Prof. Poppinga on Teaching and Interfaith Engagement

Prof. Amy Poppinga recently published an article with Interfaith Youth Core’s INTER site. It starts with her taking Bethel students to a local mosque to observe worship and then share a meal. While the evening provoked some difficult conversation about theological differences, she found that the awkwardness actually led to considerable learning among her students:

Logo of Interfaith Youth CoreThere was agreement that the last hour of the evening had, indeed, been uncomfortable. While they were certainly taking that discomfort seriously, a few days of distance allowed them to laugh about the awkwardness of the encounter and consider it from different angles.

Students spoke about the need to not be defensive but rather to be okay with operating from a posture of learning. One commented that he could only imagine what it would be like to have the tables turned, and to be a Muslim listening to a Christian defend their theology in contrast to Islam. “I’m sure that happens a whole lot more often than what happened to us,” he remarked. A few students then began to discuss their own struggles with aspects of Christian theology, and an almost confessional atmosphere was created as some expressed the difficulty of articulating faith and truth claims.

Read the full article here.

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History Teachers at the 2018 Conference on Faith and History

This fall the Conference and Faith and History (CFH) will be celebrating its 50th anniversary as it holds its biennial conference (Calvin College, Oct. 4-6). One of the oldest Christian academic societies in North America, CFH describes itself as “a community of scholars exploring the relationship between Christian faith and history” and primarily aspires “to encourage excellence in the theory and practice of history from the perspective of historic Christianity.” Bethel has long had faculty participate in CFH, with Prof. Gehrz currently serving on the group’s executive board.

Conference on Faith and History logo

While most CFH members are college and university professors and graduate students, we want to echo program chair John Fea’s invitation for middle and high school teachers to consider attending the conference. The schedule is still taking shape, but John reports that there will be a special session just on the role of secondary school teachers in CFH, and that several such educators have already proposed papers. Plus it’s a chance to engage in some continuing education as you hear papers and talks from leading scholars in a variety of fields (not just church/religious history). We’ll share the full schedule once it’s set, but the list of plenary speakers includes Margaret Bendroth (author of The Spiritual Practice of Remembering) and Robert Orsi (History and Presence).

Oh, and you’d have the chance to spend a few days with Bethel faculty: Profs. Gehrz, Goldberg, and Poppinga have all proposed papers or sessions for this year’s meeting.

Hope to see you at CFH 2018!

Now Available from Prof. Gehrz: The Pietist Option

Congratulations to Prof. Chris Gehrz, whose new book with Evangelical Covenant pastor Mark Pattie came out today!

Gehrz & Pattie, The Pietist OptionThe Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (InterVarsity Press) is a 21st century version of a 1675 book that launched the German Pietist movement. While it borrows from the history of Pietism, it addresses present-day concerns. In his endorsement, Bethel president Jay Barnes says that Gehrz and Pattie “help us see how Christ-followers in past centuries faced challenging issues in ways that are relevant to current events… The Pietist Option has wisdom for the church, the academy, and the neighborhood. I’m thankful for this resource.” Messiah College history professor John Fea (author, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?) agrees: “In an age in which the church is badly divided by politics and culture wars, The Pietist Option offers a better way. Chris Gehrz and Mark Pattie invite us to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage defined by loving our neighbors, living in hope, and listening to God. It is indeed time to reconsider the Pietist roots of American evangelicalism.”

All are invited to a book launch party for The Pietist Option — Tuesday, October 10th, 7pm at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN. The authors will read excerpts and sign copies of the book.

Prof. Gehrz previously edited The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons (also InterVarsity Press) and The Pietist Impulse in Christianity (Pickwick). His next project is a spiritual biography of Charles A. Lindbergh, under contract with Eerdmans Publishing.

Prof. Gehrz on Memorial Day

For some historical and theological reflections on Memorial Day, Christianity Today this year turned to our own Chris Gehrz, who teaches courses on World War I and World War II and has written extensively about commemoration.

Fort Snelling National Cemetery
Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where Prof. Gehrz’s cousin Mike (d. 2014) is buried alongside over 220,000 other veterans – CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Chris Gehrz

On one hand, Prof. Gehrz emphasized that “every day is a memorial day for Christians, heirs of Moses’ exhortation to the assembly of Israel: “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past” (Deut. 32:7)” and suggested that Christians might embrace today’s call to remembrance as one more “way of loving our (temporal) neighbors and proclaiming that the grave has won no lasting victory.”

But he also wrestled with the fact that Memorial Day is “a festival of our nation’s civil religion… approached heedlessly, it will tempt us to pledge to the nation-state the ‘total allegiance‘ that we owe to nothing and no one but God.”

To read the full essay and learn how Prof. Gehrz found something potentially redemptive in American civil religion, click here.

Coming to Chicago: Chris Gehrz

Chris GehrzFor any of our Chicago-based alumni and friends… Prof. Chris Gehrz will be giving a free public lecture at North Park Theological Seminary next Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 7pm. Entitled “The Pietist Option for (Current and Former) Evangelicals,” the talk will preview some of the themes from Chris’ forthcoming book with Evangelical Covenant pastor Mark Pattie, The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (coming out later this year from InterVarsity Press).

Coming to Chapel: AnneMarie Kooistra

AnneMarie KooistraJoin us for Chapel this Friday, February 17 (10:15am) in Benson Great Hall, when the speaker will be none other than our own Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra! To conclude a series on “The Art of Being WITH,” AnneMarie will reflect on finding God in the darknesses of our lives.

(If you can’t be in Chapel, stop back at Bethel’s iTunes U page to listen to AnneMarie’s talk.)

MUHS 2016: Academic Freedom

The closing session of this year’s Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium featured a faculty roundtable on academic freedom. Professors Tycho de Boer, from St. Mary’s University, and David Sellnow, from Martin Luther College, also spoke. The following were my remarks:

AnneMarie speaking at MUHS 2016In October 2015, the Atlantic Monthly carried a story about the ways in which sex-harassment policies were being used to “diminish” free speech on a variety of college campuses. The article claimed that compromised free speech was due, at least in part, to pressure from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which has helped perpetuate the idea that “illegal sexual harassment extends to campus speech with any sexual content that anyone finds offensive.” Professors, consequently, have found themselves under attack to the extent that professors at Harvard are apparently “jettisoning teaching tools that make any reference to human sexuality.”

As a person who both researches and teaches in the field of sexuality and gender within American history, I found the article interesting and yet not surprising. The refrain of sexual misconduct and/or sexual scandal on college campuses is by now rather commonplace. From my vantage point, the arguments surrounding academic freedom and sexuality are minor compared to the problems confronting students in their navigation of the treacherous concept of what passes for “consent” with regard to their sexual activities. But. Here we are.

The Atlantic Monthly article noted that the harassment policy which seems to have diminished free speech has at its heart the goal of protecting students from exposure to ideas that make one uncomfortable and that such a goal is antithetical to education. It is unfortunate that even in the larger academic context, ideas surrounding sexuality and/or gender tend to be ones that are linked to creating a particularly uncomfortable situation. But it also makes me feel a little better about the peculiar context of talking about sexuality here at Bethel.

A couple of years ago, Bethel University had a conversation about a proposed gender studies minor. The pressure against the minor came not from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights or from students but from a number of faculty who expressed skepticism about the minor. One colleague, for example, asked if it was possible that those working in the field really had the “academic freedom” to “work from within a framework of biblical sexuality, as Bethel understands it,” a reference, I presume, to Bethel’s Covenant for Life Together which claims that sexuality is one of God’s good gifts but states that “monogamous, heterosexual marriage” is the proper context for “sexual intercourse and other forms of intensely interpersonal sexual activity” and condemns pornography, and sexually exploitative or abusive behavior as well as sexual harassment.

I think it is, and while I certainly strive to be transparent about my own beliefs, preferences, and feelings about sexuality, I also believe my commitment to a truly liberal arts education means that my students and I together confront ideas that make us uncomfortable. It is sometimes uncomfortable, for example, to acknowledge that in spite of Bethel’s commitment to a particular sexual ethic, Christians do not agree among themselves what “biblical sexuality” is. Views differ among individual Christians, by denomination, by culture, by time period even. Acknowledging those differences is often more uncomfortable than, for example, studying the history of homosexuality, pornography, venereal disease—all topics which we discuss in the History of Sexuality in the United States course. Studying the history of the sexual landscape of the past, knowing it too had its own pitfalls and complexity, I think makes us better equipped to enter into dialogue about how to approach the current sexual landscape—one that we share with a diverse group of people and communities, not just Christians who subscribe to Bethel’s interpretation of biblical sexuality.

I think that we do a great disservice to ourselves if we believe that silence and avoidance of uncomfortable topics or subjects will cause them to go away, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to engage in frank discussions with students about such topics. I am also grateful that the students taking my class seem to see the value of developing historical empathy for a range of views that don’t necessarily align with their own. Part of the success of the course, though, relies on what I think the original intention of the sexual harassment laws may have been, namely, to treat the people around you, with respect. Again, Bethel approaches this goal from a fundamentally different direction from the Department of Education. I doubt, for example, that the concept of imago dei appears in any of their documents, but possibly we may be trying to create what could amount to a similar learning environment which seeks to create a safe space for all people to learn together even while working through uncomfortable, even earth-shattering and heartbreaking ideas.  Because, really, as much as the world is beautiful, it is often, too often, one that breaks our hearts. And that is more than uncomfortable, it is tragic. We won’t be better at coping with tragedy, however, by pretending it doesn’t exist.

– AnneMarie Kooistra

What’s Coming Up at the 2016 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium

Today we’re thrilled to announce the full program for the 2016 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium, taking place at Bethel on Saturday, April 9, 8:30am-3:30pm.

Click here to view the entire schedule. A few highlights:

  • Thirty-seven students will give presentations on their historical research. That’s more than twice as many as last year and just over three times what we started with in 2014! Another eleven students and twenty faculty are scheduled to attend.
  • Together, the presenters represent eleven different Christian and church-related colleges and universities in Minnesota. Last year’s four participating institutions (Bethany Lutheran College, Martin Luther College, University of Northwestern-St. Paul, and Bethel) are all returning, to be joined by newcomers Augsburg College, the College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University, Concordia College, Crown College, Saint Mary’s University, St. Olaf College, and the University of St. Thomas.
  • We’re grateful to colleagues from other schools for their help in promoting this symposium, and for agreeing to help chair panels in our three concurrent sessions. We’re particularly glad to welcome back to campus two of our own alumni: Dr. Rick Chapman ’79 (professor at Concordia College) and Nathan Weaver Olson ’97 (doctoral student at the University of Minnesota).
  • In addition to ten student panels on everything from immigration to genocide, the symposium will include a closing roundtable discussion on academic freedom in church-related higher education, featuring faculty from Bethel, Martin Luther, and St. Mary’s.

If you’re interested in attending any of the sessions, it’s not too late to register. Just email symposium coordinator Chris Gehrz by Wednesday. (Registration is free, though you’ll have to pay for your own lunch.)

Or follow the proceedings virtually, as participants live-tweet sessions using the hashtag #MUHS2016.

Reflections on GW: Janel Curry

Since his death last Friday, e’ve heard from many of GW’s former students, including several comments on our initial announcement of his passing. If you’d like to share your favorite memories of GW, send them to Prof. Diana Magnuson. As a sample of how our friend affected one student, we’re happy to publish this recollection by Dr. Janel Curry ’77, provost of Gordon College.

Today I am mourning the loss of a mentor: my undergraduate advisor and professor at Bethel College, G. William Carlson. I arrived as a 19-year-old junior political science transfer student, seeking a deeper understanding of myself and what it meant to be a Christian in the world. He introduced me to my Christian intellectual tradition—everything from Ellul to Stringfellow to Erasmus and Yoder. He was always a bit suspicious of Calvinists… I also read Goldwater and Hatfield—across the political spectrum. But in addition, I became part of his family, spending Sundays with them at church and their house. I taught Sunday school with them. He also provided a safe place for me when it came to my struggles with being a woman within the evangelical church, being supportive of women in all roles. He and his wife modelled this for me. They were my home away from home. He modelled civic engagement through serving on the St. Paul school board.

I also took peace and conflict studies and history—all areas where he taught. And he was the hardest professor I ever had. The reading in his courses would encompass hundreds of pages of material. In his Soviet politics course we got great pleasure walking around with a huge 800-page book titled An Anatomy of a Communist Takeover. I could never get higher than a B+.

When I graduated and went off to volunteer service in Louisiana, he would send me books in the mail. I stayed with he and his family when I flew back for my aunt’s funeral.

When I moved back to Minnesota I worked for a season at the Minnesota Department of Revenue, answering tax questions on the phone. In between calls I would read books provided by his library, which I visited each Sunday. I read hundreds of books during that tax season: E. Stanley Jones, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Clarence Jordan, Luther, Martin Luther King, Tolstoy, and Menno Simons. I read church history and books about South Africa and apartheid, the Chicago 10… I read theology on church-state relations. At one point, one of my co-workers asked for my reading list. I read far and wide. I was helping him move his library from his old house to his new house just across the street when we heard on the radio that John Paul had been chosen as the new pope.

When I started graduate school we had an informal competition on which of us would finish our Ph.D. first—I won. His wife Cathy was not surprised.

Janel Curry
Janel Curry – Gordon College

We stayed in contact over the years, and he and Cathy would meet me for dinner when I was in the Twin Cities. He was concerned when I moved to Calvin College: The historians there drank beer with their pizza… and they were Calvinists…

His wife once told me that I was one of his best students. When I said I would have not known that because I could only get a B+, she told me that he got the same grades in college.

I saw G. William just last April when I was doing interviews at Bethel on women and leadership. He was pleased at the leadership roles that women had moved into. He was still involved in local politics. He was still reading voraciously. He was retired but still teaching—this time for a colleague who was ill. And I think he was pleased that I was now at Gordon because they weren’t Calvinists…

William is probably now chatting with Clarence Jordan, and Menno Simons. And he may be surprised to find John Calvin…

Rest well, good and faithful servant.