“An Abundant Harvest in the Work”
It was a clear and hot Sunday for October in Southwest Missouri. The doors of Stotts City Baptist Church opened to invite a breeze as the temperature climbed to 88 degrees outside. Inside, a fervor of God brought another kind of warmth that was unique to such a small outpost in God’s Kingdom. A young father had surrendered to a call to preach, and the church body rallied to recognize and endorse this divine appointment by granting Hubert E. Fugitt “the license to preach the Gospel of Christ and to engage in the work of the ministry” on October 12, 1947. On that day, one of his own children accepted his own call to follow Jesus. Hubert Fugitt would go on to preach as an evangelist and pastor for well over 50 years with his last pastoral calling in the same place where it all began. Of the eight children he and his wife Jessie would eventually have, one daughter is married to a pastor and two sons are pastoring today. One grandson is part of church leadership in a six-year-old church plant and another is me. Countless other descendants and former congregants and revival attendees are actively pursuing God across the world today. The legacy is huge, yet the story is common. How do we tell this story? It is not the typical material for history books. The individual sermon notes, of which we have hundreds, have no established avenue for examination or publication. Yet, the impact of Hubert and thousands like him is the reason the Gospel thrives in remote places today.
Social Historical Theology
In history, the overwhelming pattern of three millennia has been to record the deeds of so-called “great men.” The stories are grand and exciting. They are the stories of blood, intrigue, and empire. They evolved to provide ever more accurate and informative information on this single sector of society. If we knew how many prisms hung from the kings lavish chandelier, we forgot about the entire existence of his gardener, cook, or priest. The beggar that sat at his door and even the wife that slept in his (or often her own) bed was forgotten. Raw utilitarianism become the norm in the discipline that told the story of those who were judged to have contributed to the greater society—good and bad.
In the mid-twentieth century a historiographical current towards the sub-discipline of social history began to develop that would transform the foundational assumptions of how to “do” history. All of a sudden, historians writing on the Vietnam War were not just writing books on Ho Chi Minh but also collecting personal letters from soldiers who would never be famous and would never live to tell their story in person.The story of black American soldiers who were fighting in a foreign “incursion” while not being allowed to use certain bathrooms back home gave a voice to the voiceless.The often dramatized World War II became not only a story of The Big Three and their evil archenemy but also of children waiting out the long years at home as “Daddy’s Gone to War.”Early settlers of New England, who used to be understood only through the lens of a few colonial leaders escaped the malaise of the generic and had their stories told in Gloria L. Main’s Peoples of a Spacious Land: Families and Cultures in Colonial New England.The rise of social history forever changed the discipline from a highlight reel to the story of humankind.
Is it possible that the discipline of theology has yet to have this transformative moment? People of faith not only have a historical legacy but a theological legacy that brought them to where they are today. Most personal stories are relegated to church roll books (if they were kept at all) while the stories of doctrine and practice are told by the great names of the faith. While your pastor growing up may not be significant in the greater pantheon of global theologians alongside the likes of Augustine, Luther, or Calvin, they were probably more significant to your beliefs and practices.
A Medieval Example
In my own research of the medieval church it is consistently difficult to consider the earthy beliefs of the “regular people.” We read and consider the great works and big debates, but often those are tainted by their political setting or even the frequent ulterior motives of the writer. To combat that, I am currently researching the writing of a young monk from a rural monastery just southwest of Paris France who took it upon himself to write a history of the efforts made to stamp out heresy in what is now the southern part of that country during the early 1200s. While his history attempts to be the story of great men again, his use of Scripture—even to defend terrible atrocities—tells us how an ordinary and obedient Church member believed his faith informed his life and culture. Ultimately, it would be fitting for students of medieval theology to not only read the writings of prominent figures such as Thomas Aquinas, Bernard of Clairvaux, or Anselm of Canterbury, but also to add the young Cistercian monk Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay to the list—not because of his greatness but because he gives voice to what ordinary people really thought about their faith. He demonstrates how Scripture was applied to difficult real-life situations. He is honest about violence and the use of Scripture to defend it. He is the warning the modern church needs to avoid the mistakes of the past. Instead of practicing the typical “great-man-theology” modeled on the tradition of “great-man-history,” Peter introduces us well to the discipline of “social theology.” Reading sources like Peter’s breaks down the barrier between the disciplines of history and theology and moves the discussion beyond the “usual suspects” and into the streets.
A Church in the Oak Trees
In September of 1865 a group of 15 adults gathered to officially organize a church in the small farming outpost of Round Grove, Missouri. Jonathan Hunt, Joseph Poland, Atlanta Crouch, Martha S. Poland, Daniel Hunt, John Hunt, Indianda Poland, Elizabeth Poland, Sarah E. Poland, Mary Hunt, Malinda S. Hunt, Joseph Alison, Sarah J. Higgins, John H. Higgins, and Reuben Poland made up the charter members who then called the Reverend Henry Clay Lollar as their first pastor. Lollar also happened to be the clerk for the county court and the ex-officio County Recorder as well.
Over the years, the little church in the oak trees continued to have a greater than normal reach. By 1888, Round Grove Baptist Church had quickly grown to a membership of 160. When they called a young pastor in the 1970s, the growth happened again in earnest reaching a peak of 350 in average attendance during Pastor Bob Holman’s 44 years of ministry at the church. This is the church I now pastor. A church with a legacy of Baptist faith and practice on the Ozark edge of the Great Plains.
Your Theological Genealogy
In 1661, my own eponymous ancestor, descended from Protestant Huguenots, left France to find a better life in the New World. Pierre La Foucate came to Baltimore, Maryland and began a family in the freedom of the American Colonies. His descendants migrated slowly through Tennessee and eventually to the hills of the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri. A religious faith drove him into the unknown and continues to beckon us onward today. Understanding the genetics of my own exposure to the Christian faith has helped me understand the global impact of the individual believer in the Kingdom of God. So, don’t neglect the stories of the great theologians and faith-changing movements, but also remember that the discipline of historical theology is not just about someone else. It is your story, and it needs to be told.
Do you have a story from your own theological legacy to tell? We’d love to hear from you!
EMAIL US AT: firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to Stotts City Baptist Church for their efforts to make their historical records available.
For a great example see: Bill Adler, ed., Letters from Vietnam: Voices of War (Presidio Press, 2004).
Wallace Terry, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans (New York: Ballentine, 1985).
William M. Tuttle, Jr., “Daddy’s Gone to War:” The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.