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A Book Review

David C. Bennett, D. Min

April 10, 2005.

Can a separatist be gracious? Those with whom he disagrees may not always think of him as gracious but E. J. Poole-Conner is said to be such a man. CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH is an abridged and revised edition, 2005, of the original book entitled: E. J. POOLE-CONNER, ‘Contender for theFaith’ published in 1966 and written by David G. Fountain. This latest edition is published by The Wakeman Trust in the United Kingdom.

Most of my readers are aware of the battles fought between fundamentalism and modernism in the United States and such names as Bob Jones, Frank Norris, G. B. Vick, and Robert Ketcham are very familiar. But the fundamentalist-modernist battle on the other side of the Atlantic is not as well known except for perhaps Spurgeon’s Down-Grade Controversy. So with CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH, I was introduced to a new personality, E. J. Poole-Conner (1872-1962).

The forward of the original book is included in this new and revised edition. It was written by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones dated February, 1966. Dr. Jones said the author "David Fountain has produced a perfect blend of history and doctrine which is most instructive and thought-provoking. The reading of this book cannot but clarify the thinking of all who are deeply concerned about evangelical witness at the present time and in the years that lie ahead."

Our brethren in England held to the term evangelical rather than taking on the name fundamentalist as they in the United States did. Whatever the name, evangelical or fundamentalist, the battle was the same. I believe E. J. Poole-Conner would have been termed a fundamentalist if he had lived in the United States. It is interesting, to me anyway, that here is a man that heard Spurgeon preach but died just one year before I graduated from high school! That puts the time period of his life into a different perspective for me.

E. J. Poole-Conner was what is termed a Nonconformist of whom it is said that they "…went to the meeting to find God among His saints." What do we go to the "meeting" for in our day?

In England as in the United States "as the churches became more ‘influential’ within society they began to drift away from their spiritual moorings." This statement is speaking of the time not soon after the 1859 Great Awakening. If it was evident in the churches then so close to revival what would be said of our churches today? It is stated quite well in that "As Nonconformists were accepted by society, so society was accepted by Nonconformity. The idea that the successful church is the socially busy church began to be popular and sermons on moral, literary, and social topics became more frequent towards the end of the century." The situation hasn’t gotten any better has it?

Poole-Conner saw a departure from the Book during his lifetime because the evangelical leaders did not separate from false teachers. This acceptance took away the evangelicals faithfulness to the Word and their power from God. The author well said on page 40 that "The people of God themselves were responsible for the great apostasy."

While Nonconformist churches and its Gospel were growing in influence within society "at the same time it became an increasingly shallow Gospel." Is this not exactly what we see today?

Chapter Five is entitled HERITAGE LOST – How Higher Criticism Gained a Foothold. On page 52 we read "The comparative ease with which higher criticism gained entrance into English churches in the latter part of the 19th century was due to the fact that it became acceptable to many who were within the churches. Remarkable, the authority of the Bible had never been before seriously questioned by the people within the professing church." The author states this unbelief criticism came to England from Germany. He says the English "opposing school of thought" were "scholars such as Westcott, Lightfoot and Hort, of Cambridge." I am glad he did not stop there but went on to say "But these were themselves higher critics, and did not disagree with the idea of approaching the Bible with a critical attitude." The author went on to say that Westcott, Hort, and Lightfoot "…would soon come out in their true colours, undermining evangelicalism." Not soon after 1800 higher criticism gained a foothold in England. Of course in 1881 the English speaking world had the publication of the English Revised Standard Version. Since then the English speaking world has been inundated with new English versions of the Bible all differing from one another. This is soil rich for questioning the Word of God! Even our

"fundamentalist" brothers in the United States and Australia have swallowed higher criticism in questioning the Words of the Word. It is said "Poole-Conner considered that the theological colleges were mainly responsible for the apostasy." So it is in the theological college that our brethren have come to accept the Westcott and Hort false Greek text. These evangelical/fundamentalist brethren are described on page 55 when it says that "Though they knew it was the revelation from God, they approached it as though they were in a position to make an independent enquiry into its content."

E. J. Poole-Conner opposed this critical view of the Word of God. This criticism extended to his contribution of articles in the Bible League Quarterly critiquing the World Council of Churches and the Revised Standard Version. In 1961 Poole-Conner wrote negatively against the New English Bible saying "If this is the manner in which the new version is to explain away the essential nature of our Lord’s atonement, we tremble for the consequences of its circulation." The leaven of higher criticism and its unbelief continues its work to our day. Our "fundamental" brethren may deny they are higher critics but when man stands as judge over the Word of God what is he?

Sadly, E. J. Poole-Conner was interdenominational in that he believed churches could join hands under the banner of the "fundamentals" of the faith. Because of this belief he was instrumental in the formation of the Fellowship of Undenominational and Unattached Churches and Missions in 1922. This group was later renamed the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. But this organisation as with all church associations saw the "increase of ‘centralised power.’" The author rightfully says on page 168 that "Nowhere do we find an organized fellowship group in any region of the New Testament lands. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3 no visible organisation united the seven churches." Amen.

Doctrinally E. J. Poole-Conner declared himself a Calvinist but it is said he "saw that there was a danger in emphasising election too much" and he also rejected limited atonement. Poole-Conner saw the teaching of doctrine as central to a strong church and it was the lack of such preaching that he saw the door opened for "an increasing shallow Gospel."

E. J. Poole-Conner lived in another place and much of his life in another time but the battles he fought were the much the same as ours are today. I am glad I was introduced to E. J. Poole-Conner.


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Missionaries David and Pamela Bennett

The Bennetts Serving the Lord in Australia Since 1979.

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