Putting the (Literal) Finishing Touches on My Biography of Luke L. Keefer Jr.

Working through the page proofs of my forthcoming biography of Luke and Doris Keefer

Working through the page proofs of my forthcoming biography of Luke and Doris Keefer

In addition to working on my article “Born-Again Brethren in Christ,” I’ve also pouring over page proofs for my forthcoming biography of the late Brethren in Christ church historian and theologian Luke L. Keefer Jr. Faithful readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience have heard all about this project — and there are more details to come! (To catch up, check out previous posts here, here, and here.)

The page proofs have been corrected and submitted to the publisher. Now, we wait!

I hope that readers will plan to attend the 2014 annual meeting of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society on October 4, when the book will be released. I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.

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Born-Again Brethren in Christ: Weeks #7 & 8 — Outlining

outline-BABICClick here for some background on this post.

After Week #6’s disappointing stagnation, I’ve been back on track this week and last. In particularly, I’ve been working to outline the article so that I can get started writing.

I’ve faced a couple of challenges in outlining this essay. First and foremost, I’m not an outline kind of writer. Usually I just don’t work that way. However, given the years I’ve spent researching this topic, the vast amount of information I’ve gathered, and the various approaches I’ve taken to this topic in my various presentations and public talks on it, I need to write an outline to make sense of it all.

Which leads me to the second reason outlining has been so challenging: I need to strengthen the narrative of this article. In previous public talks, I’ve taken a more thematic approach, focusing on the three ways the Brethren in Christ responded to Evangelicals in the mid-20th century: ratification, resistance, and reformation. This thematic approach highlights the way I’m seeking to adjust the historiography of Anabaptist/Evangelical encounters. And it helps me to keep my approach to the topic down to the 10-30 minutes I usually have for paper presentations and public talks!

But for the purposes of this essay, I want to focus more on the story of the Brethren in Christ and Evangelicalism. This requires me to think chronologically and to construct a kind of historical “plotline” to drive the article forward. The benefit, of course, is that I can ultimately produce a product that’s more engaging than your average historical article. After all, as public historian Taylor Stoermer reminded us in his excellent article at the New York History blog:

A good story is, in fact, the lifeblood of a public historian. As long as that story is real (first rule of public history: don’t make it up), relevant (second rule: go with what you’ve got), and engaging (third rule: Freeman Tilden’s “information is not interpretation”), the rest is just details. Find your narrative then build around it an interpretive structure that can tell it.

But to tell such a story, I first need to re-conceptualize the way I’m presenting this information. An outline — I hope — will help me to do that.

You can’t see it in the photo above, but my outline in its present state is a bit of a hodge-podge. I’ve gone back and forth trying to decide where to include certain bits of information. I’m hoping to finalize the outline tomorrow — which will mean I can get down to writing next week! Stay tuned for more.

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A Short Introduction to Anabaptism

carlisle-bicThe Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church is currently working its way through a sermon series called Q&A Sessions, in which senior pastor Josh Crain answers theological, biblical, and spiritual questions from the congregation. Since the church received too many questions to handle in a single Sunday morning series, they’ve started posting short videos each weekday, addressing a new question each day.

Tuesday’s question was a good one — and one that readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience might be interested in: What is Anabaptism?

Click here to see how Josh answered.

I’m impressed that the Carlisle congregation has been more engaged with its Anabaptist heritage in recent years. I enjoyed former pastor Doug Sider’s talk on Christian peace back in 2013, and also appreciated Josh’s talk on two-kingdom theology at Roxbury Holiness Camp this summer. (Scroll to 47:00 to hear Josh’s talk.) Since some have observed that the Brethren in Christ in North America are moving away from their Anabaptist heritage, I hope to see more of this kind of preaching and teaching from Carlisle and other congregations.

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Brethren in Christ on the World Wide Web

Here are a few Brethren in Christ-related links that caught my attention over the past weeks:

bichs-logo- Like the Brethren in Christ Historical Society on Facebook, and follow the Brethren in Christ Historical Society on Twitter (@BIChistory)

- Canadian Brethren in Christ pastor celebrates 44 years of ministry

- A “global reunion” of Anabaptist groups is happening in Pennsylvania next summer (2015)

- Check out the redesigned website of the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah College

- Our post on Brethren in Christ hymnody got picked up by Mennonite World Review‘s World Together blog

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Born-Again Brethren in Christ: Week #6 — Stagnation

head_scratchBlogger’s Note: This post was supposed to go live on Friday, August 15 but somehow didn’t. Apologies for the delay.

Click here for some background on this post.

It’s been a slow week for “Born-Again Brethren in Christ.” I haven’t had quite enough time to devote to the project, as I’m still catching up on work I missed during vacation and on other projects that are clamoring for my attention. (More on that later!) So the file folders full of notes, outlines, and hastily-scribbled half-drafts have remained closed for the last week.

It’s clear that blogging my way through this project hasn’t held me to the exacting standard I’d anticipated. If I don’t carve out more space for this project in the coming weeks I might have to up the ante with a new challenge. Stay tuned!

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Make Plans to Attend the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society!

logo-w-textI hope that some readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience will plan to attend the 2014 annual meeting of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society, which will be held on Saturday, October 4 at the Grantham Brethren in Christ Church.

As the Historical Society reported in their most recent newsletter, the focus of the annual meeting will be the release of a new book of Brethren in Christ biographies. Those profiled in the book include key church administrators, missionaries, and educators from the last half of the twentieth century.

Here’s how the Historical Society described the book and its contents in a recent Facebook post:

Exciting to see preliminary page proofs for the next book to be published by the Historical Society: WORTHY OF THE CALLING. The book profiles three couples who have contributed significantly to the Brethren in Christ Church: Paul and Lela Hostetler, by their daughter Beth Hostetler Mark; Luke and Doris Keefer, by Historical Society assistant editor Devin Manzullo-Thomas; and Harvey and Erma Sider, by Harvey’s sister AnnaRuth Sider Osborne. The book is edited by E. Morris Sider, editor emeritus for the Historical Society. It will be officially released at the Society’s annual meeting on October 4.

Blog readers will know that we’ve promoted this new book a few different times here on the site: interviews with each of the authors (here, here) as well as the editor (here). I’m still hoping to pull together some reflections on writing the Keefer biography. Stay tuned for those.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to make plans to be at the annual meeting. Hope to see you there!

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Why Do People Leave the Brethren in Christ Church?

exitThat’s the question that missiologist Daryl Climenhaga is asking over at his blog, A Climenhaga Home. Daryl is a professor at Providence Theological Seminary in Manitoba, Canada. As part of a research paper he’s presenting at the upcoming “X-Mennonite” conference sponsored by the University of Winnipeg, he’s posted a series of short blog articles, all focused on our title question.

Here’s Daryl’s own description of his research project, in a nutshell:

My own small piece in the conference is to look at the BIC in Zimbabwe, where the question [of conversion and reversion] usually involves leaving Christian faith for some kind of revitalisation movement, based on traditional religions, or for some form of Pentecostal faith. People in the church in Zimbabwe debate among themselves whether or not these new Pentecostal churches are truly Christian.

He began his series of posts with a brief reflection on the whole notion of conversion — what it means, and why people do it. (Interesting thoughts here!) A second post offered some clarifying thoughts on defining conversion and reversion. A third post tackled the question, “Who reverts?” Here’s how Daryl answered it:

Who then is likely to revert . . . ? When people think of the church in Zimbabwe, they might think that we are looking for someone who leaves a traditional religion (such as the worship of Mwari vaMatonjeni at the shrines in the Matopo Hills) for Christian faith. Then after trying Christianity he/she might return to the traditional religion.

I suspect that this is the less typical case. More typically (I suspect) the one who reverts is the child or grandchild of Christians, and then rediscovers some form of the traditional religion renewed for today. Similarly in Canada, I suspect that those from a Christian background who “revert” and embrace some form of First Nations spirituality are not themselves first generation converts.

. . . When we think of those who leave the church they grew up in, but remain Christian, I suspect a similar dynamic is at work. The Brethren in Christ (BIC) of my youth had a strong group identity which tended to keep members in the church, even when they moved to a part of the country where the BIC were not. One of the ways that we exerted pressure to keep people in the group was through the use of boundary behaviour. We were separate from the world, and we used clear markers to maintain our separation.

So my mother wore a covering until I was 15 years old, and my father wore a plain vest with no tie. Over time, as one generation learned from their parents how to live, the patterns we learned (represented by but not limited to these boundary behaviours), came to be seen as irrelevant.

So those who leave the church of their youth, while remaining generally Christian, are generally not those who paid the price to become part of the church. My maternal grandmother, for example, came from a Lutheran background. Becoming BIC meant that she had to embrace the plain dress and give up the fine clothes and jewelry enjoyed in her life before belonging to the BIC. It is unlikely that, having made that choice, she would go back on it. But the same issues are experienced quite differently in the lives of her children and grandchildren (and so on).

To some extent, the choice that someone from the new generation makes to leave is a kind of conversion, embracing a new worldview, with new religious commitments.

Read all three of Daryl’s posts here, here, and here.

I’m fascinated by Daryl’s research findings. I think I largely agree, especially with his assertions about North American “reversions” among the Brethren in Christ. I haven’t studied this topic intentionally, although that might be a promising avenue for some future research.

I’m also interested in how these assertions relate to my own research on the Brethren in Christ and Evangelicalism. In a sense, mid-century American Evangelicalism was a different kind of Christian faith than that which many Brethren in Christ experienced in their homes and sanctuaries. It was more ebullient, more culturally conversant, less socially isolating, and — at least in some instances — more successful (in terms of converting non-Christians). I know for a fact that before the gradual “Evangelicalization” of the Brethren in Christ after 1950, a number of Brethren in Christ young people left their churches for Evangelical faith communities. This reality even tempered the zeal of some Brethren in Christ leaders in embracing Evangelicalism. As mid-century bishop and church leader Henry Hostetter once wrote, pushing back against a plan to bring Youth for Christ founder Bob Cook to a Brethren in Christ youth gathering, “[There is] already a current problem among many of our youth in that the outside looks so much better [that the Brethren in Christ Church].” Could it be that much of this “reversion” to Evangelicalism was for the exact reasons Daryl is arguing above?

Fortunately, Daryl doesn’t appear to be done blogging about this topic. Check out his blog for future posts in the series.

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