The Pietist Idea of a Christian College

Lilly Fellows Program logo

I’m very happy (and humbled) to announce that the Lilly Fellows Program has awarded Bethel a small grant in support of a workshop I’ll be directing next summer — The Pietist Idea of a Christian College: Bethel University.

In many ways, this is the culmination of a strange journey that started during a similar kind of workshop at Bethel, held in the summer of 2006. Featuring Douglas and Rhonda Jacobsen of Messiah College (and their excellent book, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation), it was primarily meant to help junior faculty like myself begin to think more creatively about the relationship between faith and learning. I came into the workshop a diplomatic historian still convinced that I would find a way to publish a dissertation on education in occupied Germany after 1945… I came out of it convinced that someone should investigate Pietist models of Christian higher education, since Pietism’s was one significant Christian voice that was important in Bethel’s history (and my own) but not yet a part of the Jacobsens’ “enlarged conversation.”

Six years, a research conference, a colloquium, a couple of articles, a book, and this blog later… I spent part of my summer developing a proposal for a new workshop that would help Bethel faculty and co-curricular staff better understand what it means that our leaders have (mostly) rooted our college/university in the Pietist tradition. We use that word a lot, but what does it mean for how we approach… teaching? research? mentoring? ministry? service? living as a community? sending students out into the world?

I’ll be providing participants with a variety of scholarly works and primary sources on the histories of Pietism and of Bethel — and, to the extent that such sources exist, how those two histories overlap. Then we’ll convene in June for a couple of days of discussion, the second of which will feature two distinguished former Bethel faculty who have written and spoken on Pietism and education before: anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris (Messiah College) and theologian Roger Olson (Truett Seminary at Baylor University).

The workshop is for Bethel folks, but here’s why I’m announcing this more broadly:

1. To encourage further those who have been heartened by what one bemused participant in our Conference on Faith and History session on Pietism and Christian colleges semi-seriously called the emergence of a “muscular Pietism” in the Christian academy.

2. To seek suggestions for readings to provide to workshop participants… I’m sure our Pietist Impulse collection will find its way onto the list, since it ranges so widely, and I like both Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom’s brief introduction to the Christian ethics of Pietism and Dale Brown’s evergreen Understanding Pietism, but I’d appreciate recommendations for more obscure books or articles that address aspects of Pietism, especially as they might inform elements of Christian higher education and scholarship.

Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College
Hat tip to Arthur Holmes for the title, and for helping to spark this continuing conversation about Christian higher education

3. Because the ultimate goal of the workshop is to produce a book that would stimulate further conversation about what the “Pietist idea of a Christian college” would be. Participants in the workshop would take the rest of the summer to write potential chapters on specific themes, to which I’d add my own historical introduction and a few chapters invited from former Bethel students and/or faculty who work in other types of Christian colleges and universities.

If that’s a book you’d be interested in reading — or publishing 🙂 — please let me know. And if you have suggestions for specific topics, questions, or problems you’d like to see addressed by contributors, I’d appreciate hearing them, either in the comments section or via e-mail.

4. Most importantly, this post also gives me a more public venue in which to thank some folks who are making this possible:

  • First, the people of the Lilly Fellows Program and its national network, especially director Joe Creech and the members of its board. I’ve been involved in Lilly initiatives off and on for several years now (they were also kind enough to support our 2009 research conference), and I’m always invigorated by the wide-ranging Christian conversation that Lilly cultivates. I appreciate that the Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and other scholars who drive the Lilly program would so generously encourage a Pietist evangelical to join that conversation!
  • Second, our administrators at Bethel’s College of Arts and Sciences, especially dean Deb Harless, who has been a wonderful boss for a number of reasons, but especially as she’s so often put her substantial support and encouragement behind the work that several of us have been doing to recover a deeper sense of Bethel’s Pietist identity.

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