Alan Highers is a prominent church of Christ minister, and the editor of the Spiritual Sword journal1, out of Memphis, Tennessee. He is an experienced debater as well. In the October 2004 issue of the Spiritual Sword, Highers chronicled his own debate experience, as well as other significant polemic exchanges between members of the churches of Christ and other denominations. Highers hails the value of public formal debates, and laments the fact that there are so few such encounters in modern times.
When the Spiritual Sword with this information came to my attention, I passed it along to John Anderson, of Lighthouse World Ministries, with whom I work very closely. Anderson hosts a four hour, world-wide radio program each Sunday evening, and I am privileged to be a regular part of that program. Anderson and I decided that based on Highers’ belief in the value of debating, that this would provide a prime opportunity to invite him to debate me, Don Preston, either in a formal public setting, or on Anderson’s radio program.
Consequently, Anderson and I drafted a letter to Mr. Highers inviting him to meet me in formal public debate. I warned Anderson in advance that Highers would refuse our invitation, and that Anderson would be amazed at the arrogance that he would see in Higher’s response. I told Anderson that in the churches of Christ, there is a mentality that if they do not deem an issue important, then, it is simply not important. Furthermore, I informed Anderson that Highers was probably blissfully unaware of the rapid growth of Covenant Eschatology in the world, and would use that as an excuse to refuse a debate. Anderson was skeptical of what I was telling him. These are my brethren, however, and I know them well! Anderson soon discovered that I was right on all counts.
In response to our initial challenge, Highers exhibited an alarming arrogance. His use of sarcasm toward someone he had never met was disturbing. He refused the invitation to meet me in a public formal debate, citing the fact that in the early 1990s he had attended a debate between William Bell and Steven Wiggins, in Memphis. The attendance of that debate was not as hoped, to be sure. Highers insisted that so far as he is concerned, based on that experience, Covenant Eschatology is a non-issue, and not worth his time. After all, he has had debates in which thousands of people attended, therefore, if no one is interested, why debate?
Anderson and I responded to Highers with another letter. I pointed out that one of the reasons that the debate in Memphis was so poorly attended was that, in spite of written agreement to promote the debate extensively, Wiggins and his partner Bill Lockwood had refused to advertise and promote the debate. They told me this personally when I asked. They stuttered and stammered, but finally admitted that they had hardly promoted the debate at all. I told them that this was a serious violation of the rules. But, of course, it was too late to do anything about it. In response to this, Highers simply dismissed it, virtually calling Anderson and me a liar. He said, "I find the allegation incredible that Lockwood/Wiggins ‘purposely failed’ to advertise the debate." He can find it "incredible" all he wants, but it is the truth. The real issue here is how Highers sought so desperately to sidetrack the invitation and avoid a debate. Highers was simply looking for a way to avoid debating Covenant Eschatology.
An Issue Not Worth Addressing?
One of the remarkable things that Highers said was that he has regular contact with the churches of Christ and their preachers in the Memphis area, and that not one of them consider preterism an issue worth addressing. This is more than remarkable!
At the Memphis School of Preaching, where William Bell graduated, they actually staged mock debates to prepare the seminary students to go out and confront the error of "Kingism," i.e. Covenant Eschatology. So, a prominent church of Christ seminary in Memphis has sponsored mock debates 2, 3 as part of its training to prepare preachers to debate Covenant Eschatology. But, according to Highers, it is not an issue that is worth debating.
Furthermore, while Highers says that none of the church of Christ ministers that he knows considers Covenant Eschatology to be of any importance, Curtis Cates from the Memphis School of Preaching wrote a book on the issue, calling preterists heretics. And, yes, Highers knows Curtis Cates.
Wayne Jackson, a regular speaker with Highers on the Getwell church of Christ lectures, also wrote a book against the A.D. 70 doctrine. Maybe Jackson did not tell Highers about his book, or, perhaps Highers should now tell Jackson that he should not have wasted his time on such an inconsequential doctrine.
Robert Taylor, prominent minister in the churches of Christ and regular speaker on the Getwell Lectures, has written lengthy articles addressing Covenant Eschatology. Highers knows him well.
Dub McClish, former minister of the Pearl Avenue church of Christ and host of the Denton Lectures for years, thought enough of the issue to highly recommend Cates’ book, and to have him speak against Covenant Eschatology on the lectureship.
Terry Varner, from Ohio, has written and lectured extensively condemning advocates of Covenant Eschatology. I could go on naming names.
Highers knows and esteems virtually all of these men. Rest assured that Highers knows that Jackson and Cates wrote their book. Highers also knows that the topic has been discussed on church of Christ lectures.
Highers says he does not know any preachers who consider it important enough to discuss. Yet, all of these men, and others, have written books and articles, have spoken at or hosted seminars where the topic was discussed and condemned.
Another Offer Shot Down
Realizing that Highers was so adamant in his refusal to debate me in a formal setting, Anderson and I then drafted a letter to Highers proposing that Anderson would devote an entire four hours of radio programming to the discussions. We pointed out to Highers that Anderson’s program is one of the fastest growing Christian talk shows in the world. He is currently aired on over 80 stations, with more stations being added virtually every month. On February 27, 2005 alone, 47 new stations signed on! Listeners from over 29 countries regularly listen to The Voice of Reason. We pointed out to Highers: "So, while you say that you have conducted debates where there were as many as one thousand people present, The Voice of Reason has a potential audience of millions of people. Very clearly, on The Voice of Reason, you would possibly be speaking to the largest audience you have ever addressed."
What was Highers’ response? He wrote, "You make all the best excuses for the lack of interest in the debate in Memphis, and you state the very best scenario for engaging in a debate on a subject that interests most people as much as the number of angels who can balance on the head of a pin."
So there you have it. In spite of the fact that The Voice of Reason is growing at an incredible rate, and that growth is, at least partly, because of the presentation of Covenant Eschatology, Mr. Alan Highers has pontificated and decreed that no one is interested. End of story! The subject will not be debated.
As further demonstration of Highers’ arrogance and desperation, he seems to think that since Anderson and I collaborated on the letters to him that there is something sinister or wrong with that. He never explains why. He just snidely says things like, "You write a good letter, or whoever writes your letter for you."
Highers demonstrates several things in his response.
First, he shows that he is woefully ignorant of the incredible present interest in eschatology. Is he aware that even secular publications su
ch as Time and Newsweek magazines have run feature stories on the current fascination with eschatology? Has he ever heard of the Left Behind series? Does he know of The Last Disciple by Hanegraff? One can only wonder if Highers is aware of the plethora of books written to refute Covenant Eschatology, including:
- When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism, (Mathison),
- The End times Controversy, (LaHaye/ Ice)
- The Anti-Prophets, (Spargimino)
- The Second Coming (MacArthur).
Is Highers so out of touch that he does not know that all of these authors state that Covenant Eschatology is spreading like wildfire?
Second, Highers has shown that he is willing to distort the facts. To suggest that none of the preachers that he knows consider Covenant Eschatology to be of any importance is simply false, as proven by all the books and lectures written by his acquaintances. If the issue is of no interest and no importance, why schedule lectures to address it? Why write books to condemn it? Why stage mock debates to prepare men to engage an issue that holds no more interest than how many angels can dance on the top of a pin?
Third, Highers has shown that he is desperate to avoid open discussion of Covenant Eschatology. He first said he would not debate because no one would come. Then, when offered an audience of thousands of people, he said they are not interested. This last excuse is perhaps the most revealing of all. How Highers is able to know and decree that The Voice of Reason listeners are not interested in hearing a debate on eschatology is simply beyond me. According to Arbitron ratings, the hundreds of thousands of internet downloads, and the regular listeners in at least 29 foreign countries, there are thousands of listeners who tune in regularly to listen to teaching on Covenant Eschatology. Very clearly, Highers is in denial. The real issue here is that Highers does not want hundreds of thousands of people around the world to hear his futile effort to defend his amillennialism.
What Happened to the Heroes of the Faith?
As a young man growing up in the churches of Christ, I constantly heard my "heroes of the faith" speak eloquently of the need for honorable public debate. Men that I considered "champions of the faith" spoke of the need for discussions with those both in the church and out who were guilty of espousing error. I can remember hearing these men lament the fact that public debating was on the wane because "the denominationalists" had learned not to confront the churches of Christ in open dialogue, for, when they did, they always lost members! In fact, in the issue of The Spiritual Sword under consideration, Highers makes these very claims.
Yet, now, a strange phenomenon is taking place in my fellowship. Men who once insisted on public engagement of error are now running from the fray. The excuses once offered for not debating members of the churches of Christ (and soundly rejected as dishonorable excuses) are now being offered by the same men that once rejected those excuses from others.
As an example, I challenged Gary Workman of Texas to debate. He said he would not debate me because he did not want to give my error "a public forum!" This is tantamount to admitting that he cannot refute Covenant Eschatology.
Others, like Wayne Jackson, have refused to debate me because I am supposedly a "mere student" of Max King, with no reputation or respect in the preterist community. Interestingly, Jackson found himself in a similar situation in 1984, when he accepted a challenge by Walter Martin, to debate baptism. Jackson accepted, but Martin rejected him because he had no reputation. Jackson ridiculed and condemned Martin in public and in writing, yet now, Jackson refuses to debate me on identical grounds.
Ah, consistency, thou are a jewel so rare!
I have been contacted at least three times over the last two years by individuals convinced that Jackson would debate me and asking my permission to issue a challenge to him. I granted immediate permission to each, forewarning them that Jackson would refuse. One told me emphatically that Jackson would never refuse such an invitation. He was wrong.
Jackson continues to give the same lame excuse for not debating me: I have no standing in the preterist community. He makes this excuse even though I have debated some of the top evangelicals, such as Harold Hoehner, Thomas Ice, C. Marvin Pate, James Jordan and F. LaGard Smith, a very prominent church of Christ minister with ever bit as much "standing" in the churches of Christ as Jackson.
Max King wrote a letter some years ago, urging Jackson to debate me, and recommending me as a qualified representative of Covenant Eschatology. Jackson ignored the letter, even though, as in the case of Walter Martin cited above, Martin ignored a similar letter from leading church of Christ ministers recommending Jackson for debate. The Wayne Jackson of the 1980s blasted Martin, saying that it was obvious that he was less than honorable. Does he not see that there is a direct parallel between the Jackson-V-Martin challenge and rejection, and the Jackson-V-Preston challenge and rejection? Jackson condemned and ridiculed Martin then, yet he has repeated Martin’s actions.
The fact is that if I were espousing premillennialism or postmillennialism, men such as Alan Highers, Wayne Jackson and others would be debating each other for the right to debate me. There is one reason why Highers, Jackson and other so-called defenders of the faith will not enter the polemic fray in regard to the A.D. 70 parousia of Christ — they realize that they cannot defeat it. Their amillennialism is fundamentally and fatally flawed. As a former "insider" who espoused that view, I know whereof I speak.
I have followed the writings of these men virtually all of their careers, and I never throw anything away. I know that Jackson, for instance, has argued that "at hand" means — well — "at hand". It cannot mean 2000 years. I can document from his own writings, that his current attempts to negate the time statements of the New Testament are self-contradictory. In the past he has affirmed that you cannot ignore the "at hand" statements. Now, suddenly, when writing against Covenant Eschatology, he wants us to forget everything he has ever said about "at hand" meaning near and soon. Instead, time statements are suddenly "elastic, relative and subjective." This kind of embarrassing self-contradiction would be fully exposed in public debate.
Braggarts or Men of Honor?
There is good news and bad news.
The bad news is that my brethren in the churches of Christ are showing themselves to be less than honorable in regard to their own history preaching. It is easy to see that Highers has acted less than honorably in regard to our invitation. To refuse an invitation for a debate with a worldwide audience, based on the lame excuse that no one is interested, is disingenuous at the very best.
The good news is that there are others, from differing fellowships, that give more than empty lip service to the value of open discussions. They realize that Covenant Eschatology is, in fact, growing rapidly. It is spreading across all denominational boundaries and it needs to be discussed.
Consequently, some of the leading evangelicals have agreed to, and engaged in respectful and honorable discussions. We have engaged in discussion on The Voice of Reason with men such as Harold Hoehner, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, C. Marvin Pate, of Moody Bible Institute, professor and author Randall Price, F. LaGard Smith and others. This is not to mention excellent formal discussions with noted reformed theologian James Jordan, a
nd the formal discussions with Thomas Ice and Mark Hitchcock that John Anderson and I shared.
You see, there are still men that truly believe in honorable formal dialogue. They don’t just write brag sheets about it — they step up to the platform and present their case. These are the men that I appreciate. Other high level discussions are being planned and, Lord willing, will occur. So, while there are those braggarts who speak of their debate exploits and the need for debate, but who refuse to actually engage in debate (another man by the name of Van Impe comes to mind here), there are others who truly believe what they say and are willing to come together to openly and respectfully discuss the issues. I look forward to those kind of discussion with honorable believers. I will not "name names" here, but one very prominent seminary professor has recently told John Anderson that the rapid growth of preterism requires that "a major debate on this topic needs to take place." He said that he is very much in favor of such a debate, and has urged us to pursue it with the head of the seminary.
If Covenant Eschatology is serious enough of an issue to justify the charge of "heresy", one would think that a love for the souls of those caught up in the "heresy" would be sufficient enough reason for a debate. This is just further evidence of the hypocrisy of those like Highers and Cates. They throw stones against fellow believers, yet refuse to defend their charges or even allow those they accuse of heresy to defend themselves. Sadly, this is also true with others.
R. C. Sproul Jr.. John MacArthur, Kenneth Gentry, Jonathan Seriah and others commonly make the "heresy" accusation, but have not exhibited the courage to publicly defend their charges. The later named men, in contrast to Highers, who is seemingly blissfully unaware of what is happening in the religious world, know that preterism is growing rapidly and have written and spoken extensively against it.
So — our latter-day "champions" have identified a "heresy" that is spreading rapidly and making inroads virtually everywhere, yet these "defenders of the faith" refuse to openly discuss it, choosing instead to continue pontificating from ivory towers.
- Spiritual Sword is published quarterly by the Getwell church of Christ, 1511 Getwell Rd., Memphis, Tenn. 38111. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- William Bell was told by some of the students of the Memphis School of Preaching that they were specifically told by the faculty not to attend the debate between him and Wiggins. One has to wonder why the school of preaching would sponsor mock debates on Covenant Eschatology, but when the "real thing" came to town, they would forbid their students from attending.
- As of this writing in 2005, I cannot say whether the Memphis School of Preaching still sponsors those mock debates. What I can say, from personal contact with some of the former students who participated in those encounters, is that even those "mock debates" led to some of the students embracing Covenant Eschatology.