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The Holy Spirit, The Missing Finger: Comparing the Pneumatology of Alexander Campbell and Don Basham



The purpose of this article is to reveal the initial development of the teaching on the Holy Spirit in the life of Alexander Campbell, founder of the movement named the Disciples of Christ. Campbell’s pneumatology must be placed within the context of American history in the nineteenth century. Beginning with the influence of Cane Ridge and Millennialism on his theology, his weak pneumatology led to an insipid work of the Spirit through the denomination’s history. However, in the charismatic renewal of the twentieth century, Don Basham stood boldly against the rationalistic atmosphere of his church and became well-known for his teachings on deliverance and casting out demons. Consequently, the initial aspect of the paper contains the early history of Campbell’s pneumatology. The second part is a revelation of the charismatic Spirit’s work in one of Campbell’s followers, Don Basham. Though the two appear theologically different, the thesis of the paper is that the operation of the Holy Spirit is the amputated element of Campbell’s theology which is renewed by the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Don Basham and the mainline churches.

Alexander Campbell (1788 – 1866).

The indigenous growth of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in America has a remarkable background and history. As Alexander Campbell searched for a way to end partisan bickering among Presbyterians in Scotland, his company of Christians became one of the largest church movements in American history. As Kevin Ranaghan wrote in his journalistic description of the movement, “one type of revival movement, called Campbellite stressed the word of God well enough, but the word as understood and interpreted by ‘good common sense.’ From the somewhat more rationalistic revival emerged the Disciples of Christ in the north and the Christian Church in the south.”[1] Because the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had a diluted pneumatology, the Spirit’s presence was submerged in the past 180 years limiting revival and renewal in its members.

Cane Ridge

Cane Ridge became known for its unusual manifestations of the Spirit.

To describe the milieu surrounding Alexander Campbell’s arrival to America, a description of the presence and power of the Cane Ridge Revival must be advanced. In August of 1801, in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, one of the most famous renewal movements in early American history occurred. “The revival at Cane Ridge was as ecumenical as anything that had ever happened on the frontier, which was commonly marked with sectarian bigotry.”[2] Though living in Ireland at the time as a youth, Alexander Campbell was later drawn to its inclusive style because of its openness to all Christian sects, However, he was not impressed by the emotionalism. At Cane Ridge “they knew that to become a Christian a person had to endure an arduous conversion, experience the depths of human despair and desolation, in order to gain a joy and happiness that approached beatitude.”[3] Though a premier showing of what the future Pentecostal church was demonstrated in the hills of Kentucky, Campbell did not embrace the Spirit’s move in this fashion.

Interior of the original meeting house at Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Image: Chris Light.

Cane Ridge became known for its unusual manifestations of the Spirit. Though many churches were calm and quiet places of reflection, this experience was diametrically different. Leroy Garrett recorded in the The Stone-Campbell Movement, a graphic description of the “exercises” manifested at Cane Ridge:

They consisted of laughing and singing, the jerks, falling and even screaming and barking. The falling and screaming would sometimes go together, leaving the subject as if he were dead. The jerks were mostly a head movement, which sometimes agitated the whole body. Some people became amazingly acrobatic, for they would stand in one place and jerk backwards and forward with their head almost touching the ground…witnesses would see people on hands and knees in the woods, making the noise with uplifted hands, and would report that ‘they barked up trees like dogs.’[4]

This event was a Pentecost experience before Azusa Street was a reality. C. Dwight Dorough in The Bible Belt Mystique added that “persons were very often favored with visions and heavenly singing.”[5] This early nineteenth century worship was a precursor to what the twentieth century would encounter with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Yet, Alexander Campbell, a rationalist and devout reader of the intellectual philosopher John Locke never incorporated emotional worship into his church.

Cane Ridge was a Pentecost experience before Azusa Street.

Cane Ridge was a preview of the Spirit’s coming with ecstatic speech and experiences. A freedom was released on the frontier of America. In addition, “the confusing erosion of basic Calvinistic doctrines and the emergence of such new institutions as the camp meeting”[6] were accepted. Thus, Cane Ridge set the stage for the future Azusa Street outpouring.

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Category: Church History, Winter 2015

About the Author: Cletus L. Hull, III, M.Div. (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry), D.Min. (Fuller Theological Seminary), Ph.D. (Regent University), has served as a pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 36 years and psychiatric chaplain for 34 years. He is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies in the Oral Roberts University College of Theology and Ministry. He has researched the growing Disciples of Christ churches in Puerto Rico and has an interest in the significance of the Stone-Campbell churches in American Christianity. His article, "My Church is a Mental Hospital" appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Healing Line. He is the author of The Wisdom of the Cross and the Power of the Spirit in the Corinthian Church: Grounding Pneumatic Experiences and Renewal Studies in the Cross of Christ (Pickwick, 2018) and The Call: My Mission and Our Ministry at Trinity United Christian Church, Lower Burrell, PA (Word Association, 2019). Twitter: @cletus_hull, Facebook,

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