Graciously Engaging a KJV-Only Believer: The Story of God’s Grace in One Soul

Back in April of 2008, I was a PhD student in the beginning stages of my dissertation work, I was engaged to be married in a month to a beautiful woman from Ohio, and there were a bunch of black-suit-clad KJV-Only protesters out in front of my school, Bob Jones University.

One of them held a sign saying,

BJU HAS LEFT THE GOD AND BIBLE OF BOB JONES SR

Another garish sign had a URL at the bottom: axetotheroot.com. The site is now defunct, but you can see it on the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive. It used classic KJV-Only graphic design principles (red and yellow text on black, all-caps, animated gifs of flames, etc.); but it did have a working contact form. I sent a message in.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think the gist was that the charge of apostasy they had made against my alma mater was a serious one, and that I wanted to talk about it with someone from their organization who was my age.

I got a reply, and it was courteous. One protestor was willing to talk with me, and he was indeed my age. We agreed to meet the very next day. He was attending a small KJV-Only Bible college in a nearby state. But it turns out he had a sister who was attending BJU, and he was going to come to visit her.

I had a theory: these were regenerated but misguided people I was dealing with, and the bold and frankly nasty claims they were making on their signs about our alleged apostasy were things they would not be able to say if they sat across a table from me.

So we did just that, for several hours. I and my contact—we’ll call him Nick—actually found we agreed on some important matters. We didn’t like manipulative revivalistic practices in preaching; we didn’t like easy-believism; we felt it was important to see Christ in the Old Testament. But he had a cynical view of BJU. It really bothered him, for example, that one of our counseling professors had apparently said, “You’re only as godly as you are rested.” He felt that undercut the importance of all-night prayer meetings. BJU, in his view, had gone soft.

As I recall, I purposefully avoided talking about the KJV at the beginning of our conversation, because I knew things would fall apart if we did. Nick was KJV-CAPITAL-ONLY. The topic, of course, did come up—but only after we’d established some common ground. There was no common ground on the KJV. My memory serves up one image from that conversation: me and Nick walking across the bridge on front campus, him gesticulating passionately as he repeated to me all the talking points from the KJV-Only canon. I now realize that he’d done some reading in one of the most careful exponents of the TR/KJV view, E.F. Hills, whose work at that time I had not read (I’m going through it now, in fact). But back then I just knew that I was having trouble getting words in edgewise. It was clear to me that it was time for the conversation to be over.

We had two email conversations after that, Gmail tells me. Later in 2008 I proposed a book swap. I sent him Piper’s The Pleasures of God, and he was supposed to send me something he felt I needed to read. That all came to nothing. (He did send my book back, however.) But, again, he was courteous. I congratulated him on his upcoming marriage, and he spoke to me like a human being and not a heretic. I’d made the only progress I’d hoped for.

In 2010 we had a longer email correspondence about the KJV. He was insistent that any textual critical viewpoint which failed to yield 100% certainty was stepping onto a slippery slope toward unbelief. He said,

I ran across a quote a few days ago from Spurgeon that said, “The latest carnival of unbelief does not so much completely deny the Word of God as much as raise questions as to the legitimacy of certain portions of it.”

I did something I rarely do: I ultimately just let his last email hang. Again I saw there was no appealing to him on the KJV.

I did pray for him from time to time, and I emailed him in 2017 to invite him to read Authorized in manuscript. I didn’t hear back. I figured the story was over.

* * *

Fast forward. Today, eleven years after I met Nick and nine years after I last heard from him, I received this email, which I share with his permission.

Good morning,

As I write this we are in the waiting room of a children’s hospital waiting for more information on our baby’s heart condition. We are expecting number four in May.

I’m not sure if you remember me, but we met a number of years ago at BJU when my brothers attended there. We had a lengthy conversation about many things, especially the KJV-only issue and street preaching. All I remember about the conversation then and in others to follow is your graciousness and desire to engage brothers on the other side by actually understanding someone else’s position (with a few mild rebukes). It had an impact.

One of the differences between us then was you had read the other side thoroughly and I had not. To make a long story a little shorter, a lot has changed since then. I praise God for the zeal and emphasis on prayer of many IFBs that influenced me, but I also thank God for the measured wisdom and discretion of many others who helped me to see the dangerous cult-like fallacies of so many of my early mentors.

There have been a lot of factors involved in my abandonment of KJV-onlyism (James White’s book was the biggest), Scofield dispensationalism, and a host of other things; but the biggest driver was a dissatisfaction with the very narrow scope of fellowship—and a point you made in one of our email conversations a while back. I can’t remember your exact wording, but the gist of it was that the very nature of the position makes godly, spiritually mature people on the other side into heretics and deniers of Scripture—not to mention the fact that it doesn’t allow for interacting with other viewpoints. I would add that the emphasis on externals and rigorous defense of a sixteenth-century Elizabethan translation masks the glaring absence of accountability and discipleship.

There is a lot more that could be said, but maybe we can touch base sometime and catch up more. I saw you were in what looks like Washington now—state or D.C.? Current family size? We are in [a U.S. state] on a small homestead and I am currently a property manager and a member of a great Reformed Baptist church.

I said all that to say this: your efforts and patience with me were not in vain. I highly appreciate all your efforts to reach out even though I may not have welcomed them at the time.

Thanks, brother.

Nick

KJV-Only brothers can be appealed to. It’s worth the time to reach out to individuals —and here are some strategies. Christ’s sheep are precious. Wouldn’t you want someone to make a loving appeal to you if you were caught in doctrinal error?

I’m truly rejoicing over this. I have regained a brother. Nick read over my post above and kindly corrected a few of my own misconceptions.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

4 Comments

  1. Brian Morgan on April 21, 2019 at 4:59 am

    Very encouraging post. Good reminder to wrap our arguments in love, and remember the truth is seed that may take more time to harvest than we expect.
    I will go on record publicly here by affirming that in all my interactions with you, Mark, you have borne that same gracious and loving tone. No, I’m not flattering you, just bearing witness to truth. I appreciate you as my brother.



  2. Dennis Cone on April 22, 2019 at 7:38 am

    Mark, thanks for posting this very encouraging story. As I read about “Nick,” I kept hearing echoes of John 8:31–32.



  3. Benjamin Watt on April 22, 2019 at 10:07 am

    I am grateful to God for your ministry, Mark. As a former KJVO believer, I appreciate your honest and gracious way of dealing with this error.

    KJVO is an error, not an intentional sin. Many who hold to the KJVO position are sincere in their loyalty to God and zeal for His word. But their zeal is not according to knowledge – it is so often based on rhetoric and misapplication of Scripture.

    “Every word of God is pure” didnt change meanings in 1611 so it can’t refer to the KJV.



  4. Mark Ward on April 22, 2019 at 10:19 am

    I do believe in the sincerity of the KJV-Only brothers I know best, namely the godly people who taught me in high school. I saw that sincerity up close. It has guided me as I’ve written on this topic.

    However, I’d state things a little differently than you did. When I see outright falsehoods repeated over and over—simple things such as “The Flesh-Kincaid analysis proves that the KJV is more readable than the modern versions”—I do smell sin. But I don’t expect most people to be able to penetrate the confusing arguments of a conspiracy theory. I lay culpability instead at the feet of teachers (James 3:1), particularly KJV-Only Bible college professors and leading pastors. But I want to be able to be measured by the measure with which I measure others, so I am eager to acknowledge the good I also see in men and women who are (unknowingly, but still culpably) promoting falsehoods.



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