Covenant Visions of Christian Higher Education

Cover of The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher EducationEven as I await the publication of my new book on Pietism, it’s gratifying to see people continuing to engage with its 2015 predecessor, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education. At the end of a generous review in The Covenant Quarterly, Mark Safstrom puts that book in the context of work that Christian Collins Winn and I have been doing since 2009, when Bethel hosted a major research conference on Pietism: (Mark will be one of the speakers at our next Pietism event, on December 13th)

For many years North Park has been referred to jokingly as the “citadel of Pietism.” Perhaps that distinction now belongs to Bethel. What Gehrz and other faculty members have managed to do in these Pietism studies conferences and publishing ventures is remarkable. They have engaged and inspired Covenant scholars, as well as Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and several other traditions, in an ongoing discussion of the “useable past” of Pietism as it appears in the background of the history of American Christianity.

North Park, of course, is the university sponsored by my denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church. While it didn’t feature prominently in our Pietist Vision book, I actually wrote a fair amount about NP in our new book’s chapter on Christian formation, quoting liberally from North Park founder David Nyvall, former NP president Karl Olsson, and former NP seminary dean Don Frisk.

Nyvall Hall at North Park University
Nyvall Hall, home of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago – Creative Commons (Túrelio)

So I’m tickled that Mark’s review showed up in an issue of the Quarterly that honors the 125th anniversary of North Park Seminary. Nyvall looms large over that collection, featuring prominently in the first two articles. In Phil Anderson’s issue opener, we find Nyvall resisting the Americanization promoted by Congregationalist educator Fridolf Risberg. Then Scott Erickson revisits one of the themes of his dissertation: Nyvall’s vision of Christian higher education, which rejected false dichotomies between warmhearted piety and intellectual breadth.

(Even if you’re not a Covenanter or a Pietist, you’ll find interesting Nyvall’s response to Charles Blanchard, upset that North Park was sending its junior college graduates to the University of Chicago rather than his school, Wheaton College.)

C. John Weborg
C. John Weborg – North Park Theological Seminary

The issue continues with a reflection by John Weborg, the eminent NP theologian who is quoted in our new book as often as anyone not named Spener, Francke, or Luther. Following some observations on world Christianity and the secularization of the West, Weborg (a self-proclaimed “Lutheran Pietist”) celebrates that there is new attention being paid to Pietism and wishes that NP would make more of that heritage:

Pietism is populated with people who thought biblically and theologically, pressed for new media of ministry, and were able to see the places where they were already a part of the Lord’s vineyard. Pietists contextualized their witness so that their gospel witness could be heard. There is no reason for students not to have a reasonable understanding of the writings that gave shape to the Covenant story; this heritage too must be mined for its riches. Is there a reason the seminary does not offer a required course in “Source Studies in Pietism”?

Then the second half of the issue points to the future of North Park Seminary, with articles by current dean Dave Kersten, ECC president Gary Walter, and the denomination’s executive minister of Serve Globally, Al Tizon. I’m especially intrigued by Tizon’s list of the attributes of the ideal seminary graduate, ranging from love of God to having a preferential option for the poor. He also emphasizes the virtue of humility, one of the recurring themes in our Pietist vision of undergraduate education.

Not only is the full issue available online, but Covenant Quarterly also hosts a forum meant to sustain conversation around each article. Check it out!

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