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



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


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


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!

The Church Should Counter Donald Trump By Being the Church

Trump Jeffress

In this highly symbolic photo, pastor Robert Jeffress stands beside Donald Trump and smiles approvingly as the GOP presidential nominee expounds.  What’s wrong with this picture?

As some of you know, last week I was on a public radio show (Interfaith Voices) with Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 12,000 member First Baptist Church of Dallas and one of the most prominent evangelical supporters of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

At one point during the on-air conversation, the moderator, Maureen Fiedler, asked Jeffress how he reconciled his evangelical faith with Trump’s disparaging marks about women.  In a style that has now become commonplace among Trump surrogates, Jeffress dismissed the question.  He said that Trump’s disparaging marks about women were said in his role as a television personality on his reality show The Apprentice and should not be taken too seriously.  He then switched topics.

I pushed back.

First, I said that Trump’s remarks about women were not simply throw-away comments made on The Apprentice.  These remarks about Megyn Kelly, Heidi Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton were made on the campaign trail.

Second, I asked Jeffress how, as a Christian pastor with national influence, he could defend Trump’s comments about women. (Or most anything else he says for that matter).  His calling as a Christian minister is not to defend political candidates, it is to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and speak-out against sin.  Listen here.

In other words, his vocation is to be prophetic. But unfortunately for Jeffress he cannot do this because, like many on the Christian Right, he has allowed politics to “trump” his calling as a pastor.  From a historical point of view, Jeffress is the most recent manifestation of the evangelical church’s unholy alliance with GOP politics, an alliance that began in the late 1970s.

As a Christian, I have been thinking a lot about how the church should respond to the Trump phenomenon.  This morning I was helped on that front by Chris Gehrz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman,” the chair of the history department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I know that Chris is wrestling with the same questions that I am.  In his post “‘Tell It Like It Is’: How the Church Should Respond to Trump,” Chris urges the church to “tell it like it is” (speak the truth to Trump’s lies), be prophetic, confess past and present sins, and proclaim the Gospel.  Amen.

Here is a taste of his post:

During our travels over the holiday weekend, we visited a church and witnessed an odd, telling moment. Looking for a negative sermon illustration at one point, the pastor spontaneously mentioned “the presidential candidate who says he doesn’t need God’s forgiveness.” As best I can recall, the pastor didn’t even say Donald Trump’s name, but he clearly thought he had crossed some kind of homiletical line. Blushing, he stopped the sermon and told his congregation that he regretted making the reference.

Again, I was a visitor, so I don’t know the particular dynamics here. The pastor didn’t explain why he regretted saying what he did. But I suspect that a fair number of pastors, priests, and other Christian leaders are uncertain just how to respond to the Trump candidacy. Many who, like me, find it hard to shake the feeling that they have a moral imperative to resist Trump nevertheless cringe at the thought of bringing “politics into the pulpit.”

Read the entire post here.

How Do Christian Colleges Serve the Church?


In my recent piece on Donald Trump, Christian colleges, and the humanities and liberal arts I wrote:

Evangelical churches and their pastors are also to blame. How many evangelical churches have created spaces where conversations can take place about how to apply the Christian faith to culture, politics, art, nature, or our understanding of the past and its relationship to the present?

I am not saying these topics need to be addressed during Sunday morning services. This time and space needs to be reserved for Word and sacrament. But certainly some of our megachurches could make room for this kind of training.

Much of my analysis in this excerpt and elsewhere in the piece comes from my book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, 2013). I like to think that there is a lot in this book that applies not only to the discipline of history, but to the humanities broadly.

All this week, Chris Gehrz of the Pietist Schoolman has also been wrestling with these issues.  In his latest post, he writes about the relationship between Christian colleges and churches.  Here is a taste:

Now, should we be preparing students for meaningful work that meets the needs of others? Of course. (I’d argue that history, like the other humanities, does this quite well.) Is it okay for Christian colleges to have business programs? Sure, though they should be embedded in a well-rounded arts and sciences curriculum and emphasize character formation as much as professional training. (That’s why I respect our business department.) Should our programs be responsive to economic change? Yes, so long as institutional leaders make the hard choices necessary to sustain that missional core of disciplines without which a liberal arts college ceases to be a liberal arts college.

But no Christian college ought primarily to serve the needs of a market economy. Nor to baptize capitalism (or any other ideology).

Not just the humanities or the general education curriculum, but every professional program — including those in marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, organizational leadership, etc. — ought to prepare students to identify, question, and, if necessary, challenge the values, assumptions, practices, and structures of the systems in which they will participate — even as they continue to serve their neighbors through such participation.

And he concludes:

I would like our students to come out of a Christian college ready to model what the humanities mean in the mission, ministry, and community of the church. I’m not sure that’s happening right now. Perhaps — by discussion and assignment design or by encouraging internships in churches or faith-based organizations, for example — I need to prepare them more explicitly to translate their knowledge and skills in the context of a small group, congregation, denomination, parachurch ministry, etc.

Read Chris’s entire post here.

“An Indefensible Hope”


Drew Dyrli Hermeling and I just recorded Episode 7 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  It is our baseball episode and it will go public on Sunday.  Our guest is ESPN’s Paul Lukas, an expert on the history of baseball uniforms.  Stay tuned. Better yet, head over to the podcast page and download a few episodes.  Even better yet, tell your friends to download a few episodes.

As the baseball season gets underway this week, I have been trying to catch up on the work of sportswriters and commentators who usually use the first week of April to reflect on the meaning of baseball to American life.  So far that best thing I have read comes from Chris Gerhz at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman.  Here is a taste of “Opening Day: ‘An Indefensible Hope.’“:

For my Twins and most other major league teams, today is Opening Day: the time each year when I’m reminded again that I love baseball far above every other sport — and that it’s hard to explain that love to non-fans. For example, the fact that baseball could inspire a writer as acclaimed as John Updike to do some of his best work speaks volumes about the National Pastime: why I love it, and why others roll their eyes at people like me.

Consider Updike’s 1960 New Yorker essay on Ted Williams’ last game (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu“). Within three sentences, Updike has already described Fenway Park as “a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities.” And he’s exactly right to do so… But that’s just the first classical reference in an essay that goes on to liken Williams to Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.

And to compare him to works by both Donatello and Leonardo.

And to use “Wordsworthian” as an adjective. And to record a joke about Thomas Aquinas.

As you may have heard, baseball is “the thinking man’s game.”

But even if you find such allusions pretentious, stick with Updike’s essay. You’ll eventually come to his riveting account of the 41-year old Williams stepping into the batter’s box in the 8th inning of an otherwise meaningless game:

This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his hat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a hush.

As a historian, I appreciate how Updike has all those memories of the past (each hearkening back to earlier sections of the essay) converging in a single moment. That’s a big part of baseball’s appeal for me: everything that happens adds a layer to the archeology of a game that would be recognizable to Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama alike.

Read the entire post here.

7 “Indispensable Christian Academic Twitter Accounts”

d3132-twitter-logo-hashtagChris Gehrz of Bethel University in Minnesota asked his readership at the Pietist Schoolman to share with him “some indispensable Christian academic Twitter accounts.” Here are the results of the survey:

Christena Cleveland (@cscleve) of Duke University

Drew Hart (@druhart), soon to join me on the faculty of Messiah College.  (I should also add that I taught Drew in a U.S. survey course back in the day–before he was famous).

Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) of Baylor University

O. Alan Noble (@thealannoble) of Oklahoma Baptist University

James K.A. Smith (@james_ka-smith) of Calvin College

Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie) of The King’s College

Read all about these tweeters here.

Believe it or not, I also made the cut (@johnfea1). Chris had some nice words to say:

If he never did anything on Twitter, I’d still still hope to be John Fea when I grow up: I don’t know any other historian who so adeptly draws on his academic training for the benefit of public audiences, let alone conservative Christian audiences whose Platonic ideal of a historian is often David Barton. But on top of his widely-read blog, acclaimed books, and new podcast series, John’s decision to take a sabbatical during the election year of all election years has resulted in some pretty compelling tweeting as well. There’s no shortage of opinions about politics on Twitter, but John’s refreshing blend of historical context, insightful analysis, irenic engagement, and humor stands out. 

Thanks, Chris.  Now I need to get back on Twitter and follow some of these folks!

The Pietist Schoolman on Centrist Evangelicalism

CentrismEarlier this week we published a post on David Gushee’s pieces on the decline of centrist evangelicalism.

So is there an impending “divorce” between conservative evangelicals and progressive evangelicals?

I always appreciate Chris Gehrz’s perspective on issues like this.  Over at The Pietist Schoolman he rejects Gushee’s “divorce” thesis and suggests, like I did, that centrist evangelicalism is not going away anytime soon.

Here is a taste:

What’s least clear to me is what Gushee, having encouraged evangelical readers to accept the inevitability of a “divorce,” wants them to do about it. Should denominations, churches, and individuals withdraw their membership in the National Association of Evangelicals? Should self-identified “progressive” evangelicals stop giving money to World Vision because it backtracked on affirming the relationships of its LGBT employees? Should “conservatives” stop supporting InterVarsity because it (kind of) endorsed Black Lives Matters? Should one group or the other stop sending its teenagers to evangelical colleges or its future pastors to evangelical seminaries?

Read the entire post here.

Oklahoma Wesleyan University President "Confuses Defiance for Courage"


I know that some of you have been following this story.  Everett Piper, the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, recently reported that a student at his university approached him after a chapel service troubled because the sermon he had just heard made him feel “victimized.”  The sermon was based on 1 Corinthians 13, the so-called “love chapter.”  The student complained that the sermon made him “feel bad for not showing love” and the preacher made him feel “uncomfortable.” Piper writes:

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.

Piper’s public letter has received a lot of attention in the last several days.  Rod Dreher of The American Conservative said that Piper’s letter showed the OKWU president to be a “man among boys.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times have covered the story.

But the best thing I have read on this whole affair is Chris Gehrz’s blog post “This Is Not Leadership.”  Gehrz is sympathetic to some of Piper’s comments.  But as a good historical thinker he places these remarks in a much larger context.  I wish I could just re-post Gehrz’s thoughts. I strongly encourage you to head over to the Pietist Schoolman and read it for yourself.

(I have said it before and I will say it again.  Chris Gehrz is, without peer, our most thoughtful and insightful commentator on the state of Christian colleges.  I hope Bethel University appreciates him. It is only a matter of time before he will be working as a Dean or Provost somewhere in the CCCU).

Part of the larger context Gehrz notes is Piper’s decision in August 2015 to pull Oklahoma Wesleyan out of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) because the presidents of the CCCU institutions chose to take some time to deliberate about what they should do with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen Colleges–two members of the CCCU that chose to allow faculty in same-sex marriages to teach at their schools. Eventually Eastern Mennonite and Goshen decided to leave the CCCU over this issue, but Oklahoma Wesleyan (and Union University in Jackson, Tennessee) criticized the CCCU leadership for not immediately kicking these schools out of the CCCU because of their positions on gay faculty.  (You can find some of our posts on the subject here. I even commented over at Inside Higher Ed).

Like Gerhz, I am having a hard time reconciling Piper’s approach to the CCCU-gay marriage issue with this statement from his public letter: “At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered.  We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict….”

As Gerhz notes, a leader must always be ready to communicate the following:  1).  The world is complicated.  2). There is no easy solution.  3).  We need to make decisions consistent with our values.  Gehrz shows how Piper has failed to exercise this kind of leadership (at least on the first two issues) in several incidents over the past year.  Gehrz concludes: “We need…university presidents…who will take the time to listen to multiple narratives, to empathize with diverse members of divided communities, and to hold ideas in tension.  We need leaders who can do all this and yet still make prudent decisions that extend long-held values forward into a fast-changing future.”

Shortly after I read Gehrz post, I read Tamara Venit Shelton‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Shelton teaches American history at Claremont McKenna College.

Here is a taste:

Early in the morning, on a Wednesday in November, an alliance of student groups at Claremont McKenna College sent faculty a “Call to Action.” A pair of events — an incendiary email from the dean of students and a racially charged Halloween costume chronicled on Facebook — had inflamed the long-standing, unanswered grievances of students from traditionally under-represented populations.

Their protest echoed similar movements at places like Yale University and the University of Missouri. At Claremont McKenna, the students rallied for greater administrative support, a more diverse curriculum and faculty, and a resource center. They asked for their feelings of marginalization and their experiences of exclusion to be recognized. They refused to remain silent any longer.

As a professor of history at the college, a feminist, and a person of color, I read the Call to Action feeling grateful for our students’ bravery and eager to lend my support. In addition to the demands, the Call to Action listed some two dozen recent microaggressions and acts of bias — someone had defaced posters supporting transgendered rights, an economics professor had used the term “welfare queens.” Then I noticed my course was on the list.

“There is a current class on the Civil War that simulated the pros and cons of slavery,” the Call to Action said. “Many students of color found this discussion to be extremely insensitive and hurtful.”

I reacted with surprise, embarrassment, and — to be candid — indignation. I have been teaching college courses on race and ethnicity for 12 years. Feminist and multicultural pedagogies inform my teaching philosophy. I have tried to equip students with tools to think about difference and inclusion.

How could someone like me wind up on a list like that?

The American Civil War was a subject that I taught regularly. But this semester, I decided to include an innovative curriculum called Reacting to the Past. In an immersive role-playing game, students assumed the identities of Kentucky state legislators during the crisis of secession in early 1861. Using highly detailed role sheets and historical documents, the students-as-legislators debated the merits of remaining in the Union or leaving to join the Confederacy. The game asked students to confront the complex motivations of Civil War-era politicians. True to the historical moment, very few were antislavery; most were slaveholders. The rules of the role-playing game prevented racist speech, but debates over slavery and secession necessarily reflected the entangled imperatives of economics, politics, religion, and — most uncomfortably — racism.

After the Call to Action, one colleague asked why I had assigned a role-playing game for a topic as serious as American slavery and secession. I hoped that it would enable my students to engage with primary sources in ways that conventional seminar-style discussion did not. Studies in education and psychology have shown that role-playing helps students practice empathy and communication. In my Civil War course, I believed that historical role-playing would encourage students to inhabit a worldview wholly unlike their own. I hoped they might emerge with a new understanding of the racist logic supporting slavery and the profound legacy that the Civil War Era had on the United States.

As I have argued many times, most recently a piece I wrote last night for the magazine of the National Council for History Education (not sure if it will be published yet, but if it isn’t published I will post it here) and in Why Study History, that empathy is required for true historical understanding to take place. Shelton knows this:

I expected that the exercise would be productively uncomfortable. Most of the students had to empathize with characters they found morally repugnant. Understandably, that is hard to do, but it is essential to the historian’s craft. To do the work of history, we must understand that real people — with all their virtues and flaws — made history. We need not sympathize with them or absolve them, but we commit to comprehending them on their own terms.

I wonder how Everett Piper would have responded in this situation?  Based on past experience I imagine he would tell Shelton’s students to buck-up and to stop being so sensitive and easily offended.

This is how Shelton responded:

Learning that my class contributed to a climate of racial insensitivity on campus has compelled me to reflect on how I teach. Have my courses overemphasized an intellectual, almost clinical engagement with the past that disregards the emotional and moral turmoil such an encounter can cause? As a historian I confront the brutality of racism in my research every day, and I treat it with the critical distance my discipline has taught me. Perhaps I have become desensitized to our painful past — like a doctor habituated to delivering a bad prognosis.

Perhaps in encouraging my students to practice empathy with people who lived in the past, I forgot to practice empathy with the very people sitting in my classroom…

I will not shrink from difficult conversations about race and power. I will probably assign a role-playing game again although I will do more to prepare students for the emotional difficulties such work can entail. Alongside critical engagement with the past, I will create space for contemplating the vital concerns of our present. I have heard the Call; this is how I will respond.

I do not know Tamara Venit Shelton.  I don’t know if she is a person of religious faith. But both she and Everett Piper recently responded to similar situations in their respective institutions.  Which response was more Christian? 

Gehrz: Evangelicals Must Reject Islamophobia

Chris Gehrz is very upset (and rightly so) about the Islamophobia currently on display in the evangelical community.  Here is a taste of his recent post at The Pietist Schoolman:

I’m not an evangelical who retreats from the label “evangelical.” But the results of a survey released today by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) have me feeling embarrassed and angry about my branch of the Christian family.
In the 2015 edition of its annual American Values Survey, PRRI asked about a number of topics, but coming a day after multiple Republican candidates proposed that Christian and Muslim refugees be treated differently as they seek asylum in the U.S., this finding stood out:
73% of evangelicals agree that the “values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life.”
Now, a majority of Americans (56%) feel this way, as do majorities in every Christian group. (Non-Christians and nonreligious are more likely to disagree than agree with the statement, and black and Hispanic Americans are evenly divided.) But that 73% number is ten points higher than the next most Islamophobic group (white mainline Protestants).
I don’t want to make too much of any single survey of American religion. There’s been plenty written lately about the problems with such polling. But the PRRI result seems consistent with what other surveys have found — e.g., last month LifeWay found that evangelical pastors (unlike their mainline counterparts) are increasingly likely to believe that Islam is inherently violent. And as historian Thomas Kidd has previously pointed out, American evangelical anxiety about Islam is as old as the Republic itself
I almost don’t know where to start, I’m so appalled by that 73% number.
Probably the best place is to question how much evangelicals or any other Christians ought to worry about sustaining “American values and way of life.” Insofar as there’s such a thing as “national values” and they’re consistent with the values of he who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” then sure, try to uphold them. But this just makes me more concerned about evangelical susceptibility to different kinds of secularization.
But even setting that to the side for the moment… Is it impossible for evangelicals to accept that the values of ISIS are not identical to the “values of Islam”? That hundreds of millions of Muslims living as citizens in pluralistic democracies around the world are as horrified by the mass murder of innocents as any Christian? That any religion — including our own — contains multitudes? (I’ll be teaching on the Holocaust in about three hours, and the role Christians played in it.)…
Fortunately, some evangelical leaders have stood up against Islamophobia. In recent days, Christianity Today has published thoughtful pieces by Ed Stetzer and World Vision U.S. president Rich Stearns (r.). Let’s hope that their voices are heeded more than, say, Franklin Graham’s (“Islam is at war with us — we’ve witnessed its evil face firsthand over and over”).
And there is some generally encouraging news in the survey. For all the recent discussion about *racism on college campuses, it’s probably worth noting that 60% of African Americans and 54% of Hispanics “believe that American culture has mostly changed for the better since the 1950s.”
Strikingly, however, 57% of white Americans say the opposite, leaving PRRI CEO Robert Jones “struck by the high level of anxiety and worry on all fronts.” For me, it’s especially troubling to find that evangelicals are the most anxious, fearful group in the survey. Three in five evangelicals claim that “America’s best days are behind us,” while majorities of Catholics, black Protestants, and non-Christians — religious and nonreligious — believe the opposite.
Indeed, I can only interpret evangelical hostility to Islam in light of a larger anxiety, one that’s completely inconsistent with Christian faith and witness. If anyone can live as a people of hope rather than fear, ought it not to be those who claim the Gospel for their name? What kind of evangel are we proclaiming?

How Churches Can Steward the Past

If you haven’t seen it yet, head over to The Pietist Schoolman and read Chris Gehrz’s “History as Stewardship of the Past.”  It is a powerful post about how churches might think about history. Gehrz calls on churches to preserve the past, interpret the past, and to make the past inviting.

Gehrz’s post got me thinking.  In Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past I challenged Christian readers to make sure they are using history correctly when they engage the public sphere.  But I say little in the book about how a church might remember its sacred past.  In other words, when a church thinks about its history it usually includes a messy mix of the past, theology, providentialism, and spiritual nostalgia.  I am not sure I would call this history, but it is something that is worthwhile and useful in the setting of a congregation.

Here are Gehrz’s thoughts on preservation:

First, recognizing that all of Creation, after the Fall, is subject to decay, we stewards of the past must work to preserve it. Not time itself — that would be the most futile erosion prevention project imaginable. But we can preserve what the passage of time leaves behind.

First, churches can invest time, energy, expertise, and money in preserving photos, films, documents, and other physical artifacts. Salem not only has an archives, but under the leadership of Kevin McGrew, a Bethel History alum who directs the libraries at the College of St. Scholastica, it has been digitizing some of its resources through the Minnesota Digital Library project.

But better yet — since it’s impossible to preserve all artifacts, or to know which will actually be most helpful in the future — we can preserve the past by sustaining our memories of it. The very act of putting up temporal milestones like anniversaries helps remind us to remember. But it needs to be an ongoing commitment of any community.

Rick Ostrander on the State of the CCCU

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz interviews Rick Ostrander, the VP for Academic Affairs of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).  

Ostrander answers of a few of Gerhz’s questions about the recent resignation of Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College from the CCCU.  As many of you know, the issue was same-sex marriage.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Just how much of a debate was there? The CCCU board announcement indicated that 25% of member presidents opposed even affiliate status for the two Mennonite schools, while 20% supported maintaining EMU and Goshen as full members.
We clearly have a diversity of members. That’s what one should expect from a large, diverse association comprised of a wide variety of Christian traditions. But there wasn’t really a “debate” on the issue because the results were gleaned from individual private conversations between board members and CCCU presidents. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that this was not a scientific survey. The published results simply reflect the board members’ attempts to summarize and categorize what were varied and often open-ended conversations with presidents about the appropriate identity and boundaries of the CCCU.
Last week WORLD Magazine called this “the biggest challenge” in the four-decade history of the CCCU, with historian of Christian higher education William Ringenberg suggesting that it was almost as serious a crisis as the secularization of Christian colleges in the period 1920-1960. Is that overstating the significance of what happened, or was this truly a landmark moment for the CCCU? 
It’s difficult for me to comment without knowing his full remarks, but I do not think this particular moment rivals the significance of the period last century that you reference for Christian higher education as a whole. As it relates to the CCCU, we were simply dealing with questions about marriage and human sexuality that are being increasingly discussed in our culture, and that other Christian organizations will be facing (if they are not already). Hopefully we have modeled to other organizations how Christians can engage in vigorous discussions with conviction and charity.

Is There An Anabaptist Vision of Sport?

Does look like an Anabaptist celebration?

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz gives us a preview of his forthcoming presentation for the 2015 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture: “Anabaptist Visions of Sport: Separation, Accommodation, and Transformation.”

Gehrz sings the praises of Messiah College athletics:

…But no Goshen program has achieved anything approaching the competitive results of the two soccer teams at Messiah: the Falcon men have won ten national championships since 2000 and the women five. (The softball, track and field, and wrestling teams have also won national championships.) Earlier this year Messiah was named the 8th best college for female athletes, higher than any other Division III school (Wheaton came in at #18) and edging out D-I powerhouses like Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and Oklahoma.

In 2009 USA Today ran a feature story on Messiah athleticsin which student-athletes, coaches, and administrators made clear that personal development and fellowship were more important than winning. (“I don’t really think God concerns Himself — or Herself, however you want to say that — with who wins or loses,” said then-campus pastor Eldon Fry.) But reporter Erik Brady did pick up on the seeming tension between Messiah’s Anabaptist roots and its latter-day embrace of sport:
Given the school’s pacifist roots, what’s with the fierce falcon mascot? “This is not a dove,” [president Kim] Phipps says. “We’re talking here about competition.”

Brady identified Messiah more in terms of evangelicalism, as did Messiah professor John Fea, in a blog post commenting on the article: “Most of our students come from evangelical backgrounds. Many of them are very pious and this often translates into their performance on the athletic fields.” So perhaps all this tells us is that the school has moved further away from its Anabaptist heritage.

Since Chris quotes me here, allow me to make a very quick observation about our athletic program.  I hope the folks in the athletic department will take this as the musings of a fan and outsider observer rather than as an expert who knows how to run an athletic program.

Does Messiah College promote a distinctly “Christian” view of intercollegiate athletic competition? Yes–absolutely.  Most of the coaches that I know are evangelical Christians.  Most of the players are also evangelical and those who are not quickly adjust and adapt to the evangelical culture of the team and the college.  Messiah College athletes pray together, they have Bible studies, they do team-bonding activities that are both fun and spiritual.  They go on mission-oriented trips around the world.

But is there some way in which Messiah College athletics is distinctly “Anabaptist” in nature?  I don’t think so.  The Messiah athletic facilities fly an American flag and the National Anthem is played before games.  (The only places on campus where the flag can be found).  The college now plays NCAA tournament games on Sundays.  I also wonder if they wear uniforms or use equipment made by poor, underpaid laborers in countries around the world. (I would be happy to be corrected on this). They promote themselves in a way that is no different than any other sports program.  And they have a pretty slick (definitely not “plain”) website.

I am not sure if all of this is good or bad, but I do think that one would be hard pressed today to call the Messiah College athletic program “Anabaptist” in nature.

Of course historians study change over time.  And Gehrz’s piece is interesting in the way it compares an older vision of Messiah athletics with its current manifestation as an NCAA Division III powerhouse and one of the best places in the country to be a student-athlete.

Chris Gerhz Responds to Remarks By President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Oklahoma Wesleyan University

I have said it before and I will say it again, Chris Gehrz, the chair of the history department at Bethel University and the man behind The Pietist Schoolman blog, is emerging as one of the most important voices in the Christian college world today. I hope you have been reading his posts on Union University’s decision to withdraw from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  (By the way, we have covered this issue here and here).

Today Chris responds to Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OWU).  OWU, led by Piper, has threatened to pull out of the CCCU unless the the organization expels Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University by August 31 for their stand on gay marriage.

Here is a taste of Piper’s recent remarks to the faculty at OWU:

This past week, I was quoted in several different national periodicals primarily because of my opposition to the actions of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), an organization of which OKWU is a member. The reason for my disapproval is quite simple. After two longstanding CCCU member colleges recently announced their intent to begin affirming gay marriage, the CCCU’s immediate response was not to remove these two schools from membership, but rather, to issue a call for “discussion and deliberation.”
Why do I oppose the CCCU’s action? Put concisely: There are times when the discussion becomes the offense.
Presumably there are some things within any organization that are not—and should not be—subject to deliberation and any discussion to the contrary simply betrays a telling lack of conviction.  For example, would anyone expect the Anti-Defamation League to “discuss” whether or not Jews are human beings, worthy of the same dignity and rights as Germans or Iranians?  Would anyone dare challenge the NAACP for its predictable reluctance to “deliberate” the Dred Scott decision’s definition of a black man? Would any of us seriously condemn the National Organization of Women because it doesn’t want to seek “counsel” on whether or not women ought to be subjugated to the power and privilege of men? Would PETA “deliberate” the health benefits of eating meat? Would we expect Green Peace to “discuss” the advantages of harvesting whales?
I surely hope the answer to all these questions is no. I would assume that all the aforementioned organizations would consider some agendas to be so abhorrent (presumably including the examples I mention) as to be beyond dispute. In like manner, I would argue that any organization claiming the adjective “Christian” should consider certain ideas so far outside the boundaries of any definition of Christianity that they would simply say: “Some things are just not debatable, the discussion is over.”
Here is part of Chris’s response to Piper:
If readers would like to respond to Piper’s argument, the comments section is available. Just don’t expect me to join in. I’ve said enough on the particular topic of marriage and its status as an issue of primary or secondary importance for a Church that is made for unity. If I don’t agree with another CCCU president that our view of marriage “is at the heart of the Gospel,” I’m certainly not going to agree that opposition to same-sex marriage is so central to Christian identity that questioning it is akin to the ADL questioning the humanity of Jews!
But offensive as I find the line of argumentation here (a barely veiled Holocaust allusion!), let me pull apart one of Piper’s rhetorical questions, since it unfortunately pits against each other two words that actually belong together:

Chris Gehrz

Could it be that the CCCU’s openness to dialogue has actually become the offense because its ambivalence demonstrates an apparent lack of conviction in favor of consensus?
Now, I need to acknowledge that I instinctively incline to seek consensus — and that instinct is fallible. Indeed, I’m sure that I occasionally confuse conflict-avoiding with consensus-seeking.
But knowing that those moments are few and far between, let me suggest a few theses — not 95, just thirteen — about what it normally means when Christians talk about holding to their convictions:So I’m probably the kind of person Piper has in mind when he thrice complains about Christians who lack conviction. As Protestants we ought to know that there will be moments when we need to say — against the consensus of the present, and perhaps the past — that our convictions, like our consciences, are captive to the Word of God. Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us.
  1. Consensus is not the enemy of conviction, for
  2. convictions are not meant to be held in isolation, but in community.
  3. (My Latin is virtually non-existent, but doesn’t convictus imply something like “living with”?
  4. Also, the verb from which it descends means first “to convince” and only secondarily “to conquer.”)
  5. We hold convictions about what is true not as private property, to be protected from threats, but as public goods, to be shared as part of life together.
  6. Holding convictions defiantly might feel more emotionally satisfying than seeking the subtle, slow-arriving, and inevitably compromised joys of consensus — but that feeling isn’t always trustworthy.
  7. (As Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” when “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Too many people who think they’re holding convictions courageously are really just full of “passionate intensity.”)
  8. To hold convictions as a way of “living with” others requires more conversation than declaration.
  9. Conversation requires time, but what’s the hurry?
  10. Shouldn’t a deeply held belief sustain more, rather than less, patience?
  11. A dialogue might reveal what you’ll rarely realize in the middle of a monologue: that your belief is misheld.
  12. Which should remind us that we use the word “conviction” far too often to label a strongly held belief and too rarely in the sense of being convicted of our own shortcomings (including shortcomings of understanding and belief).
  13. So finally, conviction is less something that you decide to hold to and much more something that happens to you, a sinner.
Nice work, Chris.  

As I wrote in an earlier post, the decisions of Union and OWU to leave (or threaten to leave) the CCCU are an example of “second-degree separation.”  Back in the day I actually wrote an M.A. thesis on this phenomenon as it developed among self-described “fundamentalists” in the middle-decades of the 20th century who were unwilling to cooperate with liberal Protestants (“modernists”) and those conservative evangelicals who cooperated with liberal Protestants in theological and evangelistic matters.

For example, Billy Graham regularly invited liberal clergy to participate in his evangelistic crusades. According to Grant Wacker’s new biography of Graham, the evangelist often insisted that he work with mainline and ecumenical Protestants wherever he set up a crusade.  Such cooperation would have certainly taken him outside the bounds of traditional Christian orthodoxy.  In 1960 Episcopalian Bishop James Pike prayed at Graham’s San Francisco crusade.  Pike rejected the doctrine of Virgin Birth, believed that Hell did not exist, rejected the Trinity, and supported LGBT causes.  

As Wacker writes: 

…horizontal cooperation [with liberals or modernists] was not minimalist cooperation.  It required fellowship, a genuine exchange of hearts, not just a polite shaking of hands.  Graham said that he had studied what Scripture had to say about the relationship of orthodox to fellowship.  On the eve of the 1957 New York crusade, Graham told the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals…that the “one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy, but love. There is far more emphasis on love and unity among God’s people in the New Testament than there is on orthodoxy, as important as it it.” These may have been the most widely quoted words Graham ever uttered. (Wacker, America’s Past: Billy Graham and Shaping of a Nation, 182).

Self-styled fundamentalists such as Carl Mcintire, John R. Rice, Robert T. Ketcham, and Bob Jones were furious about this kind of cooperation with the theologically unorthodox.  In response they refused to cooperate with Graham. Second degree separation.

I bring up Graham here because a certain faction of the Southern Baptist Church–the faction that is in control–claims to carry the torch of Graham and his neo-evangelical movement.  Union University is a Southern Baptist school in this tradition.

Is cooperating in an organization of Christian colleges with institutions that uphold gay marriage worse than cooperating in an evangelistic crusade with people who deny certain orthodox doctrines such as the Trinity?  I will let my readers decide.

On the Possibility of Historical Empathy

Chris Gehrz has been churning out some great stuff lately at The Pietist Schoolman.  Anyone interested in history, historiography, Christian thinking, and church-related higher education should have the Pietist Schoolman bookmarked for daily reading.

In yesterday’s post, Chris explores the idea of “historical empathy” and wonders whether such a virtue is really possible.  Here is a taste:

But perhaps other fields of study should make us reconsider whether historical (or other kinds of) empathy is even possible. Writing recently for The Stone, the New York Times‘ philosophy blog, Paul Bloom draws on research from psychology and cognitive science to argue that the empathetic ability to imagine the world as others experience it is almost impossible. It certainly doesn’t come naturally:
People are often highly confident in their ability to see things as others do, but their attempts are typically barely better than chance. Other studies find that people who are instructed to take the perspectives of others tend to do worse, not better, at judging their thoughts and emotions.
Can we make ourselves better at it? With philosopher Laurie Paul, Bloom concludes that
it’s impossible to actually imagine what it would be like to have certain deeply significant experiences, such as becoming a parent, changing your religion or fighting a war. The same lack of access applies to our understanding of others. If I can’t know what it would be like for me to fight in a war, how can I expect to understand what it was like for someone else to have fought in a war? If I can’t understand what it would be like to become poor, how can I know what it’s like for someone else to be poor?
Now, Bloom stops short of calling off the whole project:
Under the right circumstances, we might have some limited success — I’d like to believe that novels and memoirs have given me some appreciation of what it’s like to be an autistic teenager, a geisha or a black boy growing up in the South. And even if they haven’t, most of us are still intensely curious about the lives of other people, and find the act of trying to simulate these lives to be an engaging and transformative endeavor. We’re not going to stop.
But he suggests that the difficulty of achieving any real degree of empathetic engagement with the lives of others should underscore the importance of two other words prominent in the historian’s vocabulary: humility and listening.
These failures should motivate a certain humility when it comes to dealing with the lives of others. Instead of assuming that we can know what it is like to be them, we should focus more on listening to what they have to say. This isn’t perfect — people sometimes lie, or are confused, or deluded — but it’s by far the best method of figuring out the needs, desires and histories of people who are different from us.

Great stuff, Chris (and Paul Bloom).  As I suggested to the Christian readers of Why Study History?, perhaps empathy is only possible when one draws upon supernatural resources to achieve it. Now there’s something to chew on for a while! 🙂

Chris Gehrz Holds Forth on the "Pietist Vision of Higher Education"

Chris Gehrz is all over the Internet these days.  Whether he is wandering the Bethel University campus with his trusty microphone as the host of Past and Presence, announcing Bethel’s new job search for an “Ancient-Digital” historian, or talking about the relationship between piety and higher education, his musings are always thoughtful and on the mark.

For example, check out Chris on the Christian Humanist podcast with Nathan Gilmour.  Chris and Nathan discuss Chris’s newly edited volume, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons.  I listened to it this afternoon and was deeply impressed with how Chris, a trained diplomatic historian with a Ph.D from Yale, is able talk so freely about matters pertaining to theology and academic life.  There is a reason they call this guy “The Pietist Schoolman

Listen here.

Job Opening: Ancient-Digital History at Bethel University

My friend Chris Gehtz, aka “The Pietest Schoolman,” has just announced a very interesting job opening at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN.   Bethel is looking to start a digital humanities major and they hope to hire a coordinator for the program with additional expertise in the ancient and medieval world.

Chris has described the job on Bethel’s Department of History blog:
We’re happy to announce that we’ve begun a job search for the newest member of our faculty: a gifted, innovative teacher committed to the mission of Bethel and able to straddle the fields of ancient/medieval and digital history.
First, our new colleague will teach upper-division courses in ancient and medieval history, and as a member of the team for GES130 Christianity and Western Culture. We’re committed to a curriculum that spans the breadth of human experience, including premodern history. And we think that’s all the more important for a Christian liberal arts college, where we want our students to understand the development and context of a faith whose roots stretch back into the ancient world.
But what’s makes the position especially distinctive is that whomever we hire will have the opportunity to shape and then coordinate a new major in Digital Humanities (or DH), teaching introductory and capstone courses and mentoring students as they build digital portfolios through coursework, research projects, and internships.
Thus far shepherded by History professors Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry alongside digital library manager Kent Gerber, the proposal for a DH major was the subject of a story in the Bethel Clarion last fall. Gerber described the field in this way:
Regardless of how digital humanities is defined, it is characterized by collaboration, creativity and multiple disciplines… You will see people who know a lot about computers working with people who know a lot about humanities research in archaeology, English literature, history, linguistics, art, communication studies or library and information science.
Gehrz added that the major should appeal strongly to students who have a passion for fields like history but are concerned about finding a career path:
I think there are a lot of students who really do love things like literature and languages and philosophy and history and theology… Yet they have a voice in themselves saying, “What are you going to do with that?” And part of what this [program] does is suggest, “Well, I can study all of these things that I love, and at the same time I’m getting skills that are very useful for any employer.”
Our faculty, students, and alumni have already been experimenting with digital approaches to research and communication. Gehrz and Mulberry have been prolific podcasters and digital filmmakers, and this May Gehrz and student Fletcher Warren ’15 will debut their digital history of Bethel in an age of modern warfare (here’s their project blog). Prof. Diana Magnuson has worked closely with Gerber and students like Warren in digitizing the holdings of Bethel and the Baptist General Conference. And The American Yawp, “a free and online, collaboratively built, open American history textbook” co-edited by History/Social Studies Ed alum Ben Wright ’06, was recently voted Best Use of Digital Humanities for Public Engagement. (Ben spoke to the impact of digital humanities on history as part of our recent interview on applying to graduate school.)
For further details about our ancient-digital position and instructions on how to apply, please see Bethel’sfaculty employment page. Priority will be given to applications received in full by April 7th.
Chris has also written about the job at The Pietist Schoolman