2018: That Was The Year That Was

As I look back over the last year — not just here at Pietist Schoolman, but in my posts at The Anxious Bench, various talks and sermons, and other projects — three themes clearly stand out:

The Pietist Option in Practice

In some ways, it felt like publishing my book with Mark Pattie last October would conclude my decade-long work on finding a “usable past” for Pietism. I do think that my ongoing research into the spiritual life of Charles Lindbergh will reduce the time I give to researching and writing about Pietism. But I still found myself thinking out loud about that subject: from blogging on the history of 19th and 20th century Scandinavian revivalists who affirmed women in ministry, to organizing a Pietist Option devotional for Lent written by our readers, to the ongoing task of working out our “Pietist option” in practice.

First Congregational Church of Litchfield, Connecticut While I was there, I thought I should add to First Congregational’s reputation as “the most photographed church in New England”…

Above all, the book gave me the chance to preach and/or teach in several churches this year, from a venerable Congregationalist assembly in Connecticut to a group of Lutherans in suburban Minnesota. It was good to talk about Pietism in real life with so many different Christians, but two of these speaking engagements were especially meaningful: getting to teach a four-week “Pietist Option for Baptists” class in the church where my late friend and mentor G.W. Carlson served for many years; and preaching on the common priesthood in Mark’s pulpit at Salem Covenant Church.

Of course, one of the most important events of the year for our family was that we decided to leave Salem this fall and move to my wife’s home denomination: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But even as I learn to be an evangelical in the mainline, it’s still clear that I’ll never stop being a Covenanter.

(Indeed, I hope to have a couple of teaching opportunities in Covenant contexts next summer and fall. Stay tuned.)

The Crisis of the Christian Liberal Arts

This is also familiar ground for readers of mine, but I felt the crisis of the Christian liberal arts even more keenly this year because my tenure as vice-president and now president of our faculty happened to coincide with a budget crisis at Bethel. That’s no doubt why I took so seriously the decision by a neighboring school to slash history and other humanities and social science disciplines — and why I could write an open letter to an unknown billionaire with hat in hand and tongue only partly in cheek. Then having to contribute to the decisions to cut programs this fall left me wondering if Friedrich Nietzsche was right that “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

Still, I ended the year feeling mildly hopeful that our department was doing better than some of its peers — in part because an idea that I first started developing five years ago is starting to bear fruit. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful, day in and day out, to spend time in the classroom, whether teaching business, physics, and computer science majors about the Cold War or learning to appreciate the Middle Ages through the eyes of a future nurse.

The First World War, 100 Years Later

For that matter, no one who is mere days away from spending three weeks in Europe should complain too loudly about his job. I spent much of the fall preparing for next month’s fourth iteration of our J-term travel course on World War I… while simultaneously planning a shorter, sunnier world wars trip for adults next June.

King's College Chapel in Cambridge Every Christmas Eve since 1918, the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge has hosted a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – Creative Commons (Dmitry Tonkonog)

And in this 100th year of the Armistice that ended fighting on the Western Front, I thought I should take every opportunity to try to convince American audiences of the importance of the Great War. I played a small role on our state’s WWI centennial commission, got to talk about the war with opera lovers, and tried to connect it to everything from Christ the King Sunday to a much-loved Christmas worship service.

Oh, and for the record, I did go see Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary again this week. I wanted my father-in-law to see a film that reminded me of what’s magical about studying the past.

* * * * *

Thanks to all who read, listened, shared, and found ways to encourage me through a dismaying, frustrating, tiring, and yet still joyful year.

Top 10 Pietist Schoolman Posts in 2018

  1. RIP Adam Johnson (Apr. 12)
  2. Humble Leadership and Gentle Persuasion: A Plea to the People of the Covenant Church (Mark Safstrom — June 19)
  3. Why My Family Is Changing Churches (and Denominations) (Sept. 11)
  4. My (Love) Letter to the Covenant Church (June 20)
  5. These Are Not the “Twelve Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World” (May 3)
  6. Come Back to Jesus: A Lenten Devotional by the Readers and Authors of The Pietist Option (Jan. 31)
  7. An Open Letter to Anyone with $75 Million to Give to Christian Colleges (Jan. 18)
  8. What Did Evangelicals Think of Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon? (May 21)
  9. Falwell: “The big victory was finding a way to tame the faculty” (April 17)
  10. “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” (Sept. 26)

Top 5 Anxious Bench Posts in 2018

  1. Beth MooreWhy Beth Moore’s Letter Makes Me Hopeful (May 8)
  2. When Did Evangelicals Start Observing Lent? (Feb. 20)
  3. The Stevens Point Pathway: How the Liberal Arts Will Die at Christian Colleges (March 13)
  4. Willow Creek, the Catholic Church, and the Perils of Organizing Religion (Aug. 15)
  5. The Deadest Orthodoxy of American Evangelicalism (Sept. 2)

Top 20 Most-Clicked Links in 2018

  1. Billion-Dollar Blessings (Alec MacGillis, ProPublica)
  2. Bishop Curry and his Royal Sermon (Murray Campbell, The Gospel Coalition – Australia Edition)
  3. ‘Gay on God’s Campus’ (Scott Jaschik interview with Jonathan Coley, Inside Higher Ed)
  4. What Would Jesus Say About Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon (Garrett Kell, All Things for Good)
  5. Explosive Lawsuit Against University President (Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed)
  6. Evangelicalism: It’s a Brand, but it’s Also a Space (Dan Stringer, Mission Alliance)
  7. Who Defines Evangelicalism? (John Turner, The Anxious Bench)
  8. Observations on the Chicago Tribune article re: Willow Creek Leadership (John Ortberg)
  9. Popular pastor at North Park University is suspended for officiating gay wedding (Manya Brachear Pashman, Chicago Tribune)
  10. Headed for a larger stage, Nadia Bolz-Weber leaves her ‘house’ in order (Carina Julig, Religion News Service)
  11. Forget the Billy Graham Rule. Let’s Try the Good Friend/Mentor Rule (Angela Denker, Sojourners)
  12. “For Tom Brady, football has become religion. No, really” (Bob Smietana, The Washington Post)
  13. Moody Bible Institute President and COO Both Resign, Provost Retires (Kate Shellnut, Christianity Today)
  14. The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity (Stephen L. Carter, Bloomberg)
  15. Building a Bigger Tent (Hahrie Han, The New Republic)
  16. This might be the best map of the 2016 election you ever see (Dylan Scott, Vox)
  17. Evangelical chaplain’s suspension intensifies denomination’s gay marriage debate (Adelle Banks, Religion News Service)
  18. John Wenrich Nominated for President of ECC (The Covenant Companion, 18)
  19. It’s time for me to let go of some books (Martin Rodeheaver, The Christian Century)
  20. WCA plans new Methodist movement (Kathy Gilbert & Thomas Kim, UM News)