"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 13, Number 7, July 2010

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

Job 32:17-21

 

“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Earl of Kent

Shakespeare’s King Lear

Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34

 

[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org

 

All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only.  Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand.  Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given upon request.]

----------

 

Removing Barriers between Sinners and Salvation?

 

by Pastor Charlie Miller,

High Plains Baptist Church

Clovis, New Mexico

 

As pastors, we are all looking for ways to remove barriers that keep people from coming to Christ and coming to church.  We have moved away from extra services and transferred discipleship programs into homes.  And traditionalists are still running buses in order to bring people in.  As Baptists that’s what we do. We’re taking away excuses for those who are not participating--we are trying to make church and worship more convenient.

I am all for removing barriers--but . . .

Can we go too far trying to make the Christian walk convenient?  We know that we are all on a “faith journey” (I like that term), but we must be careful that we do not give people the wrong impression.  Is our faith journey a walk in the park--or is it a hike to the top of a mountain?  Are we prancing through the prairie when we really are supposed to be climbing a cliff?

No matter what lengths we go to in order to accommodate the unchurched lost or the unchurched churched (strange term IMO) at some point we are squarely confronted with the biblical reality that discipleship is tough.  “Taking up your cross” is heavy-lifting.  “Denying yourself daily” is not for the faint of heart.  Jesus did not promise a path paved with pansies.  Instead He left us a bloody trail--up the mountain--that ended (for Him) in pain, death, and humiliation.  We would rather skip right to the empty tomb--you know--celebrate the resurrection.  But
there are no shortcuts in discipleship.  If you want to get to the empty tomb and have the resurrection power you must climb and go through Calvary.

We must never abandon the honest confession of what it means to follow Christ--to be a disciple.  On the one hand, we are loved, accepted, empowered, and victorious.  On the other hand, we must lose our personal ambition and ego in order to realize our fullness in Christ.  We must remind ourselves that while Christians wear ornate crosses, disciples carry heavy, rugged crosses.

God has called us to the extreme path.  The bloody trail Jesus left for us winds around the mountain, climbs sheer rock faces, and lurches close to the precipice.  The altitude takes your breath, the incline exhausts your legs, and the strain messes with your mind.  What’s the matter--you’re not into that?  Well, there’s another path.  It’s level.  It’s clear.  It’s where most of our friends, family, and colleagues choose to power-walk.  You can take that path, enjoy some good
fellowship, and never break a sweat.  But you won’t find Jesus there--He didn’t stop until He reached the top.

Do all that you can to remove legitimate barriers to reaching our culture for Christ.  But do not neglect to steer people up the mountain.  Do not fail to train them to climb.  Do not leave them without the equipment they need to tether themselves to the Rock when their foot slips.  Most importantly, lead them to the top.

----------

 

The CHARACTER of the Man Re-enforces the MESSAGE

 

In the very first volume of his published sermons, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) described what must have been among his earliest encounters, if not in fact the very earliest, with George Muller (1805-1898) of Bristol, the famous Christian orphanagist and man of faith and prayer: 

 

There is no sermon like what you can see with your own eyes.  I went down to the Orphan-house, last Wednesday, on Ashley Down, near Bristol, and saw that wonder of faith--I had some conversation with that heavenly-minded man Mr. Muller.  I never heard such a sermon in my life as I saw there.  They asked me to speak to the girls, but I said, “I could not speak a word for the life of me.”  I had been crying all the while to think how God heard this dear man’s prayer, and how all those three hundred children had been fed by my Father through the prayer of faith.  Whatever is wanted, comes without annual subscriptions, without asking anything, simply from the hand of God.  When I found that it was all correct that I had heard, I was like the queen of Sheba, and I had no heart left in me.  I could only stand and look at those children, and think, did my heavenly Father feed them, and would he not feed me and all his family?  Speak to them?  They had spoken to me quite enough, though they had not said a word--Speak to them?  I thought myself ten thousand fools that I did not believe God better.  Here I am, I cannot trust him day by day; but this good man can trust him for three hundred children.  When he has not a sixpence in hand he never fears.  “I know God,” he might say, “too well to doubt him.  I tell my God, thou knowest what I want today to keep these children, and I have not anything.  My faith never wavers, and my supply always comes.”  Simply by asking God in this way, he has raised (I believe) 17,000 pounds towards the erection of a new orphan-house.  When I consider that, I sometimes think we will try the power of faith here, and see if we should not get sufficient funds whereby to erect a place to hold the people that crowd to hear the Word of God.  Then we may have a tabernacle of faith as well as an orphan-house of faith.  God send us that, and to Him shall be all the glory.

The New Park Street Pulpit

Vol. 1 (1855), p. 378

 

Two decades later, in the June, 1875 issue of The Sword and the Trowel (p. 293), Spurgeon noted the occasion in the preceding month when that same George Muller filled the pulpit at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London--

 

May 6.--Mr. George Muller, of the Orphan House, Bristol, preached for us at our usual Thursday evening service.  It was a sermon long to be remembered.  The wise and holy counsels then given were rendered the more weighty by the character of the man from whom they came [emphasis added].  He has fought a good fight and kept the faith, and it is delightful to hear him in his hale old age bearing sweet testimony to the faithfulness of God, the power of prayer, and the pleasures of true religion.  May our venerable friend be attended with the divine sunlight during his present evangelistic movements, and till the daybreak, and the shadows flee away.

 

What Spurgeon perceived Muller to be in 1855, he still was twenty years later in 1875 (and as he would remain until his death nearly a quarter century beyond).  He had not stumbled, faltered or failed.  His character remained consistent and unmarred, and his credibility as a messenger of God was thereby mightily reinforced. 

 

So it ever is: the credibility of the Gospel message is either enhanced and reinforced or subverted and degraded by the character of the messenger.  May we strive by consistent Christian character to reinforce the message we are entrusted to proclaim.

---Doug Kutilek

----------

 

Another Unique View of Spurgeon

 

And speaking of Spurgeon--I am always interested in finding new (to me) accounts of the person and life of Spurgeon, beyond those found in the numerous published standard biographies (which tend to be rather repetitious).  Recently, Pastor Gary Long of Springfield, Missouri mentioned to me that a chapter in the autobiography of Southern Baptist pastor and editor William E. Hatcher (1834-1912), Along the Trail of the Friendly Years (Revell, 1910), addressed his own personal friendship with Spurgeon, giving an account and perspective not met with elsewhere.  That chapter, no. 16, is titled “Glad Days with Spurgeon,” and occupies about a dozen pages, beginning on p. 241.

 

The very day I received the recommendation, I found for sale a used copy of this very book, which, because it had obviously been Providentially “dropped in my lap” as it were, I bought, and within a few days found time to read the chapter.  I was not disappointed.  Among other things, there are a couple of incidents regarding Spurgeon and cigar smoking, and another regarding pheasant as an ersatz “vegetable.” 

 

Here, then, is another first-hand account of the great Spurgeon.

---Doug Kutilek

----------

 

John Eliot, Pioneer Missionary and Bible Translator

by Frank W. Boreham (1871-1959)

 

Mainly owing to his own excessive modesty, John Eliot [1604-1690], who was born five years after Cromwell and four years before Milton, takes his place in our annals as an outstanding example of forgotten greatness.

 

Although living a couple of centuries before Fenimore Cooper and Longfellow threw the golden gaze of glamorous romance about the North American Indians, John Eliot took the red men to his heart, recognized the splendour of the possibilities that they represented, and spent the best energies of his life in their service.

 

In his monumental History of the United States, Bancroft devotes considerable space to the penetrating and permanent influence that Eliot exerted on the aboriginal tribesmen of North America.  His patience with the people of the wigwams was inexhaustible; his tenderness of heart completely captivated them.  His benevolence, accompanying a beautiful simplicity of life and an extraordinary sweetness of temper, almost amounted, Bancroft says, to the inspiration of genius.

 

John Own, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, the official preacher to the House of Commons and the personal friend of Cromwell, was lost in admiration at all that filtered through to England of Eliot’s work in the western forests.  At the point of death, Richard Baxter wrote to Eliot to say that ‘there is no man on earth whose work I think more honourable than yours’; whilst Edward Everett, President of Harvard University, declared that, since the death of the Apostle Paul, a nobler, truer and warmer spirit than John Eliot had not lived.  But by far the most eloquent tribute to the winsomeness and charm Eliot so consistently displayed was paid him in his early days by the Essex farm folk who knew him best.  Having taken his B.A. at Cambridge, he was appointed a teacher at a school kept by the Rev. Thomas Hooker at Little Baddow, near Chelmsford.  The country people became exceedingly fond of him.  Having discovered that he was thinking of studying for the ministry, these toilers among tilth and pasture begged him to exercise his gifts for the benefit of those who had already learned to love and admire him.

 

It was, however, an iron age.  The Mayflower had just sailed, and Eliot’s sympathies were with the Pilgrim Fathers.  If, he reasoned, the Old World could offer them no spheres of happiness and usefulness, was it likely to treat him more generously?

 

Like the pilgrims, he therefore turned his eyes towards the West.  Hearing of his intention, his Essex admirers startled him with a proposal that took his breath away.  If, they inquired, they followed him across the Atlantic, and settled down together in one of the vast solitudes of the New England woods, would he then become their minister?

 

What could he say?  A man would need a heart of granite to resist such devotion and importunity.  He promised; and the apparently fantastic dream was actually realized. The people of Little Baddow, including his sweetheart, Harriet Mulford, set their faces to the great adventure; they settled at Roxbury in Massachusetts; he became their minister; and, marrying his faithful Harriet, remained there to the end of his long and useful life.

 

During the first fourteen years at Roxbury, his thought of the Indians remained a nebulous dream.  The project that made him famous was merely forming and incubating in his mind.  It was in 1646, whilst the green fields of England were being crimsoned by the horrors of civil war, that he set to work, first to learn the Indian language, then to conduct a religious service in the great wigwam of Waban, and finally to translate the Scriptures into the tribal tongue.

 

All authorities agree with Bancroft that Eliot’s achievement in translating the entire Bible is one of the greatest feats of application and endurance on record.  For many vital expressions the red men had no equivalent at all.  Their only word for ‘love’ was a terminological monstrosity of twenty-eight letters; whilst their idea of ‘question’ could be conveyed only in a hideous jumble of vowels and consonants twice as long as the longest word in our dictionary.  When the titanic task was completed, Eliot signalized his triumph by presenting a beautifully bound copy of his translation to Charles the Second--‘such a work,’ as Richard Baxter put it, ‘as was never before presented to a king.’

 

Assisted by his Harriet, he taught the women to spin, to knit, and to sew; he gave the men lessons in gardening, fruit-growing, and carpentering.  He received the most beautiful and touching evidences of the effectiveness of his work.  A group of Indians brought four of their little children to his manse at Roxbury, begging that Eliot would take the youngsters into his home for a while that they might catch his spirit and learn his ways.

 

He noticed that the braves, who had always worn long hair, had their locks shorn that their heads might resemble his.  And, better still, he observed that, when smallpox was raging among the native settlements, his own converts hazarded their lives unhesitatingly and cheerfully in unremitting attendance upon the stricken.

 

Two good stories are told of him, the one illustrating his absorption in his work, and the other his open-handed philanthropy.  On opening the back door of his home one afternoon, three cows confronted him.  ‘Dear me!’ he exclaimed, ‘where can they have strayed from?  We must find out and return them to their owners!’  Overhearing his soliloquy, Harriet sprang forward.  ‘Strayed from?’ she echoed.  ‘Why, they’re your own Cranberry and Brindle and Darkie!  And to think that you don’t know them!’

 

The other story tells how, on visiting his church treasurer one evening, that official took the opportunity of handing him his stipend.  Fearing, however, that the minister might be tempted to dispense the money on his way home, he carefully wrapped it in a handkerchief, tying the knots with all his strength.  On his road to the manse, Mr. Eliot called upon a family whose necessitous condition deeply affected him.  He drew out the handkerchief and fumbled frantically with the unyielding knots.  At length he gave up the struggle in despair.  ‘Here, my dear,’ he said to the distracted young mother, ‘heaven evidently means it all for you: please take it!’

 

The heartbreak of his life overwhelmed him in his seventy-second year.  War broke out between the red men and the whites.  Eliot’s Indians were between two fires.  The English attacked them because of their race, whilst the Indian chiefs treated them with animosity because, being under a white man’s influence, they had learned the white man’s ways.  Happily, he lived to see the cruel storm pass.  His Harriet was spared to him almost to the end.

 

Eliot lived to be eighty-six.  He dreaded death; the horror of leaving his work unfinished haunted him as the bleakest of tragedies.  The Indians always asked him anxiously if his children would continue his work after his departure: but his progeny nearly all predeceased him.  However, his task was complete.  He had lived a life that was a real adornment to the foundations of American history, and, among the honoured names of the western pioneers, there is none that shines with a brighter lustre than his.

Arrows of Desire, pp. 32-35

(London: Epworth, 1951)

---

Note--there are additional readily accessible sources of information about John Eliot, his life and labors, especially his Bible translation into Algonkian, the first Bible in any language ever printed in North America.  A brief selection includes the following:

 

Cotton Mather, “The Life of the Renowned John Eliot,” in Magnalia Christi Americana, or The Ecclesiastical History of New England.  (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979.  Reprint), vol. I, pp. 526-583.  This account is the primary source of information about Eliot on which all others largely depend.

 

Samuel M. Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1963 reprint), vol. IV, pp. 108-109.  With bibliography.

 

Samuel Eliot Morison, “John Eliot, Apostle to the Indians,” in Builders of the Bay Colony (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1958.  Revised and enlarged edition), pp. 289-319.  An excellent account by the “dean” of American historians (whether Samuel Eliot Morison was related to John Eliot, I do not know).

 

Richard W. Cogley, John Eliot’s Mission to the Indians before King Philip’s War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).  One of several book-length accounts of Eliot’s life and / or work.  I have not examined this work.

 

Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.  Second edition), pp. 74-79.

 

Doug Kutilek, “Historic American Bibles,” As I See It 7:12.  Has a brief treatment of Eliot’s Bible translation.

----------

 

Emotion-Driven KJVOism

 

On an internet forum for Baptist pastors, preachers and missionaries, I recently expressed an opinion that I have stated more than once on these pages (and so was no new thing), namely, that it was high time to “retire” the KJV from regular personal and pulpit use (an action which has long since been done with such worthy but now out-dated and superceded English versions as Wycliffe’s, Tyndale’s and the Geneva) and to replace it with one of the more accurate contemporary English versions which are readily available.  While most on the forum who expressed an opinion were in agreement (and many already use the NKJB, NIV, NASB or some other version for both study and preaching), a few strongly, even vehemently dissented.  But what I noted as characteristic of their counter-postings was not an appeal to evidence, arguments, or facts, but unbridled raw emotion.  Not one sought to oppose my arguments with reason or facts--I actually challenged them to give me one--just one--factual argument for the supremacy of the KJV or for its continued us, and not one was offered in reply.  Perhaps, deep in their heart of hearts, those who objected so fervently to my suggestion feared that the facts were not on their side. 

 

Long experience (nearly 40 years) in dealing with KJVOism, has convinced me that this emotion-controlled and emotion-driven adherence to the KJV is not the reaction of these limited few, but is now and has always been the single over-riding characteristic of KJVOism, the proverbial tail that wags the dog.  In a 65-page booklet The Foundation and Authority of the Word of God, published around 1977, the late Pastor Bruce Cummons of Massillon, Ohio wrote, remarkably--“I believe we have an infallible Bible.  I believe that Bible to be the Authorized Version, or the King James Version.  If I had no evidence at all, I would still believe it, because of the way it speaks to my heart, as does no other book.” (p. 53, emphasis added).  Note once again those highlighted words--“If I had no evidence at all, I would still believe it.”  This is a frank confession that evidence, facts, and reason are NOT the basis for adherence to this point of view, but the wholly subjective argument from emotion, to wit, “because of the way it speaks to my heart.”  Well, what if the KJV doesn’t speak to someone else’s heart--does that make it NOT the infallible Bible to him?  Or what if, perish the thought, some other version--say, the English NIV, or the NASB, or perhaps the Spanish Reina-Valera 1960 Bible DOES speak to someone’s heart in a way that the KJV doesn’t?  Do these Bibles then become the infallible Bible to them?

 

This hyper-subjectivity is a de facto acknowledgement that the basis for KJVOism is emotion, not reason, evidence and arguments.  “Don’t try to confuse me with facts--I’ve already made up my mind.”  And the literature of the movement is rife from stem to stern with this same phenomenon.

 

In Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act I, Scene II, there is an exchange between Julia, a single woman with many suitors, and Lucetta, her servant girl, discussing the merits and demerits of the various men seeking to woe and win Julia.  Of one particular fellow, the conversation goes--

 

Lucetta: “Of many good, I think him best.”

 

Julia: “Your reason?”

 

Lucetta: “I have no other but a woman’s reason;

I think him so, because I think him so.”

 

Just so is the common defense of the KJV against all comers: “I just feel sure that the KJV is a perfect translation.  How could it not be?  It is the one God placed in my hands and therefore it must be best, because God wouldn’t let me have a less than perfect translation, right?  It is the best, simply because I think it so.”

 

This whole mindset is akin to saved people in apostate churches who though they know that gross heresy is coming from the pulpit week after week, nevertheless refuse to leave those churches because “grandma is buried in the church’s cemetery” or “I was baptized here” or “I was married here” and such like.  Or like Latin American Roman Catholics who, after being taught what the Bible says on the matter, will admit that they don’t really need the church or the priest to get to heaven, but who are nevertheless sure that they cannot get to heaven without Mary.  This is nothing more, nor less, than in-grained irrationality which blinds them to plain facts and truth.

 

These same KJVO individuals, if I had challenged them regarding the true Deity of Christ, or His physical resurrection, or baptism by immersion, or any other Biblical or doctrinal position, would have immediately presented a case, citing Scripture in context, marshalling arguments and evidence, and more.  But when challenged over the absurd neo-dogma of an infallible KJV, their response is sneers, smears, denunciations, diatribes--everything BUT facts, evidence and reason.  They ought to ask themselves why that is.  I have found, regularly, that if a KJVOer, even a highly-committed one, is open to consider facts and evidence, he can be persuaded of the error of his perspective.  But nothing can persuade those who are impervious to evidence.

 

One thing is surely self-evident--if one’s theological beliefs cannot be rationally, reasonably and Biblically defended against challenges, then they should be given up as unfounded and false.

---Doug Kutilek

----------

 

The Menace of Utopianism

 

“For the conservative, custom, convention, constitution, and prescription are the sources of a tolerable civil social order.  Men, not being angels, a terrestrial paradise cannot be contrived by metaphysical enthusiasts; yet an earthly hell can be arranged readily enough by ideologues of one stamp or another.  Precisely that has come to pass in a great part of the world, during the twentieth century.”

 

Russell Kirk

The Conservative Mind

Foreword, pp. iii-iv

(Regnery Books, 1986; 7th revised edition)

 

[Today’s Moslem Jihadists, socialist / Marxist “true believers” in the Obama administration, Green Peacers, PETA-ites, Sierra Clubbers and other self-righteous croissant-eating nectar-drinkers who are driven to impose their “vision” of earthy paradise on the rest of us are just such authors of earthly hells about which Kirk wrote--editor]

----------

 

A Web-site Worth Visiting

 

A number of years ago, we reviewed (AISI 6:11), with our highest recommendation, the volume by our friend Rick Norris, The Unbound Scripture (still available for purchase).  That substantial book documented the published and inherently contradictory claims and counterclaims of KJVO adherents, setting them one against the other.  Recently, we were informed that Rick has a web-site at which many of his research papers on various aspects of KJVOism are posted.  We spent a couple of hours reading the items posted there, and found them to be just as we expected--highly informative, thoroughly researched, and meticulously given to accuracy, as is characteristic of Rick’s work.  That web-site is to be found at www.unboundscriptures.com 

---Editor

----------

 

Eadie Volumes on English Bible Available

 

In the previous issue, we reviewed John Eadie’s valuable mid-19th century work, The English Bible: An External and Critical History of the Various English Translations of Scripture, vol. II.  I lamented that, as far as I was able to discover, only the second volume of this set was in print.  A number of readers wrote to inform me that both volumes of this Eadie work are available on line in electronic form at the following locations--

 

http://www.archive.org/details/englishbibleexte01eadi

 

http://www.archive.org/details/englishbibleexte02eadi

 

There are also a great many other valuable titles available at this same site.  As a devotee of the hold-in-your-hand, underline-with-your-pencil printed page, I am not enthusiastic about electronic format books, but as one reader said, “better in .pdf than not at all.”

---Editor

----------

 

BOOK REVIEWS

 

Spurgeon and His Friendships by A. Cunningham Burley.  London: Epworth Press, 1933.  180 pp. hardback.

 

To fully disclose its contents, this book should really be titled, Charles H. Spurgeon: His Family, as well as Some Friendships, Acquaintances, Contemporaries, Admirers, an Admiree, and His Pets, but such a title might be a bit cumbersome by modern standards (though not nearly as long as the page-filling titles of some 17th and 18th century Puritan works).  The author was for a quarter century a close friend of Spurgeon’s older son Charles, who was originally planned as the co-author of these biographical sketches.  F. W. Boreham provided a foreword.

 

Those treated in this chatty, popular (as opposed to scholarly) volume include Mrs. Susannah Spurgeon, twin sons Charles and Thomas, brother James, fellow preachers Joseph Parker, Alexander MacLaren, D. L. Moody, T. de Witt Talmage, William Booth, George Muller, and Henry Ward Beecher, notable contemporaries Lord Shaftsbury, John Ruskin, William Gladstone, and Robert Louis Stevenson, plus John Calvin, Thomas Macaulay, and a menagerie of Spurgeon’s household pets.  Though I have read more than 15 biographies of Spurgeon and numerous other books about aspects of his ministry, yet much of the information here was completely new to me.  A pleasant read.

 

There yet remains the need for someone to write a volume regarding Spurgeon and his co-workers--the Olneys and other leading elders and deacons at the Tabernacle (and the other major ministries including the orphan houses); Messrs. Passmore and Alabaster, who published Spurgeon’s voluminous writings; the professors in the College; secretary J. L. Keys, writers / preachers, Archibald Brown, R. Schindler, Walter Williams, W. Y. Fullerton, and others; notable graduates of the college; notables among Spurgeon’s foreign visitors; perhaps some accounting of guest speakers at the Tabernacle; and more.

 

And there is still (as far as I can discover) no biography of Spurgeon’s namesake son Charles (there are two about the life of younger son Thomas). 

 

To write these volumes would require residence, at least for a couple of months, in and around London, to do the research and writing.  I volunteer!  Who is willing to sponsor me in undertaking this task?  Send contributions to . . . .

 

(I wish to thank a friend whom I will leave nameless, lest he be pestered by others, for the loan of this volume.  I have sought repeatedly [and still am seeking] but in vain for a copy to buy).

---Doug Kutilek

----------

 

Apparent Danger: the Pastor of America’s First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s by David Stokes.  Minneapolis: Bascom Hill Books, 2010.  391 pp., hardback.  $24.95

 

Among American Fundamentalist preachers in the first half of the 20th century, there is none whose name provokes stronger reaction, favorable or (more frequently) hostile than John Franklyn Norris (1877-1952).  Norris’ long ministry was centered in (but not limited to) the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Though admired, even adored, by the vast throngs that made up his congregation, he was widely considered by outsiders to be a rabble rouser who loved nothing more than controversy, and if none was ready to hand, he was always ready to create such, especially if it meant more attention and notoriety for the Reverend J. Frank Norris.  He has been called a prima donna of Fundamentalism.  While P. T. Barney may have preceded him in the art of sensationalism, Norris was no mean practitioner of the same.

 

During his Texas pastorate, Norris, who was raised and educated, and pastored within the fold of the Southern Baptist Convention, made a name for himself by, among other things, accusing Southern Baptist schools, especially Baylor in Waco, of harboring evolutionists and modernists.  In these accusations, he was not wrong, but his personal manner and antics had made him so odious among Southern Baptists (not a few firmly believed that in the after-life, they would be able to peer over the parapets of heaven and see Frank Norris roasting in the flames of hell) that it was easy to dismiss his claims as just Norris being Norris.  Twice his church building burned to the ground--he was suspected of arson in both cases--, and on a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1926, he shot and killed an unarmed man as that man, D. E. Chipps, was leaving Norris’ office in the church.  It is about this latter incident that Rev. David Stokes writes.

 

Because of his very vocal public opposition to illegal liquor distribution, illegal gambling, prostitution rings, and widespread corruption in local government in Fort Worth, and his frequent threats to expose those responsible for these activities, Norris gained for himself devoted lifelong enemies, from the mayor on down.  Norris regularly received personal threats unless he backed off, which of course he refused to do.  D. E. Chipps, local lumberman and friend of the mayor, had his fill of Norris, and made an appointment by phone to see him.  As the very angry Chipps left Norris’ office that Saturday afternoon, and suddenly turned back toward Norris, Norris fired several ultimately fatal shots from the church’s night watchman’s revolver into Chipps.  Authorities were called, Chipps was taken away by ambulance, and Norris calmly gave a statement to the police.  He preached as schedule the next day.

 

Norris was charged with murder.  The trial began in January 1927, after a change of venue from Fort Worth to Waco.  The prosecution, cock sure they had Norris nailed, went for the whole enchilada--first degree, premeditated murder, with execution the likely sentence, and no lesser charge allowed to the jury.  Their case lasted just 5 hours and included just 6 witnesses.  Norris defense: “apparent danger,” that is, self-defense from perceived imminent threat (a defense allowed under Texas law).  Numerous witnesses were produced who testified that Chipps had repeatedly, to others and to Norris himself, threatened the preacher with bodily harm and even death.  Norris claimed in his defense that he thought Chipps was going for a gun when he suddenly turned as he exited the pastor’s office.

 

The jury’s verdict on the first degree murder charge--“not guilty.”  Had the prosecution not overreached, and instead sought a conviction of second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, I think it is beyond reasonable doubt that Norris would have been convicted and would have gone to prison.

 

I had for years heard about the Norris-Chipps incident though always in mere allusions, hints and the briefest of narratives; this account corrected numerous defects in my understanding of the case, and filled in huge blanks.  First, I had the impression that the killing took place in a church building with no one present but Norris and Chipps; there were in fact dozens of people in the building, including several secretaries in the outer office, and a man in the office with Norris at the time (though that man, his attention reportedly diverted elsewhere, was not an eyewitness to the actual shooting).  Further, I was under the impression that there was only one, very dubious “witness” to Chipp’s threats against Norris (an eavesdropping telephone operator at a Fort Worth hotel); there were in fact a large number of witnesses who testified that they had heard Chipps threaten Norris directly or indirectly.  Before reading the book, I was inclined to think that Norris was twice guilty of church arson, and once guilty of pre-meditated murder.  I now have doubts about his involvement in the arsons, and think that at most, he was guilty of 2nd degree murder (but I cannot see how he was not guilty of at least voluntary manslaughter).

 

The author, pastor in Fairfax, Virginia and conservative political columnist, relies very heavily on contemporary newspaper accounts and court transcripts in this well-written, page-turning narrative.   I thought his use of sources was thorough and fair, and his treatment of Norris on the whole even-handed (outside of a few gratuitous digs at Norris along the way).  While some present-day Fundamentalists have expressed dismay at this public display of our “dirty laundry” / historic “baggage,” this account is valuable as a cautionary tale, and a rebuke at those who are all too ready to cover up and conceal the flaws--sins, even crimes--of Fundamentalist “superstars,” contrary to the Scriptural admonition in I Timothy 5:20--“Those [pastors] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.”

---Doug Kutilek

----------