The Soul-Winning Century, 1906-2006 : The Humbard Family Legacy … One Hundred Years of Ministry, by Rex Humbard. Dallas, TX: Clarion Call Marketing, 2006.
Since almost the beginning of the twentieth century Pentecostal movement, members of the Humbard family have been engaging in earnest, energetic ministry to reach the lost for Christ. Rex Humbard, whose preaching has graced the airwaves for over 65 years, has now told his family’s story in his memoirs, The Soul-Winning Century.
While Rex Humbard became a household name through his groundbreaking television ministry, his father, Alpha E. Humbard also was an important pioneer preacher in his own right. Alpha Humbard, born in 1890 sixty miles north of Little Rock, Arkansas, had a rough childhood. Poverty, fights, liquor, and hard work dominated the world in which young Alpha was reared. However, he sensed God’s calling at a young age and overcame the odds to answer this call. Alpha was a practical, direct, no-nonsense kind of preacher whose compassion for people, according to this telling, overcame any deficit created by his lack of formal education. Perhaps it was this lack of haute couture – combined with a dependence upon God — that allowed him to touch the masses where they were at.
Alpha once recalled that a seminary-trained minister bitterly complained that, while he was a learned man with good diction and degrees, he could not draw the crowds like Alpha, whom he described as “an old farm boy, a clodhopper who can’t talk good English.” Alpha recalled that he recommended that the minister throw away his cigar, which he was smoking while complaining, and get on his knees and pray (p. 27). Alpha was not alone – his innovative, sometimes rough-and-tumble ways reflected a whole generation of early Pentecostal preachers.
Alpha strove to be a friend of all, but didn’t want to be tied too closely just to one group. He attended the organizational meeting of the Assemblies of God in 1914, but never joined that church. Alpha built up a thriving church, orphanage, and publishing house near Hot Springs. In addition, he issued credentials to more than 250 preachers. Alpha had laid the groundwork for a new denomination. By his son Rex’s estimation, however, the workload became too great. His credentialed ministers, who had rallied around themes of non-sectarianism, bickered over doctrinal details, which led to the dissolution of the group.
Curiously, The Soul-Winning Century contains very little detail about this important chapter in the Humbard family history – the rise and fall of an incipient denomination. (Alpha’s 1945 autobiography, From the Plow Handle to the Pulpit, contained little additional information.) The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC) recently acquired from Rev. Mahlon Midkiff a copy of the January 15, 1922 issue (volume 3, number 5) of Alpha’s Pentecostal newspaper, which sheds light on this segment of early Pentecostalism that eschewed organization. The paper was startlingly reminiscent of the paper that E. N. Bell edited prior to becoming the first Chairman of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Like Bell’s paper, Alpha’s paper was called Word and Witness and was published in Arkansas (Bell’s paper was published in Malvern; Humbard’s was in Pangburn). Bell folded his paper into the Pentecostal Evangel, the official magazine for the newly-organized Assemblies of God, in 1916.
However, Alpha resurrected Word and Witness in about 1919. In the issue held by the FPHC, F. F. Bosworth wrote a treatise on why he believed tongues-speech should not be identified as the initial physical evidence of spirit-baptism, and Reuben A. Gibson (the husband of Christine Gibson, who founded Zion Bible Institute in East Providence, Rhode Island) decried what he deemed to be an inordinate emphasis on ordination and ministerial certificates. Several letters to the editor came from those who preferred the Oneness baptismal formula. Judging from that issue of the paper, Alpha’s group seemed to be the anti-organizational, non-initial evidence version of the Assemblies of God. Indeed, it attracted independent-minded Pentecostals from across the nation, many of whom presumably opposed the Assemblies of God’s adoption in 1916 of the Statement of Fundamental Truths (which was formulated partly in response to the theological controversy brought on by the emergence of the Oneness, or anti-Trinitarian, movement several years earlier). In the end, Alpha’s experiment fizzled at least in part because it proved difficult to organize around an anti-organizational principle. According to Rex, the “bickering over doctrinal details made [Alpha’s] soul ache” (p. 38).
It was into this entrepreneurial Pentecostal preacher’s family that Rex Humbard was born in 1919. In the summer of 1932, young Rex watched a Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus tent fill with crowds in Hot Springs. While he was not allowed to attend such “worldly” diversions, he did draw some heavenly inspiration from the event. He promised himself that he would “spend [his] life trying to put God on Main Street” (p. 42). As he grew up, he saw how gospel music attracted crowds and was impressed by radio’s potential to multiply the evangelistic efforts. Alpha embraced radio ministry to help expand his audience and his congregation, Gospel Temple in Hot Springs.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Rex met his wife, Maude Aimee, while singing gospel music. Rex not only impressed Maude Aimee, but also her pastor, Albert Ott of Bethel Temple Assembly of God. Ott brought the Humbards on staff at his Dallas church. Rex and Maude Aimee married in 1942 and traveled with the Humbard family ministry for the next ten years. Following a successful meeting in Akron, Ohio, Rex decided to leave the family ministry and to pastor a local church in 1953. The Akron congregation, Calvary Temple, was renamed Cathedral of Tomorrow when a large round building was erected in 1958. Seating 5,400 people, it became one of the largest churches in the nation.
Rex Humbard was a pioneer in television ministry. He attracted millions of viewers to his sermons between 1958 and 1982 broadcast over more than 600 stations. The broadcasts were from the Cathedral of Tomorrow, which later was sold to televangelist Ernest Angley in 1994.
Rex, like his father, did not teach initial evidence doctrine and emphasized evangelism rather than Pentecostal distinctives. This caused some confusion among some evangelicals and Pentecostals, who were uncertain which camp he was in.
He recounted the struggles faced by most media ministries in the 1980s after the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals. Stations had increased the cost to purchase airtime by tenfold, and the integrity of television preachers was impugned. Rex noted, “the percentage of our audience comprised of sinners … kept decreasing. Television, once a novelty where a spiritually needy person might turn for help, had become branded in people’s minds as a place where Christian organizations hustled for dollars. In the meantime, our ministry would be guilty by association” (p. 237).
In The Soul-Winning Century, Rex offers glimpses into his relationships with some of the giants within the evangelical and Pentecostal worlds, including Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. He also provides sober insights about the fall of the PTL empire, gleaned from his relationship with Jim Bakker and from his position on the PTL board following the scandal.
The Humbard family not only witnessed a century of Pentecostal expansion, they contributed significantly to the growth of the worldwide movement. The Soul-Winning Century provides an overview of the lives and ministries of Alpha and Rex Humbard and their families. This memoir will be a welcome addition to the libraries of those whose lives have been touched by their ministry. Scholars and historians will lament the lack of detail concerning many of the significant activities with which the Humbards have been involved. A more comprehensive, scholarly account of the Humbards’ influence on the emerging global Christian movement remains to be written. Still, this volume is an important reflection back upon lives well-lived and will help future generations to better understand the entrepreneurial and evangelistic heritage of Pentecostalism.
Reviewed by Darrin J. Rodgers
Hardcover, 252 pages, illustrated. $25.00 plus postage. Order from: Benny Hinn Ministries.