Book Review: Early Writings Of Herbert W. Armstrong

Early Writings Of Herbert W. Armstrong: Public Domain Articles Written From 1928-1953, by Herbert W. Armstrong, edited by Richard C. Nickels

A couple weeks ago or so I was enjoying a lovely dinner at the home of one of the deacons in my local congregation, watching a video about the Sabbath at the beginning of the Sabbath, when I saw this particular book and asked to borrow it. Being someone interested in archival research myself, I can recognize the skill of the late Mr. Nickels in finding a representative sample of works by Mr. Armstrong that are in the public domain, and hence above the quarreling that long went on over their ownership and that provides a rigorous and fair-minded view of at least some of the Armstrong canon. Included in this book is an excellent catechism that serve as quarterly Bible studies on the Kingdom of God, a sales pitch about the Feast of Tabernacles location in 1945 in rural Oregon, pointed doctrinal statements endorsing local congregations and an absence of central government and castigating the epidemic of divorce and remarriage that is at least twice as bad as it was at the time it was written in the 1930’s, and some memorable member letters and early doctrinal statements that appear to have been the raw material for several later booklets.

In terms of its contents, this book contains at least a few matters of note. The larger part of the contents of this book consist of various selected but representative samples of the early writing of Herbert W. Armstrong beginning during the period when he was a rising man in the Church of God, Seventh Day, including an excellent article on the Sabbath Covenant of Exodus 31 [1], along with some long-forgotten material written during his days as an early independent minister until the time when his burgeoning church organization was becoming fully formed in the early 1950’s. After about 190 pages of material from Mr. Armstrong, there comes about forty pages of technical notes, summary, and a somewhat critical biographical essay of the author by the editor. This material manages to speak honestly, but avoids gossiping about the more unsavory aspects of the lives of the author and his son. The essays are certainly critical of the spirit of authoritarianism that has long been found in Church of God circles, and is especially critical towards the doctrinal positions of some of the successor Churches of God like Philadelphia Church of God, as well as their changes to the writings of Mr. Armstrong that they now hold the copyright for.

As someone who has at times discussed my own personal upbringing in the Worldwide Church of God from birth until shortly before the age of 14 [2], I recognize this book as an example of the need of many people who were once a part of the Worldwide Church of God to attempt to make sense of their experiences, something that has driven many people, in their own characteristic ways, to write or collect material. Mr. Nickels largely comes from the point of view of giving a high degree of praise in encouraging Bible study and in providing plain-spoken biblical material, much of it cribbed from other writers without attribution, lamentably, balanced by severe criticism of the author’s character and difficulties in working with others as peers as well as showing praise and appreciation for others. This mixed approach will likely be too generous-minded by far for some potential readers and far too harsh and critical for others to accept. Nevertheless, Mr. Nickels provides a great deal of early writing, along with some comments on its redaction and editing later on, so that the reader can draw their own conclusions about the biblical scholarship and approach of Mr. Armstrong for themselves, if they feel compelled to make sense of the man and his immense influence in contemporary religious history as the most notable preacher of the Sabbath day in the 20th century. Those of us whose lives were greatly influenced by his own preaching, even if indirectly through being born into the organization he led so conspicuously for so long can find this book, and reflecting upon its materials, a way of recognizing that influence honestly and reflectively.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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