Restoration and Philosophy

New Philosophical Engagements with the Stone-Campbell Tradition

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J. Caleb Clanton
  • Nashville, TN: 
    University of Tennessee Press
    , March
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Stone-Campbell Movement (SCM), also referred to as the Restoration Movement, began in the midst of the Second Great Awakening. Its early leaders, Barton W. Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, sought to bring about the unity of Christians by restoring Christianity. Despite its emphasis upon the unity of Christians, the movement divided into three groups: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and Churches of Christ. While much attention has been given to the history of the movement and its place in American and global church history, no volumes had, to this point, been devoted specifically to philosophical engagement within the movement. In Restoration and Philosophy, J. Caleb Clanton seeks to fill this lacuna within scholarship. Also, Clanton notes that much of contemporary Christian philosophy stems from those who are either Catholic or Reformed. This volume demonstrates that philosophers from the SCM can also make significant contributions to Christian philosophy (xi–xii).

Clanton’s introduction sketches the complicated history the SCM has with philosophy. Alexander Campbell identified as a philosopher and served not only as the founding president of Bethany College, but as “professor of mental and moral philosophy” (xiv). Despite this, second generation figures such as Robert Richardson and Tolbert Fanning, to differing degrees, drew upon the founding documents of the movement—such as the Declaration and Address—in order to critique philosophy as a discipline, associating it with “human opinion.” Clanton argues that “despite the underdevelopment of formal relationships between the Stone-Campbell tradition and academic philosophy, there has all along remained something deeply philosophical in this tradition nonetheless” (xxvi).

Part 1 includes four essays devoted to epistemology. Christopher A. Schrock provides a defense of biblicism as an antidote to the “hermeneutical injustice” of creeds (3). Blake McAllister then examines the influence of Scottish common sense philosophy upon the founders of the SCM. Drawing upon Thomas Reid and Alexander Campbell, he defends “phenomenal conservatism,” or the view that “it is rational to place some trust in the testimony of our experiences—including our perceptual experiences—prior to any independent substantiation of their reliability” (37). Third, James F. Sennett places Alexander Campbell into dialogue with Alvin Plantinga in order to discuss Campbell’s view that moral knowledge is dependent upon divine revelation. Fourth, Anna Brinkerhoff discusses the tension within the SCM of simultaneously affirming charity in all things and the perspicuity of Scripture by considering epistemological issues related to “peer disagreement” (79ff).

Part 2 centers upon the relation of science and religion. Lee Allen Mayo explores the possibility of reconciling the Genesis account(s) of creation and Darwinian evolution by embracing a “non-realist” evolutionary theory. Next, Richard A. Knopp places the principles of the SCM into dialogue with Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, arguing that while their developments in the philosophy of science should lead to modifications in the SCM’s self-understanding, “the ‘essentials’ of the nineteenth-century movement are still profoundly relevant and legitimate” (122). Then, Kraig Martin and Nathan Guy discuss the hiddenness of God, exploring whether or not God provides sufficient evidence for God’s existence. Last, Clanton examines Campbell’s critique of enthusiasm, advocating for a “more restrained version of anti-enthusiasm” (179).

Brock Rough begins part 3, “Value,” by critically analyzing the SCM’s preference for “an aesthetics of plain and simple” (211). Martin and Clanton then argue that the SCM provides a third way between divine command and natural law theory, offering a theory that combines what Campbell calls “moral-positive” and “moral-natural” duties (233). Next, Tess Varner draws upon the work of environmentalist and Sierra Club co-founder, John Muir, who had roots in the SCM, to argue that the movement has resources that could be utilized to develop an environmental ethic. John D. Barton closes out the section by arguing that while the SCM has a mixed record on issues related to race, “the Stone-Campbell Restorationist impulse, if properly aimed or reimagined, confronts the racism of its American origins and nurtures momentum toward a non-racist frame” (280).

The volume closes with part 4, “The Task Ahead.” It begins with an essay by Frederick D. Aquino in which he argues that the SCM needs to “provide a more robust and formal account of the practices and virtues that help regulate the process of intellectual formation and thus put people in a better position to achieve [the SCM’s] stipulated goals,” which are the “retrieving, if not restoring” of “early Christian beliefs, practices, and materials” (311). Mason Marshall closes the volume by arguing that just as there is a Catholic or Reformed philosophy, there can be a “restored philosophy” (329). This philosophy would have ancient roots, and would focus on how to best “protrepticize” people, or “lead them toward a fundamental change of heart so that they want truth more than anything else” (329).

The authors in Restoration and Tradition explore the relationship of the SCM to philosophy critically and creatively, putting significant figures within the movement, philosophical influences (e.g., John Locke, Thomas Reid, Francis Bacon), and theological emphases into dialogue with more recent developments in philosophy, as well as ancient ones. The contributors hit upon the major themes present in the movement’s history, while also opening further avenues of study. While the volume will most interest those from the SCM heritage, it may also be of interest to those interested in Christian philosophy or church history more broadly. One could read this book as a helpful companion to Clanton’s The Philosophy of Religion of Alexander Campbell (University of Tennessee Press, 2013), or as a stand-alone volume.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Shaun C. Brown is an Adjunct Professor at D’Youville College.

Date of Review: 
February 17, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

J. Caleb Clanton is University Research Professor and Professor of Philosophy at Lipscomb University in Nashville.


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