2014 Schrag Lecture at Messiah College

David R. Swartz

Dr. David R. Swartz

I’ve been off my blogging game for the last month-or-so, so I didn’t get to announce the 2014 Schrag Lecture at Messiah College, sponsored by the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies. Our lecturer this year was Dr. David R. Swartz, a historian from Asbury University and the author of the fantastic Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. His talk was titled, “Anabaptists, Evangelicals and the Search for a Third Way in Postwar America.”

Those of you who know about the Schrag Lectures know that they’re named for Martin and Dorothy Schrag, former Messiah College faculty members and advocates of Anabaptism within the Brethren in Christ Church. In their honor, the Schrag Lectures typically focus on some aspect of Anabaptist history, theology, or biblical studies.

As you can probably tell from the title of this year’s lecture, Swartz’s talk focused on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: the relationship between Anabaptists and Evangelicals. (Long-time readers will know that I wrote my master’s thesis on this topic, using the Brethren in Christ as a case study.)

It was great to finally meet David Swartz — he and I connected online while I was working on my master’s thesis, as my treatment of Brethren in Christ theologian Ronald J. Sider had some natural parallels to David’s own work. David is a great guy and a fantastic scholar, and I’m grateful for his willingness to serve the Sider Institute as our lecturer for this year.

I found David’s lecture fascinating — as did, I think, the 70+ people who crowded into Alexander Auditorium on Messiah’s campus to hear him speak. His talk was followed by a response from John Fea, professor of history and chair of the History department at Messiah, which posed some further questions for thought. David also fielded several questions from the audience afterward, and had some one-on-one conversations with folks as well.

Over at his blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, Fea offers a recap of the night:

David Swartz’s Schrag Lecture on Thursday night was very well-received by the 70+ members in attendance in Messiah College‘s Alexander Auditorium. Swartz’s lecture, “Anabaptists, Evangelicals, and the Search for a Third Way in Post-War America,” focused on some of the main themes of his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  Swartz talked extensively about how the so-called “Evangelical Left,” represented by Ron SiderJim WallisDoris Longacre (author of the More-With-Less Cookbook), John Howard Yoder and others, struggled to navigate a middle ground between the Christian nationalism and free market principles of the Religious Right and the secularism and pro-choice stance of the Democratic Party in the 1970s.

The audience was filled with people interested in the history of Messiah College, Anabaptism, evangelicalism, and the Brethren in Christ Church.  Their questions focused on the relationship between the Evangelical Left and the largely secular New Left, the role that the Internet is playing in strengthening the followers of the “third way,” and how many evangelical pastors such as Bruxy Cavey and Greg Boyd are either finding a home in Anabaptism or seriously considering moving in that direction.

It was fascinating to chat informally with some members of the audience after the lecture.  So many of them had lived through the early days of the Evangelical Left.  They followed Jim Wallis and the Post-American (laterSojourners) community, supported Ronald Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action, or used the More With Less Cookbook.  They had come to hear Swartz, a young historian from Asbury College, treat their 1970s evangelical world as a subject worthy of historical investigation.  It was a great night. . . .

It was great to finally meet David Swartz.  I am so glad that Devin Manzullo-Thomas, the director of the Sider Institute, invited him to deliver this year’s Schrag Lectures on Anabaptism.  Both of them hit a home run on Thursday night and I was glad to be a part of it.

Kurt Willems

Kurt Willems, a Brethren in Christ blogger whose work is very Anabaptist — and unabashedly Evangelical (Patheos)

Thanks, John! (Read the full post here.)

Readers: Were any of you at the lecture? What did you think? Post your comments below!

I’d encourage everyone to pick up a copy of Swartz’s book. Moral Minority has much to say to Brethren in Christ audiences. It devotes an entire chapter to Sider and his efforts to articulate a religious faith that comfortably held both Anabaptist and Evangelical elements. Furthermore, the book helps to make sense of contemporary Brethren in Christ folks like Bruxy Cavey and Kurt Willems, who are unabashedly Anabaptist and also very popular among Evangelicals.

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Writer, editor, historian, blogger
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8 Responses to 2014 Schrag Lecture at Messiah College

  1. I enjoyed the lecture as well and felt like I was reliving part of my own history and theological/spiritual journey. I am one of those people who John Fea describes as “living through the early days of the Evangelical Left.” Who I am today is due in large part to the influence of people like Ronald J. Sider, Jim Wallis, and Doris Longacre (More-With-Less Cookbook).

  2. Beth Mark says:

    Devin — this year’s lecture, with John Fea responding, will be a very difficult act to follow! The lecture was very well done & very interesting. I echo what Harriet said about reliving my own history. I appreciated Swartz’s observations & analysis, which helped many of us not only relive our history, but see it in a new way. It was also interesting to hear John Fea’s response, through his lens as a former Catholic and current evangelical.

  3. johnfea says:

    I had a lot of fun meeting David and thinking about all this stuff. Almost made me want to leave the 18th century and start writing more on modern American evangelicalism. I think I am going to use Swartz’s book in my History of American Evangelicalism class next Fall. (Right now it is a tossup between Swartz and Worthen, which I still need to read. Thanks again for including me, Devin.

    PS; I know you are busy, but I hope you keep blogging regularly.

  4. Devin Manzullo-Thomas says:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments! Beth and Harriet: I think the next “era” of Brethren in Christ history to be studied/researched is the era that you both lived through — and the era into which David Swartz has already done some research (albeit with a different, non-BIC specific focus). I’m excited to dig deeper into this period of greater social engagement among “the quiet in the land” as I advance my own research work!

    And John, thanks also for your follow up! Do let me know which book you end up choosing — if you get around to reading Worthen, I’d especially like to hear your thoughts. (Randy Basinger and I are thinking of gathering together a group of Messiah folks who have read or who should read this book for some discussion, possibly by the end of this semester.) Thanks again for your participation in this year’s lectures — and for the blogging encouragement! I need that. :)

  5. Pingback: More with Less and the Evangelical-Anabaptist Impulse | The Search for Piety and Obedience

  6. Pingback: Brethren in Christ Weren’t the Only “Holiness Pacifists” in the Early 20th Century | The Search for Piety and Obedience

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