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At the Blue Hole
Elegy for a Church on the Edge
Jack R. Reese
Foreword by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson

PAPERBACK; Coming Soon: 10/14/2021
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7952-3
Price: $ 21.99
260 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6 x 9
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DESCRIPTION

“Said plainly, churches are in trouble. All churches are, but certainly Churches of Christ. Whether or not they recognize the threats they are facing is a different matter. The future is fraught with dangers. Many won’t make it.” 

On New Year’s weekend, 1831–32, two churches came together in Lexington, Kentucky, in what is often known today as the Restoration Movement. Among the churches that emerged from this movement were Churches of Christ, which grew in the nineteenth century and then flourished in the twentieth. At their zenith, around 1990, there were over 13,000 Church of Christ congregations in the United States with nearly 1.3 million members. Especially in the southern states where Churches of Christ were concentrated, it seemed inconceivable that they would ever face their own death.

Like many communities of faith, these churches are now in rapid decline. The numbers are devastating. At the current trajectory, Churches of Christ in America, with a membership of just over a million, will be less than a quarter their current size in thirty years. As they awaken to their crisis, many of them are beginning to see themselves at the edge.

This book is an elegy for those churches. But it is also a story of hope and promise. As from the “Blue Hole”—the tiny, hidden spring from which flows the San Antonio River, near where Jack Reese ministers—there is still abundant life and grace to be found flowing into Churches of Christ, waiting to be uncovered. Anyone wondering how to stem the seemingly inevitable ebb of the fading Western church will find solace and help in Reese’s account of a once-thriving fellowship of churches that, God willing, may yet emerge from the grave into the light of resurrection.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
Prologue: The Blue Hole
1. Peace, Death, Storm, and Fire: Churches of Christ on the Edge
2. The Peacemaker and the Pallbearer: Choices and Consequences
3. Pray More, Dispute Less: The Road to Christian Unity
4. Freedom and Conformity: The Quest to Restore the Golden Age
5. Resources from the Blue Hole: There Is Life beneath Us Still
Epilogue: Cloudburst of Grace

REVIEWS
“Equal parts theologian, pastor, and historian, Jack Reese is uniquely qualified to write this book. His pages are personal and prophetic—a reflection on what has happened among Churches of Christ and a description of what must be changed. I consider Jack to be a good friend, a careful student, and reliable counsel. I’m thrilled to read this book and privileged to encourage you to do likewise. These are uncertain days for the church, but we serve a strong Savior. He will use Spirit-filled teachers like Jack to lead us into a bright future.”
— Max Lucado
pastor and bestselling author
“The first step to restored health is an accurate assessment of reality, no matter how painful that might be. The second is to be honest about your history, which can be equally painful. With a humility that acknowledges the present and owns the past, Jack Reese is pointing Churches of Christ to a better future. It will require death, but it can also mean resurrection!”
— Rick Atchley
senior minister at The Hills Church
“I grew up in the sister non-denomination of the Churches of Christ, the Plymouth Brethren. Our heroes were J. N. Darby and George Mueller instead of Stone and Campbell, but the similarities between the two movements were striking, so I’ve always had a deep appreciation for my spiritual cousins, whether they be instrumental or non-instrumental. It takes courage to offer a way forward, courage to name some of the failures of the past, courage to offer a diagnosis and prognosis that require actual change in lifestyle. That’s what Jack Reese offers in these pages, and I pray many readers take this positive, honest, and challenging book to heart.”
— Brian D. McLaren
author of Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It
At the Blue Hole is a journey into the past of Churches of Christ like you’ve never taken before. Weaving multiple stories together, moving from past to present and back again, Jack Reese draws one into this thick story almost like a good mystery draws one in. Only in this case the whole story moves relentlessly toward the sources of renewal and new life—to the wellsprings that originally quickened Churches of Christ two hundred years ago. In these recent years of decline—accelerating decline—this journey becomes more and more urgent. This book is a wonderful guide.”
— C. Leonard Allen, PhD
author of Distant Voices: Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church
At the Blue Hole defies categorization. Part spiritual autobiography, part history of the Churches of Christ, and part missional epistle for a denomination that like so many others is in steep decline, this volume is Jack Reese’s prophetic call to his people to come back to Jesus. Only in acts of deep repentance, in a retrieval of the original spiritual vision and passion that sparked the Stone-Campbell movement yet retooled for the twenty-first century, can the Churches of Christ hope for a future. Well researched yet personal in its storytelling style, this book should be read by every Church of Christ minister, seminarian, and layperson, and by anyone who longs for renewal in the church.”
— Elaine A. Heath, PhD
author of God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church
“Some White ministers speak about the Black experience from a distance, out of books or from the stories of others. Jack Reese has lived it—in the neighborhoods of South Dallas and within the church I lead. He has seen firsthand the scars of slavery and Jim Crow. He knows the impact of White privilege on Black lives. At the Blue Hole is a witness to that lived experience. It’s the story of brokenness and redemption, the urgency of repentance and the power of mercy. In this moving, personal account of his own tribe of Christians, Jack expresses the struggle of all Christians to tell the truth about themselves, to see the pain of others, and to both receive and extend God’s outrageous, extravagant outpouring of grace.”
— Dr. Kenneth R. Greene
senior pastor at Metro Christ’s Church, Cedar Hill, Texas
“In this compelling book, Jack Reese masterfully mines the moments of wonder and pain that formed the Stone-Campbell movement and forged Churches of Christ. But no mere history is found here. Rather, we read the compelling stories and streams that flow into the present, shaping the realities of life and death for thousands of congregations today. Few in the church write with such penetrating insight and courageous honesty. But that is precisely where hope can take hold. The lessons in these pages should flow far beyond Churches of Christ with an ecumenical significance that echoes the founding impulse of the Stone-Campbell movement.”
— Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America
author of Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage
“Jack Reese weaves a series of engaging tales to identify resources in the Stone-Campbell story for the rebirth of dying congregations. Though addressed to Churches of Christ, the resources identified are equally part of the shared story of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Anyone who cares about the future of any of these churches would do well to read this book.”
— D. Newell Williams, PhD
author of Barton Stone: A Spiritual Autobiography
“Looking at the history of only one fragmented group within Christ’s church—the Stone-Campbell movement—Jack Reese tells the tragically engaging story of all our churches. Called to a divine ideal but impaired by human weakness, Churches of Christ are in dramatic decline. By skillful narrative filled with theological insight, At the Blue Hole looks to possibilities that believers from all backgrounds would do well to consider. Our challenge is not to restore that which never was but to ‘turn over our cups’ to receive an outpouring of God’s grace. What a masterful piece of work!”
— Rubel Shelly, PhD
professor of philosophy and ethics at Lipscomb University and bioethics at Vanderbilt University
“I wish my parents were still living so I could ask them more questions about our family roots, questions I didn't know to ask when they were still with us. That is what Jack Reese has given us—conversations with people who were there when our fellowship was new, spiritual ancestors whose answers to our questions might surprise and even delight us. Jack frames the book around watershed events beginning with a pivotal gathering in Lexington, Kentucky, on New Year’s Eve 1831. Through accounts rich in detail, told with humor and deep affection for Churches of Christ, Jack reminds readers of a history we ‘have largely forgotten.’ At a time when the tectonic plates are shifting beneath us as a church and as a culture, Dr. Reese’s diagnosis is spot on and his prescriptions for a way forward draw from the most helpful resources of our past. If you find yourself asking, ‘How did we get here and what should we do next?’ these pages will provide answers. The timing is critical. Jack is right. We are standing at a crossroads. Decisions churches and their leaders make now will shape the future of this fellowship we love.”
— Monte Cox, PhD
Dean at Harding University’s College of Bible and Ministry
“In this eloquent account, Jack Reese calls Churches of Christ to draw from the sources of spiritual strength of their past to navigate this time of crisis and uncertainty. Bringing together fascinating but seemingly unrelated strands of this rich history, Reese weaves a tapestry of inspiring and frustrating characters, showing how Churches of Christ have been formed and how they might be formed now. Readers from the Stone-Campbell tradition as well as Christians from all streams of the faith will find in this beautifully crafted narrative a stirring call to faithfulness.”
— Douglas A. Foster, PhD
author of A Life of Alexander Campbell
“This beautiful blend of history and pastoral theology is a gift to twenty-first-century Churches of Christ currently facing a rapid decline in numbers. With master storytelling that uniquely weaves together past and present, Reese implores Churches of Christ to explore the heritage’s rich resources for inspiration and identity formation today. Reese candidly highlights the good and the bad in Churches of Christ history, pivoting his story on key moments in the lives of women and men who reflect the very best of Churches of Christ. This book offers Christian leaders a treasure trove of resources about their historical identity—an identity abounding with hopeful and faithful ideas for twenty-first-century churches confronting a crisis.”
— James L. Gorman, PhD
author of Among the Early Evangelicals: The Transatlantic Origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement
“In a book as wise and refreshing as it is compelling, Jack Reese grapples with the certain demise of Churches of Christ as we know them today and offers a genuinely biblical prescription for our ills: we must die before we can rise again. We must die to our schemes, strategies, and well-laid plans; die to our preoccupation with forms and structures; die to our worship of success; die to our penchant for control; and open ourselves to the Spirit of God, to grace toward those with whom we disagree, to vulnerability, and to living our lives as if the end were near. If those virtues sound strange and foreign, Reese has news for us. In a riveting account of the history so many of us have never known, he explains that these very virtues shaped Churches of Christ for many years and might give us life again if we have the courage to claim them. This is a book that should be read and studied in every congregation of Churches of Christ.”
— Richard T. Hughes, PhD
author of Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning
“In At the Blue Hole, Jack Reese uses vivid historical narrative and spiritual and theological reflection in a variety of literary forms to create a unique and innovative genre. Reese uncovers and discovers through careful and profound examination of his own tradition not only its own facets but many facets of other traditions. As an outsider to the Stone-Campbell tradition who has walked with different strains of that heritage, I believe At the Blue Hole will be of great interest to a wide readership and to scholars.”
— Patrick R. Keifert, PhD
founder and president of Church Innovations, author, and missional church leader
“It is always tempting to think one’s own moment in history is more important than it actually is. But it is difficult not to believe that Churches of Christ are at a time of momentous reckoning with our future—a task impossible without a clear vision of how we got here. With impeccable scholarship and vivid storytelling, this book is a kind of wistful love song to a heritage that the author plainly loves and a call to a future fashioned by our better angels.”
— Randy Harris
spiritual director at Abilene Christian University’s Siburt Institute for Church Ministry
“With the voice of a prophet, the mind of a historian, and the heart of a pastor, Reese leads readers on a three-stage journey. Looking first at the present state of the church, he calls for the church to die—to self and false loyalties—on God’s terms. The journey then turns to the past, as Reese recounts some of the best and worst impulses, events, and actors in the Restoration Movement heritage. Here, Reese uses compelling storytelling to describe life-giving sources for these churches. Concluding with hope, he examines seven theological resources from the past that can inform and nourish a future. For those looking for a theologically grounded yet practical proposal to address the current brokenness in these churches, this is the book to read.”
— Ken Cukrowski, PhD
dean at Abilene Christian University’s College of Biblical Studies and Graduate School of Theology
“With the skill of a master storyteller and the bluntness of an Old Testament prophet, Jack Reese walks hand in hand with members of his own church family back in time to the place where their story began in order to pick up resources absolutely necessary to continue their journey into the future. In addition to shining a light on the significant and seemingly daunting challenges facing Churches of Christ in the twenty-first century, At the Blue Hole offers a hopeful and redeeming path forward. I believe this book should be required reading for every Christian sojourner who has found a home within the Churches of Christ.”
— Wes Crawford, PhD
director of the Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University
author of Shattering the Illusion: How African American Churches of Christ Moved from Segregation to Independence
“For over a quarter of a century I wished there was a resource I could give church leaders to remind us of the grit and glory of how Churches of Christ came to be. I wanted a word that knew the history in order to shape a preferred future. An inability to hold the tension between the past and the future as a movement meant we would fail—not die and be resurrected—but fail at our mission. Jack Reese’s At the Blue Hole is the work I needed. If you want your church to blossom in our changing world, this is the book you and your church need.”
— Sean Palmer
teaching pastor at Ecclesia Houston
author of Unarmed Empire: In Search of Beloved Community
“When struggling with church decline and exploring strategies for church growth, theologian Robert Webber understood that ‘the road to the future runs through the past.’ Jack Reese knows this well. With his gift for creative storytelling, Jack leads us on an enlightening journey through the past history of Churches of Christ. On this road, he discovers life-giving sources of renewal and hope for the future. I have taught the history of Churches of Christ for many years. If asked to teach it again, I would definitely include At the Blue Hole in the required reading list.
— Jerry Rushford, PhD
Director at Pepperdine University’s Churches of Christ Heritage Center
“What a debt of gratitude we owe to Dr. Jack Reese, who has produced a timely and relevant book. Well-written, well-organized, and well-illustrated, the author offers a brutally frank assessment of twenty-first century Churches of Christ. A masterful storyteller with keen insight into the current state of affairs in Churches of Christ, Reese has rendered a great blessing for his fellowship of churches as well as other faith traditions.”
— Edward J. Robinson, PhD
professor of history at Texas College
author of Hard-Fighting Soldiers: A History of African American Churches of Christ
“Jack Reese cares deeply for Churches of Christ. I have known Jack as a mentor, teacher, and friend for over four decades. So, as I read, I hear his voice. I feel his passion, longings, pain, doubts, and God-dependency. His vivid storytelling coupled with candid and, at times, painful critique is refreshing and challenging. Be assured, At the Blue Hole is not merely another historical account. There are no quick fixes here, no gimmicks, and certainly no room for the arrogance of sectarianism. You will find, rather, a clear, thematic, and essential call to a forgotten history wherein lie the resources for renewal and a future. Hope lies in the choices made by Churches of Christ at the edge.”
— Grady D. King
vice president of Hope Network
“Jack Reese has written an engaging and thoughtful book that invites the reader to reflect upon several pivotal, but not well known, events in the life of Churches of Christ that have informed and impacted members of that tradition to this day. Writing in a conversational and personal style, Jack leads the reader back and forth between historic events and current realities in many Churches of Christ, focusing especially upon the twin themes of restoration and unity. As a minister, Jack writes in an engaging homiletic style, drawing the reader into the story through the use of metaphor and analogy. As an academic, he helps the reader make connections between seemingly disparate historical moments. Easy to read and hard to put down, this book will richly reward any reader interested in the impact of history upon current church life and practice.”
— Rick R. Marrs, PhD
provost and professor of religion at Pepperdine University
“This book contains rich stories and anecdotes from the story of Churches of Christ in America. The real value of the book, though, may be in identifying the strengths and resources that exist in this story, which could be invaluable to Churches of Christ today. If we are silent about our story, we may well miss some of these incredible riches that could help us step into a future of hope.”
— Jim Martin
vice president and professor at the Harding School of Theology
“In my experience as a leader in Christian higher education, one of the questions I frequently asked myself was, ‘How does the past inform the current situation?’ This book will orient the reader in the valuable lessons of the history of Churches of Christ in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. More importantly, it will help all of us to see our present bearings in a clearer way and enable us to chart a solid future for the church. A valuable read for all!”
— Royce L. Money, PhD
chancellor at Abilene Christian University and Stone-Campbell Movement historian
“With striking discernment, Jack Reese offers a guide to the foibles, failures, and successes of Churches of Christ and how past baggage still weighs heavily upon these churches. But there is much hope here. With great insight and extraordinary creativity, Reese reveals surprising resources and gives practical advice for the future. Reese is an excellent communicator. I was glued to page after page. This is a helpful book for any church.”
— Thomas H. Olbricht, PhD
author of Staying the Course: Fifteen Leaders Survey Their Past and Envision the Future of Churches of Christ
“With the touch of an artist, the ear of a poet, the mind of a professor, the heart of a pastor, and the eye of a prophet, Jack Reese tells the story of his church tradition. His words are a sober diagnosis, but they end with a hopeful prescription for Churches of Christ. Everyone from this spiritual family, and other communities of faith, can benefit from Reese’s careful diagnosis and compassionate remedies.”
— Stan Reid
president of the Austin Graduate School of Theology
“As Churches of Christ navigate uncharted waters of adaptive change, Jack Reese’s At the Blue Hole provides wisdom and direction. Through a captivating—and at times chilling—braiding of origins, leading figures, and turning points in this fellowship, Reese affirms a way forward rooted in the core meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By choosing to let go of hindering attitudes and postures, Churches of Christ can be reborn into a new future. Reese affirms that the unity these churches have historically desired remains sourced in the gospel and the reconciling power of Christ. With his deft storytelling, keen insights, and wisdom that comes only through love, compassion, and the fire of experience, At the Blue Hole is a must-read for all those seeking the future of Churches of Christ.”
— Charles M. Rix, PhD
dean and professor of Bible and preaching at Oklahoma Christian University
At the Blue Hole is a unique and personal story of the history that formed Churches of Christ into a distinct tradition. Jack Reese assesses both the crises and opportunities these churches now face, a great example of the critical but grateful appropriation of one’s own faith tradition. Jack shares his stories with clarity and passion. His love for Churches of Christ is clear, and that love moves him to contribute to its present and future renewal. “
— John Mark Hicks, PhD
professor of theology at Lipscomb University
author of Anchors for the Soul: Trusting God in the Storms of Life
At the Blue Hole is an essential read for churches who find themselves in crisis. It is hard to know where to go if you don’t know who you are, where you are, or how you got there. That is where many Churches of Christ find themselves today. These churches, like most others in America, are at a pivotal moment that will determine not only what kind of future they will have but whether they will have a future at all. There are no easy answers here. But Jack Reese wrestles with hard questions honestly, out of a lifetime of service that blends scholarship and ministry toward practical wisdom for helping churches become healthy. This is a major contribution to a community of churches in need of direction and a future.”
— Dan Bouchelle
president of Missions Resource Network
“What lies ahead for Churches of Christ? With a historian’s insight and a storyteller’s imagination, Jack Reese weaves together past narratives to point beyond the decline in congregational life toward an open future. What emerges for the reader is the marvelous invitation to consider both the past and God’s desired future to act faithfully in the present. Anyone who seeks renewal in Churches of Christ, or any church, will find much to ponder and resources to fuel the imaginative work needed for new beginnings.”
— Carson Reed
executive director at the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry
“With the focus of a scholar, the eye of a historian, and a heart full of love for Churches of Christ, Jack Reese has crafted a wonderful story of our past which in turn can lead to hope for our future. This book is informative, engaging, and eye-opening. While the whole work is masterful, the ‘Reflections’ interspersed among the chapters are worth the price of this book. Every person who cares deeply about the Stone-Campbell movement, especially those who love Churches of Christ, should read this book.”
— David Allen
Minister of the Word at the Northside Church of Christ, San Antonio

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