The Pot-Smoking Dutch Calvinists Who Stopped “worshipping the Ph.D.” and Gave Their Students “guerrilla credentials.”

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Institute of Christian Studies, Toronto

I don’t pretend to know much about Dutch Calvinism in America or the differences between Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd. (There are good books on the subject, I would start with the work of James D. Bratt). But I know these differences mean a great deal to the Christian intellectuals who live in places like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Sioux Center, Iowa. Having said that, I have been learning a lot about this unique religious culture since both of my daughters started attending Calvin University in Grand Rapids. In fact, my youngest daughter, a political science major, just finished reading Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism for a course in political philosophy. It has made for some good quarantine conversations.

I also knew that Dutch Calvinists have a presence in Canada where they established educational institutions such as the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto), Kings University (Edmonton), and Redeemer University (Ancaster, Ontario).

It is the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) that provides the focus of David Swartz‘s recent piece at The Anxious Bench: “The Reformed Evangelicals Who Smoked Pot in Toronto.” Here is a taste:

ICS adherents castigated what they viewed as the quaint moralisms of their home denomination. The Christian Reformed Church, they felt, was failing to address pressing social issues.

For instance, the denomination’s periodical explained in the mid-1960s that even if John F. Kennedy’s assassination left his agenda incomplete, still Christ could declare, “It is finished.” Hendrik Hart, James Olthuis, Bernard Zylstra, and other young turk Reformationalists at the ICS—typically fiery personalities in their early thirties—denounced such lines as pietistic sophistry. Instead, they envisioned new radical, socially active Reformed communities all over North America.

By the early 1970s, the ICS had evolved into an idiosyncratic fusion of Dutch ethnicity and political counterculture. Its constituency came mostly from children of the 185,000 Dutch immigrants who entered Canada between 1947 and 1970 because of a stagnant economy in the Netherlands. Tobacco and marijuana were pervasive at the Toronto school. Baggy jeans and tattered corduroy hung on gaunt frames, and beards proliferated. Communal living in several large houses in Toronto was common. Requiring no assignment deadlines, grades, transcripts, or degrees, ICS nurtured a profoundly anti-establishment ethos that stressed collegiality over hierarchy. Its administrative structure evolved into what faculty member Peter Schouls called “coordinate decentralization,” a system in which employees were accountable to boards and committees, not other individuals. An advertisement for ICS in the early 1970s read, “Are you going to grad school? Try the House of Subversion. … We are subverting the American university structure. We don’t have million dollar buildings. … We aren’t scholarly imperialists. We’ve stopped worshipping the Ph.D. We give guerrilla credentials.”

Read the entire piece here. It draws from Swartz’s book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. Swartz shows how Grand Rapids Dutch Calvinists associated with Calvin College tried to moderate the radicalism of ICS and connect with moderates and progressives within evangelicalism.  It’s a fascinating read.

Calvin University Loosens Religious Requirements for Faculty

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Both of my daughters attend Calvin University. The university recruited my oldest daughter to play for its national-championship caliber NCAA Division III volleyball program, but ultimately her decision was based on Calvin’s reputation for Christian learning. She will graduate in May after completing a double major in history and psychology.  My youngest daughter is finishing her freshman year at Calvin. She is majoring in politics. She initially did not want to follow her sister to Calvin, but after visiting a lot of first-rate Christian colleges, she concluded that Calvin was the best fit for her. (Both of my daughters seriously considered Messiah College, but chose Calvin because they did not want to go to college a few miles from home).

Calvin is a confessional school. It is connected to the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The school’s Reformed faith informs its educational mission. My daughters were not raised in the Christian Reformed Church, nor would they consider themselves “Calvinists” or “Reformed.” But I suggested that they look at Calvin because of the kind of academic rigor that has long been associated with the Reformed faith.

Calvin has always placed strict requirements on its faculty. Faculty needed to affirm Reformed creedal statements, attend Christian Reformed churches (or similar Reformed congregations), and send their kids to Christian Reformed schools in the Grand Rapids area.

But it appears that things are changing at Calvin. Here is a taste of Juliana Knot’s piece at Chimes, the Calvin University student newspaper:

Calvin faculty are no longer required to be members of the Christian Reformed Church and to send their children to Christian day schools. Faculty senate voted to approve the change on April 21, and the board of trustees approved this unanimously on May 8.

Faculty are now able to attend “a Calvin University-supporting Protestant congregation” in addition to a CRC congregation or a church in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC. This church must be a Protestant congregation that affirms the three creeds of unity (Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and Apostles’ Creed), as well as accept that the faculty member attending there affirms the Reformed creeds (the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dordt).

The new policy states that faculty will be expected to articulate an understanding and affirmation of “essential Reformed Christian theological ideas” as part of their tenure and five-year tenure review. Calvin will enter into “strategic partnerships” with the churches that faculty attend, both non-CRC and CRC.

Mirroring the stance of the CRC, Calvin is no longer mandating that faculty send their children to Christian day schools, but is still encouraging them to do so. The report to faculty senate stated that professors applying for tenure will be expected “to articulate a Reformed Christian view of education and to describe how they actively support Christian education.”

Read the rest here.

What is the Difference Between Liberty University and Messiah College?

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The covered bridge on the campus of Messiah College

Yesterday in my Created and Called for Community class at Messiah College we discussed different kinds of Christian colleges. We thought about the things a Christian college requires all faculty to affirm, the issues a Christian college “privileges” (but does not necessarily require faculty to agree with), and the issues on which a Christian college does not take an official position.  (Most of our discussion built on the work of Messiah College provost Randy Basinger).

Faculty at Messiah College must be Christians.  All faculty must affirm the Apostles Creed.  We thus have Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faculty.  Other Christian colleges require faculty to affirm more than just the Apostles Creed.  For example, faculty at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan must affirm the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. Wheaton College and Gordon College do not hire Catholics.

Messiah College privileges social and religious positions that line-up with the school’s historic Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist roots.  For example, as a college with Anabaptist roots, Messiah privileges pacifism. As a school with Anabaptist and Wesleyan roots, the college privileges the ordination of women.  But a faculty member does not have to be a pacifist or believe in the ordination of women to teach at the college.  We have faculty who are advocates of a “just war” position and we have faculty from denominations (traditional Catholics and Orthodox, conservative Presbyterians, and complementarian evangelical churches) that do not ordain women.

And there are all kinds of issues on which Messiah College does not have a position.  For example, the college does not take a position on political candidates or parties.

All of this makes for a vibrant and diverse Christian intellectual community.

During our conversation in class, a few students brought up Liberty University.  What does Liberty require of faculty?  What positions and issues does Liberty privilege? What are the issues on which the university does not take a position?

For example, last month we highlighted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership of VEXIT, a movement started by Virginia counties and localities who want to leave the Commonwealth and join the state of West Virginia. Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is not happy with proposed legislation to restrict gun rights in Virginia.

VEXIT is getting a boost from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, a think tank created to “equip courageous champions to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, to advance his kingdom and American freedom”:

The Falkirk Center is connected to Liberty University.  In a January 20, 2020 piece at the Liberty Champion, student journalist Hattie Troutman writes: “The idea for the center was presented by [co-founder Charlie Kirk] when he pitched the idea to Falwell last year. [Executive Director Ryan] Helfenbein said Falwell received the idea well, knowing that if Liberty was to be in a partnership with the center, it must be rooted in the Gospel and represent Liberty University’s missional values.”

So there you have it.  The Falkirk Center is an extension of the mission of Liberty University.  The Falkirk Center promotes VEXIT.  It thus appears that Liberty University privileges VEXIT.

A quick read of the Falkirk Center Twitter feed suggests that the university also privileges gun rights, BREXIT, Donald Trump, free markets, and a pro-life position on abortion. If Messiah College is rooted in the historic Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions, Liberty University is rooted in the (very short) history of the Christian Right.

At Messiah College, we also have “centers” that support beliefs that the college privileges:

  • We have a center for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies that promotes issues related to peace, reconciliation, heart-felt conversion, and personal and social holiness.”
  • We have a Center for Public Humanities with a mission to promote the study of the humanities and “partner with our broader community in meaningful inquiry, conversation, and action.”
  • We have a center devoted to the work and legacy of former U.S. Commissioner of Education and Messiah graduate Ernest L. Boyer.  The Boyer Center “advances educational renewal for the common good.”
  • We have a center called The Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.  This center has a mission to “foster justice, empower the poor, promote peace and care for the earth through applications of our academic and professional disciplines.”

Because Messiah College is a Christian college informed by the history and theology of the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan movements, the college supports centers that reflect the things the college privileges.  Liberty University also has a center that supports the things Liberty University privileges.

Not all Christian colleges are the same.  High school students and their parents should be aware of this.

The Created and Called for Community course continues next week with some additional exploration of Messiah College’s Christian identity.  Follow along here.

Meeting George Marsden

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Some of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog will recognize the name George Marsden.  He is the author of many award-winning books on American religious history and higher education including Fundamentalism and American CultureReforming FundamentalismThe Soul of the American University,  The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (winner of the 2004 Bancroft Prize), and The Twilight of the American Enlightenment.  He spent his academic career teaching at Calvin College, Duke Divinity School, and the University of Notre Dame.

I did not study with Marsden, but his books and work are part of the reason I entered the historical profession.  When I think of a Christian historian, I think of George Marsden.  The opportunity I had a few years ago to share the stage with Mark Noll and George remains one of the highlights of my career.  Since then, he has blurbed one of my books and I have had the honor to blurb a couple of his.

Yesterday, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, Calvin Theological Seminary  in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where George now does some teaching in retirement) honored his life and career by having one of his former students, James Bratt, do a public interview with him.

Since George moved back to Grand Rapids after his retirement from Notre Dame he has attended a few Calvin College women’s volleyball games and has become a fan of the team.  As many of you know, my daughter Allyson, a history and psychology double-major at Calvin, plays on the volleyball team.  Whenever George would tell me that he attended a game I would pass the news along to Ally.  (“Hey Ally, a famous historian came to your game last night!”).

So when I learned about the event at Calvin Theological Seminary I sent a text to Ally:  “George Marsden has come to your volleyball games.  You need to return the favor and go to this interview.”  I did not expect her to attend (what college student listens to her father when he tells her to go to a lecture on campus!), so needless to say I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that she not only attended but also introduced herself to George and asked for a photo with him! Very cool.

George, if you’re reading this, thanks for being so gracious with Ally!  And Ally, I hoped you learned something by attending this event!  🙂

The Fea Girls on the Championship Road

I am always proud of my daughters, but I am especially excited for them this week.

Caroline, a high school senior, is playing on Tuesday night in the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Athletic Association (PIAA) state semifinal game in the hopes of advancing to the state championship game on Saturday.  I wrote a bit about the Mechanicsburg Wildcat’s girls soccer team here.  Last Saturday afternoon they advanced to the semifinals with a thrilling 2-1 double overtime victory over Archbishop Ryan High School in 30 degree weather and howling winds.

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Caroline at the team banquet last week

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Caroline’s team has 11 seniors

Allyson, a junior right side hitter on the Calvin College women’s volleyball team, will compete this weekend in Pittsburgh for the NCAA Division 3 National Championship.  On Saturday night they won an epic 5-set match against Wittenberg University to advance to the round of 8.  I have no idea why the #1 ranked team in the country (Calvin) faced the #3 ranked team in the country (Wittenberg) in a regional final, but that’s what happened.   Either team could have won this game and both deserve to be in the Elite 8 this weekend in Pittsburgh.   It was a sweet win for Calvin.  Last season Wittenberg defeated Calvin on their home court in the national semifinals.

Sarah and Ally

Ally is #19

Ally and Dad

Playoff Season in the Fea Household!

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Some of you have been following the exploits of the Mechanicsburg Girls Soccer team.  They are currently 21-0 and ranked 16th in the nation according to USA Today.  Tonight Caroline and her team the play Manheim Central High School (Lancaster area) for the District 3 Championship at Hershey Park Stadium.  If you are interested, the game starts at 5:3pm.

Meanwhile, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Calvin College (26-1) will be trying to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Division 3 volleyball tournament.  Allyson is a starting right-side hitter on a team that has been ranked #1 in the nation for most of the season.  Calvin will secure an automatic bid by winning the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament this weekend.  And even if they lose, it is likely that they will receive an at-large bid.  (In 2016, they rode an at-large bid to the National Championship).

So what does this mean for the proud parents.? Joy just left for Grand Rapids.  She will be spending the weekend watching volleyball.  I am staying here in south central Pennsylvania and will be watching soccer in Hershey tonight.

We never expected that our November would be so busy or that we would have to split-up to watch our kids compete for championships.  (I played sports through college, but never came close to winning anything! 🙂 )

Stay tuned!

Reflections on the 2018 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

The 2018 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History is over.  As program chair, I spent most of the weekend pinch-hitting for folks who were unable to come and making sure our plenary speakers were comfortable.  This is what program chairs do.  If I passed you in the hallway at the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College and did not stop to chat please forgive me.  I hope we can catch-up soon.

I wanted to blog a lot more than I did this weekend.  I got off to a good start on Thursday night, but then fell silent.  If you want to learn all the cool things that happened this weekend check out the conference Twitter feed: #cfh2018.  I am sure Chris Gehrz will eventually have a wrap-up post at The Pietist Schoolman.

Here are some of my highlights:

On Friday morning I chaired Session 12: “Christian Historiography: Kuyper, Ellul and O’Donovan.”  As I listened to Richard Riss’s excellent paper on Jacques Ellul, I realized that I should have read more of this French philosopher as I prepared to write Believe Me.

On Friday afternoon, I spent some time with Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn of Syracuse University.  Elisabeth’s plenary address, “The Art of Living, Ancient and Modern,” challenged us to consider the third-century Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus as a way of countering the therapeutic culture of modern life.  Lasch-Quinn pushed us to move beyond the pursuit of the “good life” and consider what it might mean to live a “beautiful life.”

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Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn delivers here Friday afternoon keynote address

Following Lasch -Quinn’s lecture and before the evening banquet, I got to spend time with my favorite Calvin College history major

Ally at CFH

Beth Allison Barr of Baylor University is the new president of the Conference on Faith and History and the organization’s second female president.   Her presidential plenary drew heavily on medieval sermons on the roles of women in the Church as a way of thinking about the place of women in the today’s church and the Conference on Faith and History.  She encouraged the conference to respect the past and move toward the future by listening to the voices of the record number of women in attendance.

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Beth Allison Barr delivering her 2018 presidential address

On Friday evening, I got together with some old friends at a Grand Rapids funeral home that has been converted into a bar and grill.  As you see from the photo below, much of the stained glass from the funeral home chapel was preserved.

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With Eric Miller (Geneva College), Jay Green (Covenant College), and Jon Boyd (InterVarsity Press)

Saturday began with a panel on Messiah College’s Civil Rights bus tour.  It was a great session and it made me proud to be part of Messiah’s work in the area of racial reconciliation.  It was also a privilege to chair a session with three of my Messiah colleagues.  Next time I won’t put them at 8:00am. (Sorry guys!)

After the Civil Rights session I had coffee with our latest sponsor of The Way of Improvement Leads Home PodcastBob Beatty of the Lyndhurst Group.  If you are a community leader, a historical site administrator, or a museum professional, the Lyndhurst Group can help you with your public history outreach.  Bob is a great guy with lot’s of energy, enthusiasm, expertise, and experience. We are so happy that he is sponsoring the podcast.

After the CFH board meeting, I dropped in on Robert Orsi‘s plenary address, “The Study of Religion on the Other Side of Disgust.”  Orsi argued that scholars of religion must learn to pay attention to the relationship between religion and “horrors” such as pogroms, crusades, slavery, racism, misogny, and other “brutalities of everyday life.”  He suggested that “there may come a time when the human being who is also a scholar of religion reaches a limit of disgust.”  Beyond this limit, Orsi argued, “distinctions, qualifications, countervailing evidence, parsings, and other theoretical or hermeneutical subtleties fail.”  Orsi spent most of his time reflecting on “disgust” as a category of analysis in the context of the Catholic sexual abuse scandals.  It was a tough session to sit through, but many felt it was necessary.

Orsi at Calvin

Late Saturday afternoon I chaired a session that may have been one of the best CFH panels I have ever attended.  Session 53, titled “Theology and Spirituality in the Doing of History,” included three magnificent papers on the place of love and Christian spirituality in the doing of history.  Wendy Wong Schirmer, a newcomer to the CFH, argued that Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclicals on love can help us think Christianly about the historian’s craft.  Brad Pardue of College of the Ozarks talked about how he integrates Christian practices into his history courses.  Mark Sandle of The King’s University (Alberta) delivered a powerful paper on loving the dead in the context of the archives. I hope all three of these papers will be published in Fides et Historia, the journal of the Conference on Faith and History.

It is not easy putting a 56-session conference together, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of Joel Carpenter, Ellen Hekman, Jay Green, Eric Miller, Devon Hearn, and Robin Schwarzmann.  Thank you.  I am now going to take a nap.

When at Calvin College…

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This past weekend I was on the campus of Calvin College.  On Saturday I was part of a capacity crowd at Calvin’s athletic arena watching the Knights defeat Hope College in a battle of nationally ranked teams.

While I was on campus I took a walk through the Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve.  For those of you coming to Calvin next week for the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, I highly recommend reserving some down time for a walk in the woods.  One of the access points to the trails is located behind the Prince Conference Center.

Here are some pics:

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Will You Be Attending the Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History in October?

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I hope so.  October 4-6 in Grand Rapids, MI

Our keynote speakers are Margaret Bendroth, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Beth Allison Barr, and Robert Orsi.

Other historians on the program include: Joel Carpenter, John Woodbridge, Brad Gundlach, Steven Keillor, Timothy Hall, Ted Davis, Jared Burkholder, David Swartz, Scott Culpepper, Trisha Posey, Fred Jordan, Bernardo Michael, Chris Gehrz, Jon Boyd, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Ron Wells, John Turner, Amy Easton-Flake, Rachel Cope, Fred Buettler, Mike Kugler, Michael Hammond, Eric Miller, Jeff Bilbro, Timothy Gloege, Dwight Brautigham, Rick Kennedy, Richard Gamble, Elesha Coffman, Karen Johnson, Douglas Howard, Anthony Minnema, Amy Poppinga, Ron Rittgers, John Giggie, Jemar Tisby, Beth Barton Schweiger, Jonathan Den Hartog, Jennifer Hevelone-Harper, Glenn Sanders, Janine Giordano Drake, Andrea Turpin, George Marsden, William Katerberg, John Haas, James LaGrand, Paul Harvey, John Wilsey, Michael Lee, Brian Franklin, Heath Carter, Cara Burnidge, Jay Case, Katherine van Liere, Dale Van Kley, Luke Harlow, Jeanne Petit, Lisa Clark Diller, Daniel Williams, Darryl Hart, Tal Howard, Nancy Koester, Tracy McKenzie, John Fry, Catherine O’Donnell, Jay Green, Don Yerxa, Patrick Connelly, Otis Pickett, Emily Conroy-Krutz, Mark Edwards, Lauren Turek, Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Jesse Curtis, Rebecca Koerselman, Bill Svelmoe, Una Cadegan, Jill Titus, Kent Whitworth, Susan Fletcher, Bob Beatty, Seth Perry.

There will also be tours of the Meeter Center at Calvin College and a trip to the Gerald Ford Museum in downtown Grand Rapids.

Get all the information you need here.

Calvin University?

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Calvin College is the latest school to become a “university.”  Here is the press release:

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan—On Thursday, May 3, Calvin College’s board of trustees unanimously approved Calvin College becoming Calvin University. The move is part of Vision 2030, a statement which provides vision for the college as it fulfills its mission over the next decade.

The shift to university, which was approved during the board’s spring meeting, will happen in 2020 during the 100th-anniversary year of Calvin becoming a four-year college. The board’s decision follows the unanimous endorsement of the college’s faculty senate in late April, marking the culmination of more than nine months of collaborative strategic work taken on by the Calvin community. 

“This direction enables us to live into what has already been true about Calvin, and it will better position us for the innovative work that is necessary for the future,” said Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin College. “We see this move providing a great opportunity to introduce more people to Calvin’s distinctive Christian mission.”

Le Roy says the rationale for Calvin becoming a university is strong, including Calvin’s strength, breadth, and depth of its academic programs; new opportunities for academic innovation; and the college’s increasing influence with students and higher education partners around the globe. The college also has a large international student population for whom “university” is more visible and better understood than “college.”

Calvin leaders also see the university structure combined with increased collaboration as creating a more prominent platform for the institution to express its mission through opportunities and innovation within and across disciplines, professional programs, and centers and institutes. 

“A move to a university with a liberal arts foundation both names what we already do and liberates us to do that work better,” said Kevin den Dulk, political science professor at Calvin College and executive director of the Henry Institute. “I’m especially enthusiastic about using the university structure to expand our global reach, which is already considerable yet has a lot of room to grow.”

I know a lot of Calvin alum read this blog.  What do you think?

Don’t Forget to Submit Your Paper or Panel for the 2018 CFH Meeting in Grand Rapids!

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I am heading off to the executive board meeting of the Conference on Faith and History to give them an update on the 2018 Biennial Meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.

It is going to be a great conference.  Keynote speakers include Robert Orsi, Margaret Bendroth, and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn.   Deadline is March 15, 2018.  Contact me with questions.

Here is the call for papers:

CALL FOR PAPERS

The 31st Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History

History and the Search for Meaning:  The Conference on Faith and History at 50

 October 4-6, 2018

Calvin College

Grand Rapids, Michigan


Plenary Speakers:

Margaret Bendroth (Congregational Library & Archives, Boston)

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn (Syracuse University)  

Robert Orsi (Northwestern University)

The Conference on Faith and History (CFH) was chartered fifty years ago to uphold, study, and improve the complex relationship between Christian faith and the discipline of history.  As an organization, we are interested in how Christian faith in all its manifestations (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox) plays a role in our lives as professionals, writers, teachers, and colleagues. Our members work at large public universities, Christian liberal arts colleges, museums, historical sites, libraries, publishing houses, churches, and K-12 schools.

In October 2018, we will gather together at Calvin College, one of the organization’s earliest sponsoring institutions, to reflect on a theme that has been at the heart of the CFH since its birth: “History and the Search for Meaning.”  During our meeting in Grand Rapids, we will consider how the study of the past—in all its fullness and complexity—might bring meaning within our institutions, neighborhoods, classrooms, and congregations, and how it might promote health and stability for our democracy in an ever-shrinking and even more dangerous world.

As always, we are eager to see papers and panel (preferred) proposals that focus on the conference theme, but we will consider submissions on any historical topic.

Proposal ideas may consider, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • Historians and the church
  • Christian historians as public intellectuals
  • Thinking Christianly about the history of race and gender
  • Teaching as Christian historians (at both the university and K-12 level)
  • The role of the Christian historian in teaching and writing about under-represented groups
  • Christian historians and the history of justice and inequality
  • Christianity and historiography
  • The social responsibility of the Christian historian
  • Christian faith and the writing of history
  • The role of the history major and the place of historical study in the academy
  • Spiritual disciplines and the work of Christian scholarship and teaching
  • The relationship between theology and the work of the historian
  • History and citizenship
  • The calling or vocation of the Christian historian/scholar
  • The influence of the Internet and social media on Christian scholarship
  • Digital history and the Christian historian
  • History and the state of the “evangelical mind”
  • History and advocacy
  • Christians and graduate training in history
  • Stories of women and seeking meaning through the study of the past
  • History and Christian mission
  • History and the moral imagination

Individual paper and/or complete session proposals may be sent to:

 John Fea, Messiah College:  jfea(at)Messiah(dot)edu

 DEADLINE: 15 March, 2018

 Decisions will be made on or before April 30, 2018.

Details about the Conference on Faith and History and forthcoming information about local arrangements can be found at the CFH website: faithandhistory.org

My Visit to Calvin College Made the Student Newspaper!

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Read all about it in the December 1, 2017 issue of Chimes.

Here is a taste of Hannah Butler’s article:

Concluding the history department colloquium for the fall semester, John Fea lectured on President Trump’s Christian advisers and the historical context of their position.

Fea, who identifies as an evangelical Christian, visited from Messiah College, where he is a professor of early colonial history. His latest book , entitled “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”covers evangelical Christians and Donald Trump The book was prompted by several blog posts as well as nearly thirty op-ed newspaper articles throughout the 2016 election cycle.

John Fea encouraged students to become active citizens through engaging the relationship between religion and politics in American life.

“I think any Calvin student, in order to be a responsible citizen, needs to understand how we’ve gotten to the particular political moment that we’re in,” stated Fea, whose own daughter is a sophomore at Calvin. “Christians who voted for Donald Trump or who didn’t vote for Donald Trump just didn’t fall from the sky. There’s a long trajectory of changes that have happened through the years that brought 81% of American Evangelical Christians to vote this man for president.”

In his lecture, Fea created a narrative to answer how history facilitates our understanding of the democratic government and our political community on campus. He stated that “political dimensions need to be understood in context.”

Read the entire piece here.

We Have a Title!

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Yesterday I was at Calvin College to try out some of the material from my forthcoming book on Donald Trump.  A lot of smart people at Calvin gave me a lot of things to think about as I wrap-up the manuscript.  Thanks to Kristin Kobes Du Mez of the Calvin College History Department and Kevin Den Dulk of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics for inviting me to speak.

At the start of my lecture I announced the book’s title:

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Let me know what you think.  The book will be out with Eerdmans in the Spring.

Here is how I closed my lecture at Calvin:

When Donald Trump speaks to his followers in the mass rallies that have now become a fixture of his populist brand, he loves to use the phrase “believe me.”  The internet is filled with video montages of Trump using this signature catch phrase.  (He says it even more than “Make America great again!”):

            “Believe me folks, we’re building the wall, believe me, believe, me, we’re building the wall.”

“I love women.  Believe me, I love women.  I love women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women, believe me.”

“I am the least, the least racist person that you’ve ever met, believe me.”

“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, OK.  That’s what I do. I fix things.  We’re going to straighten it out, believe me.”

And, perhaps most importantly:

“So let me state this right up front, [in] a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before. Believe me.”

Why do the the court evangelicals and their followers believe in Donald Trump?  They believe in this man because fear paralyzes them, power seduces them, and nostalgia blinds them.  Donald Trump will be gone in 2021 or 2025.  Let’s pray that he does not take the evangelical church with him.

“Court Evangelicals” Lecture at Calvin College

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If you are in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area stop by on Wednesday and say hello:

“The Court Evangelicals: Who Are Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisers and Where Did They Come From?”


Since the election of Donald Trump, a group of leaders from a variety of evangelical traditions have served as advisers to the President on matters of faith and public life. John Fea has called these advisers Trump’s “court evangelicals.” Like the religious members of the king’s court during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Trump’s court evangelicals seek power and worldly approval by flattering the “king” rather than speaking truth to power. Who are these court evangelicals? Do they have a political theology? What are the historical forces behind their “unprecedented access” to the Trump White House? This lecture will situate these religious leaders in a longer history of evangelical political engagement.

About the speaker

John Fea is Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

His first book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), was chosen as the Book of the Year by the New Jersey Academic Alliance and an Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. His book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011) was one of three finalists for the George Washington Book Prize, one of the largest literary prizes in the United States. It was also selected as the Foreword Reviews/INDIEFAB religion book of the year.

John is also co-editor (with Jay Green and Eric Miller) of  Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation. (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), a finalist for the Lilly Fellows Program in Arts and Humanities Book Award.  His book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past was published in 2013 with Baker Academic. John’s book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society appeared in March 2016 with Oxford University Press.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Explorations in Early American CulturePennsylvania HeritageEducation Week, The Cresset, Books and CultureChristianity Today, Christian Century, and Common Place.  He has also written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox NewsUSA Today, Al-Jazeera, Washington Post, CBS News, New York Daily News, AOL News, Houston Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Harrisburg Patriot News, Salt Lake City TribuneChicago Sun-TimesReligion News Service, and other newspapers.  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

Co-sponsored by the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics. This talk is part of monthly history colloquia series. These lectures are open to the Calvin community – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends – and all are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Come early to enjoy refreshments and conversation, and feel free to ask questions or join the discussion at the end.

 

The Conference on Faith and History Comes to Grand Rapids in October 2018

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The Fall 2018 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) will be meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan from October 4-6, 2018.  This year’s conference theme is “History and the Search for Meaning: The CFH at 50.  Mark your calendars!

I am happy to report that we have secured the following keynote speakers:

Thursday Night Plenary: Peggy Bendroth, Congregational Library—“The Spiritual Practice of Remembering”

Friday Afternoon Plenary: Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Syracuse University—Title TBD

Friday Banquet Speaker: Beth Barr, CFH President

Saturday Morning Plenary: Robert Orsi, Northwestern University, “History and Presence”

I hope to see you all there.  Let’s have a record turnout for our 50th anniversary conference.  Stay tuned.  The Call for Papers will be released in a few months.

Calvin College in *The Atlantic*

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Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been getting a lot of attention lately since one of its alums, Betsy DeVos, became Secretary of Education. (I should add that DeVos is not the only Christian college graduate to serve as the country’s chief education officer.  Ernest Boyer, a graduate of Messiah College, was Jimmy Carter’s Commissioner of Education).  Calvin is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, a Protestant denomination founded by Dutch Calvinists.

Since Donald Trump picked DeVos, pundits have been trying to make sense of her connection to the Christian Reformed Church and Calvin College.  Some of the attempts at understanding her religious background have been more successful than others.  I still think Abram Van Engen’s piece at Religion & Politics is the best.  His piece is followed closely by Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s article in The Washington Post.

The third best thing I have read on Calvin and DeVos is Emily Deruy’s piece at today’s Atlantic.  Deruy’s essay treats Calvin fairly and does a good job of explaining the school to the left-of-center, upper-middle class, educated readership of the Atlantic. 

Here is a taste:

In more than a dozen interviews, professors, students, and alumni of all political stripes painted a picture of a college where intellectual diversity and thought-provoking debate are the norm, and where the belief that followers of the Christian Reformed Church, with which the school is affiliated, have an obligation to engage with the world around them compels both instructors and students to question what they think they know.

“Our faith commits us to engaging the world all around us,” said Kevin den Dulk, a political-science professor who graduated from Calvin in the 1990s, during an interview in the DeVos Communication Center, which sits across from the Prince Conference Center bearing the secretary’s maiden name. (Her mother, Elsa, is also an alum.)

Den Dulk’s words aren’t just PR fluff; it’s a concept borne out by the school’s 141-year history and the Dutch-influenced part of western Michigan it calls home. The Christian Reformed Church is a Protestant tradition that has its roots in the Netherlands and has been deeply influenced by the theologian Abraham Kuyper, a believer in intellectualism—specifically the idea that groups with different beliefs can operate in the same space according to their convictions while respecting and understanding others. “Fundamentalism is really anti-intellectual and Calvin is the exact opposite,” said Alan Wolfe, the author of a 2000 Atlantic piece about efforts to revitalize evangelical Christian colleges.

Read the entire piece here.