In part because it only happens twice a year, but mostly because I appreciate its aims and quality, the arrival of the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of the newsletter Pietisten made for a good start to finals week. As always, there’s a lot of diverse content to savor in this issue, let me just note a few highlights, in hopes of encouraging more of my readers to purchase a subscription:
• As chief editor Mark Safstrom pointed out in his column, friendship seemed to be the recurring theme of the issue — very much in line with one of the fundamental premises of the newsletter: “To engage with friends in an open conversation and to expand our friendships.” Several articles explored this theme (including Christa Mazzone Palmberg’s cover reflection on the meaning of hospitality via Luke 10:38-42), but Mark’s own piece was my favorite, since it continued my education about C.O. Rosenius, the 19th century Swedish lay preacher and editor (of the original Pietisten). I can only hope that Mark one day chooses to complete a full biography of Rosenius…
While experiencing a crisis of faith in 1839, Rosenius (a Lutheran) sought out the friendship of the British missionary George Scott (a Methodist). While such a cross-denominational friendship might not seem so scandalous in 2013 America, in 1839 Sweden it raised eyebrows. But in the end, it not only helped Rosenius resolve his doubts (“achieved not,” Mark notes, “by retreating into what he already knew, but instead by seeking out new friends”), but forged a partnership that helped bring about a revival in Sweden that planted the seeds for my denomination (the Evangelical Covenant Church), my employer (Bethel University), and other institutions. I love the wonderfully ecumenical statement from Rosenius that Mark includes:
…I will be working for Christ’s church, might offer my life, my strength for Christ and his commands — not for Wesley or Luther, who are dead, who were servants who did not wish to be the head of the congregation — might offer my life, my service for the one holy universal church. Its members may be childish enough to want to be called after Paul, Apollos, Cephas — it makes no difference to me what name they take. So long as they are Christ’s, then they are my brothers and I wish to serve them.
(See my own reflection on the catholicity of Rosenius’ evangelicalism.)
• Apparently, I’m not the only parent whose young children love singing along to the folk-pop group The Lumineers. Unlike me, Chrissy Larson has reflected deeply on her kids’ enjoyment of “Stubborn Love”:
I started to think about the words she was singing, and I suddenly realized that she was far from understanding what the song was really about. Stubborn love… something to which every adult can connect but has no meaning yet to a child. Stubborn love is love that simply refuses to give up. It’s love that continues to stick around and continues to wait for people long after it could have walked away. It’s love that knows a person deep enough to know all the pain that tags along, and still chooses to hang on. It’s love that can’t be told, “it can’t be done.”
• Issue in and issue out, I never fail to read whatever Tom Tredway and Jay Phelan write. The president emeritus of Augustana College (IL), Tredway began what will be a three-part reflection on the similarities and differences between Lutherans and Covenanters. (As it happens, this Covenanter offered his own appreciation for Lutheranism just last week!) And two science fiction novels (The Sparrow and Children of God) by the Catholic-turned-Jewish writer Mary Doria Russell prompted Phelan (former president and dean of the Covenant seminary, North Park) to contemplate the historic relationship between missions and empire: “Are we capable of avoiding the imperialistic impulse present in both western religion and western culture, or is that imperialistic impulse inherent in our tradition?” (Read more from Phelan at his blog, Additional Markings.)
• Finally, I’ll put in a brief plug for my own contribution to the Fall/Winter 2013 issue: a tribute to Virgil Olson, the Baptist historian and Bethel professor/dean who died this past June at the age of 96. I think this paragraph is at the heart of it:
…while firmly embracing the Baptist identity long after the BGC [Baptist General Conference, Bethel’s founding denomination] became “Converge Worldwide” and most of its churches dropped Baptist from their names, Virgil offered a history that could explain why Conference Baptists were never quite like their Southern, American, Regular, Primitive, and other cousins. To Virgil, Pietism reinforced Baptist concerns for regeneration and holiness, democratic church governance, evangelism and revivalism, and the authority of scripture, but also imbued the BGC with an “irenic spirit” that moved its people to seek unity in essentials, to protect liberty in non-essentials, and to extend charity in all things.
But as I also acknowledge in the piece, I didn’t know Virgil that well, so I wrote more out of “professional admiration” than “friendly affection.” For more of the latter, see the two-part tribute posted here by our mutual friend G.W. Carlson or the eulogy (by Jonathan Larson) published in the July 2013 issue of GW’s own newsletter, The Baptist Pietist Clarion.