The Summer and Fall of Book Reviews!

yoder-together-work-lordOne of the reasons I haven’t made as much progress on my “Born-Again Brethren in Christ” project as of late (like I mentioned yesterday) is because of the numerous book reviews I’ve been working on this summer and fall. I’m hoping to post a bit about these reviews in the coming weeks.

For now, here’s a short list of the books I’ve been reading and writing about since July:

David R. Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. The review will appear in Reflections, the journal of the Missionary Church Historical Society.

Duane C. S. Stoltzfus, Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of the Hutterites During the Great War. The review will appear in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture.

Nathan E. Yoder, Together in the Work of the Lord: A History of the Conservative Mennonite Conference. The review will appear in Mennonite Quarterly Review.

Jonathan M. Yeager, Early Evangelicalism: A Reader. The review will appear on H-Pietism.

Look forward to some reflections on — and perhaps even the reviews of — these books in the coming weeks and months!

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Last Chance to Register for the 2014 Sider Institute Conference!


Today’s the last day to register for “Who’s In? Who’s Out?: Rethinking Church Membership in the 21st Century,” a conference co-sponsored by the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah College and Fresno Pacific University Biblical Seminary.

The conference will be held Oct. 9-10 at Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church. Registration for the full-day conference (on Oct. 10) costs $30 and can be completed online. Pastors in the Brethren in Christ denomination can earn lifelong learning credit for participating in the conference.

For more information, contact

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Born-Again Brethren in Christ: Week #13 – Slowing Down

busyClick here for some background on this post.

After last week’s good progress on the manuscript, this week I spent almost no time on “Born-Again Brethren in Christ.” This means I’m back where I was during the early weeks of this project. It’s not for lack of desire to finish this project (although I must admit that I’m growing weary of constantly thinking about the Brethren in Christ and Evangelicalism). Mostly I’m slowing down because I need to speed up on other things: the upcoming Sider Institute study conference; other projects at Messiah College and Mennonite World Conference; and home stuff.

What does this mean for my essay? Will I have time to work on it in the coming weeks? I certainly hope so. The manuscript is sitting in a folder on my desk; a Post-it note covered in still-unanswered research questions is tacked to the front of the folder. If I’m going to do this project well, I’ll need to spend some more time in the archives in addition to spending time in front of the computer screen.

Stay tuned!

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Examining Brethren in Christ Theological Identity

National Director Alan Robinson speaks at yesterday morning's Theological Study Group meeting at Messiah Village (Mechanicsburg, Pa.).

National Director Alan Robinson speaks at yesterday morning’s Theological Study Group meeting at Messiah Village (Mechanicsburg, Pa.).

Yesterday morning I attended my first meeting of the Brethren in Christ Theological Study Group. I did not know this group even existed until recently! From what I can tell, it’s a local, grassroots gathering among Brethren in Christ pastors (and some laypeople) in Pennsylvania to discuss pressing theological issues. According to Bob Verno, the pastor of West Shore Brethren in Christ Church and one of the Theological Study Group conveners, this group has met sixteen times since it got its start in 2010. Interesting!

Yesterday’s gathering took place at Messiah Village, a Brethren in Christ-related retirement home in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and focused on “Renewing our Theological Identity: What It Means to be Brethren in Christ Today.” Presenters included:

  • Curtis Book, peace and justice coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast, who argued that the Brethren in Christ theological tradition is primarily shaped by a “core” Anabaptist ecclesiology and Wesleyan soteriology;
  • Heather Brickner, life groups pastor at Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church, who described theological values — peace, community, simplicity, and others — that position the Brethren in Christ well for ministry among millennials; and
  • Alan Robinson, Brethren in Christ U.S. national director, who encouraged the Brethren in Christ to rethink some of the simple assumptions that have dominated our conversation about theological identity, particularly our simplistic understanding of Evangelicalism as a tradition.

I found everyone’s presentations to be stimulating, and agreed with much of what I heard. In particular, Alan’s challenge to re-think the definition of Evangelicalism resonates with much of my own thinking on the matter, and reinforces my own argument about the more complex ways that the Brethren in Christ have related to Evangelicals throughout our history. We Brethren in Christ would do well to recognize that Evangelicalism has at times been attracted to our Anabaptist-infused understanding of discipleship and community. Yet at the same time we need to heed the advice of the late Luke Keefer Jr. to be “Evangelicals with a difference” (in much the same way we’ve been Anabaptists, Pietists, and Wesleyans “with a difference”).

I felt that Curtis’ presentation, with its focus on defining our identity as Anabaptist ecclesiology and Wesleyan soteriology, was compelling from a confessional perspective but not wholly convincing from a historical/theological perspective. Given my strong feelings about the potential for Pietism as a “usable past” for the Brethren in Christ (which I’ve explained here and here), and given the fact that Wesleyan Holiness theology came to the Brethren in Christ from the American Holiness movement and not the Pietist-influenced Methodist tradition, I can’t accept Curtis’ basic assertion that Wesleyanism offers the Brethren in Christ the full soteriology that we embrace in our current doctrinal statement. But I agree with his broader contention that the Brethren in Christ need to re-assess our Wesleyan tradition in order to access the rich resources of Christian holiness.

I hope that these conversations can continue in other venues — venues that allow us to include more Brethren in Christ folks in the conversation.

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Messiah College Historians at the 2014 Conference on Faith and History

Messiah College historians at CFH: me, Amanda Mylin (2012 alumna), Brooke Strayer (2014 alumna), and James LaGrand and John Fea (current History Department faculty). (Courtesy of John Fea)

Messiah College historians at CFH: me, Amanda Mylin (2012 alumna), Brooke Strayer (2014 alumna), and James LaGrand and John Fea (current History Department faculty). (Courtesy of John Fea)

I had a great time participating in the 2014 Conference on Faith and History, held this year at Pepperdine University. Pepperdine is literally across the street from the Pacific Ocean, in sunny Malibu, California, which means I spent several days basking in the sun and getting to talk about one of my favorite subjects: history.

I had good company on this trip. In addition to blogosphere friends and colleagues like Pietist Schoolmen Chris Gehrz and Jared Burkholder, recent Schrag Lecturer David Swartz, and others, several historians from Messiah College participated in the conference as well. Jim LaGrand and John Fea are faculty members in the history department; Brooke Strayer and Amanda Mylin are recent alums.

As John Fea reports on his blog:

May 2014 Messiah College History graduate Brooke Strayer presented a paper at the CFH Undergraduate Conference entitled “Tracing the Trajectory of the Brethren in Christ Peace Position in the United States.”  It was based on her Messiah College senior honors thesis. . . . She did a great job and represented Messiah’s history department very well.

Another Messiah College history alum, Amanda Mylin (’12), presented a paper at the main CFH conference entitled “Luxury, Vice, and Virtue: The Intersection of Women, Consumerism, and Religion, 1750-1783.”  Amanda is finishing her master’s degree in history at Baylor University.

Dr. Jim LaGrand chaired and commented on a session entitled “Dear Colleagues: What Christian Public Historians Want You to Know About Our Field, Our Audiences, and What We Need from You.”

Finally, I [John Fea] participated on a panel at the Undergraduate Conference entitled “Why I Hate (or Love) the History Channel.”  At the main conference he joined roundtables devoted to social media and book publishing.

And, as I previously wrote, I participated in a roundtable discussion on “The Role of the Historian in Managing Institutional Change.”

I enjoyed my time at the Conference on Faith and History at this biennial meeting, and look forward to participating again in 2016!

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Thoughts on the “Church and Post-Christian Culture” Conference (Part 2)

missio-allianceI’m still trying to get some thoughts on paper about the recent Church and Post-Christian Culture conference, held September 19-20 at the Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church and sponsored by Missio Alliance. I hope to dedicate some time to that later this week.

Meanwhile, check out some further reflections on the event from participants and attendees.

Stay tuned for more!

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A Pietist Perspective on “Staying Christ-Centered” in Christian Higher Ed

The new edited collection by Chris Gehrz of Bethel University, to be released by InterVarsity Press in January 2015 (IVP)

The new edited collection by Chris Gehrz of Bethel University, to be released by InterVarsity Press in January 2015 (IVP)

It’s probably not too Christ-centered to admit this in a public forum, but I’m jealous of my Messiah College colleagues who attended the Christian College Consortium gathering at Wheaton College this week. I’m jealous of them because they got to spend several days discussing issues of relevance to Christian higher education (a subject I’m quite passionate about). I’m also jealous because they got to hear a great presentation from my friend Chris Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University in Minnesota, who spoke on “Staying Christ-Centered: A Pietist Perspective.”

(Actually, I got to spend time with Chris this past weekend at the 2014 Conference on Faith and History, but conveniently forgot to chat him up about this talk!)

Fortunately, Chris has posted his remarks at his excellent blog, The Pietist Schoolman. (And it just so happens that Chris’ latest pots marks his return to regular blogging after a month-long hiatus.)

Here’s a taste of Chris’ talk:

So how would a Pietist advise a college or university seeking to stay “Christ-centered”?

1. Staying is not static: Bethel historian Virgil Olson once wrote that a Pietist ethos will always arise in response to any “superficial Christianity… that has the form of piety and lacks the power thereof.” If 17th century Pietists bemoaned how the supposedly “evangelical” churches of their day had turned the pulpit, lectern, font, and confessional into “four dumb idols,” then their 21st century descendants should be particularly attuned to the danger of the same thing happening to supposedly evangelical colleges and universities. Classrooms, chapels, dorms, and stadiums can become dumb idols too.

If nothing else, Pietism is about the process of being made new. For a Pietist university to stay Christ-centered, it must continue to find new ways to make new persons who serve a new church, taking up the mission of a God who is making all things new.

So staying is not static, or stationary. At our worst, Pietists’ centering on Christ has entailed retreat and withdrawal, turning in on ourselves and away from the world. At our best, though, Pietists have stayed centered on a Christ of movement, a Christ who invites us to “follow me” — into the missions field, into the realm of ideas, into places of poverty and suffering, and into seasons of change and disruption.

To read Chris’ comments in their entirety, click here.

Chris’ comments come from his forthcoming edited collection, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education, which will be published by InterVarsity Press in early 2015 (and is now available for pre-order). I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

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