Author, publisher, and editor Stanley W. Paher (seen at left in above photo, alongside Edward Fudge), of Reno, Nev., is best known as the owner and operator of Nevada Publications, an important Southwestern publisher of literature on Western Americana, and especially on Nevada history, including accounts of the early mining camps and boom towns, as well as the ghost towns that have survived from that day. Paher is less well known for his Christian writings, but over the years he has penned several influential volumes in that field, and as a publisher he has handled other Christian writers’ works, including those of Homer Hailey, most of whose writings Paher now publishes. As a Christian author, Paher has added his voice to the ongoing exchange of ideas about the Bible and how it is properly understood, or not understood, today, especially within Restorationist church circles. This interview was conducted in person at the 2011 Abilene Christian University “Summit Lectureship,” held on the ACU campus.
Jesse Mullins: It’s Sept. 21. And I’m with Stanley Paher at the Summit Lectureship at ACU and Stanley has kindly consented to visit with me.
JM: Stanley, what kind of changes are you seeing in the church?
SP: Well, I was “born in due season,” like Paul says. [That was] when I was 20. I had never had any relationship with the church of Christ before then. But way back in those earliest days, and that is exactly 50 years ago, there was a lot more attention given to being precisely correct on a multitude of doctrines, a debate mentality, not much willingness to consider other people’s views. They [church leaders] were pretty well locked in. In those days, if you wanted to change someone’s mind it was almost like—maybe “shock” is the wrong word, but it was almost like an earthquake—you’d have to move them quite a bit. Whereas now, especially in the last ten years, because of the influence of people like Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett, [there is] a lot more openness, acceptance of others, togetherness, willingness to appreciate another person in love, disagreeing without being disagreeable, and, after maybe about this time of the day [this interview was at about midday], after maybe an hour of brisk discussion, you’d say, “Well, let’s go to lunch!” That’s the difference I see over the last 50 years.
JM: Could you say a little more about the interest in Ketcherside and Garrett?
SP: Well, way back in the 1950s, that was before my time, really, in the church, but in the ’60s, those names were vilified, ostracized. I know Ketcherside, Carl Ketcherside, came to ACU in 1968 and he said, “Someday I’ll be on the program.” And it was only about six years later he was on the program. And he was viewed with suspicion, mistrust, [as] trying to be factionalist when actually it was his opponents who were the factionalists. And the same with Leroy Garrett, the same kind of evolution. Leroy Garrett had the advantage of being a little bit younger than Carl Ketcherside. Carl died in 1988. Leroy Garrett was on the program here [this year] and his books are in the Abilene Christian University bookstore. No problem. He has been in the Lectureship a few other times, and in fact one year he received some kind of meritorious distinction for being a preacher and a great contribution to the Restoration Movement. So, the tables have been turned, whereas [earlier] a limited circle of friends [were their supporters] now these two people are among the most popular in the whole brotherhood.
You were mentioning the new books. Well, one of them is called What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved? 128 pages, color cover, a full big index on all these themes we were talking about. And it will be available by about the end of October. Everything is done except for the back cover, literally. The disk for the so-called “guts” of the book, already ready to go to the printer. And they work fast. In four weeks, we will have books.
JM: Let’s talk about one of those books, and let me ask the question this way: Is the doctrine of inerrancy a hindrance to the vitality of the church?
SP: I think it is, because, among our people, I’ve seen various books written about the inspiration of the Bible, and one wing would say, yes, the Bible is inerrant, there is plenary verbal inspiration, where every word, somehow, whether indirectly or more especially directly, comes from God. In other words, whatever the Bible says, God says. My view is distinctly different from that in that I think that the key to inspiration is not only defining the word correctly—it’s a metaphor for “God breathed into the minds” of various people in Biblical days, about 60 men, prophets and apostles and their schools – there was breathed into their minds truths that never would have been attainable through human wisdom and experience. And so as Paul wrote a letter like I Corinthians, he was able to bank on that fund of information. For instance,many things in I Corinthians Paul wrote on his own. Obviously, the introduction, the conclusion. And he even says, I am using my own judgment—I Corinthians 7—concerning something about marriage. But he heard things. He heard that, across the waters, that some man was living with his father’s wife. And so he gave them advice: remove the sinful person from your midst. And then he also received a letter from them concerning things, and so he answered that with full apostolic authority. And naturally, dynamically, and didn’t really need the Spirit’s help or God’s help in responding that way, but it was always available, according to a passage in I Corinthians. Then also he heard that there were divisions among them. Now this is all natural. And that’s the way the Bible is. The Bible is not only a divine book but a human book, but more so [a book] answering and dealing with affairs of relationships and people just very naturally. And so Paul wrote naturally and dynamically. And because these truths that came from God are in the document, I think that the document is inspired of God.
JM: And this will all come out in a book, and the book is called?
SP: The Nature of Biblical Inspiration and the Formation of the New Testament Canon. So at first we define inspiration, and show that the real key, the key to everything about inspiration, and which makes the apostles and other New Testament writers truly men of God, is the concept of witness. They are witnesses to the truth of God. They are witnesses to all these things going on, and without that, then inspiration is something else.
And then the second half of the book gets into how the books—the 27 books of the New Testament—were gathered together in one location to collected into a canon, a collection of scripture, or a book, which finally saw its first appearance in one city down in Egypt by one bishop down there. And then a couple of other church councils about 20 years later in North Africa followed that lead. But after that it was still centuries upon centuries before all the 27 books were recognized in every location in the Roman Empire or what was left of it after the middle of the fifth, sixth century.
And then it was really the invention of the printing press that got the books together where many, many people in many, many venues could start reading what we call the New Testament today.
JM: Jumping to another book, your recent book, Natural Law, what do you mean by “the doctrine of available light”?
SP: I think anyone who has ever lived, the God of Heaven expects that person to follow only whatever statements, whatever truths, that he knows, that he has comprehended, and not only that he has comprehended, but understood fully, when gnosis becomes epignosis. That will be the basis of judgment for all people for all time. I don’t think it is the Bible, I don’t think it is scripture, which is given only to his covenant people to follow, whereas everyone who has ever lived is subject to natural law. It is a universal principle—the design of it [is universal]—and it is moral in scope. And therefore as you have treated yourself in this life, your works do follow, as it says in the Book of Revelation, about Chapter 14, and that will be the basis for your judgment, for better for worse, in the future resurrection.
JM: I’m going to jump around here a little. How is the Christian book-buying public changing?
SP: The Christian book-buying public is not really changing that much because still Christians do not really buy very many books. But I noticed early on when I published my first book with a religious topic, on Matthew 24, on its first century fulfillment, there were more readers in those days. I think it’s sort of hard for a new author to break in. Obviously, in the whole scope of Protestant teachers and preachers, the big names are the ones that sell, and even in the church of Christ it is that way—the Homer Haileys, the Max Lucados, and people like that. But nevertheless I have forged ahead, and have published eight books on Biblical topics over the last 20 years. And have been happy to do so, and to do some more. And two or three of these have actually seen second or third printings. Not only the Matthew 24, but I have followed up with History of the New Testament Canon in an earlier, smaller edition, Natural Law in an earlier, smaller edition, and I started writing on the subject of covenant in 1995, [and] followed up with two other books on that topic. And then after the year 2000, I began studying the nature of God and taught a couple of classes on it, and wrote a book on the trinity, whether it was true or false. But meanwhile all these older books, or at least the Matthew book, the covenant book, the Natural Law book, the canon book on the New Testament, they all, when they go into a new edition, they grow, and they are becoming bigger than ever. And so, instead of the New Testament Canon book being only about 75 pages, the new one out in [early 2012] will be probably about 288 pages. And so I want to see people read more, I think they should… read to each other, read these things, look things up, instead of always watching television and trying to be entertained all the time. Reading the Bible plus books that are Biblically grounded is the best thing.
JM: What change in the church do you welcome, and what loss do you deplore?
SP: The changes I would welcome would be that we would truly accept one another, love one another, consider one another, and practice the fruit of the Spirit, not only with people in the world, but with people within the church. I’d like to get away from the idea of exclusivism, where we think that we have all the truth and others don’t. That’s the paradigm that a lot of people work from, and I find that attitude diminishing. But to look at our differences and disagreements as a chance toreally truly grow, to get a chance to see someone else’s views, and either accept or reject. We might have a discussion about 11 o’clock in the morning, and maybe will display differences, but maybe at noon we will say, hey, let’s go to lunch, and be friends, and so forth. I think in order to actually change someone’s mind on any religious topic, you have to be a friend first, and once that relationship is developed, then to get people to come together in unity in some sort of teaching it is much, much easier than being strangers.
JM: You are open to the ideas of the church fathers. How would you defend that against a staunch traditionalist?
SP: To me, the church fathers are the first interpreters of what we now have—scripture—of the New Testament. The 27 books. And therefore, when I see a dispute about, let’s say, the resurrection from the dead, the final judgment, and the final disposition of people to go to Heaven or Hell, I notice that there is a small element—very, very small—that believes these things will not occur. That is, no resurrection, because “it is already past,” no so-called final return or second coming of Christ, because “it is already past.” But the early church fathers, all the way from Clement in his book I Clement, all the way past Irenaeus, Tertullian, way into the third and fourth centuries, unanimously say there is going to be a physical, future resurrection of the dead. And I believe it is part of the gospel, according to I Corinthians [chapter 15], about verses 4 to 9, where Paul puts it there. And therefore it should be heeded, and to deny it is, I think, serious business. And therefore those who advocate no future resurrection, no future judgment, and no final return of Jesus, have a lot to contend with, that does not measure up to Paul’s standard in I Corinthians 15.
JM: Back to the church of Christ… is the church of Christ losing its identity?
SP: We talk about the worldwide church of Christ… there are so many different factions among us, and that is one thing that Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside were always trying to do… to bring us back together in unity. Unity based on love, not according to agreement. But unity based on acceptance. And so the church is actually quite diverse, and that is not altogether bad. The myth is that there was a monolithic, unified first-century church of Christ that we must emulate, and I say that I don’t think that we should look at that at all. We should be a 21st century church of Christ for 21st century people. We’ve got different issues than those people back then, and there are lots of things that have arisen in society that can be answered biblically, and we must respond that way, but that the earlier saints, even as late as 200 years ago, never had to entertain.
JM: What must the church of Christ do to be saved?
SP: We have to learn to accept others, and we have to get away from the idea of the church as an institution, but rather an organism. Accept change, and get away from sectarianism, away from this mentality of the One True Church. And truth can be found in some unexpected places. That’s the delight of researching scripture and researching scholars on various subjects pertaining to the New Testament. But the old, intolerant attitude is slowly but surely giving way, as some of the big preachers with their big egos have died off over the years, that had these great debates that would divide us. Our loyalty is to Christ and our focus is on him. And not to a set of doctrines.
JM: And finally, to bring it back to Edward Fudge… if you could comment on him in two ways: one, something about his work and two, something about his acceptance as an indicator of what is going on in the church.
SP: I met Edward Fudge when we were both students at Florida College down in Tampa, and he was just behind me [in his academic age] and he has since written several books and has a nice GracEmail service for people to read and be edified with. He latched on to a study on the nature of Hell years ago, has written a book on it—20 years ago. He had another book with another person who held a view opposite of his. His view is that after the judgment, the righteous will go into Heaven—“Come ye blessed by my Father, and enter the kingdom”—but those going to Hell, those unworthy of eternal life, will be cast in the outer darkness where their life will be snuffed out. It will perish. It will cease existence. These people who are wicked will suffer the second death, for there is no worthy purpose whereby God would punish someone forever and ever. Especially the word “torture.” And frankly, I am very disturbed by preachers that would think that the God of love, care, and compassion for people, whose judgments are righteous and just, altogether righteous and just, would consign someone to an eternity of torture. I think it is incompatible with the nature of love.
JM: And then as far as Fudge is concerned… he is kind of an up-and-comer today?
SP: Actually more than an up-and-comer. He is up and came. He is, every year, on at least three or four lectureships. Pepperdine, the Tulsa Workshop, Abilene Christian University. He makes the rounds pretty good. Funny thing, though. His old alma mater, Florida College, he has never been on the lectureship there at all. That’s a college that still is—is the last one to come in—but I am convinced, from my association with Florida College over a 50-year period, that changes are going on there. And I think that anyone who does not recognize that there is responsible change going on, that they are being like Johnny Appleseed and being left behind the wagon, as the church of Christ goes forward into new fields, conquering Satan, and converting people to the truth of God through Jesus.
JM: Anything else you would add? If we were to try to summarize what you are about, is there anything we have missed?
SP: I think that we, as we approach the Bible, we must approach it with reverence, realizing that God has expressed himself through apostles and other people, and that the truths of God are in there. And to get away from anything exclusively of human origin, for instance patterned hermeneutics, or the interpretation of scripture commonly known as “Command, Example, and Necessary Inference,” and a law of silence. This is not principally found in the Bible. I would agree that the Bible teaches in those ways, as much as any other kind of literature. But what is formally binding on the conscience? What did Alexander Campbell have to say about it? He said, “Only as you perceive the connections.” As you perceive it, then you live with that. But I don’t subscribe to that hermeneutic at all. I try to follow the commandments of Christ and the apostles, and I regard examples as samples of the way things are done, but they are not exclusive, and as far as inferring anything that would be formally binding on the conscience, I don’t think so. And the law of silence is probably the one doctrine that makes absolutely no sense. It would be “the law of no law.” The Silence of Nothing. The Chemistry of Nothing. There is no such thing as a “Law of Silence.” Silence neither approves nor condemns. You just approach the scriptures, and relax, and look at God’s Word as the full expression of what God wanted us, His Christians, His people, to follow through the ages. And [in doing so] all of a sudden we are people that are brim-full of confidence, and we are people of good character, and people want to associate with us. Thank you.
JM: Thanks very much. Very good.
[Editor’s Note: To reach Stanley Paher with questions or to inquire about copies of his books, email him at
swpaher at gmail.com].
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