I don’t know anyone who writes who enjoys coming up with a title. Even the bountifully gifted writing staff of the underappreciated sitcom NewsRadio simply gave up and started copping titles from Led Zeppelin albums twenty episodes into the show’s run.
Part of me suspects that we shouldn’t seek to improve on the example of the Hebrew Scriptures. Sly wordplay? Nope, just repeat the first phrase in the text. (Indeed, that would result in a better title to this post. Maybe the whole blog.) Elaborate subtitles? Uh-uh, call a book “Proverbs” or “Job” and the reader knows exactly what she’s getting. A book must possess enormous wisdom if its title is as banal as “Numbers,” right? (I know, I know — that’s a later Greek change, but “In the desert” isn’t exactly titillating.)
So when the moment came to name this blog, I toyed with “Chris Gehrz’ Blog” before initially settling on something with a bit more cheek but the same level of wit: “The (re)Education of Chris Gehrz,” in homage to two studies of education by historians — one justly famous, the other justly obscure.
That lasted about a day. In the end, I’m glad I found inspiration in an essay by Zenos Hawkinson, a longtime history professor at North Park College and brother of my good friend, Rev. Jim Hawkinson, who died last month at age 80.
Zenos’ “The Pietist Schoolman” appeared in Amicus Dei, a Festschrift honoring Covenant historian and former North Park president Karl A. Olsson, who figures prominently in my research on Pietist models of Christian higher education. (You can see his forest-clearing tome on Covenant history, By One Spirit, underneath my left ear in my About Me picture.) Hawkinson put Olsson and his mentor, NP founder David Nyvall, in a line of Pietist educators stretching back to August Hermann Francke, the German Pietist leader who played such a pivotal role in the early development of the University of Halle.
Here’s what Hawkinson found characteristic of Francke and his successors:
…the Pietist schoolman as a type necessarily reflected the character of Pietism as a Christian movement. The Pietist schoolman was usually a university graduate profoundly discontent with the state of the church and determined to see it reformed. He was mainline in theological conviction but hungry and thirsty for living faith experienced in the company of others. He tended to place less emphasis on creed than on Bible, less on erudition than on pastoral care, less on the authority than on the responsibility of the pastoral office. The Pietist schoolman was urgent about his responsibility to the children of common people. Francke loved to say that his duty was twofold: God’s glory and neighbor’s good.
If anyone tells you Pietists are incapable of radicalism, show them this quotation and point out that a history professor is describing other professors in terms not the slightest bit academic! Ecclesial renewal, physical-spiritual desire, religious experience, Christian fellowship, biblical authority, pastoral (!) care (over erudition) and responsibility, anti-elitism, God’s glory, neighbor’s good…
This certainly isn’t how most members of the secular, post-Enlightenment academy understand their calling. And while many non-pietistic Christian “schoolmen” hope to instigate reform, help students from all backgrounds, and seek God’s glory and neighbor’s good, they might reasonably hesitate to rank experience over doctrine, or the cultivation of the intellect under the “cure of souls.”
But working out what the desires and emphases of this “Pietist schoolman” have meant and might yet mean within the realm of Christian higher education frames my research and leads to questions that deserve discussion — within colleges and universities like Bethel, North Park, and others in the Pietist tradition, but also more broadly, across the Christian academy:
- How might the Christian college serve to renew the Church?
- What if a Christian learning community cohered less around a bounded set of doctrines and more around the shared experience of conversion to Christ (what Olsson called “convertive piety”)?
- What are the pastoral responsibilities of a professor at a Christian college?
- How can teaching European history (or inorganic chemistry or media communication or cultural anthropology or…) glorify God and do my neighbor good?
I’m only a few years into the project (and the profession) and not entirely sure how to answer any of those questions, but Francke, Nyvall, Olsson, the Hawkinsons, and many other Pietist schoolmen and women convince me that my particular Christian tradition has some unique answers to offer.