I returned home this morning after a full Tuesday at Grove City College. (Nothing like driving for four hours on the Pennsylvania Turnpike only to reach my destination in time to preside over a department meeting!)
My day at Grove City began with a chapel talk. I spoke for about 16 minutes (I was told the floor below me would drop out if I went over the allotted time) on the differences between the United States and the “Kingdom of God.” Now it may seem obvious that the Kingdom of God and the United States are two different things, but sometimes American Christians gets confused about this. The chapel was packed with students (Grove City students are required to attend a certain number of chapels each semester) and the chapel staff, led by Stan Keehlwetter, was very hospitable. I want to give a shout out to Ainsley (I hope I am spelling her name correctly), the student who read scripture before my talk, and to the Grove City cafeteria staff for some great french toast.
After the service, Grove City religion professor Paul Kemeny gave me a quick tour of the chapel’s stained glass windows. We had a great chat about the way these windows reflected the best and the worst of American civil religion. It was then off to coffee with some Grove City faculty. It was here that I finally got to meet Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor and a prolific blogger who has probably done more than anyone, with perhaps the exception of Jon Rowe, to debunk the historical accuracies in the work of David Barton.
One of my favorite things about visiting college campuses is the opportunity I get to interact informally with students. The students that Paul Kemeny gathered together for lunch were very bright and very eager to ask questions about Christian America and the vocation of the historian. We had a particularly lively conversation about some of the differences between history and nostalgia.
My first lecture of the day focused on my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. Those in attendance were well-informed. It was also nice to meet a few members of the Grove City History Department, including American historians Gary Scott Smith and Gil Harp. Gary set me straight about the National Reform Association and shared some of his own expertise on church and state in America.
After a dinner with faculty, I gave an evening lecture for the Grove City Center for Vision and Values. The title was “History for a Civil Society: The Case of Christian America.” Much of the material from the lecture came from my current book manuscript “The Power to Transform: A Reflection on the Study of the Past.”
Grove City College is a great place. I might speak even more highly of the place if Messiah College did not have to compete with it for students. Thanks to Paul Kemeny and Steven Jones for hosting me and to all the students and faculty who came to my talks and took time to chat informally during the course of the day.