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I’m trying to play a bit of catch-up in my understanding of the history of evangelicalism and the turn from fundamentalism, and have been spending some time in books like Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism (history of Fuller Seminary), Rosell’s The Surprising Work of God (on Ockenga and Graham), The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind (on Carnell), A Place at the Table (on Ladd), etc.

In 1972 Daniel Fuller wrote a biography of his father, Charles Fuller (the founder of the seminary). [The book is available online for free, as well as in print.] The other day I came across a delightful anecdote about Grace Payton, soon to be Mrs. Charles Fuller. It was the summer of 1909:

Later that summer Grace Payton told several people that she felt that Unitarianism was the most reasonable faith that one could accept. What could be more simple than to worship God as one and to see Christ as the great example for daily living but not as the One who is the Son of God?

One of her mother’s close friends was Mrs. Leonora Barnhill. This woman had had a very hard life. She had come from the East to the dry climate of Redlands to overcome tuberculosis. While taking special courses to qualify her to teach in California, she had to support herself by working in a novelty shop six days a week, eleven hours a day for five dollars a week. But despite all these difficulties, she was a radiant Christian, and she became a close friend of the Paytons.

One evening Grace and Mrs. Barnhill were seated in front of the fireplace, and Grace was saying to her, “You know, Barney dear, I worship only God. Christ was merely our example.” Mrs. Barnhill replied, “Oh, Grace, Christ said, ‘No man cometh unto the Father but by Me,’ and my dear, you have no way of approach to a holy God unless you come through Christ, His Son, as your Savior.” Grace said later, “The Scripture she quoted was the sword of the Spirit, and at that moment Unitarianism was killed forever in my heart. I believed that moment, though I said nothing, and believing God’s Word, I instantly became a new creature in Christ.”

Sophisticated arguments can be helpful and necessary at a certain level. But what’s so encouraging here is that this Mrs. Barnhill knew but one thing: what God had said. When she heard that denied, she simply and politely refuted the error by showing its incompatibility with God’s Word.

Times have changed, but the Word of God has not. It is still “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17), “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). Let us wield it well as we seek to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5).

And thank God for the faithful witness of Leonora Barnhill.

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5 thoughts on “Wielding the Sword of the Spirit”

  1. Ray Fowler says:

    I was a first-year student at Fuller Seminary when Marsden’s book came out in 1987. It was an eye-opening read. Particularly troubling was the appendix titled “How Evangelicalism Has Changed,” which charted the changes in doctrinal beliefs of students who had attended Fuller. In almost all cases, students left Fuller with weaker views on Scripture than before attending.

  2. David Barnhart says:

    I have read some interesting articles here, but the investigation of the “turn” from Fundamentalism to Evangelicalism can be somewhat lost if a rabid review of the history is ignored. The book is The History of Fundamentalism by George W. Dollar. I’m not sure it is still in print, but the “leader” of separatist Fundamentalism should fill in a few blind spots. He taught at Dallas Theological Seminary as well as Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis MN–I taught with him there. The picture on the front cover is of a fist falling upon a Bible. That can picture for you where he understands the evangelicals stand as it relates to purity of belief and life. I considered this input a contribution to the article by Justin “Wielding the Sword of the Spirit.”

    God bless,

  3. Scott Cline says:

    For a Fundamentalist perspective, see David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity.

  4. zannie says:

    Thanks for mentioning some women in your blog. I live in a country where women are frowned upon in the public sphere and one of the most powerful ways Christians demonstrate the gospel is how they publically include and value women.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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