A Baptist Pietist University Gets Medieval

You wouldn’t expect a Baptist Pietist university in the American Midwest to be anything remotely like a hotbed for interest in the Middle Ages, but there’s been a mini-revival of matters medieval here at Bethel University.

Chris ArmstrongLeading the charge is church historian Chris Armstrong, who has branched out from his interests in Wesleyan and Holiness Christianity. Chris has been blogging about the Middle Ages for several years now, but that’s accelerated in the last month or two, as he’s been sharing draft excerpts from a long-gestating book that enlists C.S. Lewis to help evangelicals understand medieval Christianity (Getting Medieval with C.S. Lewis). Right now Chris is in the middle of an edifying stretch of posts (starting with this one) that will make you rethink the value of scholasticism. Here’s how Chris explained the value of such a project from a post in its earliest stage:

Many Protestants are still hampered in their faith and practice by a “black hole historiography,” which assumes that the church apostatized from true Christianity sometime around Constantine and was only finally recovered by the Reformers….

I believe that the medieval church (I will deal in this book only with the Western Church) is the next frontier in evangelical ressourcement. It certainly contains its share of “land mines” to identify and skirt. But I believe the medieval church will prove an important armory—as C. S. Lewis and his friends strongly believed—in the church’s present struggle against parts of modern and post-modern culture that contradict the gospel, oppress Christians, and seduce even the church itself.

We’ll keep you posted as the book nears its publication. As someone who’s learned at the feet of Chris about this era (several years ago we brought Chris down the hill to the college to talk about “medieval mental furniture” for our Christianity and Western Culture program’s faculty workshop), I can guarantee it’s worth your time!

• Then in the College of Arts and Sciences, the English Department hosts medievalist Mark Bruce, who currently has fifteen students studying Latin after teaching a course on Chaucer and Arthurian literature last spring. He also teaches in Bethel’s four-semester Western Humanity in Christian Perspective, where the first unit’s medieval unit has historically included readings from Anselm and Dante, listening to Gregorian chant, and the students performing Everyman.

Terrell and Bruce, The Anglo-Scottish Border and the Shaping of Identity, 1300-1600Last year Mark co-edited the new entry in Palgrave Macmillan’s New Middle Ages series, The Anglo-Scottish Border and the Shaping of Identity, 1300-1600. Borders are also at the core of his new blog, surfingedges, where, among themes, he seeks to “[explore] the borderlands between that medieval past and the present in which I live.” Just a couple days ago he launched a new series on the “very-canonical (and some not-so-canonical) works I’m addressing in my British Literature survey course this fall,” starting with a post on the earliest surviving English poem, known as Caedmon’s Hymn. Mark closes by calling our attention to the poem’s structure:

How it starts as a concept in the mind of the measurer, his modgethanc. How it moves then, to the beginning of each wonder. Then to the Shaper, sculpting heaven as a roof and adorning the earth for his people. The guy who left the party, too humiliated to even try to sing, is given a song that is a direct mirror of the process of creation itself, carried from concept, to execution, to appreciation. From the mind of God, to heaven, to the grains of dirt that form the earth. It is no mistake that, in the Anglo-Saxon language, another word that derives from the same root as the words sceop and Scyppend in the poem is scop, the word for a poet.

Mark hinted that he was working with Chris Armstrong and one other Bethel medievalist (I haven’t checked with Mark, but I’m guessing he means philosopher Carrie Peffley, who is writing on medieval metaphysics and teaches a gen ed course on medieval Islamic philosophy, as well as the Western Humanities sequence mentioned above) on a presentation “concerning what the study of the Middle Ages has to offer students and scholars in the present–especially students and scholars at a protestant Christian institution who can tend to treat history as something that began when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517.” Looking forward to it!

Update via Carrie on Facebook: that presentation will be Thursday, Nov. 14th.


3 thoughts on “A Baptist Pietist University Gets Medieval

  1. Good gracious! The check is in the mail, Chris. And yes, the Mark/Carrie/Chris show will be coming soon to Bethel – limited engagement; watch this space (or your favorite place to get Bethel announcements). Seriously, Chris, its great that a modern-Europeanist-cum-Pietist-specialist would fellow-travel with us on this medieval ressourcement effort. Though C S Lewis didn’t actually believe in the Renaissance, I’ll say it anyway: You are a true (small-“r,” at least) renaissance man!

    1. My pleasure, Chris. And I suspect that there’s more continuity between medieval and Pietist piety than our Swedish founders would like to admit… In any case, one of the virtues of teaching CWC is that you’re forced to discover that you’re more interested in the Middle Ages than you once thought. 🙂

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