Review of "The Man Who Moved a Mountain" by Richard C. Davids

The Man Who Moved a Mountain by Richard C. Davids, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970, 253 pp.
The Man Who Moved a Mountain is the story of Bob Childress, an over-the-top Bill Brasky-like figure who—with a heart for his Virginia mountain people and a love the Bible—swore off alcohol and decided to become a minister. At the age of thirty and relatively uneducated, Childress had a long path set out before him. Not only did he need to finish high school, college, and seminary, he had not yet even been baptized! Through the work of a Presbyterian minister, Roy Smith, Childress found his denominational home, was baptized along with his (second) wife and children, and began his studies. Reading at night and attending school in the day, he quickly passed through high school and was accepted at Davidson College.
With only one year of high school and one year of college Childress with his wife and five children and without any money sought entrance to Richmond Virginia’s Union Theological Seminary. When they would not relax their standards to admit him, he borrowed money from his brother, rented a house nearby, and got special permission to sit in on classes.
Finally the mountain-accented Childress caught a break when first a cash donation came his way from a church lady and then, after making “a high record in every class” the Seminary gave him a scholarship as well as housing on campus.
After graduating from seminary Childress heads back to the mountains, to Buffalo Mountain, perhaps the most shoot-em-up place around. Slowly gaining the confidence of the people there Childress’ mission grew to establishing schools, starting a sawmill, and eventually building churches.
Though the book was certainly interesting from a historical perspective and comical at times, it was on page 79 that I suddenly realized that it was too hagiographic for my tastes. There it is noted that Childress admired the (socialist) President Woodrow Wilson. It was not so much that the book maximizes Childress, but that there is a real paucity of the Biblical religion in it.  Much like the stories of Peter Marshall or Bill Hill, this book evidences a doctrinally weaker side of the Presbyterian church. This is evidenced in, for example, Childress’ use of the un-Presbyterian practice of altar calls, and an over-reaction to Hardshell Baptist views in his denying the foreordination of all things (p. 113). Childress’ work seemed to be more focused on the social gospel than the actual gospel. A major goal was starting schools in the mountains. Another was the reduction of violence, particularly drinking and gunfighting. Yet another, building roads and bridges (p. 124, 130). Childress said to one man, “We can work together to make this place a better one to live in.” (p. 102) And, it was noted, “Bob told the people of Buffalo Mountain that they were ignorant, silly fools who needed the grace of God to civilize them.” (p. 120) And again, “Bob knew he couldn’t change the Buffalo overnight. There were too many things to tackle all at the same time. So he preached and talked about killing and drinking and stilling every chance he got, just as he did about roads.” (p. 137)
One might come away from reading this book thinking that the Gospel was such civilizing itself. If Childress was in fact also interested in preaching the genuine Gospel then perhaps it is the author Davids who overlooked that in favor of telling a story of one man’s grandeur, not God’s.

What Think Ye? - Leave a Reply