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R. H. BOLL as a WRITER and EDITOR

by Alex Wilson

INSTALLMENT #3

G. He was More Expository than Theological

By this we mean that he much preferred to study and explain protracted Scripture passages than to reach doctrinal deductions by taking a verse here, another one there, and a third one from back yonder and fitting them all together. The latter approach can be dangerous unless done very carefully, so he emphasized the former. For example, of the twelve books he authored, seven are expositions of books of the Bible (and he was working on an eighth at the time of his death).

Boll deplored the common tendency to become firmly loyal to one or another school of theology–Calvinist, Arminian, Campbellite, amillennial or premillenial. He believed that when that is done, people close their minds and jump to conclusions about Bible texts without careful personal study.

His critics called him a theory spinner. If he was, he did it unawares; for he repeatedly opposed such a practice. He wrote, “There are few things that hinder the truth more, that darken counsel, warp the eye, and sustain error so effectually as theory spinning and system building.” He went on to give a vivid description of what he meant:

A passage here and a passage there–the two fit admirably. Another passage or two–that is enough for the underpinnings. Upon that we build. Sleepers and joists of plausible conclusions and logical deductions come next. We reason of what can and cannot be, granted this and that. On hypothetical premises we rear proud structures of absolutely certain conclusions. It could hardly be claimed that the building goes forward without sound of saw or hammer, for there is much work to be done. Contrary texts have to be spliced or sawed off, according as they are too long or too short to fit; rebellious passages must be hammered into submission…. That which God has not joined together must be united with the glue of human reasonings…and that which God has joined together must be put asunder….

I personally believe he overstated the case against “theology.” The practices he condemned are common enough, sad to say, and ought to be thoroughly deplored and avoided. But he seems to imply that it is always wrong to try to “build a system” of doctrines or to fit beliefs together into as much harmony as possible. But does not every Christian who knows something of God’s word have a theology? It may be good, bad or in between, but it exists, like it or not. Ask him how a sinner may be saved. His reply is his theology of salvation. Ask him why we don’t always get what we pray for; his answer, especially if he seeks to harmonize two or more texts, reveals his theology. Ask him why he does or does not believe that Christ and His people will later reign over the earth…etc. etc. Contrary to what Boll appears to say, “theology” seems unavoidable; and potentially it is good. But, as he wrote, to allow any doctrinal system to hinder our open-minded study of passages which pose problems to our viewpoint–that is extremely dangerous.

He also deplored the way listeners often pigeonhole preachers into this or that school of theological thought–and thus approve or disapprove of their sermons without giving them a fair hearing. In an article he shared an example of this from his own experience:

When expounding Romans 5:1-11 in a western city it chanced that I heard of three different comments on the lesson by three different men. One said, “He is a once-in-grace-always-in-grace man.” Another sized me up as a “faith only” preacher; while a third was sure I must be a “holiness” advocate. [He was none of those in the way that those people meant.–AVW] Yet I had only endeavored to bring out the meaning of Paul’s inspired words in this passage. Whatever inferences, false or true, may be drawn from it, the words of the text are God’s words, faithful and true. We shall do well not to becloud it with captious questions, or lose its precious teaching by having our attention diverted from it to doctrinal polemics. Let us take it all as it stands–not to the exclusion of other truths of God’s word–but let us take this, believe it, treasure it, and rest our hearts upon it.

His beliefs on these matters influenced his approach to Bible study and also preaching. Here is his advice on those subjects:

The fundamental method of Bible study is the reverent, patient reading (and re-reading) of its books and its chapters in order and connection, always with prayer and a heart surrendered to do the will of God. And the sort of preaching …which will best bring hearers into contact with the mind and truth of God and the real teaching of His word, and which will do most to build up Christian faith and to break down sectarian prejudices and barriers, is the careful, faithful expounding of the scriptures in their connection. There is great need of that sort today.”

Having seen Boll’s attitudes and policies in writing and editing, we now move on to the content of his teaching. Let’s examine some of the subjects he emphasized, and what he taught about them. In doing this, we shall by and large omit doctrines about which he fully agreed with the Churches of Christ in general, such as Christ’s deity, humanity and sole saviorhood. We shall zero in on those topics where in one way or another Boll differed from many in the Churches of Christ in the early and mid-1900s. These were the ideas which became bones of contention.

II. SOME SUBJECTS BOLL EMPHASIZED

A. The Living God, Our Heavenly Father

To Boll, God is big and active. He is not God, emeritus! The Bible reveals His wonderful deeds in the long ago. But in it He also declares, “I the Lord change not” (Mal. 3:6). Yes, His methods of working change as He chooses–we now don’t feed on manna. But His character is immutable. He is still the living God, as church history and personal experience demonstrate.

Two of Boll’s favorite modern-day heroes were James A. Harding, who taught him in Nashville, and George Muller of Bristol, England. Both trusted the Lord to the utmost, and both experienced wondrous answers to prayer. Their influence can be sensed in the following statement by Boll.

What a God some Christians have! A God who does not know them or care for them in particular; a God who cannot or does not interfere on their behalf; a God who can do no good or harm, except as the laws of nature bring it about in the course of cause and effect; a God not to be reckoned with – a dummy, a figurehead; a God named “Father” who leaves them mere orphans; a God who cannot fulfill his promises, whose love we have to buy with good works and service; a God who bids us go through the motion and mock performance of prayer, when it is understood that it can have no vestige of effect anywhere, except on the one who offers it; a God unfaithful, untrustworthy, malicious; a God who, if we were a man, would not pass for a gentleman! No wonder they do no more for him! The wonder is they do as much as they do.

How densely, deeply ignorant we are of him, because we “know not the Scriptures, nor the power of God;” no, nor yet his goodness, love, faithfulness; his dread holiness on the one hand, and his tender compassion and grace on the other. For to know him aright is eternal life; to know him is to love him, and to love him is to serve him, and to serve him is peace past all understanding and joy unspeakable and full of glory.

B. Jesus Christ

Boll did not author the following statement, but he included it in his magazine. It is by his co-worker Jorgenson, and perfectly expresses Boll’s convictions too:

Among the many heresies, there is “the heresy of emphasis,” wrong emphasis; and of this heresy, too many Christians of our kind have been guilty. If we aspire to be “New Testament Christians,” a people after the pattern of Paul and Peter, James and John, we must put the emphasis where they put it. Christ is central. Jesus Christ Himself–HE is our main concern. It is quite possible, in fact easy, to become taken up with “movements” and subjects good as they may be, more than with Him, our only Lord and Savior.

Those words express it so well that we need not elaborate any further, though of course we could.

C. The Holy Spirit

The subject of the Holy Spirit was not ignored in the Stone-Campbell movement throughout the 1800s. But discussion centered for the most part on the respective parts played by the Spirit and/or the Bible in the conversion of the unsaved. This was due to the widespread reliance people placed on unusual experiences — dreams, visions, etc. — interpreting such as evidence from the Holy Spirit that they were saved. In rightly debunking such views and stressing people’s need to hear and obey God’s written Word, many of our preachers over-reacted and minimized the Spirit altogether. By and large He was the forgotten member of the Godhead. This was true during the early 1900s too. If He was mentioned at all, it was mainly to refute the teachings of Pentecostalists. Quite a few taught that the Holy Spirit simply is the Bible.

To the contrary, Boll taught much about Him. In 1927 alone, in addition to running an article by another man on this subject, RHB himself wrote the following: “The Promise of the Comforter”; “Who Receives the Holy Spirit?”; “How May I Know that I Have the Spirit?”; and “What the Indwelling Spirit Does for Us.” In the last-named article, he mentions these specific blessings: (1)The indwelling Spirit makes a God-pleasing life possible, for (2)He alone can produce in us the Christ-like life. (3)He endues us with inner strength. (4)He imparts boldness and also wisdom, and (5)He intercedes for us.

In another article, writing about Paul’s command, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), Boll comments,
Evidently, it must be one thing to have the indwelling Spirit, and another thing to be filled. For Paul speaks to Christians who were already in possession of the Spirit, and exhorts them to be filled with the Spirit. Let us note now a few truths involved in that exhortation.

1. It must be possible — for God would not urge it upon us if it were not for us to attain. 2. Manifestly it is God’s will: He wants us to be filled with the Spirit. 3. It is clear that this filling is not dependent exclusively on God; it must depend on some step or attitude of ours. The command is addressed to us…. 4. It follows that if it is possible, if God wants it, and if it devolves on us whether we are “filled with the Spirit” or not — it is a great failure for a Christian to go through life without [His fullness]. 5...Where the Spirit does not…hold full sway, the flesh holds place. Half-hearted, double-minded, lukewarm, weak and un-reliable conduct follows. But in the man who is filled with the Spirit, the abounding fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) will testify that he is indeed a child of God.




One Response to “R. H. BOLL as a WRITER and EDITOR”

  1. Tom Coursen says:

    Thank you for continuing the articles on R.H. Boll. What is said about him and what he says resonates with me and will read more.

    I would still like to find out, if it might be possible to obtain copies of the W&W articles in which Boll spoke about christians and the military. Two or three articles were footnoted in Pastor Wilson’s full article.

    Thank you for your work here.



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