How the Pietist Schoolman is preparing for his history classes this fall

Parmer

I will be teaching my U.S. survey in this room 

Like Chris Gehrz, I am starting to stress about the Fall semester.

I am teaching the U.S. Survey course to 180 students in a 790 seat recital hall. (We will have ten smaller weekly seminars in other socially distanced classrooms). I am also teaching my Pennsylvania History course to 25 students. I have not started thinking about anything yet, although I do have a meeting to “attend” next week to learn more about the university guidelines.

So how is the Pietist Schoolman doing it? He offers five basic principles that are guiding his preparation:

  1. “Start with Face-to-Face, then think about how to make it available online.
  2. “Lean into my skill as a lecturer”
  3. “Move most ‘active’ learning online”
  4. “Emphasize research”
  5. “Overcommunicate”

See how Chris unpacks these points here.

The Pietist Schoolman weighs-in on the Confederate monuments debate

 

Fort Bragg

Chris Gehrz‘s is known to many readers of this blog as the Pietist Schoolman. Read his Anxious Bench post, “It’s Not ‘Erasing History’ to Remove Confederate Memorials.”

Here is a taste:

Every pedestal emptied of someone who fought on behalf of slavery and racism is a pedestal open to an American who struggled for emancipation and equality. That cause — not the Lost Cause — is an honest basis for national unity. That kind of commemoration can truly teach us “how we became a better nation.”

In his 2015 eulogy at Mother Emanuel Church, Barack Obama argued that taking down the Confederate battle flag “would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.” Five years later, taking down Confederate statues and taking away Confederate names can be one more step in that historical accounting, and one more chance for Americans to perfect their union.

Read the entire piece here.

The Challenge of Christian Liberal Arts in This Pandemic and Beyond

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Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota will cut thirty faculty positions this week. Today, at Messiah College, we learned about how the administration will cut seven million dollars from our budget over the course of the next five years. I don’t feel comfortable sharing details, but, as you can imagine, it has been rough. And Bethel and Messiah are not alone.

Over at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman, history professor Chris Gehrz reflects on this reality, and the future of Christian higher education, in the context of Eastertide. Here is a taste of his post, “‘Nothing for your journey’: The Future of Christian Liberal Arts“:

Whether the future takes me far from Bethel, or finds me still walking its hallways, I know I’m being challenged to “take nothing for” my journey. Whether I stay at Bethel or leave that “house of God” for the welcome of another, I need to shake off my dependency on whatever promises predictability, stability, and security and go forth in the name and power of the one to whom we bear witness.

(Big talk. We’ll see if I can live up to it.)

But Bethel and almost all of its religious competitors also need to welcome the same kind of unburdening. As much as Christian individuals, Christian institutions need to take much less for their journeys.

For example, while I’m glad that our students can choose from so many options — not just academic programs, but the extracurriculars and amenities that history conditions us to associate with a college experience, it’s possible that we’ve been so focused on what students want that we’re not giving them what they truly need. (Or making them pay too much for the package.)

But still more importantly, I can’t shake the feeling that preserving the status quo of Christian higher education has required that we linger in houses whose welcome was always conditional or incomplete.

I’ve often argued that the humanities prepare students for gainful employment, but it’s possible that we ought to be less responsive to economic forces that deepen inequality and diminish dignity. I’ve often praised my discipline for cultivating prudent, empathetic citizens, but it’s possible that we need to speak out more strongly against political authorities that abuse their power and neglect their responsibilities.

Most often of all, I’ve rejoiced that Christian scholars like me get to participate in God’s mission as part of the larger Body of Christ, but it’s possible that we need to ask harder questions of Christian denominations and churches whose support has always been tempered by their suspicion of free inquiry and expression.

All that seems impossible right now. How will we draw students if we don’t treat them as customers, or if we antagonize their pastors? How will we attract private donors or public funding if we criticize the wealthy and powerful? It’s much more likely that our educational institutions will make more compromises, not fewer.

And so my greatest fear right now is not that Bethel will close, but that it will try to stay open by drifting further from its core mission as a liberal arts college that bears witness to Jesus Christ: seeking the truth found in him, transforming students in his likeness, and spreading his kingdom.

Read the entire post here.

Should You Support Your Child’s Decision to Attend a Christian College?

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Christian liberal arts colleges came under attack recently by a Southern Baptist theologian named Denny Burk.  I was going to blog about his recent tweets, but I did not want to call attention to them. The tweets mischaracterize the work we do at such colleges and universities.  But I am glad that Chris Gerhz, a professor at Bethel University, an evangelical college in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, did respond.

Here is a taste of his Anxious Bench post, “A Letter to Christian Parents about Christian Colleges“:

…no single person or tweet created such doubts. Rumors of “liberal drift” have simmered throughout my seventeen years at Bethel, and occasionally reached a boil. And that’s nothing new. One of Tal’s books quotes an 18th century student saying about the German university that is one of Bethel’s educational and spiritual ancestors: “So you’re going to Halle? You’ll return either a pietist or an atheist.”

I don’t know anyone at Bethel who doesn’t want our students to follow Christ as he is attested in Scripture. But one legacy of Halle’s Pietism is the evangelical conviction that authentic Christianity cannot result from coercion or conformity, only choice. So at Bethel, we believe that our students must encounter multiple points of view and be as free to reject faith as to affirm it.

Inevitably, a Christian university of that type will seem “Christian” to some other believers and a “university” to some other educators. But it’s the kind of institution to which I’ve dedicated my career.

So how do you know that a Christian university like Bethel is the right option for your child? How do you assuage concerns like Burk’s?

First, don’t just listen to what someone on the Internet says. (Myself included.) Don’t put credence in whispered rumors about something as amorphous as “drift.” Do your due diligence and talk in concrete terms to someone who can actually address the concerns: not an alumnus or even an admissions counselor, but someone who currently teaches at the college or university your child is considering. Better yet, talk to two professors — one who teaches in your child’s likely major field of study, then another who teaches in the general education curriculum that all students share — and perhaps also to someone who works on the co-curricular side, like a coach, campus pastor, or resident director. They’ll all give you different perspectives on the experiences that will do most to define your child’s education.

Again, I’m several years away from going through this process myself. But there are two questions I would make sure to ask. 

Read the rest here.

Shirley Hoogstra of the CCCU Explains Fairness for All

Fairness for All

Last week we introduced readers to the Fairness for All Act.

Over at The Anxious Bench blog, historian Chris Gehrz has published his interview with Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).  The CCCU is one of the bill’s sponsors.

Here is a taste:

For those who haven’t been following this story until now… What is being proposed in Fairness for All?

For the past three years, the CCCU has been engaged in conversations with a broad coalition of faith and LGBT leaders, two “sides” that have often viewed their protections as being violated by the existence of protections for the other.

The result of this dialogue is a bill called Fairness for All, a balanced legislative approach that preserves religious freedom and addresses LGBT civil rights under federal law.

Fairness for All is centered on two core principles:

  1. Religious persons should not be forced to live, work, or serve their community in ways that violate their sincerely held beliefs.
  2. No American should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination, or lose their home or livelihood, simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Fairness for All provides long-term protections for Christian higher education and other faith-based organizations. The proposed legislation ensures that Christian colleges and universities can hire for mission, maintain their accreditation, maintain access to federal student aid, maintain their tax-exempt status, and continue to offer professional licensure — all while remaining true to their religious convictions.

Tell us a bit of the history of FFA: when did the CCCU begin to consider advocating for it? Why did it come back into the spotlight this year?

Over the last decade, Christian colleges and universities — along with adoption agencies, rescue missions, and others — have been at the tip of the spear for religious freedom challenges, many of which have stemmed from the expansion of LGBT civil rights. These challenges make it possible to imagine a future where Christian colleges that maintain a biblical perspective on marriage and sexual ethics lose accreditation, community support, partnerships, and grants, and where their students lose access to student aid, practicums, and professional licensure because of their religious beliefs and practices.

While executive orders and attorney general memos on religious freedom are helpful, they have a possible built-in expiration date— they can simply be undone by a subsequent president. Likewise, while litigation will always remain necessary to overturn clear constitutional violations, the court strategy is limited to the question presented and offers a piecemeal approach to addressing the numerous tension points that have or will arise between government, Christian higher education, and other religious organizations. Further, research by law professors shows that when religious freedom protections are created by legislation, the Supreme Court upholds them almost 100 percent of the time. But when the First Amendment is the only basis, religious freedom wins only 50 percent of the time.

In short, in addition to short-term executive orders and the Constitution itself, legislation adds a long-term, comprehensive, certain, and specific way to secure religious freedom protections for hiring, funding, accreditation, and more for Christian higher education and many other religious organizations and interests.

This spring the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill that codifies sweeping LGBT civil rights at the expense of religious freedom. As written, the Equality Act would be devastating for Christian higher education, as it would threaten every Christian college and university’s ability to deliver on its missional promise. The Equality Act would also impact churches, hospitals, relief agencies, and businesses large and small.

We are working with a broad coalition of religious organizations and LGBT organizations who believe it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all. The way forward is proposed legislation called Fairness for All, which allows the religious and LGBT communities to resolve conflicts in a comprehensive, balanced, and enduring way. This approach represents two groups who have been historically at odds coming together to acknowledge deep differences but also a common desire to lead proactively to solve real problems for the most Americans. And, most importantly, Fairness for All protects our convictions as Christians and recognizes the needs of our LGBT neighbors.

Those committed to civic pluralism in the United States should seriously consider getting behind Fairness for All.

Mainline Protestants for Trump

Bethel Lutheran Church ELCA, Willmar

When it comes to Christians supporting the Trump presidency, evangelicals get all the attention.  But as Chris Gehrz notes in his recent Anxious Bench post, mainline Protestants are not immune to Trump love.  I don’t know of any “court mainliners,” but it seems like a pro-Trump sentiment is alive and well among Lutherans.  Here is a taste:

Consider the largest Protestant denomination in my part of the country: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). At its annual meeting earlier this month, the ELCA not only passed statements condemning patriarchy and white supremacy, but made national news for declaring itself a “sanctuary church body.” Hundreds of delegates joined Lutheran activists in marching a mile to the Milwaukee office of the federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where they held a prayer vigil and posted 9.5 theses on care for refugees and other immigrants. “We put the protest back in Protestant,” proclaimed some of the signs held by protestors. (And I don’t think they meant it like one of our blogging neighbors does.)

As religion reporter Emily McFarlan Miller had predicted, the 2019 ELCA assembly offered “a window into the issues important to many progressive Christians across the country.” But how many of the ELCA’s 3.5 million members are actually (politically) progressive?

Consider some of the numbers that political scientist Ryan Burge has been crunching from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which surveys over 64,000 Americans every two years. Not only do 49% of ELCA respondents in the 2018 CCES identify as Republican (vs. 42% as Democrats), but even more approve of Donald Trump: 52% of those Lutherans, 35% strongly. When Burge drilled down to look at religious behavior, he found that ELCA support for Trump was strongest among those who attended church most often and weakest among those who show up just once or twice a year.

Read the entire piece here.

The Endorsers of “Christians Against Christian Nationalism” Speak Out

Christian nation

Many of you are familiar with “Christians Against Christian Nationalism.” I signed the statement and wrote about it here and here.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz calls our attention to a podcast in which some of the endorsers of the statement talk about their opposition to Christian nationalism.  Here is a taste of Chris’s post:

But if any readers are skeptical about the statement, I’d encourage them first to read signer John Fea’s response to such concerns — and then to check out a new series of podcasts on Christian nationalism from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

In the first episode, BJC director and statement organizer Amanda Tyler alludes to “some troubling signs that Christian nationalism may be stuck at high tide.” While she’s bothered by violent attacks on individuals and houses of worship, she warns that “Christian nationalism also reveals itself in less dramatic ways” — e.g., as bills in state legislatures that would require biblical literacy courses in public schools and post the statement “In God we trust” in such public spaces. The Christians Against Christian Nationalism initiative, she explains, “is not in response to any one of these incidents, but rather as a way to counter what we view and perceive as a growing threat.”

In the remainder of that first episode, listeners hear from five of the initial twenty endorsers of the statement. It struck me that most of them not only talked about current events, but appealed to religious history. In different ways, all drew on their particular Christian movements’ historical experiences as religious minorities who learned that “[c]onflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.”

Read the entire post here.

The Pietist Schoolman Urges His Representative to Fund the National Archives

Archives

Chris Gehrz, who loyal readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know as “The Pietist Schoolman,” has inspired me to write a similar letter to my representative.

Gehrz builds off of T.J. Stiles’s recent piece on budget cuts to the National Archives.  His post is titled “Don’t Balance Budgets on the Back of History.”

And here is his letter to Representative Betty McCollom (D-Minnesota):

Dear Rep. McCollum,

I’ve been your constituent for sixteen years — as a resident of St. Paul and now Roseville, and as a history professor at Bethel University in Arden Hills. Whether I’ve agreed or disagreed with you on specific points of policy, I’ve always appreciated your service and admired the spirit in which you serve. Until this month, I’ve never felt compelled to write you a letter. But as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, you are in an excellent position to help address a critical problem: the continuing decline in fundingfor the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

As Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer (and Minnesota native) T.J. Stiles pointed out last week in The Washington Post, Congress used to allocate nearly half a billion dollars annually to NARA. But in 2012, NARA’s budget fell from $475 million to $420 million. By 2019 the operational budget was down to $373 million, and President Trump has proposed just $345.6 million in operating expenses for 2020.

That’s simply insufficient to fund the essential work of a significant federal agency whose workload is only increasing. Not only does NARA need to continue to maintain its two central facilities in the DC area, plus presidential libraries, records centers, and regional facilities, but it is already far behind in an effort to digitize its paper holdings. While the employees of NARA are dedicated professionals, their numbers are dwindling, and those that remain are increasingly unsure of their ability to fulfill their mission.

“America is losing its memory,” wrote Stiles. “More than a resource for historians or museum of founding documents, NARA stands at the heart of American democracy… If Congress doesn’t save it, we all will suffer.”

I know such claims can sound like hyperbole. And there are many other worthy causes in every budget fight that have more immediate impact on the lives of people. But I want to underscore the very real danger involved in allowing the National Archives to suffer continuing underfunding.

Why are the National Archives important? I’ve used its resources and services in multiple ways:

• I could not have written my doctoral dissertation without the archives and archivists at the main archives building in College Park, Maryland, and I’ve used the NARA-administered Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries for other research.

• Like history professors at other Minnesota colleges and universities — including your alma mater and Stiles’ — I depend on NARA-digitized materials for student reading and research in courses on subjects like World War II and the Cold War. So too do my social studies education students, who will use NARA-curated sources in teaching history, government, economics, and civics courses at middle and high schools in our district and state.

• But I also use the National Archives as most other citizens do. I’ve delved into NARA’s genealogical records to better understand the story of my own family, and I’ll bring the next generation of that family — my two children — to the National Archives building in Washington, so that they can see firsthand the founding documents of our democracy.

By all of these activities, we Americans engage in the vitally important work of understanding, interpreting, and learning from our collective past. These historical practices may be the most important source of our national identity, for we cannot know who we are if we don’t understand who we have been.

But also, who we are becoming. For when we study the past, Americans both see more clearly the causes of our nation’s shortcomings and are inspired to address those challenges, as we recognize the historic accomplishments of the women and men who preceded us.

We can’t take any of that for granted. As a historian, I know all too well that the past is constantly disappearing. Memories fade; evidence erodes. And even when documents and artifacts are preserved, they need to be made available to the public and interpreted for the public.

Such preservation, access, and interpretation are impossible absent a well-funded national archives agency.

So I was encouraged to see that your committee has already voted to increase or keep stable funding for museum and library services and a history/civics grants program. In the same spirit, I hope that you and other representatives will restore NARA funding to a more appropriate level of $410 million.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your years of public service.

Dr. Christopher Gehrz

Like Chris, I encourage you to write a similar letter.

When History Meets Politics in Minnesota

Fort Snelling

Minnesota state senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) has proposed cutting $4 million (18%) from the budget of the Minnesota Historical Society because the society wants to integrate native American history at historic Fort Snelling.

Here is a taste of a Pete Kotz’s piece at City Pages:

She doesn’t believe in history. Or at least the history of Minnesota that occurred before Europeans showed up, took everybody’s stuff, and sometimes slaughtered the previous residents.

So she’s proposed gutting state funding for the Minnesota Historical Society, hacking $4 million from its $11 million budget. The society, you see, has committed a grave offense.

It posted a banner at its Fort Snelling visitor center that included the word “Bdote.” As in: “Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote.” This was the Dakota name for the site on the bluffs above the Mighty Mississippi, which, as you may have guessed, was long in existence before the Euros showed up.

To some, it would seem only natural that historians present, well, history. Kiffmeyer objects. She initially refused to say exactly why she wanted to gut the society, as the Star Tribune’s Jennifer Brooks notes. She would only tell colleagues that it had become “highly controversial.” So she wants it to pay with mass layoffs, museum closures, and reduced educational fare for kids.

That left Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) to articulate the GOP position: “The controversy revolves around whether or not the Historical Society is involved in revisionist history. I do not agree with what the Historical Society is engaged in doing. I believe it to be revisionist history.”

Read the entire piece here.

This is yet another example of how history gets politicized by legislators who have no idea what they are talking about.

Kent Whitworth, the Director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society, responds to the proposed budget cuts in this podcast with Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz.  I love Kent’s passion and the spirit in which he is leading his staff through this crisis.

Teaching as Preaching

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Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz reflects on the relationship between preaching and classroom teaching.  When I first read the title of Chris’s post I thought this was going to be a defense of lecturing, but it is so much more.

Here is a taste of Chris’s post:

I do think there’s something central to the proclamation of the Word from the pulpit, but even someone as Protestant as me needs to acknowledge that the sermon is still only one part of worship. Done well, preaching reinforces or highlights themes from other elements, whether liturgy, music, prayer, sacraments, offering, or anything else. Conversely, the worst sermons I’ve heard have always been disconnected from whatever precedes and follows them.

Likewise, I think teachers are most effective when they remember that their class occupies a mere handful of minutes in the middle of any student’s day. However powerful you think your teaching is, keep in mind that the people in your “pews” are thinking about what has already happened and what’s looming before them. They’re hungry for the food they’re about to eat at lunch; they’re nervous about the test they’re going to take in some other teacher’s class. They’re reflecting on some other “sermon” from some other branch of the curriculum — or a competing vision they heard from a parent, coach, or cable news host. Or they’re just tired from lack of sleep, brokenhearted by the ending of a relationship, or overjoyed how a job interview or audition went.

If not to be distractions from your teaching, your students’ lives must be connected to it somehow.

Read the entire piece here.

How Do We “Render Unto Caesar” in a Democracy?

CaesarThe following exchange takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22: 16-22.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[b] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Several Trump evangelicals are using this verse to justify their support for the POTUS.

Over at the Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz asks a question about coins:

So how might we hear Matthew 22:21 differently if we’re looking at the metallic relief of a long-dead president who held limited power for a relatively short period of time, rather than that of a living emperor with the hubris to believe himself a figure of unimpeachable power?

Great question.

Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University, adds:

Perhaps we’d then hear “render unto Caesar” as a reminder that, if American Christians owe limited allegiance to any secular authority, they owe it to no one person, but to the American people, who govern themselves through elected representatives sworn to protect the Constitution. The same Constitution that keeps even presidents from benefiting financially from their position, from obstructing the work of those who investigate lawbreaking, or from inventing fake national emergencies in order to subvert the work of those who make laws.

So render to God what is God’s: your image-bearing self commanded to love other image-bearers. And render to Trump what is Trump’s: your responsibilities as an American citizen to dissent from unwise and unjust uses of American power and to hold American demagogues accountable for their attempts to play Caesar.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.  It deserves a wide readership, especially for his thoughts on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s use of this verse.

Anxious Benchers Weigh-In on the Kidd-Merritt Dust-Up

Death of ExpertiseHere is a taste of historian John Turner‘s post at The Anxious Bench:

To what extent should non-academics defer to academic historians on matters of history? John Fea faulted Merritt for being snarky and dismissive (“maybe you should think some more”) to a historian who has written books about precisely the subject matter at hand. Rather attempt to define the word “evangelical” on Twitter, Kidd recommended that Merritt “check out my books on the topic, including my definition of evangelicalism.” Good idea!

I’ve of two minds here. If someone told me that I should think more about whether Mormons are Christians, I might point him or her to my book on the subject. On the other hand, the recommendation of one’s books as an answer to a question rarely goes over well.

Read the entire piece here.

And at his personal blog The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz (editor-in-chief at The Anxious Bench), reflects on the dust-up in the context of his own work as a historian and generalist.

A taste:

I’ve only half-followed the recent Twitter dust-up between historians Thomas Kidd and John Fea and journalist Jonathan Merritt. You can get caught up to speed with this morning’s Anxious Benchpost from John Turner. Throw in editor John Wilson (who rose to the historians’ defense), and you’ve got several of my favorite Johns/Jonathans sparring over what it meant to be evangelical in the 18th century — especially if you were an enslaved African American like poet Phillis Wheatley.

All of that is interesting, and pointing at some philosophical questions about doing the history of evangelicalism (as Fea explained this morning in part two of a new series on the topic). But I was actually more struck by a larger issue: the place of expertise in an age of Twitter.

Read the rest here.

Introducting Pietist Schoolman Travel

Pietist Schoolman Travel

Do you want to take a trip to Europe with historian Chris Gehrz, aka the Pietist Schoolman?  Check out his new venture: “Pietist Schoolman Travel.”

Here is a taste of Chris’s latest post describing the new venture:

As announced here two weeks ago, I’m going to lead an eleven-day tour of England, Belgium, France, and Germany next June: “The World Wars in Western Europe.” There are still openings, but I’d suggest that you apply sooner than later: Bethel University will be mentioning the trip next month in its alumni e-newsletter.

For the most part, leading this trip just feels like an extension of what I already do as a teacher and scholar. In January I’ll lead a couple dozen students on a three-week World War I travel course, the fourth instance of that trip; and I write and speak about World War I and World War II fairly often.

But preparing to lead this trip — and thinking ahead to other trips I might lead in summers to come — has forced me to do something I never imagined doing: I’ve started my own business. Pietist Schoolman Travel, LLC will never have all that much overhead or all that many employees, but it does have a bank account, an IRS number, and a need to get its name before potential customers in a market place with no shortage of competitors.

I’ll try my best to make it worth your while. I’m in the process of walking through the June trip, each day sharing some photos from some of the sites we’ll be visiting. And I’ll keep posting other photos, reading excerpts, video clips, and links related to the world wars. And even if you’re not interested in the World Wars trip, following the page will make it easier for me to reach people with news about future trips. (I’ve already floated the idea of doing a summer 2020 trip to Germany around the themes of the Reformation and Pietism.)

So if you’d like to learn more about the trip — or if you can just help boost our public presence — please start following our PS Travel page at Facebook. I started small over the weekend, inviting a few family, friends, coworkers, and former students to click Like. But I’d certainly be happy to add blog readers to that number.

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.”

Lasch Quinn

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.

Barr

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.

Bar

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.

Some Context on the Fresno Pacific University Dust-Up

Fresno Pacific

Last week we did a post on Fresno Pacific University‘s decision to demote its seminary president and fire three faculty members.  Read it here (along with a good comment from “Jason”).

Over at Mennonite World Review, Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz (aka “The Pietist Schoolman”) provides some additional context.   Here is a taste:

The seminary website says that this particular master’s program “includes instruction from strategic, global Anabaptist leaders and is grounded in the Anabaptist tradition,” and its students come from MB, Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. But Huber noted that the program was launched two years ago “to be uniquely evangelical and Anabaptist,” with some pastor-professors straddling those two worlds.

For example, Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in the Minnesota Twin Cities, featured prominently in the 2012 book, The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism. As I noted in a 2013 post, editors Jared Burkholder and David Cramer included Boyd among a “growing number of evangelical leaders [to] have found in Anabaptism a robust alternative to the program of political involvement employed by the leaders of the Religious Right within their midst.”

Boyd’s critique of Christian nationalism, influenced by Anabaptist scholars like John Howard Yoder, was noted as a potential source of tension with the FPU administration and MB denominational leaders. (And he complained to MWR that the lack of conversation with him surrounding the decisions was “just not very Anabaptist.”) But as far as I can tell from the MWR story, another theological dispute seems to have been more important — one that has echoes in my own institution’s history.

Most commonly known as open theism, Boyd defined his “open view of the future” in an interview with Rachel Held Evans as

the view that the future is partly comprised of possibilities and is therefore known by God as partly comprised of possibilities… the open view of the future holds that God chose to create a cosmos that is populated with free agents… While God can decide to pre-settle whatever aspects of the future he wishes, to the degree that he has given agents freedom, God has chosen to leave the future open, as a domain of possibilities, for agents to resolve with their free choices. This view obviously conflicts with the understanding of the future that has been espoused by classical theologians, for the traditional view is that God foreknows from all eternity the future exclusively as a domain of exhaustively definite facts.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.

The humanities may be “the least risky way to prepare for employment in the 21st century economy”

humanities text

Chris Gerhz, aka The Pietist Schoolman, makes another strong case for studying the humanities in college.

Here is a taste of his piece, “A Counterintuitive Economic Argument for Majoring in the Humanities.”

I know, I know: it seems risky to pick a major that doesn’t have an obvious pathway to a particular career. But hear me out…

First, you need to recognize that there may be a significant disconnect between your expectations for your kids and their actual working futures. If you’re a 40- or 50-something, you probably retain at least some sense of what it meant to grow up in an economy whose workers stayed in or close to one career, sometimes even at one or two employers, and retired at age 65. None of that is likely to be true for your child as she starts college in 2018.

On the other side of her college graduation is much less stability in employment at virtually every stage of a much longer work life. What else would you expect when life expectancy is increasing, technological and cultural change is accelerating, and both employers and employees seem to be interested in building a “gig economy” that doesn’t assume long-term working arrangements?

So while a college education remains one of the biggest investments of anyone’s life, it’s hard to know how best to use those expensive years to set someone up for future economic success. Do you encourage your child to pick a major because it aligns most closely with a career whose short-term employment prospects look good? You can… but they’ll risk joining a glut of increasingly similar candidates seeking jobs in a market whose bubble may well burst.

Instead, it might make longer-term sense to consider a major in a humanities field, for three reasons:

Read the entire piece here.

Chris Gehrz Reviews *Believe Me* at The Anxious Bench

Believe Me Banner

I have yet to hold a published copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, but I understand that others have copies.    The reviews have already starting rolling in.  Over at The Anxious Blog (Patheos), Chris Gehrz has written a very generous review.  Here is a taste:

Perhaps that makes it seem like he pulls his punches on an issue like racism. But I’d read Fea’s approach differently.

For example, in the first half of ch. 5, on Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again,” Fea confronts evangelicals with the historical and theological problems inherent in the idea of America as a Christian nation. (Familiar territory for him.) Then while the rest of that chapter reveals the racist and xenophobic subtexts of Trump’s appeals to nostalgia, Fea holds back from indicting white evangelicals themselves. Instead, I think he trusts that such readers who have made it that far in Believe Me can make the connection themselves and question — maybe for the first time — just why they yearn to revive what Russell Moore dismissed as “the supposedly idyllic Mayberry of white Christian America. (“That world,” Moore continued, “was murder, sometimes literally, for minority evangelicals.”)  

Maybe such readers won’t ask that question, or even read the book in the first place; since 2016 I’ve had my own doubts about the possibility of changing evangelical hearts and minds. But there’s some evidence even in recent weeks of conservative Protestants rethinking their commitment to a Trump-led culture war. And believe me, if any historian can succeed in getting American evangelicals to take an even longer, more honest look at themselves in the mirror of their own past, it’s John Fea.

Read the entire review here.

Chris Gehrz: “Can Patheos Continue to ‘Host the Conversation on Faith’?”

Anxious-Bench-squareThis morning we highlighted Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s recent post at The Anxious Bench.  Du Mez has some serious concerns about the direction Patheos is moving.

Now Chris Gerhz, the blogmeister of The Anxious Bench, has entered the conversation.  He has similar concerns about Patheos.  Here is a taste of his post:

I hope that Patheos continues to host such a diversity of voices, across and within channels, but I think it’s fair for Kristin to ask whether Warren’s termination signals that Patheos “will be hosting a censored, invitation-only conversation? Are there topics we would do well to avoid?”

But even if we get more details and stronger reassurance, I’ve got a separate concern that’s been on my mind for several months now: that Patheos doesn’t host a conversation so much as a cacophony.

Go to www.patheos.com and you can find any number of voices speaking — but only rarely to each other. With the notable exceptions of Hart, McKnight, and Progressive blogger James McGrath, I rarely get the sense that other Patheos bloggers are all that interested in what The Anxious Bench has to say. But I’m guilty of this, too: as often as I find myself reading other Patheos blogs, I rarely write posts in response to them — whether to agree, disagree, or simply provide historical context.

Read the entire post here.

Evangelicals and Bishop Michael Curry’s Sermon at the Royal Wedding

Curry

Chris Gerhz of Pietist Schoolman fame reflects on the evangelical response (or lack thereof) to Curry’s sermon.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Did leading evangelicals pointedly ignore the sermon preached at Saturday’s royal wedding, by Episcopal Church presiding bishop Michael Curry? One religion reporter thought so, at least based on some quick social media research:

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons

@GuthrieGF

  

I checked a dozen of the most influential evangelicals on Twitter. Not one mentioned Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon-heard-round-the-world. I’m not sure they know how to handle it: can’t criticize b/c everyone loved it, can’t affirm b/c Curry is not an evangelical.

 

Now, that didn’t square with how I read evangelical Twitter over the weekend. First, there was evangelical criticism of Curry’s sermon, mostly from Gospel Coalition and other Reformed types who thought that Curry — given the chance to proclaim the Gospel to billions — may have said too much about love and not enough about sin. Plus conservative Anglicans who simply regard Curry as apostate for his embrace of same-sex marriage.

But actually, I was more struck just how many people I’d regard as both evangelical and influential responded enthusiastically to Curry.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell and the “Taming” of the Liberty University Faculty

Liberty U

The residential faculty at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University were not very thrilled about the fact that an academically-weak online program was funding the traditional undergraduate university, but Falwell was able to “tame” them.

Check out Alec MacGillis‘s piece at Pro Publica: “Billion Dollar Blessings.”  The subtitle reads: “How Jerry Falwell Jr. transformed Liberty University, one of the religious right’s most powerful institutions, into a wildly lucrative online empire.”

A taste:

Students at Liberty often quote a favorite line of Falwell Sr.’s: “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.” Even those who have misgivings about the university’s conservative culture are quick to defend the education they’ve received on campus. Yet despite its ambitions to become the “evangelical Notre Dame” that Falwell envisioned, Liberty is still ranked well behind that university and other religious-based institutions like Brigham Young and Pepperdine; U.S. News and World Report clumps Liberty in the lowest quartile of institutions in its “national universities” category. Some of its programs have strong reputations, among them nursing, engineering and flight school. But the college is limited in its ability to compete for premier faculty, not only because its politics are out of step with the greater academic community, but also because none of its programs, with the exception of its law school, offer tenure.

In his autobiography, Falwell made virtually no distinction between these students on the Lynchburg campus and those receiving their instruction remotely. All of them, in his telling, were being prepared for the same goal, to be “Champions for Christ,” as the Liberty motto had it. But many students on campus, at least, are openly dismissive of the online experience. They take some classes online, for the convenience of not having to drag themselves to class — and, they readily admit, for the ease of not having to study much. “People know it’s kind of a joke and don’t learn that much from it,” Dustin Wahl, a senior from South Dakota, told me. “You use Google when you take your quiz and don’t have to work as hard. It’s pretty obvious.” (Liberty says using Google during quizzes or exams is cheating.)

Campus students are especially scornful of the online discussion boards that are in theory meant to replicate the back and forth of a classroom, but that in reality tend to be a rote exercise, with students making only their requisite one post and two comments per week, generating no substantive discussion. “It’s very minimal engagement,” said Alexander Forbes, a senior from California. Recently, a satirical campus newspaper, The Flaming Bugle, ran an Onion-style article with the headline “Cat Playing on Keyboard Inadvertently Earns ‘A’ for Discussion Board Post.”

Read the entire piece here.  Then head over to the Pietist Schoolman and read Chris Gehrz’s stinging critique of the “tame the faculty” line.

I know Chris to be a very mild-mannered man (he’s the “Pietist Schoolman, after all), so when he writes that the article made him “sick” to his “stomach about this county’s largest Christian university,” we should listen.