The Disciples of Christ, one of the first Christian faiths to have originated in America, was established in 1832 in Lexington, Kentucky, by the union of two groups led by Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. The modern churches resulting from the union are known collectively to religious scholars as part of the Stone-Campbell movement. If Stone and Campbell are considered the architects of the Disciples of Christ and America's first nondenominational movement, then Kentucky's Raccoon John Smith is their builder and mason. Raccoon John Smith: Frontier Kentucky's Most Famous Preacher is the biography of a man whose work among the early settlers of Kentucky carries an important legacy that continues in our own time. The son of a Revolutionary War soldier, Smith spent his childhood and adolescence in the untamed frontier country of Tennessee and southern Kentucky. A quick-witted, thoughtful, and humorous youth, Smith was shaped by the unlikely combination of his dangerous, feral surroundings and his Calvinist religious indoctrination. The dangers of frontier life made an even greater impression on John Smith as a young man, when several instances of personal tragedy forced him to question the philosophy of predeterminism that pervaded his religious upbringing. From these crises of faith, Smith emerged a changed man with a new vocation: to spread a Christian faith wherein salvation was available to all people. Thus began the long, ecclesiastical career of Raccoon John Smith and the germination of a religious revolution. Exhaustively researched, engagingly written, Raccoon John Smith is the first objective and painstakingly accurate treatment of the legendary frontier preacher. The intricacies behind the development of both Smith's personal religious beliefs and the founding of the Christian Church are treated with equal care. Raccoon John Smith is the story of a single man, but in carefully examining the events and people that influenced Elder Smith, this book also serves as a formative history for several Christian denominations, as well as an account of the wild, early years of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
"An extremely well-researched and well-written study. Sparks engages readers from the very beginning with his introspection into how and why he has undertaken the task of examining this interesting and complex figure in American Christianity." -- Douglas A. Foster, Abilene Christian University
"The author displays an encyclopedic knowledge of Appalachian religion.... Nicely describes a world of fierce frontier religious controversy, which often proved as divisive as the secular politics of the day.... Recommended." -- Choice
"Filled with extensive detail on religion, politics, society, and personal struggles and accomplishments, this is also an excellent history of pre-Civil War Kentucky, especially in terms of the formation, development, and conflicts among various churches and denominations." -- Kentucky Kaleidoscope
"Sparks is the first to objectively analyze the mythologized minister, and his extensive research and cross-referencing of sources and facts ensure the preservation of a more comprehensive and factually correct history of Raccoon John Smith for future generations. A great epic on the religious fibre of Kentucky." -- Manchester (KY) Enterprise
"Mountain preachers have a rich and colorful history, but none more so than Raccoon John Smith." -- Modern Mountain Magazine
"All scholars interested in Raccoon John Smith, especially the Baptists of Kentucky, are indebted to Sparks because of his immersion into the primary Baptist sources." -- Thomas H. Olbricht, Restoration Quarterly
""[John Smith] has certainly earned a spot in the myth of the frontier. Raccoon John Smith goes a long way toward placing Kentucky's most famous preacher in that place." -- Ohio Valley History" --