enterprise in an ad hoc manner. Cottrell would set out his understanding of the theological catalogue in his own three volume systematics, which is the most extensive systematic theological statement by a single individual to come out of the Independent branch of the Movement.

Cottrell does not often appeal to Stone-Campbell resources but largely affirms basic evangelical beliefs. Unlike the Campbells and Stone, he fully embraces Calvin’s version of penal substitution. (Stone had completely rejected the doctrine while the Campbells qualified it with a governmental notion of atonement.) Cottrell depicts Christ’s suffering on the Cross as the literal experience and payment for the penalty of eternal torturous existence. (R. C. Foster had warned that this sort of literal reading of hellish punishment as occurring in the suffering of Christ would reduce to contradiction.) In an innovation on original sin, Cottrell acknowledges that Romans 5:12-18 may depict a theoretical original sin wiped out by “Original Grace” given universally through the death and resurrection of Christ. Though he is pitting his Arminianism against Calvinism, as Elliot had understood, Arminianism is working within a Calvinist notion of sovereignty (seemingly reflected in this semi-Calvinist reading of Romans).

When it came time to write my Masters thesis under Cottrell I hit, innocently enough, on the worst of possible topics. Unbeknownst to me he had entered into discussion with Clark Pinnock and a group of “Open Theologians” who were reacting against notions of divine impassibility and an Augustinian understanding of God’s timelessness. I chose to write on and to defend some version of the traditional orthodox doctrine, though I had hoped to critique the Augustinian version of timelessness. It was not until I had initiated the research that I came to understand Cottrell believes (or did at that point) that God exists along a timeline or is temporal and that time is not created. I spent hours in discussion with Jack laying out the implications of suggesting God did not create time and that he is temporal. I equated it, in our conversation, with a Newtonian understanding with deistic implications. Needless to say, I never completed this thesis.

In the spirit of the founding of the school, Cottrell carried the fight against liberalism into theology, but with his emphasis on penal substitution, the unusual focus on the nature of God’s sovereignty, along with his teaching on women’s subordination and the notion that the Holy Spirit works only through the Bible, Cottrell’s articulation of theology is of a fundamentalist evangelical bent and is uneven at best. As George Mark Elliot had reportedly put it, “Cottrell may save us from attacks on biblical authority, but who will save us from his Calvinism?”

The early reactions against theological liberalism at CBS were mainly through New Testament scholarship, largely in the persons of R. C. Foster and his son, Lewis Foster. The tenor and quality of the argument changed with the shift to the battleground of theology. In my view theology was and is the way out of the morass of controversy between theological liberalism and fundamentalism. The moderate, Barton Stone-like tack of another Cincinnati graduate, James Strauss, whose tenure at Lincoln Christian Seminary is parallel to Cottrell’s at Cincinnati, indicates that the Restoration Movement and CBS had theological resources that could simultaneously resist both liberalism and fundamentalism. Strauss provided the impetus for a theological scholarship that moved beyond the modernist battles over authority and higher criticism and Lincoln has been marked by a steadier stream of orthodoxy. Theological fundamentalism simply does not contain the resources to counter the sort of rank liberalism that would eventually mark the demise of the original spirit of CBS. The history of the school followed a predictable pattern in the absence of these richer theological resources, so that the liberal biblical scholarship taught in the final years of the school was already outdated, a century behind, rendered passé by a variety of theological movements.

The closing of CCU marks the end of an era. [1] Its founders and the first generation of students were indeed in the midst of history making events. The Great Generation that went out from CBS changed the shape of missions and had a worldwide impact on the Church. The battles of the first generation, and their manner of engagement in the only way they knew, resulted in a school that had an international impact and defined a generation of ministers and missionaries.

[1] The “Historical Agreement” with another Bible College confounds the sad note of the school’s closing. The basic dishonesty in not addressing the needs of students and trumpeting instead an agreement with a school that has followed the same trajectory as CCU is an added blight. This school also recently received a rejection from the Higher Learning Commission and the reasons must be approximately those outlined in the HLC letter to CCU. Fifteen faculty and staff, mainly those teaching Bible and theology fired (the founding faculty retired or phased out), replaced with a focus on sports (4 full time coaches at a school of less the 200), the position of Registrar phased out, multiplication of administrative salaries and positions, mission drift, etc. etc.