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.

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.

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.

A Pietist Response to a Negative Book Review on Pietism

Pietist Option 1

I was intrigued today by Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz‘s response to Union University’s Nathan Finn’s review of his book The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (co-authored with Mark Pattie).  The review appeared at The Gospel Coalition website.

Finn writes:

Closer to home, the Pietist ethos that Gehrz and Pattie champion, while it has much to appreciate, has introduced into evangelicalism a fuzziness toward (and sometimes outright rejection of) biblical inerrancy, an openness to inclusivism and sometimes universalism, an egalitarian view of gender roles, an openness toward progressive views of gender identity and human sexuality, a rejection of penal substitutionary atonement, and Open Theism.

This raises the question of whether the Pietist Option at least implicitly opens the door to tired dichotomies—between the “red letters” and “black letters” of Scripture, between Jesus and Paul, between the kernel of the gospel and the husk of doctrine—that have fueled theological revisionism and moral declension among so many contemporary evangelicals.

Ouch!

And here is a taste of Gehrz’s response at his blog The Pietist Schoolman:

Well, maybe. I’m not a universalist, and my Pietist forebears were going to the ends of the earth to make disciples of Jesus Christ at a time when some Calvinists were debating the continued relevance of the Great Commission. But I do hold to an egalitarian view of gender roles — not because of any fuzziness, but out of a clarity that comes from fresh engagement with Scripture. (Not that this is unique to Pietists: in her current Anxious Bench series, Finn’s fellow Baptist Beth Allison Barr is arguing that complementarians have fundamentally misunderstood Paul’s epistles.)…

Even though Finn identifies more with the Reformed trajectory (I think you’d find plenty of Baptists on both wings), I appreciate that he gives our book a fair hearing. He summarized the “option” accurately, found our tone winsome, and even “nodded a fair amount as I considered the authors’ call to a more radical discipleship and holistic mission.” While he celebrates the Puritans and other “renewal movements that cultivated many of the same instincts as the Pietists, but in ways more deeply rooted in a robust doctrinal vision,” Finn nonetheless encourages Gospel Coalition readers “to learn more about Pietist movements. When we aren’t at our healthiest, we can drift into the sort of spiritual lethargy that first inspired men like Spener, Francke, and Zinzendorf.”

(By the same token, I’ve noted before that two Gospel Coalition favorites — Tim Keller and John Piper — have each written positively about aspects of what they define as “pietism.”)

You can’t ask much more from a reviewer than to be fair-minded and thoughtful, appreciative when they agree and critical when they don’t. So thanks to Nathan Finn for the review, and to TGC for publishing it.

Read Gehrz’s entire response here.

A true pietist response, Chris.  Thank you.  If I was accused of everything Finn accused me of simply because I thought pietism was a stream of the Christian church that needs to be revisited in today’s day and age,  I would be pretty ticked-off.

 

The Origins of “Judeo-Christian Values”

trump-evangelicals

Last week Donald Trump told conservatives at the Values Voter Summit that he will end “attacks on Judeo-Christian values.”  Over at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz is curious about the origins of the phrase “Judeo-Christian.”  (Some of you may recall that we have wondered about this as well).

Here is a taste of Gehrz’s post:

On Friday, President Trump told participants in the Values Voter Summit that “We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values.”

Now, critics found it hard to take the “Judeo” part seriously, given that Trump immediately followed that line with another version of his pledge to restore “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” And it’s highly problematic for an American president to defend a religious label that doesn’t describe almost 30% of the population. One wonders how Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and the fast-growing non-religious segments of the population feel about the president’s commitment to “Judeo-Christian” values.

But as a historian, I’m also interested in the origin of that phrase. In his critique of Trump’s speech, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin argues that “Judeo-Christian” is a creation of the Cold War, “an elegant way of saying ‘We are believers; the Russians aren’t.’” (And “a bone that America threw to the Jews, letting us think that our religious faith was an equal partner in American life…. But, in fact, this was never the case.”)

Read the rest here.

The Problem With Majoring in Business

Bethel_thumbnail

To be fair, Chris Gehrz‘s post at The Pietist Schoolman is actually titled “The (Potential) Problems with Majoring in Business.”  Gerhz responds to a Chronicle of Higher Education list of the most popular majors at the nation’s 40 largest public universities.  As you might expect, Business is the most popular major at 23 of these universities and is second or third most popular at seven more.

 

Here is a taste of Gehrz’s post:

…in the abstract, I don’t think that it’s a bad idea to major in business.

But I find it enormously troubling that that field is so disproportionately popular in American higher education.

First, a problem that should be familiar to any business major: at a certain point, the supply of any good or service will exceed the demand for it.

Yes, too many marketing majors can saturate the market.

At which point there’s very little that even gifted marketers can do to make attractive their college-trained, debt-laden product to employers who either need fewer employees with that training — or have recognized that the market has been overlooking other sources of the same labor (e.g., history majors who are trained to pick up field-specific skills as they go, but already have the scarce writing, research, critical thinking, interpersonal, and intercultural skills that employers claim to value above major).

Look, if you have a passion for marketing or feel a calling to management, that’s great. Business is a wonderful fit for you: you’ll enjoy and thrive in courses that will move you closer to your goals. Let me introduce you to my neighbors here at Bethel!

But that description fits only a tiny minority of 18-year olds. In my fifteen years of talking to those students and their parents, I’ve found that most are trying to make an important decision (college major) with too little information and too much anxiety. Desperate to ensure employment, they pick what seems like the most straightforward path to a job. But because their decision is only one of millions like it, they actually risk making their employment less likely.

Read the entire piece here.

The Pietist Option

Pietist Option 1

I was going to title this post, “Forget the Benedict Option, Embrace the Pietist Option!” But then I realized that by exhorting you to ignore Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” I was not acting in a manner befitting a Pietist. (Sorry, I am a work in progress!)

Yesterday I got two books in the mail: Joanna Bourke’s 2006 tome Fear: A Cultural History and Chris Gehrz’s and Mark Pattie’s The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity.  One book is (as the title suggests) about fear. The other book is about hope. I have been reading Bourke today, but have had Gehrz and Pattie nearby so I have something to turn to if I get overly depressed.

I read The Pietist Option in manuscript and was encouraged by it.  When InterVarsity Press asked me to endorse it, I immediately said yes!  Here is what appears on the back cover:

Pietist Option 2

Not all the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will be interested in this new book.  I know many of you are not religious or people of faith.  If you fall into this category, I want to encourage you to read The Pietist Option anyway.  Gehrz (a Yale-trained historian) and Pattie (a Christian pastor) offer a way of thinking about Christianity that you might find appealing. Other readers of this blog come from Christian traditions that do not give primary attention to Pietism.  Fair enough.  But I still think you should read the book.  All Christian traditions could use a dose of something akin to Pietism.

I was reading some of The Pietist Option to my sixteen-year-old daughter last night.  (I managed to get her attention between Snapchats, texts, and AP U.S. history homework). Here are a few of the snippets I read to her:

“If we’re seeking after renewal, it’s got to start with you and me confessing how we’ve failed to love God and to love our neighbors.”

“The Pietist option calls Christians back to the motivations and actions of the Servant who stooped to wash his disciples feet.”

“Our world needs a new narrative to unite us in spirit and mission, to provide us a hopeful pathway to pursue together.”

She did not tell me to stop, so I guess that is a good sign. 🙂

 

Another Conservative Critique of the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

I don’t know much about Matthew Lee Anderson apart from a few things I read every now and then in which he is defending traditional marriage.  I was thus was surprised to learn that he refused to sign the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.

Yesterday he published a critical piece on the Nashville Statement titled “Evangelical’s ‘Flight 93’ Moment: Reflections on the Nashville Statement.”  The piece is useful because it has a lot of links to articles and posts written by defenders and critics of the Statement.  It is good to have these links all in one place.

I was disappointed, however, that Anderson ignored Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz‘s critique of the Nashville Statement at The Pietist Schoolman.  It is the best evangelical critique of the Statement that I have read.

Anderson and Gerhz seem to be in agreement that the Nashville Statement reflects what we (and now many others) have been calling “The Age of Trump.”

Here is a taste:

The Nashville Statement is the Flight 93 statement. It is striking how similar its defenses have been to arguments that evangelicals should vote for Trump. The sense of crisis the preamble announces is so pervasive that it justifies not just any statement, but this one. Anything else makes the perfect the enemy of the good. One signer told me Article 10 alone should impel me to sign, because the urgency of the hour demands it. ‘Choose ye this day’, the statement announces, and voting third party is clearly a waste. The impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics. Those Nashville pastorswere right to detect an elusive commonality between evangelical support for Trump and the dynamics surrounding this statement, even if the vast majority of its signers were strong and faithful critics of Trump’s campaign.

Only time will tell, but I fear the Nashville Statement will be no more a win for conservative evangelicals than the election of Donald Trump. While it has exposed the silliness of progressive foes, it has also galvanized them and dangerously inflated our confidence in our own rightness and strength. The statement draws some of the right boundaries, but in the wrong way. And at least one boundary ought not to be drawn, or needs to be clarified. It comes to many right conclusions, but reflects principles and ideas that have born bad fruit within evangelicalism.

Read the entire piece here.

More from the Pietist Schoolman on the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

Last week I called the Nashville Statement a “disaster.”  Even if one affirms the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, this statement seems unusually divisive.  (I thought Al Mohler’s defense of the Nashville Statement in this weekend’s Washington Post took a less strident tone).  Over at Facebook I compared the Nashville Statement to other attempts by conservative evangelicals to define who is an evangelical and who is not.  I am thinking here of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Affirmations meeting of 1989.  I was an observer at the latter meeting while I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and I saw fierce debates over whether or not an affirmation of biblical inerrancy was a marker of evangelical identity.  I also watched an attempt to keep John Stott from the evangelical fold because he believed in annihilationism.  Many of the signers of the Nashville Statement were also in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel in Deerfield, Illinois on that Spring day in 1989.

Last week at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz described the Nashville Statement as “theology for the age of Trump.”  I affirmed his decision to describe the statement in this way.  Many people who signed the statement or who were sympathetic to the signers, took offense to this.  They argued that a significant number of signers did not vote for Trump in 2016.  Fair enough.  But as Gerhz’s recent post suggests, such a response misses his point.  Here is a taste of that post:

It’s clear that the title of the post (“The Nashville Statement: Theology for the Age of Trump”) has been a stumbling block for some. Lamentably but understandably, they don’t necessarily want to read two thousand words’ worth of my musings. Incorrectly but understandably, they read the title and nothing else, assuming that I’ll simply dismiss the signers as Trump apologists, or John Fea’s “court evangelicals.”

I did try to head this off in the post. While noting that one prominent signer is Trump supporter James Dobson, I added that the list also includes Trump critics like Moore and Piper. (In retrospect, I should have added Burk to that list.). But if I wanted to bring more light than heat to the discussion, I should have stated that point even more forcefully before trying to place the Nashville Statement in the context of an “Age of Trump.”

So let me try to sum it up this way:

The Nashville Statement is meant to stand up against “the spirit of our age” on matters of sexuality and gender. But the way it is written actually evokes the angry, merciless, divisive discourse of our age — whose problems don’t start or stop with Donald Trump, but certainly are exemplified by him.

Bart thinks that some of us critics of the statement raised “mincing and squeamish complaints” about it. Recognizing that I am naturally averse to confrontation and conflict and perhaps too quick to cry “Peace, peace,” I nonetheless stand by my conviction that Christians should always write as winsomely and irenically as possible. Even when it’s absolutely essential to draw a doctrinal “line in the sand,” it should be with the intention of persuading people to join us on our side of that boundary, not of keeping them separated.

So no, the signers are not all Trump backers. (I don’t think most have made their politics clear, either way.) But in their attempt to present an evangelical witness in the year of our Lord 2017, I think it would have behooved the authors of the Nashville Statement — like any of us writing for a public that is inevitably bigger than the intended audience — to have gone out of their way to communicate in as un-Trump-like a manner as possible.

Read the entire post here.

The Nashville Statement is a Disaster

 

Gaylord

It is a disaster for all the reasons Chris Gehrz makes clear in his post today at The Pietist Schoolman.  (I should add the title of this post is mine). The so-called “Nashville Statement” is indeed “theology for the Age of Trump.”

I don’t really have much to add to Gerhz’s post.  I encourage you to read it.

Here is a taste:

So for those of you in that middle… Even if you admire at least some of its signers and affirm at least part of what it says on sexuality and gender identity, here’s why I think you should be bothered by the Nashville Statement:

While it claims to hold out a steadfast Christian witness against “[t]he secular spirit of our age,” it mostly succeeds in exemplifying theology for the Age of Trump.

I don’t just mean that releasing such a statement in the middle of an unprecedented national disaster — and in place of a much more urgently needed evangelical statement on white supremacy — exhibits what journalist Jonathan Merritt called “Trump-level tone-deafness.”

Nor that the authors have chosen to condemn “transgenderism” just days after Pres. Trump began to implement a ban on transgender persons serving in the military, only feeding the perception that whatever daylight separates Trumpism and evangelicalism is vanishing. (After all, that ban was reportedly discussed with Trump’s much-maligned evangelical advisers before he first tweeted his intentions last month.)

The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.

It’s not truth written in love of people who share innate human desires for love, self-worth, and identity, bearers of God’s image who know their own shortcomings far more acutely than what others presume to judge in them from afar.

It’s red meat tossed to the hungry members of a passionate, but small base. (Indeed, passionate because it’s small – and shrinking.) Part 2 of CBMW head Denny Burk’s follow-up blog post makes it sound like the Nashville Statement could conceivably stand in line with the historic creeds of the church universal. But this document is as un-catholic as you can get, speaking for a mostly-male, mostly-white slice of mostly-Reformed evangelical Protestantism in one country. Even then one of the co-founders of The Gospel Coalition didn’t even sign it. As far as I can tell, the only evangelical college presidents to endorse it represent schools that have quit the CCCU or never belonged to it. For no good reason, the document includes an article (#7) that excludes celibate gay Christians who might otherwise have been supportive. And there seems to be no representation of the African, Asian, and Latin American churches where theologically conservative Protestantism is actually growing fastest — nor of the Roman Catholic church, which only represents the majority of all Christians on the planet.

Read the entire post here.

One more thought:  I defend the right of the framers and signers of the Nashville Statement to release this statement and to hold the views on human sexuality they express.  And as much as I agree with everything Chris Gehrz wrote in his post, I hope that we might be able to work toward what John Inazu calls a “confident pluralism” on these matters.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nashville Statement gets us any closer to this kind of pluralism.

What Does the Republican Dislike for Higher Education Mean for Christian Colleges?

Bethel_thumbnail

On Tuesday, we posted about the recent Pew Research Center survey that suggests most Republicans have a negative view of higher education.  Over at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has some “quick thoughts” on this survey and what it might mean for Christian colleges.  He writes:

I’m struck by this result from the Pew survey: Republicans are twice as likely to take a positive view of churches and religious organizations as of colleges and universities. For many on the left, I’m sure this will just bolster the assumption that Christians are anti-intellectuals. But it also suggests an interesting situation for those of us who work for Christian colleges and universities.

Here again, the data yields more questions than answers. Do Republicans have a higher view of private religious colleges than other institutions of higher learning? Or do they increasingly view institutions like my employer with the same skepticism they afford secular colleges and universities?

But as a perennially hopeful kind of guy, I still think that Christian higher ed can serve as a bridge stretching across the growing chasm between church and academy. If only among our students, alumni, and other constituents who are Republican or lean that direction, can Christian college faculty and staff persuade them of the value of the liberal arts, scientific inquiry, and the life of the mind?

Maybe not. There are days I’m not sure enough higher ed professionals share those values. And as I’ll explain next week, I’m struggling with how to be persuasive at all in a time such as ours.

Read the entire post here.  And, needless to say, I am looking forward to Chris’s aforementioned “I’m struggling to persuasive” post.

Romans 13 in American History

Romans-13I wrote a little bit about Romans 13 and the American Revolution in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz notes that this New Testament passage was also used frequently in the 1840s and 1850s during the debates over slavery.

Here is a taste:

Even at its peak of popularity in the early 1840s, Romans 13:2 still appears only half as often as the single most popular verse for that time period (Luke 18:16, which generally is 5-20 times as common in the corpus as the two verses from Romans 13).

Not surprisingly, when Romans 13 did enter American public discourse at this time, it was usually as part of the national debate over slavery. In 1839, for example, a Congregationalist minister named William Mitchell quoted that passage in support of his argument that “Civil government, however corrupt, is an institution of God.” Orson S. Murray, the abolitionist editor of The Vermont Telegraph, was appalled:

“No matter then how corrupt the government—from the corrupt, hypocritical republic that establishes by law and holds in existence a most abhorrent and diabolical system of robbery, and lust, and murder, down through all the grades of aristocracy and monarchy, originating in, or originating—as a large proportion of them do—popery, Mahomedanism, and idolatry, in all their degrading, dehumanizing, man-destroying, God-dishonoring forms—all, all these corrupt and corrupting institutions are the workmanship of an all-wise, and holy, and just God!!! The consummate absurdity—not to say the involved shocking impiety and blasphemy—of deliberately and intelligently holding to such sentiments, lies out on the face of the declaration. To expose them, it needs no argument or comment. I would not be understood as denouncing, outright, friend Mitchell, as a blasphemer. I am altogether willing to attribute the monstrous heresy to ‘blindness of mind’—the habit of taking upon trust long received opinions—rather than to perverseness of heart.”

Read the rest here.

Historians “get in the way of death”

Resurrection

And in the process we “practice resurrection.”

Yesterday was a long day of meetings about unhappy things.  I needed a reminder of why I do what I do and why I do what I do where I do it.

Chris Gehrz’s powerful reflection on the work of historians was just what I needed. Thank you.

Here is a taste:

…history can serve as both an academic and spiritual discipline, a way of getting in the way of death and practicing resurrection.

First, history gets in the way of death.

Not that history stops people from dying — neither its subjects nor its practitioners — but it resists the power of death. For if Paul is right that death is the “last enemy to be destroyed,” then death is more than an event: it is an active force, one among the rulers, authorities, and powers that oppose God. Death doesn’t merely snuff out the spark of life; it seeks to strip humanity of the dignity inherent to being made of the image of God. Resurrection may bring change “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” but in the meantime, death lingers: slowly, methodically seeking to erase the meaning of mortal existence from our memory.

So if we practice the discipline of history, we act as a counter-force to death. We are not standing passively by the grave, but actively protecting against the decay of forgetting. For not only do we help preserve the evidence the dead leave behind, but we make meaning of lives that death seeks to render meaningless…

I don’t mean to claim too much with that phrase: we are not emptying tombs. Nor do we do the practical good that Claiborne and other neo-monastics have done when they “practice resurrection” by working to revive urban neighborhoods left for dead.

But I also don’t want to claim too little. It is no small thing to breathe life into what remains of the past by teaching, speaking, and writing about it. History is harder than most will ever know; it must be fueled by passion and compassion. Indeed, such “resurrection” is one of the most common ways that Christian historians fulfill Christ’s command to love our (temporal) neighbors: dedicating our time, energy, and gifts to bringing them — however briefly and figuratively — back to life, in all their messy complexity. We read historical texts, argues Fea, “for the purpose of learning how to love people who are not like us, perhaps even people who, if we were living at the same time, may have been our enemies” (Why Study History?, p. 131).

In the process, perhaps we might even bring some life back to our students and ourselves. Long before our physical demise, we suffer the creeping spiritual death of sin. Perhaps history can serve as a means of grace, reviving in us the ability to love God with our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Read the entire post at The Pietist Schoolman.

“This is Your Chance”: The Pietist Schoolman on the Christian Liberal Arts

 

Crown

Crown College

Chris Gehrz, aka the Pietist Schoolman, recently gave the keynote address for the annual Honors Symposium at Crown College, a Christian college in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota.  He has graciously posted an abridged version of his address, “The Three Journeys of the Christian Liberal Arts,” at The Anxious Bench.

Here is a taste:

Unfortunately, as the Presbyterian pastor and novelist Frederick Buechner said once, while preaching on Isaiah 6, “our lives are full of all sorts of voices calling us in all sorts of directions. Some of them are voices from inside and some of them are voices from outside. The more alive and alert we are, the more clamorous our lives are. Which do we listen to? What kind of voice do we listen for?”

You are being sent out into a noisy world, “where there are so many voices and they all in their ways sound so promising.” None is louder than “the great blaring, boring, banal voice of our mass culture, which threatens to deafen us all by blasting forth that the only thing that really matters about your work is how much it will get you in the way of salary and status…”

But this is your chance. Before you’re encumbered by too many responsibilities and obligations, think about your education as a relatively quiet space in which you have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tune your ears to hear God’s voice — in Scripture and theology, but also in the cadences of poetry and music, in the narratives of history and theatre, in the song of birds and bubbling of test tubes, in the cries of those who suffer.

If Buechner is right, then the sound of God’s call on your life is actually like a vocal duet: the sound of two different voices singing two different notes with two different timbres — and one ultimate purpose.

First, we should go “[w]here we most need to go,” follow “the voice of our own gladness,” and do that which “leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north and of peace, which is much of what gladness is…”

Second, we should go “where we are most needed,” into a world with “so much drudgery, so much grief, so much emptiness and fear and pain,” and offer ourselves in service.

And if, Buechner concludes, you answer to those two voices, you will take up “the calling of all of us, the calling to be Christs.”

What does this have to do with the Christian liberal arts? Buechner advises us to “keep our lives open,” but it’s hard to do that if you track yourself into a professional path admitting little personal exploration. As it happens, the broad study of the liberal arts both helps you know yourself more deeply, so that you’re better able to discern that “true north” that is specific to you, and in disenchanting you, it helps you recognize the grief and pain that you can alleviate, the emptiness that you can fill.

Read the entire post here.  In the meantime, I am sending this off to my daughter.  She is a freshman at a Christian liberal arts college.

 

 

Christian Historian: “We Have Never Elected A More Dangerous Chief Executive

white-house

We all know Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz as The Pietist Schoolman.  He is one of the most insightful Christian historians blogging today.

When Chris left the United States in January to lead a history-related travel course in Europe the POTUS was Barack Obama. When he returned home yesterday Donald Trump was POTUS.

Here are some of his thoughts on the new resident of the White House:

In his inaugural address, Trump claimed that the solution to “American carnage” is to place “America First.” That phrase by itself is troubling to any historian of World War II, evoking as it does the misguided isolationist movement that tried to keep the world’s most powerful country from opposing the world’s most wicked leader. But I can at least understand that impulse; after all, the phrase originated with Americans who sought to keep their nation out of the futile world war that we’ve been studying this month.

But the new president went far beyond a rethinking of foreign affairs or trade policy:

“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

At some level, these words do resonate with me. Much of his claim of “carnage” was overwrought or simply dishonest, but there is suffering and injustice in this land. So I do want to believe that “We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.”

But precisely because of the divisive, corrosive nature of Trump’s campaign and what his election revealed about the even deeper fissures in American society, I have serious doubts that Americans remain “one nation,” bound together by shared pain, dreams, or success.

And if that nation can only be preserved by “total allegiance” to it, then better we follow the psalmist’s call to unity in other kinds of communities

Read the entire post here.

More on Whether or Not Christian Colleges Were Behind the Evangelical Support of Trump

Boyer Hall

My response to SUNY-Binghamton education professor Adam Laats’s piece at History News Network has garnered some interesting conversation on Twitter.  Follow me at @johnfea1 to get up to speed.

Some tweeters are defending my original posts.  Others think Laats is on to something. And still others are taking this opportunity to talk about how they had bad experiences at Christian colleges in a way that has nothing to do with the original question that Laats posed.

A few tweeters wanted something more than anecdotal evidence to support my claim that evangelical Christian colleges are not to blame for Trump.  Chris Gehrz, aka The Pietist Schoolman, heard the call and tried to crunch some numbers.  It turns out that support for the GOP candidate in precincts that include a Christian college was often weaker in 2016 than in 2012.

Read his entire report here.  If you are interested in this question it is definitely worth your time.

A few of my own takeaways:

  • At Liberty University, support for the GOP candidate was down from 2012 and support for third party candidates was up.
  • In a central Pennsylvania region that went heavily for Trump, the precinct that contains Messiah College was an island of Hillary supporters.  In fact, support for the GOP candidate in this precinct went down over 18% between 2012 and 2016 and support for the Democratic candidate went up almost 9%. (Cumberland County, where Messiah College is located, went 57% for Trump and 38% for Hillary).
  • As Gehrz recently wrote on his Facebook page, the two biggest drops in support for the GOP candidate among Christian college precincts in MN, VA, PA, and OH came in the precincts for Gehrz’s school (Bethel University) and my school (Messiah College).

None of these statistics surprise me.  Nor does Gehrz’s conclusions.

I want to close this post by reiterating something that I said in my original post.  Christian colleges are not to blame for Trump because most evangelicals do not attend or support Christian colleges, especially those Christian colleges that are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.  As I argued in the original post (with the help of a link to a 2005  Books and Culture piece by Allen Guelzo), Christian college students and faculty make-up a very small slice of the evangelical pie in America.

Wheaton College political scientist Bryan McGaw probably put it best:

 

Jared Burkholder’s “Open Letter to the Bartons”

jared-burkholderJared Burkholder teaches and writes history at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.  I have been to Grace. It is a great Christian college.  I also think it is fair to say that Grace is not a bastion of secularism, liberalism, atheism, or paganism.  Having said that, it is not pure enough for David Barton, the political activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda that the United States is a Christian nation. Grace did not make his list of acceptable schools.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman,  Chris Gehrz’s Christian history blog with a wide readership among evangelicals, Burkholder has published “An Open Letter to the Bartons.” Here is a taste:

Dear David (and now Tim) Barton,

Maybe you can clarify something for me. Why do you continue to insist that because you read primary sources you have a unique voice when compared to professional Christian historians like me, who you say fail to make use of original sources?

I am hardly the first to be annoyed by this, but suffice it to say this is utterly incomprehensible to me. Primary sources are to historians what hammers are to carpenters; what keyboards are to composers; what language is to writers. They are the tools of our trade, the most basic implements we learn to use.

We wrestle with their complexity. We wade through mountains of them. We have realized that using them with integrity requires difficult work and a whole lot of time. Often, we don’t just read and use primary sources, we live in them. We spend so much time with them they become part of our present reality. They show up in our dreams at night and in the space of our daydreams. We ask other people for grant money so we can go and see them. We cross oceans to handle them — maybe just to decipher the notes in the margins. We struggle with foreign languages so we can break their codes and take courses in paleography to learn how the ancients made their letters. Visit any of our classes and you’ll find we not only use original documents for our research, we assign them to our students. We might print out digital photos of documents crammed into our hard drives from our research trips so students can practice with them. We take joy when we inspire in our students the same sense of awe we ourselves feel every time we step into the archives.

Read the whole thing at The Pietist Schoolman.

I offer this for some additional context.

 

Why the “Pietist Schoolman” Signed the “Historians Against Trump” Letter

Make AmericaChris Gerhz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman,” a history professor at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, was another signer of the “Historians Against Trump” letter.

Here is a taste of recent post:

I’m not naive enough to believe – as Fish reads out of the letter — “that historians, because of their training, are uniquely objective observers.” As the authors acknowledge early on, we historians (like anyone else) cannot fully escape “our own limitations and subjectivity.” But we do seek after truth as objectively as possible — not uniquely (most academic disciplines would affirm this objective), but distinctively (in accordance with the particularities of our discipline — e.g., grounding any historical truth-claim in a reasonable interpretation of available historical evidence. It’s why I’m more bothered than other Trump opponents by Hillary Clinton’s use of private email while serving as secretary of state, which was not only careless but made more difficult the work of those of us who benefit from the transparency of well-kept public records.)

I’m also not naive enough to believe that we should expect political candidates to be unfailingly honest. According to the nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checkers at Politifact, the other major party’s presumptive nominee has made “True” or “Mostly True” statements only 51% of the time. That’s a higher percentage than the equivalent numbers for the current presidentvice president, and all four majorcongressional leaders.

It’s also nearly five times as high as the same number for Donald Trump.

Not just historians, but anyone else whose profession places any value on truth-telling, should be bothered by a supposedly candid non-politician’s casual disregard for reality. But it’s especially worrisome for historians because the central theme of Trump’s campaign is an ahistorical claim about the past: that America was once great and can easily be made so again. Harshly, but not unfairly, the open letter’s authors describe Trump’s campaign as one of violence — against “individuals and groups” (more on that in a moment), but also “against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.”

Read the entire piece here.

Big Changes in the Christian Historians’ Blogosphere

AnxiousBench_P30_bh

The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only “bench” that is experiencing a change of personnel.

As John Turner of George Mason University reports, Thomas Kidd, the prolific historian of American Christianity at Baylor University, will be leaving The Anxious Bench to help start a new blog (with Justin Taylor) at The Gospel Coalition. (More on that below).

Turner writes:

This week, one of our other original contributors has taken up a new post at The Gospel Coalition. I have known Thomas Kidd for nearly two decades, since we were in graduate school together at Notre Dame. It was through his initiative that The Anxious Bench came into being, and he has enriched us with a steady stream of thoughtful and powerful posts over the past four years. He has also served as our blogmeister.

I greatly admire the way that Tommy writes with purpose, clarity, and faith. What my friend has modeled through his publications has greatly inspired and shaped my own work. We will miss you at The Anxious Bench, but we offer our best wishes on your new assignment, Tommy!

Kidd will be replaced at the Anxious Bench by one of our favorite bloggers: Chris Gehrz, the chair of the history department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Gehrz will take over Kidd’s regular Tuesday slot and will serve as blogmeister.  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know Gehrz from his own blog–The Pietist Schoolman.

Gehrz recently announced his new gig in a post at The Pietist Schoolman.  Here is a taste:

Even after the imbalanced swap of Kidd for Gehrz, this particular bench remains a deep one, with some truly impressive “historians of broadly evangelical faith [sharing] their reflections on contemporary faith, politics and culture in the light of American and global religious history.” I doubt that Philip Jenkins needs much introduction, and John Turner (for the leading role he’s played, as a historian from outside the LDS fold, in the “Mormon moment“) and David Swartz (for his groundbreaking work on politically progressive evangelicalism) may be familiar to long-time readers of this blog. Beth Allison Barr regularly corrects my mistaken assumptions about medieval Christianity. And each month Agnes and Tal Howard each contribute thought-provoking posts on everything from Puritanism to snake handling.

Fans of The Pietist Schoolman will be happy to know that Gehrz will continue to maintain his regular posts at the site.

As for Kidd, he has teamed up with Justin Taylor (of Between Two Worlds fame) to start Evangelical History.  Here is a taste of Kidd’s description of the new venture:

Welcome to the Evangelical History blog of The Gospel Coalition! This blog is a partnership between Justin Taylor and Thomas Kidd (me). Many of you will know Justin from his influential Between Two Worlds blog, which will be continuing at TGC while he and I also collaborate on this initiative.

What do we mean by “evangelical history”? Justin and I both have broad interests in the history of evangelical Christianity, and the history of Christianity, so those will be a major focus here. But we’re also interested in a Christian view of all kinds of history: political, military, social, and other topics.

I don’t know if I can handle all this movement before the August 1, 2016 MLB trading deadline!