29 Jan 2009

Todd Deaver, Facing Our Failure: Thoughts

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Church History, Ministry, Preaching, Restoration History, Unity

When I finished reading Todd Deaver’s Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ I was reminded of three statements, had one hope, and expressed one thanksgiving. The first two statements come from the pen of David Edwin Harrell in his The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century. He noted the great irony that the Stone-Campbell Unity movement “sparked fractious debates and manufactured a body of arguments that is an almost impenetrable maze to outsiders” (p. xii) and “the American restoration movement [has] always been a case study in controversy” (p. 41). G. C. Brewer observed much the same in his bomb-shell 1934 speech at Abilene Christian College. We have become guilty of the “rankest sort of sectarianism” he said. Here is a lengthy quote:

“This point may have to do with the state of the dead, or the question of what will become of the heathen or the millennium or some other fanciful, far-fetched or untaught question … It is because some men cannot see things in a sober, calm, considerate, judicial manner that we have hobbyists and fanatics …”

Brewer wonders if we have been captured by “littleness” and warns that “Phariseeism dwarfs the soul, paralyzes the heart and vitiates sympathy and love.” (ACC Lectures (1934), 182, 184)

The hope that came to my mind, honestly, was two pronged. First, I hoped that no one outside the Churches of Christ would read this book. No one would understand the “impenetrable maze” of issues we have divided over. Second, I prayed that many preachers, elders and deacons inside the Churches of Christ would.

My thanksgiving to God was my sheer gratitude that the issues that Todd speaks of in his book are not even on the radar screen in my congregation. Thank you Lord for that.

I do not know Todd Deaver. I do know of the Deaver family of which he comes. My hat is off to Todd first of all for his courage in writing as he has written. In some quarters he will be forever a marked man.

In one way what Todd has done is illustrate the slippery slope of the traditional hermeneutic of the Churches of Christ. If we actually practiced what we preached then where would the division stop? If we really believe “every practice considered to be unauthorized in the New Testament is grounds for breaking fellowship” (p. 18) then where does it end? But our spiritual sense has lead us, rather inconsistently, to simply sweep under the rug massive amounts of disagreement while putting on a charade that we reject “unity in diversity.” Todd never says this outright but this is what he demonstrates: we preach unity through conformity but practice unity within diversity … even among the most conservative among us.

One of the most fascinating chapters is Todd’s expose of “Safe Sins.” What are those issues that we must divide over disregarding Jesus High Priestly prayer (John 17)? Todd gives us an actual list:

Is it a live issue in our generation?
Is it applicable or inapplicable doctrine?
Is the issue causing a disturbance in the church?
Is the error held but not practiced?
What influence is the person having on others?
How often is it being practiced?
What does the community think about it? (pp. 66-67)

In a manner worthy of Derrida, Todd deconstructs these “safe sins.”

As I read through Facing our Failure I was genuinely surprised by some material. I never knew that Wayne Jackson argues that women must have a head covering in public worship (pp. 40f). I never knew that we have leaders among us that actually argue it is sinful to pray to Jesus, that using women translators {what about signing?) in worship is wrong, that omitting an “invitation song” is sinful (see the laundry list on pp. 52-56).

The point that Todd makes is not that we need to divide further over these things. We should not (most are in my view not issues at all). His point is that if our paradigm pushes us to these extremes and then picking and choosing what are safe sins then the paradigm needs either a major overhaul or better yet to die. Because “our theology doesn’t allow us the luxury of being wrong” (p. 105, that is our paradigm) some embrace the extreme doctrinal stances noted above but find they simply cannot live with a consistent application of those stances.

So I agree with Todd,”Unless we are willing to live in religious self-contradiction, we must take our theology back to the drawing board” (p. 108). I believe many are already doing that. It is my prayer that Todd can help others see the need for restudy, for rethinking … there are distant voices that can help us … and some not so distant.

A final note. I was very thankful for Todd’s incredibly respectful tone throughout this small work. It is clear that he has written in and out of love for his church. I am grateful for that. IF you are a member of the Church of Christ then this could be a good book for your preacher or elders. You can order your copy at 1-865-435-9471.

21 Responses to “Todd Deaver, Facing Our Failure: Thoughts”

  1. Stoogelover Says:

    I’ve heard / read a lot about this book lately. After preaching in churches of Christ (one in Alabama, one in Florida, and one in California) for 30 years, we are no longer associated with this denomination except through friends and family who are still in churches of Christ. So, thankfully, I don’t feel a need to read this book. From all I’ve read about it, Todd did a fine job and I, too, salute his courage considering his pedigree.

  2. Vonnie Says:

    I’m anxious to read it. Can I borrow yours?

  3. newheights Says:

    Thanks for the link.

  4. nick gill Says:

    Good review, Bobby. I fear, though, that the fear-mongers will overwhelm the sensible conservatives, while most of the progressives are ready to forget the conservatives even exist.

    I pray that Todd’s books (this one and the promised sequel) will foster real unity discussions within the brotherhood. I think the progressive movements in 2006 (reaching out to the CC/CoC) were pretty silly, when our house is so broken.

    in HIS love,

  5. Steve Puckett Says:

    Is it available at any online sites? Thanks for the review bro, your open heart to God, and your open heartedness to others.


  6. todddeaver Says:


    The book is available on e-Bay, Lulu, or directly from me.

    Bobby, I share your hope that “outsiders” won’t read it. Probably should have put a warning on the cover. 🙂

  7. Danny Says:

    Excellent review Bobby.

    I agree that this is must-read among us.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I read the early PDF version of this and it was quite interesting.

    As someone who is on a first name basis with some of those mentioned in the book, and who knows the others, it will be interesting to see what, if any, response it generates.

    Bobby will remember an attempt to get some of those from Memphis to engage in a discussion on another forum some years ago. A couple of them showed up, ignored the discussion, made some other comments, and left.

    When I complained to one of the participants with whom I shared a great deal in common, I was told that I was not his ally and should never email him again.

    Odd indeed. And, Bobby… you still owe me a phone call and an answer to another question.


  9. Royce Ogle Says:

    It is sad that what is unsaid, a tradition, or personal preference has risen to the same level of authority as Holy Scripture and in extreme cases those things trump the Bible.

  10. RICH Says:

    i keep thinking on the 16 th ch rom. be wise in doing good….

    tough indeed…

    blessings all


  11. James Says:

    I’ve got it here on my desk, and am getting through it slowly. That’s not Todd’s writing, but my mind, which has names, places and experiences associated with all these issues. It’s certainly not an academic exercise, but it is a needed one.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Will we ever get tired of looking inward, and self examination, while failing to look outward at the big picture where most souls really are? Being too much about ourselves, and less about Jesus, our focus seems so often pointed in the wrong direction. We know who we are, and it is not enough to point to our weakness, we have to move beyond it and put it beyond us.

    Jesus is not centered in the USA, and his church is not an English institution. We really do need to get over ourselves, and start reaching out to fellowship with all who express faith in Christ. Until we do, these books are meaningless to me.
    Yes, strong words from an anonymous person who is not a preacher, but would like more focus on Christ’s church and less focus on our own church.

  13. gensis5020 Says:

    Bobby, I have seen it first hand in some of our on-line forums such as CFTF. Groups that try so hard to live by the hermeneutic that they consider conservatives such as David Miller and Alan Highers out of fellowship because they fellowship with each other through GBNTV. Confusing? Yes. And depressing, which is why I try to minimize in my life the forums and websites with attitude. I also have Todd’s book and have just started it.

  14. nick gill Says:


    I think you would find that your desire, for us to “start reaching out to fellowship all who express faith in Christ” is precisely the driving force behind Todd’s book. However, we’ve got to stop shooting our wounded, and that includes the drive to just abandon our conservative brethren. If judgment begins with the house of God, then there is nothing wrong with striving to have that house in order for that Day.

    in HIS love,
    nick gill
    Frankfort, KY

    PS – The Gnostics expressed faith in Christ, also, so it isn’t quite as easy as you make it out to be.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Had a friend in High School “Preacher’sl Camp” and then again at College who refused to sing ‘Just a Little Talk With Jesus”- solely b/c it was prayer to Jesus being sung about. I had heard of most of those- maybe this is the difference in growing up in Huntsville as opposed to Florence?


  16. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Good discussion every body. Thanks for the positive tone. Keep it up.


    I understand where you are coming from. I agree 100% that Christianity is not white, American or even Northern Atlantic. We do need to get over ourselves in the sense that we need to not think we are more important to God’s Plan than we really are.

    But did you ever notice just how much of the NT was “inward.” That is most of the Epistles exist precisely because they needed some introspection. This is even true of Romans but especially so of the Corinthian letters, Galatians, Colossians, Philippians, Petrine Epistles and on we go.

    We do need to have a better and more biblical theology. We need to pray more and dispute less (with a nod to Barton Stone). We need to be Christ centered and kingdom living. We need to be missional … I agree. We are moving in that way.

    If one thing I learn about God from the Hebrew Bible and his relationship to his people is his incredible patience with folks who simply don’t get it. I pray to him everyday to be just like that … and then I pray that I simply “get it.” Not sure that I have yet …

    Bobby V

  17. Ramblin' Red Says:

    This sounds very interesting to me, Bobby. Thanks for sharing.

    We are currently in the process of getting a new preacher and our membership has experienced some division of late – perhaps this book might help our elders out.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    mine is in the mai. good review, i can’t wait to read it.

    enjoyed the quotes from Brewer, et al.


  19. Vonnie Says:

    Well I read this book this morning. It took me three hours and I had to hustle to get our house ready for Life Group at 1:00. I have come up with a new sub-title for this book – A Case for Catholicism. I understand what you mean about anyone outside our fellowship reading it.

  20. john dobbs Says:

    Appreciate the good review Bobby. I think the book can have a tremendous effect as people read it…the people for whom it was intended… really, it is devastating to the attitude it describes. Todd has done a masterful job and I look forward to his next book.

  21. cwinwc Says:

    I’m a late comer to this post but I want to say thank you for it. Facing our failures will take risk such as the one Todd took in the writing of this book.

    It is my opinion that to become a movement with relevance and hope for today’s world, men and women of influence in our movement, in churches and para-church organizations must take risks and face the fear of being marked. Perhaps if enough do we can turn the trend of a declining fellowship.

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