Pre-Campbell Christianity: A New Definition of “Campbellism”

By Charles Jacobi

by Danielle Dolin

I immediately became excited when I was asked to review this book. The Lord used a Church of Christ to influence my conversion, so I have a unique view on American churches that have some connection to Campbellism. Readers of this review may know these churches as “Churches of Christ” and likely have one erected in their respective localities. A quick google search indicates there are just under 12,000 Churches of Christ operating in the USA today. The “denomination” has a large representation in the southern region of the states. In my region specifically (Lubbock, TX), these churches are common.

Durrelle López’s Pre-Campbell Christianity: A New Definition of “Campbellism” is a refutation of “conservative” and prominent Church of Christ historians’ claims that modern-day Churches of Christ can accurately trace their doctrine (and existence of the denomination) before the life of a man named Alexander Campbell, who was an American theological figure instrumental in forming what is called the Restoration movement. The work is also concerned about outlining a 5-point, theological definition of “Campbellism”. However, before I applaud and critique López’s work, some terms need to be parsed out and some background knowledge needs to be expounded on. Layman readers have likely been lost in the flurry of terms I have used henceforth. Pre-Campbell Christianity: A New Definition of “Campbellism” is indeed a scholarly work. Without theological and historical familiarity the reader can get lost easily.

The average Church of Christ (not to be confused with Reformed churches that may adopt a name like “Christ Church” or, “The Church of Christ PCA”) you encounter is influenced, to some degree, by this man Alexander Campbell. The doctrine of these churches flows from Campbell’s teachings and mildly out of theological inclinations that accompanied the Restorationists. Albeit, not all Churches of Christ explicitly know or even affirm this. In brief, The Restoration Movement was a theological movement that occurred simultaneously with The Second Great Awakening around the early 1800s. The movement labored to return the Christian church “back to the Bible”, as its leaders posited all of the denominational churches had apostatized and lost their way as true churches. This is not to be conflated with The Reformation, because proponents of The Restoration were distinctively against denominations, creeds, and confessions. provides a decent summation of The Restoration. The most fundamentalist Churches of Christ deny original sin, affirm salvation cannot be obtained without baptism, believe the Church of Christ is the only true church belonging to Jesus (and that there is no salvation without this specific church), and expressly condemn confessionalism or denominational distinctions. That said, not every church that has “Church of Christ” on its weekly bulletin hand-outs holds these doctrines with the same fervor.

The first half of Pre-Campbell Christianity: A New Definition of “Campbellism” is an analysis on, as the name suggests, the notion that Churches of Christ existed before the inception of Campbell’s theology. López completely guts this theory by showing the logical errors and historical misconceptions modern Campbellite scholars use. According to López, it is true that there were churches in Europe that practiced theology similar to that of Campbellite churches, however these churches were simply Reformed Baptist churches. Indeed, these churches often called themselves “Churches of Christ” but they did not use the term like modern Campbellites do in that they were the only true church established by the incarnate Christ. And, because modern Campbellites are anti-denominational and anti-confessional, logically they cannot claims these churches as historical precedent because these Reformed baptist churches used the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and recited the ancient Christian creeds; the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and so-on.

López’s historical analysis here is solid. History buffs will enjoy this first thrust of the book, particularly because of how surgical the treatment is. López makes pains to distinguish historical groups like the Reformers, Scottish Presbyterians, and post-Reformation congregational churches. After López’s analysis, it’s hard to see how modern Campbellite historians could grab a hold of church history to establish precedent for their theology in any real sense.

López presses Campbellite churches on a key theological issue: doctrinal regeneration. Doctrinal regeneration is the dogma that affirmation of a certain set of doctrine is the prerequisite for the regenerating work of The Holy Spirit. López does not employ this term, though it is clear he is theologically astute, and opts to expound on the errors of this doctrine instead of throwing around technical language (which I enjoyed). Fundamentalist Campbellites posit those who hold to “man-made” confessions, creeds, or denominational allegiances are apostates. Christians must affirm strictly defined Campbellite doctrine to be considered actually saved Christians. But the problem with this flavor of doctrinal regeneration is it turns faith into an intellectual exercise. Moreover, the logical consequences of Campbellite doctrinal regeneration is that the entirety of the Christian church was apostate prior to Alexander Campbell. This would include the great saints Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and John Knox. Such a theory falls under its own weight to hoist.

The second highlight of the book is much shorter, though theology buffs will find the section intellectually stimulating. López lays out a definition of Campbellism that is based on five points, which I will save detailing so readers can have the pleasure of reading the work themselves. I appreciate that López makes efforts to note that not all “Churches of Christ” hold fast to these five doctrines, but I think the term “conservative” Churches of Christ can be refined, or, at least, López could place his disclaimer “I simply do not want to continue making the liberal-moderate-conservative distinction ever time I use ‘Campbellite’ and ‘Campbellism’. Please, assume that my criticisms are for conservative Campbellites and their Campbellism” earlier in the work.

Before this disclaimer is made, readers have likely already associated their local non-fundamentalist Church of Christ with the fundamentalist Churches of Christ as described by López because they have conservative views on ethics and politics. But this need not mean that they are “conservative” Campbellites, like that of the Boston Church of Christ. For example, I was converted in a Church of Christ that has biblical and conservative views on ethics and politics, but I would not consider this church fundamentally or “five-point” Campbellite.

I appreciated the nuance, historical analysis, and employment of logical argumentation in Pre-Campbell Christianity: A New Definition of “Campbellism”. However, readers should be aware that your everyday Churches of Christ are not fundamentalist and may not even be aware of Alexander Campbell. As with all broad judgements, we ought to take heed first.

Charles Jacobi is a writer from Texas. His work has appeared in American Reformer, Theopolis Institute, TruthScript, Kuyperian Commentary, and Providence Magazine. You can follow him on X at @cholinergik.

You may also like

© 2023 Christian News Journal | All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy | Developed by CI Design, LLC