Why Os Guinness, Eric Metaxas, and David Barton are “dangerous”

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with moderator Eric Metaxas at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention at Oryland in Nashville

Eric Metaxas hanging-out with  Texas senator Ted Cruz

Needless to say, I was glad to see Abram Van Engen of Washington University in St. Louis critique the way Os Guinness, Eric Metaxas, and David Barton are manipulating the American past. I also appreciate his shoutout to the Conference on Faith and History, an organization in which I currently serve as Vice-President and President-elect.

Here is a taste of Van Engen’s post at The Anxious Bench:

There are plenty of good historians at work today, including many Christians historians, and what they have in common is a desire to know God and God’s world better by trying to understand what has actually occurred and why. The Conference on Faith and History does not have a popular following (like Metaxas), but it nonetheless gathers faithful Christians, many of whom study the nation. None of these scholars feel their faith threatened by facts. All of them feel compelled to follow historical records where they lead.

The dangers of Christian nationalism for both Christianity and the nation mount with each rewriting of the American past. If Christians are to be committed to both truth and love, then we must commit to as true and full a history of the nation as we can tell, loving our fellow citizens, refusing to worship a false image of the nation, and trusting, finally, in a sovereign God.

Read the entire post here.

Call for Papers: Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

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See below.  I should add that I have not decided yet on the title of my presidential address.  I will not be speaking on Believe Me.  –JF

Call for Papers, Conference on Faith and History

Protest, Resistance and Transformation:
Agents of Change Past and Present
Baylor University
Waco, TX
October 7-10, 2020

Proposals for individual papers or panels should be sent to Lisa Clark Diller (ldiller@southern.edu) by April 1, 2020

Historians study and teach history because of the need to understand causation, contingency, and context. Christian scholars add to those traditional factors our faith-based reasons as well–a love for humans as made in the image of God, the mandate to care for Creation, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to tell the Truth. In a world in which our students, communities, churches and wider public are seeking to find ways to address the problems around them, historians can tell stories about the past that encourage, inform, and prophetically engage their audiences. We solicit papers that help us all do this better.

We welcome papers on a wide range of subjects. In this centennial of women in the US getting the right to vote, we are especially focused on those who worked to expand the boundaries of justice and freedom. However, we are also solicit papers on cross-disciplinary research, and the spiritual resources that are available to and possible because of Christian scholars. We hope to gain participation from those on the edges of the academy, including independent scholars, high school teachers, and graduate students.

Plenary Speakers:
Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne
John Fea, Believe Me: the Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Conference of Faith and History Events Today

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The Conference on Faith and History is sponsoring several events today at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association.

This morning at 8:30 the Conference will host its annual breakfast reception.  There is no program for this event.  Stop by, grab some food, and enjoy some good conversation.

The CFH will hold two sessions today:

Educating for Activism: Historians and Politics in the Contemporary United States

What is Race: Historical and Theological Retrieval in American Christianity

Let the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association Begin!

30 Rock

I’m not as angry as I look in this picture!  🙂

Thousands of historians have converged on New York City this week for the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association (and other history-related meetings).

I arrived in New York this afternoon, checked into my hotel, and headed straight to 30 Rockefeller Plaza where I chatted with NBC News Now anchor Alison Morris about the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami. (The video is not yet available).

After the interview I went back to my hotel and watched some of Trump’s speech in Miami and then attended the dinner board meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH).  There are lot of good things happening in the CFH these days.  Stay tuned.  The Call for Papers for our 2020 Fall meeting at Baylor University in Waco will be released soon.

Tomorrow I am going to finally register for the AHA conference, spend some time in the book exhibit, and attend a breakfast and two sessions sponsored by the CFH.

If you could not make it to the conference this year, we’ve got you covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  We have several great correspondents reporting from the floor of the conference.

More to come…

News from the Conference on Faith and History!

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As Vice-President of the Conference on Faith and History, I want to share some news.

FIRST, WE HAVE 2020 CONFERENCE DATES!

The CFH Biennial Meeting will take place October 7-October 10 at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

The Program will again include a Student Research Conference preceding the meeting.

Lisa Clark Diller (Southern Adventist University) will be the program chair.

More information will be forthcoming.

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SECOND, join us in New York City in January for three Conference on Faith and History-sponsored panels at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  They are:

Lament as a Historical Practice

Friday, January 3, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Sheraton New York, Sugar Hill
Chair: Jay Green, Covenant College

Papers:
Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Speech and Lament in American History
Trisha D Posey, John Brown University
Justice Everywhere: The Prison to College Pipeline Program, Mass Incarceration, and Race Historical Continuity in Mississippi
Otis Pickett, Mississippi College
“How Long, O Lord?” A Historical Pedagogy of Lament
Timothy Fritz, Mount St. Mary’s University

Comment: The Audience

CFH Breakfast Reception

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
New York Hilton, Green Room

Educating for Activism? Historians and Politics in the Contemporary United States

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
New York Hilton, New York Room

Chair: Heath Carter, Princeton Theological Seminary

Speaker(s):
Beth Allison Barr, Baylor University
Cara Burnidge, University of Northern Iowa
Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Calvin College
Philipp Gollner, Goshen College
Luke E. Harlow, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
Jemar Tisby, University of Mississippi

Comment: The Audience

What Is Race? Historical and Theological Retrieval in American Christianity

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
New York Hilton, New York Room

Chair: Rita Roberts, Scripps College

Papers:
Before Ontological Blackness: Race and the 18th-Century Black Calvinist Tradition
Steven Harris, Harvard University
“The Blood That Made America Great”: German Racial Thought in Southern Protestantism
Joel Iliff, Baylor University
Racism as Vice: Towards a Thomistic Account of an Ill-Defined Phenomenon
Nathan Cartagena, Wheaton College

Comment: The Audience

The Conference on Faith and History Is Looking for a Social Media Coordinator (Paid Position)

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The Conference on Faith and History is seeking a Social Media Coordinator.
 
The Social Media Coordinator will work with CFH’s secretaries to communicate to the membership, expand the conference’s social media presence, and empower the CFH’s member historians to communicate more effectively to a broader public.
 
To do so, the Social Media Coordinator will be in charge of the CFH website, Facebook feed, Twitter feed, and monthly newsletter. The CFH would request development of additional social media activity, such as on Instagram and via podcasts and digital video. The expectation would be at least two impressions weekly.
 
The Social Media Coordinator would need competencies in website design and function, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media Marketing, and emerging digital skills.
 
The Social Media Coordinator position is a year-round position. Annual remuneration is $3,000.

Although open to all CFH members, this position may be of special interest to advanced graduate students and early career academics.

If interested, or if you have questions, please email faithandhistory@gmail.com.

The Many Evangelicalisms

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Over at the Christian Post, Michael Gryboski reports on a recent session at the American Historical Association (sponsored by the Conference on Faith and History) on race and the meaning of American evangelicalism.  Some of you may recall that Matt Lakemacher also reported on this session here at the blog.

Here is a taste of Gryboski’s piece:

There are “many evangelicalisms” and people should be wary about trying to attach a single definition to the religious movement, a history professor says.

Kristin Kobes Du Mez, associate professor of History and Gender Studies at Calvin College, presented a paper on Saturday titled “Race, Gender, and the 81 Percent: Defining Evangelicalism and What’s at Stake” at an American Historical Association conference in Chicago, Illinois.

The ”81 percent” in the title refers to the much touted yet highly disputed 2016 presidential election exit polling data that claimed 81 percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.

Some, including Joe Carter and Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition, and Napp Nazworth at The Christian Post, argued that the polling data was problematic on multiple fronts. The 81 percent, they point out, only includes whites, doesn’t include people who didn’t vote, and is based upon self-identification, rather than beliefs or participation in an evangelical church. 

Further illustrating the problem, a 2017 LifeWay poll found that less than half of those Americans who identify as evangelical hold evangelical beliefs, and one-third of Americans who hold evangelical views don’t identify as evangelical. 

Du Mez explained in her presentation the modern debate and different perspectives over how to define the term “evangelical,” including whether to accept self-identification or to base it on theological views.

Read the rest here.

 

In Defense of Empathy

Why Study History CoverIn a recent post at The Anxious Bench, Elesha Coffman of Baylor University asks, “Why was [Robert] Orsi, whose scholarly home is the American Academy of Religion, giving a plenary at the C[onference on] F[aith and H[istory]?”

As the person who invited Orsi to deliver a plenary at the CFH, I am the one responsible for his appearance. Due to other CFH commitments, I only heard half of Orsi’s address on “disgust,” but what I heard was a real barn-burner.   You can get a sense of what he said in Coffman’s post.

I had originally asked Orsi to talk about his most recent book History and Presence.   I thought his reflections on “real presence” in the American Catholic experience would resonate with CFH members.  I was just as surprised as anyone by the talk, although I also realize that this often happens in academia.  Nevertheless, my role as program chair is to invite plenary speakers who will provoke conversation and discussion.  Mission accomplished!  🙂

Coffman writes:

For many of us who attended the recent meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, the heaviest moments in a consistently weighty gathering came during Bob Orsi’s concluding plenary, “The Study of Religion on the Other Side of Disgust.” The address was rooted in his current research on clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, and he spent at least 20 minutes recounting in excruciating detail the exploits of Father Paul Shanley, a predator whose superiors allowed him to abuse young people with impunity for decades. Not just allowed—empowered and paid by the church to run what one lawyer called a “pedophile paradise.” Why was Orsi, whose scholarly home is the American Academy of Religion, giving a plenary at CFH? Why was he telling us this appalling narrative? And what were we supposed to do with it?

I can only speak of my own reaction. For me, this was a painful but necessary step in moving away from my own scholarly formation toward something that feels more true in our historical moment.

I was trained to see the historian’s foremost ethical task as the cultivation of empathy. For years, I talked about this virtue on the first day of class. We historians, I used to say, “resurrect the dead and let them speak.” We listen to voices from the past humbly. We refrain from pronouncing anachronistic sentences on our fellow human beings who could not know what was coming next, and who did not have the benefit of whatever enlightenment we have gleaned since their passing. My white, male, Southern doctoral adviser used to say, “If I had been born in the early 19th century, I would have been a racist slaveholder, too.” Generations hence, our descendants will marvel at our blindness. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Read the rest here.

Actually, Coffman was not the only one who criticized the idea of “empathy” in Grand Rapids last week.  Margaret Bendroth, the conference’s first plenary speaker, also criticized the pursuit of empathy in historical inquiry.

Count me as one who is not convinced by this call to move away from or beyond empathy in the practice of history.  Don’t get me wrong, I hope the Catholic sex abuse scandal will trigger “disgust” in all of my students, but a case like this is not the best test case for whether or not empathy is still useful in historical inquiry.  (Who wouldn’t be disgusted by sexual abuse of children?).

There might be subjects we discuss in history class that might trigger disgust in only some of my students or only a few of them.  If we are studying the history of the culture wars, for example, some students might be disgusted that abortion ends the life of babies in the womb.  Others may be disgusted by the fact that pro-lifers do not respect the rights of women to control their own bodies.  When we let something like “disgust” drive our study of history, the history classroom turns into an ethics or moral philosophy classroom.  At my institution, students take a course in ethics with another professor who is trained in the field.  My responsibility is to teach them how to think historically–to walk in others shoes and try to understand the “foreign country” that is the past.  Of course ethicists and moral philosophers can talk about the past as well, but they don’t talk about the past in the same way historians do.  (I should also add that my views here were born out of more than a decade–and eight years as a department chair–defending the place of history in the college curriculum and the larger society.  I have tried to argue that history as a discipline offers a way of thinking about the world that other disciplines do not).

The best historical works, and the best historical classes, are those that tell the story of the past in all its fullness–good and bad–and let the readers/students develop their ethical capacities through their engagement with it. See my colleague Jim LaGrand’s excellent essay, “The Problems of Preaching Through History.”

Of course some folks will now say something like, “Hey Fea, you just wrote a book criticizing Donald Trump!  How is that not preaching or moral criticism?”  It’s a fair question and it is one I have been wrestling with ever since I agreed to write Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I think Believe Me draws heavily upon my work as a historian, but I am not sure I would call it a work of history.  It is instead a work of social criticism targeted at my fellow white evangelicals.  This, I should add, is the primary reason I decided to publish it with Eerdmans, a Christian publisher with connections to the evangelical world.  Wherever I go on my book tour I talk about this.  There are times in Believe Me when I write as a historian and there are times when I do not.

I should also add that I do not bring my approach and tone in Believe Me to the history classroom.  My direct criticism of white evangelicalism and Donald Trump have no place there.  In the classroom we are in the business of understanding and empathy.  If we want to move past empathy and understanding in our classroom, as Coffman suggests we do, them we are doing something other than history.

Of course I have been arguing for this for a long time and still stand by my central thesis in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  In this polarized society we need more empathy for people with whom we disagree.  I still think history is the best way of cultivating this virtue.

A Trump Rally Reunion!

Some of you may remember that Donald Trump rudely interrupted the 2016 meeting of the Conference and Faith.  He staged a rally on the last day of the conference and he never apologized for it! 🙂  Get up to speed here and here and here.

After the 2016 Trump rally at Regent University came to an end, I took this selfie with public historian Susan Fletcher and historian Jay Green:

Susan Jay Me at Trump rally

Fletcher, Green, Fea in Virginia Beach, October 2016

Two years later, at the 2018 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, we took a reunion photo:

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Fea, Green, and Fletcher in Grand Rapids, October 2018

 

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.

Here is What Happened on the First Day of the Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

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Peggy Bendroth delivers the opening plenary in the Calvin College chapel

As many of you know, I am writing today from the 31st Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  This year’s conference is at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Margaret Bendroth, the Executive Director of the Congregational Library in Boston, delivered our opening plenary: “History and Faith in Anxious Times.”  She challenged us to treat our work as historians as an art form–to craft ideas and compose stories that are beautiful and humane.  She urged us to be “people of the imagination,” engage the world with our work, and be “outrageous.”  If you missed the lecture, it should be published in the next few months in Fides et Historia, the journal of the Conference on Faith and History.

Here are some other things that happened on Day 1:

Chris Gehrz, aka The Pietist Schoolman, is ready to go, but he seems to be a bit under the weather:

Get better soon, Chris!

Incoming CFH president Beth Allison Barr is comparing Medieval history with contemporary evangelical gender roles:

Greg Rosauer is doing some last minute tweaking:

Tom Mackie is really happy to be here!

Baylor is in the house!:

Otis Pickett is on his way, but he apparently got stuck in a cornfield.

The CFH program chair reminds everyone that the conference is “twitter friendly”:

Fea Twitter

David McFarland spent some time wandering around campus:

Some attendees are putting their flight time to good use:

Terry Christian is very excited about her first CFH:

We are off to a good start!

The Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History is Here!

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I know a lot of you are in Grand Rapids this weekend for the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  The undergraduate conference is already underway and the general conference kicks off tonight with Margaret Bendroth’s plenary address and a reception following.

We worked long and hard on the PROGRAM for this year’s conference and I think it is a good one.  I will try to blog this weekend, but due to my responsibilities as program chair I can’t promise much.

If you are not here, Twitter is the best way to follow the conference.   Folks are already tweeting at the hashtag #cfh2018.  Follow along and join the Twitter conversation!

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Rolls Through the Midwest This Week

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October 2, 2018
Cornerstone University,
Grand Rapids, MI  11:30-1:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 2, 2018
Taylor University, Upland, IN 7:30pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 3, 2018
Hope College, Holland, MI7:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 3, 2018
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN, 12:00pm
Discussion of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 4-6, 2018 (This event is not part of the Believe Me tour).
Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, Grand Rapids, MI
Program Chair: “History and the Search for Meaning: The CFH at 50”

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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Calvin 2

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Calvin 6

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.