Dr. Earl Irvin West, writes the following, in Search for The Ancient Order.
“Unquestionably the most influential preacher in the Southland before the War between the States was Tolbert Fanning.”
We want to give you a brief introduction on the life of Tolbert Fanning and his place in what we call the Restoration Movement. Tolbert Fanning was born in Cannon County, Tennessee on May 10, 1810.
Earl Irvin West, in Search For the Ancient Order, had this to say,
Around 1818 the family moved from Tennessee into Lauderdale County in northern Alabama. Here Fanning grew up amidst the poverties of pioneer life and learned the value of hard work and economy.
He grew up in poverty in Northern Alabama. Tolbert Fanning was baptized into Christ on October 1, 1826. Although his first attempts to preach were not too good, he developed into an outstanding Gospel preacher. One of his students, T. B. Larrimore wrote these words in Franklin College and Its Influences.
“Tolbert Fanning was, in some respects a preacher without a peer. His preaching possessed some strikingly peculiarities. He evidently believed without distressing, disturbing doubt or mental reservations, the Gospel to be ‘the power of God unto salvation’. He never tired preaching it in its peerless, primitive purity and sweet sublime simplicity, without much variety or phraseology, but with pathos that carried conviction to the hearts of those who diligently heard him.”
From around 1830 he lived in and around central Tennessee. In 1845 he established Franklin College. Many of its graduates became some of the Southland’s greatest preachers. Fanning was also a journalist. From 1844-48 he edited the Christian Review. Nevertheless, the most important paper that he was to edit would come later. In 1855, along with William Lipscomb, the brother of David Lipscomb, Fanning started the Gospel Advocate After the Civil War was over Fanning and David Lipscomb edited the Advocate. David Lipscomb assumed full control of the Advocate in 1867.
Perhaps a word about Fanning’s position on the Missionary Society is in order. From the beginning he considered unscriptural. However, many great names of the Movement favored its use including Alexander Campbell, W. K. Pendleton, J. W. McGarvey, Robert Richardson and a host of others. At this time Benjamin Franklin favored it but later changed his position to one of opposition. Fanning believed that the local congregation was God’s Missionary Society. E. G. Sewell wrote this tribute to Tolbert Fanning in the Gospel Advocate of May 21, 1874,
“He never had much confidence in human plans and human schemes in religion by which to do the work of the church, and as he advanced in life, and studies the Scriptures more, he had less and less.”
Tolbert Fanning died on the Lord’s Day, May 3, 1874.