I spent the day on Tuesday in the Greenville, South Carolina area where I was honored to deliver the inaugural Boggs-Hickson Lecture at North Greenville University (NGU). The lecture is endowed by Robert Boggs, an instructor in history at NGU since 1999 and a former United Methodist minister with a degree from Duke Divinity School. Boggs grew up in rural north Greenville County–where his parents worked in the mill but encouraged their children to pursue education and opportunities for learning. Boggs endowed this lecture in memory of his late mother, Melree, who taught him to love his home and pursue “knowledge of the world.” In a short speech at a dinner before the lecture, Boggs connected his story to Philip Vickers Fithian’s story in The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Needless to say, I was moved by his comments and overjoyed that my telling of Fithian’s life resonated with Robert in this way.
North Greenville University is a small Southern Baptist school with a faculty that comes from many evangelical traditions. It seems to be a school on the rise under the leadership of new president Gene Fant and new provost Nathan Finn. The Boggs-Hickson Lecture is just one of the many ways NGU is trying to build a college committed to serious faith and serious learning.
I also enjoyed getting to know some of the history faculty at NGU. It was such a pleasure spending time with Paul Thompson, the Dean of the Humanities and Chair of the History Department. I had met Paul a few times over the years through the Conference on Faith and History, but I had no idea that we grew up only a few miles from one another in North Jersey! We had some great conversations about Christian colleges, Southern Baptists, our life journeys and, of course, American history.
My lecture was titled “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” The audience was filled with old friends and new ones, including TWOILH cheerleader and patron Brenda Schoolfield, the chair of the history department at Bob Jones University. I was happy to touch base again (and in some cases meet face-to-face for the first time) with other Bob Jones historians, including Rachel Larson, Mark Sidwell, and John Matzko. My old Messiah friend Matt Hunter made the trip from Southern Wesleyan University and I also got to spend a few minutes chatting with Clemson sociologist Andrew Whitehead (whose work I cited in the lecture).
During the day, Mark Yandle was nice enough to let me invade his African American history course where I met with six very thoughtful undergraduates. I also got to spend some extended time chatting with the ever-curious Brendan Payne, a Baylor history Ph.D who is in his first year of teaching at NGU.
My favorite moment of the visit, however, was when a very bright NGU student told me that “we need to get a copy of your book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past into the hands of every Christian in America.” High praise indeed! 🙂