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J. Allen Miller—An Ashland Brethren Prototype

This series is an attempt to elucidate the dialectical (both/and) tension at the heart of Brethren theology and to relay its importance for today. 

Point of clarification: I use the adjective “Ashland” to communicate a very specific branch of the Brethren family tree. Some parts of this post appeared in an article I wrote on a Brethren vision for higher education. See “‘A Educational Ideal’: The Brethren Vision for Education of J. Allen Miller.” Brethren Life & Thought 62, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 22-42. I apologize for the length of this post.


On March 27, 1935 the campus of Ashland College was silent. TheJAllenMiller Brethren Church responded in disbelief as news spread across the country of Dr. J. Allen Miller’s death. Dr. Miller’s leadership, alongside his wife Clara Worst Miller, had taken a college on the brink of bankruptcy and closure and charted a new chapter for both it and the newly founded seminary almost. William H. Beachler, a Brethren minister, shared of Miller what many already knew:

As a teacher, Dr. Miller was human.  By which I mean that his fine and broad learning never isolated him from the common run of us.  Dr. Miller’s life and bearing lent convincing proof that the highest educated can be simple, and at home, among the simple and common people.  I shall remember Dr. Miller as a man who lived on earth among folks, and who kept his feet securely on the earth.

He was not a “know it all” teacher.  His fine modesty was always outstanding in his life and work as a teacher.  I cannot recall that Dr. Miller ever impressed me as a man who had complete control and possession of all truth.  Dr. Miller could concede to those who even differed with him, some things, and it seemed possible for him to conceive of others being sincere even if they differed with him much.  I like to remember just this about him.  It was a proof of his broadmindedness, fairness, and courtesy, just as it was proof that in the presence of the endless fields to be explored he considered that not one of us is more than a child.  He was a humble, modest, unassuming teacher.[1]

Charles A. Bame, another Brethren minister, capturing the late Miller’s qualities for leadership in both college and church, wrote in The Brethren Evangelist that Miller was

learned without pomposity; keen without being cutting; good without being sanctimonious; strong despite weakness; strict without being severe; different without being queer, he could love without palaver, disagree without bombast, oppose without quarreling. All this begat in him the great qualities of leadership we know he had.[2]

A brief article written later described the impact of Miller on both Ashland College (now University) and the Brethren Church. The biographer wrote that Miller “wanted for himself and his students an intelligent and reasonable faith. His Lord was Christ and his book was the Bible and his faith was that of the Brethren. The first third of the century has been dominated by his Christocentric faith, scholarship and devotion.”[3] The biographer continues:

Thus it is that this man more than any other epitomized historic Brethren ideals in the years following the 1883 division. He illustrated the tension Brethren have experienced between Spirit and Word, the internal and external, faith and obedience, personal faith and corporate responsibility, the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history…. His philosophy of life was that this is God’s world and he had a plan for it and he will not permit it to fail. It is a plan in which good is intended for his people, and he will bring it to pass.[4]

Standing at five feet six inches, J. Allen Miller (1866-1935) was not a commanding presence when he entered a room but his ability to inspire and challenge his students to think critically is well documented. Described as friendly, personable, with a slight air of superiority, his leadership and teaching revealed a man humble about his respective opinions and beliefs but confident in the intellect and faith that brought him to his theological conclusions. Miller’s very persona was shaped by the dialectical (both/and) interplay of Pietist emphases of Spirit, individuality, and openness in tension with Anabaptist emphases of outward form, community and order.[5]

John Allen (J. Allen) Miller was born on August 20, 1866 near Rossville, Indiana. His parents were both Pennsylvania Dutch. His mother was the daughter of a German Baptist minister. His father was a schoolteacher. Miller’s teaching career began at the age of 17. Like his father, Miller was a schoolteacher, until matriculating at Ashland College in the fall of 1887. After earning a B.A. from Ashland College in 1890, Miller went on to Hillsdale College and Hiram College, earning both a B.D. and M.A. from the latter institution. He did further graduate work at the University of Chicago. In 1904, he was awarded a D.D. from Ashland College recognizing his leadership and scholarship to both the college and the church.

Miller served pastorates at Glenford, Ohio (1890-92) and Elkhart, Indiana (1892-94) before returning to Ashland. He served many years as pastor of the Ashland church (now Park Street Brethren Church) in connection with his work at the college.

His service at Ashland College began by stepping in as acting president upon the death of S.S. Garst just one month after assuming office. From 1896-1898 the college was closed due to a lack of funding. Miller and his wife, Clara Worst, were called upon to reopen the college in 1898. From that time forward, Miller’s contribution to church, college and seminary would be as one with feet in all three institutions until his death on March 27-1935. Dale Stoffer lists all the roles that Miller served during his time at Ashland:

  • Professor of History and English Literature (1887-88)
  • Professor of History and Arithmetic (1888-89)
  • Dean of the Theological Department (1894-96, 1898)
  • President of Ashland College (1899-1906)
  • Dean of the Theological Department (1906-13)
  • Dean of Ashland Theological Seminary (1913-33)
  • Professor of New Testament and Greek (1906-35)[6]

This post will utilize Miller as a prototypical Brethren theologian and educator and attempt to unearth values that illuminated Miller’s educational vision as a prototypical Brethren vision for higher education.[7] Miller offers a distinct epistemological posture that includes an appreciation and use of reason alongside revelation (that was different than other Brethren of the period). Much like John Wesley’s now famous quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience[8], Miller’s writing reveals a thinker who operates with a quadrilateral that while classically Brethren/Anabaptist also adds the nuance of reason. The quadrilateral of Miller’s epistemological posture is as follows: Word, reason, Spirit, and community. Miller departs from the antipathy to reason that marked earlier Brethren. While earlier Brethren were accustomed to Word, Spirit, and community, Miller reveals a distinctly Ashland Brethren appreciation of reason.[9] 

Examples of Miller’s dialectical theology are seen in his response to the developing Fundamentalist-Modernist divide plaguing American churches of the early twentieth century. Challenging the denomination he wrote:

To sell out the Brethren birthright in order to be “contemporary” would be to disown a set of truths which the modern world itself needs to hear…. At the same time, however, the church must not be so tied down to culturally defined aspects of its Christian life…that it avoids interaction with the movements and issues of its day and thereby fails to offer a message for society’s pressing needs. This commitment to both tradition and contemporary mission can be balanced only by comparing both with the standard of Scripture and by being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit.[10]

Miller embodied this tension allowing the fulcrum to be the revelation of the Living Word of Jesus as revealed through the cooperation of Word and Spirit in the life of community—a witness that is entirely Christocentric. “The eternal purposes of God,” he wrote, “are centered in Jesus Christ. It is Christ that has perfectly manifested the will of the Father. It is Christ who affected man’s redemption by his atoning death. It is Christ who assists man to first see his infinite possibilities.”[11]

In an article in a December 1928 issue of The Brethren Evangelist entitled “The Sure Foundation,” Miller stressed the centrality of Jesus Christ for Brethren theology (indeed biblical Christianity):

Jesus Christ came into our world as God’s son, incarnate in perfect man;
Jesus Christ spoke for God to men; he revealed the will of God to Men;
Jesus Christ commanded men to hear his message, believe it and obey it.
This message which he revealed personally and through chosen men is the New Testament; as such record it is God’s revelation given through Inspiration.[12]

The ‘why’ to Jesus’ appearance among humanity is seen in the revelation of God’s kingdom to humanity. If Jesus is the ‘why,’ then the kingdom is the ‘what,’ and the church is the ‘how.’ “Miller views the kingdom as the greatest theme of the New Testament. Everything there looks forward to its realization. Christ’s personal return will precipitate the final crisis which will usher in the age to come.”[13]

The centrality of Jesus, revealed through Word and Spirit, for the believing community is essential to Miller’s theology. Stressing the Word over the Spirit leads to legalism—an accusation that was playing out with Fundamentalists of the period. To stress Spirit over Word leads to a hyper-mysticism that is so inward that outward evidences of faith can be lost—an accusation played out with Modernists of the period who were confusing Spirit with the spirit of the age.

For Miller, the purpose of the dialectic between Word and Spirit is not just for Bible study or an emotive worship experience. Instead, these two symbols, held in tension, produce the mystical reality of Christ’s presence. With such a revelation, the Church need not fear cultural engagement within the larger marketplace of ideas. Yet Miller was adamant that the Church not be underprepared when it dialogued with the ideas of the surrounding culture. And, under no circumstances, should the Church be apologetic about its witness and mission. Writing again in his article “The Sure Foundation”:

We must hold a faith that is reasonable, intelligent and compelling. We ought never as ministers and teachers of the Word of God have to beg the question when asked for the grounds upon which our faith rests by replying evasively or charging our questioners with unbelief…I plead for an informed and intelligent ministry. I covet a ministry for the Brethren church that knows the grounds upon which faith can be rested—grounds that can not be shaken by any discovery of history, science, or philosophy.[14]

Miller’s confidence stemmed from his understanding of the authority of the New Testament. “The New Testament is and must remain our ultimate source of information and the final word of authority,” he wrote. “ One must of necessity hold some philosophic worldview. But there must be consistency in one’s thinking and one’s conclusions ought not to contradict this philosophy and dare not be contrary to the Teachings of Christ and the New Testament Revelation.”[15]

With this deep appreciation for the authority of the New Testament, Miller challenged the church

to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ and interpret it anew to the men of our times in the terms of the life of our day. Here we have made mistakes in the past and are still making them. Such mistakes continued will be all but fatal to any marked degree of success in the days to come. Now it is not with the Gospel that we have to find fault. It is with our handling of the gospel that we must break…What I am insisting upon now is that we should be less held by man’s apprehension of the Gospel and his interpretation thereof than by the Gospel itself. We must take the Gospel as it comes from Jesus and give it to men as we find them today.[16]

Not buying into the false dichotomy of the time that posited that righteous conviction was at odds with cultural engagement, Miller allowed the foundation of the New Testament to provide preachers of the day a different understanding of dogmatic claims (which often connoted sectarianism). Commitment to the whole Gospel, Miller argued,

makes us dogmatic. It makes us doctrinal preachers. Mark the words and their order—belief, conviction then character. Also these words in their order, the truths of the Gospel, their unequivocal acceptation, then their fearless proclamation to men. This means that character cannot be divorced from conviction and conviction grows out of one’s beliefs. Therefore it does make all the difference possible what a man believes.[17]

This both/and in Miller’s writings, the conservative-progressive dialectic that shaped his theological inquiry, was one of his greatest gifts to the Brethren Church and evidence of his Anabaptist-Pietist faith. As Stoffer remarks, this gift helped the Brethren rediscover their identity by providing “a better balance between the inward and outward aspects of the ordinances and a recognition of the truth that the Christian life must contain a mystical, spiritual relationship with God denoted by the desire to have the character of Christ informed in one’s own life.”[18] Stoffer continues:

Finally, Miller sought to fain light concerning God’s Word from whatever source he could. Thus, citations from both liberal scholars (William Newton Clarke, William Adams Brown, George Barker Stevens) and conservative scholars (G. Campbell Morgan, A.T. Pierson, James Orr) appear in his works. Yet he remained free from both liberal and fundamentalist systems. He was bound only by his unwavering commitment to Scripture and the philosophical/theological world view developed by a reason enlightened by the Word and the Spirit.[19]

Such an open, liberal arts, compromising (in the best sense of the term) posture is what Miller, and Brethren shaped by him, can bring to the distortions made of the Bebbington quadrilateral (find in the first blog in this series here).

Miller’s leadership posture occured in an era of great anxiety. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were marked by great duress among American Protestants. The urbanization of society, scientific progress, and the boom of the industrial age revealed a fissure between agreed upon understandings of reality as understood biblically and societally.

The reality was a schism occurring because of an inability to differentiate truth as revelation and truth as reason. The resulting polarization of Fundamentalism and Liberalism, or Modernism, became a battle for the great idol of American society—certainty. Both sides employed classical foundationalism to buttress their authoritative claims on society. Therefore, both embodied what Michael Langer calls a “Cartesian anxiety” as long held signifiers gave way to ambiguity and debate. While Fundamentalists would champion the authority of the inerrant Bible, they failed to see how inerrancy was a rational defense of holy Scripture against the onslaught of rationalism. Meanwhile, as Protestant Liberals assailed the ghettoization of theology into archaic propositions known as The Fundamentals (c. 1910), they unknowingly established a cult/religion to reason which postmodernism would begin to unravel in the latter half of the twentieth-century. At the heart of the conflict were competing theological epistemologies.

It is important to define what is meant by “epistemology” and how it relates to both revelation (God revealing himself to humanity) and the authority of Scripture (a tool through which God reveals himself). While Scripture is always a tool through which God reveals himself, Miller departs from earlier Brethren with his acceptance of reason as a tool for God’s revelation. With the inclusion of reason Miller departs from the purely fideistic epistemology of the early Brethren and develops a distinctly Ashland Brethren epistemology. Therefore, the following definitions will prove helpful:

  • Epistemology: an investigation into what differentiates justified belief from opinion. Epistemology explores how we know what we claim to know.
  • Revelation: God’s method by which he reveals himself to his creation (in all forms and expressions).
  • Authority: the identification of and submission to power in such a way as to enact obedience from the one submitting.
  • Reason: the capacity to discern meaning, make judgments, apply logic, and justify belief.
  • American Evangelicalism: Christians who adhere to the Bebbington quadrilateral broadly defined of biblicism, activism, conversionism, and crucicentrism.
  • Protestant Liberalism (also Theological Liberalism): A theological movement rooted in the early nineteenth-century German Enlightenment, notably in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the religious views of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Theological liberalism sought to accommodate the faith to scientific progress.
  • Protestant Fundamentalism: A reactionary movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to theological liberalism and cultural modernism. Fundamentalism stressed biblical inspiration and the infallibility (and often inerrancy) of scripture, the virgin birth of Jesus, a belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the historical reality of the miracles of Jesus. Central thinkers were Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and what came to be known as the “Princeton School.”

In his book, The Impact of American Religious Liberalism, Kenneth Cauthen lists two dominant streams of Protestant Liberalism in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—modernistic liberalism and evangelical liberalism. These two camps, along with the Fundamentalist reaction of the period, sought to mitigate the Cartesian anxiety mentioned earlier of classical foundationalism. Almost all liberals, and modernistic liberals especially, believed in the potential of autonomous reason. Fundamentalists, in response to such a rationalistic outlook, developed a rational system to defend the Bible’s authority known as inerrancy. Into this debate was an attempted third way between modernists and fundamentalists. 

Modernistic liberalism, on the other hand, was more concerned with a modern outlook than historic faith. Such liberals took the “scientific method, scholarly discipline, empirical fact, and prevailing forms of contemporary philosophy as their point of departure.” They therefore “approached religion as human phenomenon, the Bible as one great religious document among others, and the Christian faith as one major religion-ethical tradition among others.” This viewpoint thrived at the University of Chicago in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries under theologians like Shailer Mathews, Shirley Jackson Case, E.S. Ames, and Henry Nielson Wieman.[20]

Citing Cauthen, Dale Stoffer writes that contrary to modernistic liberalism, “evangelical liberalism was denoted by a desire to maintain fidelity to the historic doctrinal and ecclesiastical traditions of Christianity except insofar as modern circumstances required adjustment or change.”[21] Liberals in this camp—such as theologians William Newton Clarke, William Adams Brown, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Walter Rauschenbusch—were thoroughly Christocentric, viewing Christ as God’s chief revelation of moral and religious truth. God’s revelation, however, was seen as in direct continuity with human reason and experience. As Cauthen explains, the Bible was not appealed to because of its authority but its truth validated itself “in experience by virtue of its own inherent reasonableness and practical value.”

Miller’s writings (lectures and sermons), as have already been shown, utilized both liberal and fundamentalist sources. During the first decades of the twentieth century, any openness for any form of liberal thought was anathema to the more Fundamentalist Brethren, many who were vying for control of the ethos of Ashland College and Seminary. A distinction was emerging between Ashland and Grace (Fundamentalist) groups. Contrasting the teaching styles of both groups prior to the 1939 split, Stoffer describes their respective central thinkers, J. Allen Miller and Alva J. McClain (1888-1968) and contrasts their vastly different theological epistemologies. Ashland College and Seminary in the early twentieth century championed a

liberal arts approach to education, that looked at all facets of an issue and that taught students to critically weigh all the evidence [was] championed by educators like J. Allen Miller and by the faculty in general throughout the early decades of the twentieth century. This more open approach was in contrast to that taken by McClain, especially on theological matters. Whereas Miller would have been more at home with a biblical theological model that avoided any theological system, McClain was far more systematic and dogmatic in his approach to theology. He was quite willing to use creedal statements to police people’s orthodoxy, something the Brethren were historically averse to doing.[22]

Miller had great respect for the interplay of both reason and experience/revelation. He writes:

Apart from Revelation, Reason is the ultimatum of man’s capacity, and Conscience of his power. But neither reason nor conscience can solve the great problems of human life. Reason itself is by far too narrow in its range to be an unerring guide through life. Reason illumined, and Conscience quickened by a Divine Revelation will be adequate.[23]

Miller’s challenge was living in the land between the extremes of Fundamentalism and Liberalism. Fundamentalism was quickly making the Bible’s authority synonymous with inerrancy and a suspicion of reason. Liberalism took the Brethren’s traditionally more optimistic anthropology and stress upon the life of Christ and made it synonymous with immanence absent any sort of transcendence and an ethic focused on justice over and against discipleship. Miller quickly rejects any theology that pits incarnation against atonement as the two go hand-in-hand.

Miller’s writings reveal a Pietist epistemology and an Anabaptist service-mindedness. Such emphases formed Miller’s theological leadership and, subsequently, his view of higher education . Let’s look at each of these separately.

Pietist Epistemology

Miller embodes a distinct epistemology that serves as a corrective to the classical foundationalism that was at play in his era. Classical foundationalism believes that knowledge is objective and, therefore, perspective and experience must be bracketed out, which even rules out faith as a potentially corrupting factor. The dilemma is that theology can quickly become cold, hard rationalism sterile of any conversation of emotional, experiential, or spiritual development.

Miller offers a Pietist epistemology as posture that Roger Olson calls “Pietist Perspectivalism.”[24] Counter to the rationalistic epistemology of classical foundationalism, Pietist Perspectivalism is epistemology-as-posture towards the world. Such an epistemology argues that the acquisition of objective knowledge is not possible because we all start from some place (no one starts from a neutral location). Furthermore, it advocates conversional piety in which there is an ongoing transformation of the whole person.

Pietist Perspectivalism, Olson notes, sees the world as God’s good creation, deeply loved by God, and being redeemed through Jesus Christ. With such a view of the world, churches can enlist members as co-creators of the new creation with a posture of love and hope to the larger world. Theology becomes about instilling dispositions/postures towards the world along with information. The church as a whole shares a deep love of creation and hope for the new creation. In Olson’s words:

Christian Pietism is a posture that ‘sees’ all [areas of life] as servants of the missio dei—of God’s mission in the world to heal it and draw it to himself. ‘Integration of faith and learning’ [is] from a Pietist perspective, [and] is not so much subordinating every [area of life] to a rigid, detailed, rationally coherent worldview [but] as regarding every [area of life] as a servant of the mission of God and therefore dedicated to healing, to making whole, to bringing harmony out of chaos and peace out of strife.”[26]

David Eller, a Church of the Brethren theologian agrees with Olson’s posture and argues that this is why the Brethren have been committed to a liberal arts approach to education.

[The] liberal arts have been at the heart of the way Brethren have both thought about and practiced [theology]. What could be more appropriate for those who would practice Christian discipleship than a philosophy that stresses the uniqueness of the individual as a child of God, that underscores the arts of leadership and service, and that holds in balance freedom and responsibility?[27]

Miller would be in full agreement with the purpose of a liberal arts education. His vision, however, while overtly Pietist also consists of an Anabaptist nuance. Indeed, his writings often touch on themes of mutual respect and communal discernment combined in a life of service-mindedness.

Anabaptist Service
Shirley Hershey Showalter writes, “Anabaptist scholars are likely to be lurkers on the periphery rather than upholders of the dominant consensus.”[28]  The reason for such a location is the Anabaptist concern for the life of the church rather than positions of power or influence. Miller’s convictions resonate with this commitment to the life of the church. Miller is first and foremost a churchman and his overarching desire is to develop leaders for the Brethren.

At the same time, Miller can be a provocateur to the Brethren. He has a prophetic voice into the life of his people. Under his prophetic words, however, is a deep concern for the Brethren to know who they are and why they exist. Showalter continues:

[Anabaptist authors] write to serve and to know. They write to understand their deepest questions and in hopes that their communities will benefit. They write to unmask, to defamiliarize, and to challenge, even as they seek the ‘implicate order’ or ‘hidden wholeness’ underneath.[29]

This is at the heart of Miller’s writings. Miller argues for the complexity of the search for truth. He advocates for the diversity of directions that people approach truth, even Christian understandings of truth. Contrary to bounded set belief systems where one believes the right things and is in the organization (like fundamentalist insistence on creeds and statements of faith), Miller espouses a centered set seeking to affirm each believers approach to Christ. This disruption from a movement that just 50 years prior had boundary markers such as plain dress and separation from society, is the dialectical genius of Miller. He stays committed to the authority of the Bible and church all while allowing his tethering to those sources of authority to offer room to roam and explore. This is what made Miller a trusted scholar and leader while simultaneously serving as a prophetic voice to the Brethren Church.

Richard Hughes best captures this dialectic that Miller helped the Brethren retrieve. Describing the life of a vocational Christian scholar, he argues that such a scholar must embrace paradox. Such a posture is essential because

the paradoxical structure of the Christian gospel invites dynamic, paradoxical thinking; precisely the kind of thinking that can sustain openness, diversity, and academic freedom. Paradoxical thinking possesses this singular capability because it allows the scholar to embrace both “yes” and “no” and to embrace these contrasting answers simultaneously. In other words, one who is at home in the world of paradox feels no compulsion to resolve every question into one simple, unambiguous answer. One who is at home in the world of paradox can live with a variety of answers, even conflicting answers, knowing that each of those conflicting answers may well be at least partly correct. The scholar who has built her life on the paradox of the Christian gospel, therefore, has the potential to become a first-rate scholar, for the world of paradox is her native air.[30]

So, quick question, is Miller a Pietistic Anabaptist or an Anabaptized Pietist? Miller’s writings clearly show influences from both camps—Pietism and Anabaptism. From Pietism we find a commitment to liberal arts, an irenic spirit, a value on mentoring, and a commitment to character. From Anabaptism we find a commitment to the life of the church, a rejection of worldliness, a humility and simplicity to the task of education, and the centrality of both Christ and church in the plan of God. With both descriptors there is an adjective and a noun. The question comes down to what is the actual substance of Miller’s writings and what is the distinct descriptor of Miller’s vision? It seems that as a churchman, Miller was an Anabaptized Pietist attempting to breathe new life into old, sometimes legalistic and separatist systems. As an educator, Miller was a Pietist Anabaptist, staying firmly committed to the church but thinking of liberal arts leadership for the larger mission of the church engaged in society. Thus it seems apropos that even Miller’s designation in this section would be both/and—solidly dialectical.

As I wrap up this long post, it’s fitting to return to how those who knew Miller eulogized him. Martin Shively, mentioned earlier, understood Miller’s theological posture quite well:

In fact [Miller] was not at all inclined to argue in defense of any position, but it would have been something of an undertaking to try to change his opinions. He seems to have gone thoroughly into any question which came to him for solution, and when a conclusion was reached, that end had been achieved as a result of careful study and thought, and while he was always open minded, and inclined to yield to the inevitable, his convictions were rarely affected. He was distinctly a man of peace, not only for his own sake, but especially for the sake of the church which he loved with devotion which was absolute. [He] not only loved peace, but made every possible effort to preserve it in every relation with which he was connected.”[31]

Alva McClain, his successor to the dean role at Ashland Seminary (and a leader of the Fundamentalist faction within the Brethren of the period) described Miller quite succinctly, “There is a profound depth to his Christian scholarship and there is a childlike simplicity to his faith.”[32]

In the end, no theological label can be attached to Miller. His childlike faith, centered on Christ, gave him the confidence to even avoid the categories of Fundamentalist and Modernist and to be simply Brethren. W.D. Furry (1874-1959), president of Ashland College from 1911-1919,[33] comes closer than most in depicting Miller’s theological position:

By inheritance, as he often and with a high degree of satisfaction expressed it in private conversation and public address, by temperament and ingrained character of mind, he could be best labeled neither conservative nor liberal alone in all moral and religious matters but rather a liberal conservative…This characteristic was…evident in his doctrinal positions and churchmanship. Always on both these points he was conservative. Yet again in these sermons and addresses [in Christian Doctrines] as well as in discussions on the floor of district and general Conferences he would express himself with views of surprising breadth.[34]

“After all,” Miller would say, “whether conservative or liberal, the best way is to seek to do the right thing is by remaining loyal to our original deposit of faith.”[35]

Next Post: Inerrancy to Christocentric Hermeneutic


[1] Martin Shively, “Some Brethren Church Leaders of Yesterday As I Knew Them: J. Allen Miller, H.M., D.D.,” The Brethren Evangelist 57, no. 32 (August 17, 1935): 7.

[2] Charles A. Bame, “J. Allen Miller as a Bible Teacher,” The Brethren Evangelist 57, no. 32 (April 17, 1935): 5.

[3] Richard Allison, “J. Allen Miller, 1866-1935,” Ashland Theological Journal 15, no. 1 (January 1983): 51.

[4] Ibid, 51-52.

[5] Dale Stoffer, Background and Development of Brethren Doctrines, 1650-1987 (Philadelphia: The Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 1989), 154.

[6] Dale Stoffer, “A Gleam of Shining Hope”: The Story of Theological Education and Christian Witness at Ashland Theological Seminary (1906-2006) and Ashland College/University (1878-2006) (Ashland: Ashland Theological Seminary, 2007), 353.

[7] Prototype theory is a method of categorization in cognitive science in which some members of a category are more central than others. Prototype theory reveals there are mental categories our brains utilize in making associations. This theory is helpful in our attempt to categorize theologians like Miller who are associated with non-creedal movements like Pietism. Peter James Yoder has employed prototype theory to assist in categorically identifying a Pietist theologian. He argues “prototype theory provides one possible avenue for [categorizing] Pietism. The model allows for the recognition of central members of Pietism while providing the possibility for fluid borders.” See Peter James Yoder, “Rendered ‘Odious’ as Pietists: Anton Wilhelm Bӧhme’s Conception of Pietism and the Possibilities of Prototype Theory,” in The Pietist Impulse in Christianity, eds. William G. Carlson, Christopher Gehrz and Christian T. Collins-Winn (Cambridge: James Clarke & Company, 2012), 17-28.

[8] See Waltz, Alan K. A Dictionary for United Methodists. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.

[9] Most Brethren today would recognize the role reason in their study of Scripture. This paper is exploring the turn of the twentieth-century and Miller’s departure from the antipathy to reason that marked most Brethren of the period. This is part of a larger project by the author to develop Miller as a prototypical theologian for the Ashland Brethren (Progressives). There is research that shows that earlier Brethren had an openness to reason though it was not as central to the theological system of the sect as it was for Miller and the Ashland Brethren. Peter Nead also had an openness to reason.

[10] Stoffer, Brethren Doctrines, 247.

[11] Allison, “J. Allen Miller,” 54.

[12] J. Allen Miller, “The Sure Foundation,” Brethren Evangelist 50, no. 52 (December 29, 1928), 3.

[13] Allison, “J. Allen Miller,” 57.

[14] Miller, “The Sure Foundation,” 3.

[15] J. Allen Miller, Christian Doctrine: Lectures and Sermons (Ashland, OH: Brethren Publishing Company, 1946), 280.

[16] J. Allen Miller, “The Forward Look,” The Brethren Evangelist 39, no. 28 (July 4, 1917): 1.

[17] J. Allen Miller, “Does It Matter What a Man Believes?,” The Brethren Evangelist 40, no. 44 (October 16, 1918): 1. “Dogmatic” in Miller’s estimation is not a logical certainty about the faith but, in line with his Pietist roots, a transformation of the entire person. Where the larger theological conversations were discussions of the certainty of the Bible (Fundamentalism) or certainty of reason (Modernism), Miller believes in a both/and where other contemporaries were creating either/or statements.

[18] Stoffer, Brethren Doctrines, 212.

[19] Ibid, 213.

[20] Ibid, 180.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Dale Stoffer, “The Brethren Church: Anabaptist, Evangelical, or Evangelical Anabaptist?,” Brethren Life and Thought 61 (Supplemental 2016): 39.

[23] Miller, Christian Doctrine, 117.

[24] Roger Olson in The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons, ed. Christopher Gehrz (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic 2014), 106.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] David B. Eller, “The Soul of a Brethren College,” Brethren Life & Thought 49, nos. 3-4 (Fall 2004): 193-194.

[28] Shirley Hershey Showalter in Minding the Church: Scholarship in the Anabaptist Tradition, ed. David Weaver-Zercher (Telford, PA: Pandora Press 2002), 255.

[29]Ibid, 256.

[30] Richard T. Hughes. The Vocation of the Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), location 688. Kindle.

[31] Martin Shively, “Some Brethren Church Leaders of Yesterday As I Knew Them,” 8.

[32] A. J. McClain, “The Faith of Doctor Miller,” Ashland College Bulletin, VIII, no. 7 (May, 1935).

[33] After his years as president, Furry then served as an academic dean of the institution from 1919-1933.

[34] Stoffer, Brethren Doctrines, 213.

[35] Ibid.

5 comments on “J. Allen Miller—An Ashland Brethren Prototype

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