Readers of this blog may know Grace best as the academic home of our regular guest-blogger Jared Burkholder, who played a key role in arranging my visit. (Thanks also to Grace’s VP of academic affairs, John Lillis, who previously was a colleague of mine as the dean of Bethel Seminary San Diego.) I’ll be facilitating a morning workshop designed to let our friends at Grace “listen in” on the conversation started by our Pietist Vision book.
As with my visit later in April to Messiah College, I’m excited to take this discussion beyond Bethel. And like Bethel and Messiah, Grace was founded by a denomination with Pietist roots: the Grace Brethren were a conservative offshoot of the German Baptist Brethren, founded by Radical Pietist Alexander Mack after his encounter with Anabaptism. (The Church of the Brethren and the Brethren Church also descend from this 18th century group, which arrived in North America starting in 1719.)
I had touched on that history in an early Pietist Schoolman series asking if Pietism provided Christian colleges with a “usable past,” so it’s fun to have the chance to interact with a college descending from such a tradition. However, the Pietist roots of the Grace Brethren are rather distant, and that fellowship and its college and seminary have subsequently been influenced by fundamentalism, dispensationalism, and mainstream evangelicalism.
So here I want to adapt Roger Olson and Christian Collins Winn’s argument that a Pietist past is “usable,” regardless of specific denominational context, because it “offers contemporary evangelical Christianity a resource for its own renewal.” Perhaps, as they argue in their conclusion, Pietism even points “toward a way of doing Christian theology [and Christian higher education, too] that is more authentically evangelical than alternatives.”
In any case, I’m glad for the chance to widen the conversation. Between these visits to Grace and Messiah and what’s happening here at Bethel, it feels very much like we’ve tapped into a movement of renewal within Christian higher education. If you’d like to take the conversation to your campus, please let me know how I can help.