I’ve been hard at work on my biography of the late theologian and church historian Luke L. Keefer Jr., which will be published by the Brethren in Christ Historical Society. (I previously published an excerpt from this research, related to Luke’s scholarship on the doctrine of holiness.)
Today’s Photo Friday features a photo from that biography: one depicting Luke’s childhood among the bucolic farmland east of Millersburg, a hamlet in central Pennsylvania.
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter I’m currently finishing up:
The daily toil of farm life and the warmth of spiritual fellowship further connected the Keefer children and their parents. As a farm family, the Keefers lived very much “off the land.” In the years before big-box retail, chain stores, and fast food restaurants, the farm and its fertile fields were the sources of fresh produce, meat, milk, and other necessities. On [their farm's] tillable 16 acres the Keefers grew corn and wheat; what they did not keep for their own use they traded for other supplies or gave away to family or church members. Gardening was also a fact of life. The Keefers grew peas, corn, green and lima beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers; they had a small apple orchard, pear and cherry trees, and a raspberry patch along the fencerow. That which could not be used immediately was canned and stored for the future. They also butchered their own hogs and beef cattle; the smoked the ham, bacon, and sausage and canned the extra. Their chicken operation provided eggs and, on occasion, a different kind of protein for the dinner table. They produced their own milk and butter with the help of a faithful cow. The groceries the Keefers bought were few and consisted mainly of items used in recipe cooking. Indeed, farm living provided much of the necessary nourishment for the Keefer clan.
In the same vein, hunting—especially small game hunting, at which Luke Sr. was an expert—also provided sustenance as well as sport. From a young age, Luke joined his father on these expeditions, toting with him his trusty BB gun, a toy Luke’s sisters remember as a constant companion in his childhood. Later, as a teenager, Luke joined his brothers-in-law Ed Keiter and Ray Lauver in deer hunting, an interest he would continue to pursue throughout his adult life.
In addition to gardening, butchering, and hunting, another life-long interest—caring for animals—developed as a result of Luke’s rural upbringing. Luke’s sisters recall the joy he took in playing with the numerous Collie dogs the family owned over the years, especially Ring. They also recall the nest of rabbits he raised during his childhood years. In addition to such recreational pursuits, Luke’s interest in animals also inclined him toward farm work. He helped out first on the family farm and later, in his teenage years, was hired out to neighbors’ farms, where he often helped with the livestock. Ed Keiter, Luke’s brother-in-law, recalls one harrowing incident in which Luke, while herding “resistant” cattle on the Keiter family farm, broke his arm. Such occurrences did not lessen Luke’s interest in working with animals—though they did perhaps teach him to be more cautious in his interactions.
I’ll be sharing even more of my research and writing on Luke Keefer Jr. in the future, so stay tuned!
Once again, I’m behind in promoting the latest issue of Brethren in Christ History and Life. The December 2012 edition celebrates the life and legacy of Luke L. Keefer, Jr., a long-time theologian, church historian, and denominational leader in the Brethren in Christ Church. As Luke’s biographer, I’m grateful that the contributors to this issue agreed to provide such thoughtful reflections on this scholar’s work among us; as one of many aspiring leaders mentored by Luke, I’m thrilled to see someone I admired remembered in this way.
Here’s the table of contents:
- E. Morris Sider, “Remembering Luke: A Fellow Academic’s Reflections on Luke L. Keefer, Jr., as Scholar, Colleague, and Friend”
- Gregory C. Starr, “Remembering Luke: A Former Seminarian’s Reflections on Luke L. Keefer, Jr., as Professor, Mentor, and Friend”
- Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas, “Minding the Church: The Scholarship and Denominational Service of Luke L. Keefer, Jr.”
- Luke L. Keefer, Jr., “Principles of Interpretation at Work in the Brethren in Christ Church”
- “Luke L. Keefer, Jr.: Evaluations” by Dale R. Stoffer, Lynn Thrush, Terry Rose, John R. Hawbaker, and Keith Tyson
Readers: What are your favorite articles in this most recent issue of the journal, and why?
Here’s a third excerpt — the last for now.
Last year, I had the privilege of participating in a colloquium on Pietism at Bethel University in Minnesota. (Thanks, Chris Gehrz!) My panel was asked to tackle the thorny question, “Does Pietism provide a usable past for today’s churches?” The proceedings from that panel should be published soon, in a forthcoming issue of The Covenant Quarterly. I’m looking forward to it!
I’ve recently expanded on some of my thoughts from that panel discussion in an article for the spring 2013 of In Part, the magazine for the Brethren in Christ community in the U.S. (It’s the second entry in their year-long “We Believe” series, which seeks to examine the four theological traditions that shape the contemporary Brethren in Christ in the U.S.: Anabaptism, Pietism, Wesleyanism, and Evangelicalism.) The article considers Pietism’s status as one of the founding streams in Brethren in Christ theology and its contemporary relevance to the Church. Here’s an excerpt:
Recently, a pastor friend and I had a conversation about how we introduce new people to the origins, beliefs, and practices of the Brethren in Christ (BIC) Church in the U.S. In addition to sharing about the Core Values and doctrinal statement that shape the BIC community, my pastor friend mentioned that he always describes its roots in various theological traditions. “I tell people we’re a Protestant denomination with a unique mix of Anabaptism, Wesleyan, and Evangelical doctrines,” he told me, adding, “I usually don’t mention Pietism. It just gets lost in the mix.”
What did my friend mean by this statement? Because he knows the defining role Pietism had in launching the BIC Church, I can only guess that he doubts the movement’s contemporary significance to our community life. Perhaps he meant that Pietism “gets lost” because of its negative connotations. Certainly the term “Pietist” (and related expressions like “piety” and “pious”) smacks of stuffiness and judgmentalism—hardly the basis for effective Christian ministry or vital Christian living.
Or perhaps he meant that Pietism “gets lost” because it has so little support among the BIC community today. As reported in a 2006 survey*, most BIC would describe their religious faith using terms like “Anabaptist” and “Evangelical.” A meager 1.3 percent would use the term “Pietist.” Clearly, very few among us today identify with this historic theological tradition.
Or perhaps my friend meant that Pietism “gets lost” because its major contribution to BIC theology—the notion of a heart-felt and life-changing conversion experience of the saving grace of God—is emphasized by other theological traditions in our heritage, like Wesleyanism and Evangelicalism.
No matter what my friend meant, it’s clear that this theological movement—so important in our community’s formation—no longer resonates in the way it once did. But can it? Is there more to Pietism than stodgy connotations and a redundant theology of salvation? How did the Pietist impulse first galvanize the BIC Church? And in what ways does our Pietist heritage position us for bold witness and effective ministry today?
You can probably guess my answers to some (if not all!) of those questions, but you’ll have to wait for the spring 2013 issue to read them in full!
Here’s another excerpt. This comes from an article I’m currently writing on Brethren in Christ church members’ involvements in evangelical organizations beyond the National Association of Evangelicals. (As most of my blog readers will know, the Brethren in Christ Church joined this para-church organization in 1949.) I’m tentatively titling the essay, “Beyond ‘Indianapolis ’50′: The Brethren in Christ in the Larger Evangelical World.”
In April 1950, eight men—all but one dressed in plain black suits with upright collars and no neckties—convened in Indianapolis, Indiana, to attend the eighth annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), an interdenominational agency created to facilitate fellowship and cooperation between conservative Protestant denominations. As representatives of the Brethren in Christ Church, these eight men reflected the cultural traditions of their religious community—a small, separatistic fellowship that linked beliefs like simplicity, humility, and nonviolence to counter-cultural practices like plain dress and conscientious objection to war.
The presence of these men at an NAE convention was a bit of an incongruity. Unlike their fellow believers in Baptist, Methodist, and independent denominations, these Brethren in Christ men could exult neither in wildly successful revival campaigns nor in unprecedented growth on their church membership rosters. This fact gave the men pause. Surrounded by these success-oriented evangelicals and alarmed by the apparent disparity between their small group and the other denominations, these eight Brethren in Christ gathered for a late-night confab. Together they confessed long-held anxieties about the future of their small community. And they resolved to return to their leadership posts with a vision—and a plan—for change.
In the subsequent decades, these eight men (and a handful of others who joined them) initiated a series of doctrinal revisions—revisions that dramatically reoriented the lifestyle and religious practice of the entire Brethren in Christ community. These leaders would later point back to their late-night confab as the impetus for this change. As one confab participant would later remark, “The Church continues to feel the impact of ‘Indianapolis ’50.”
Or so the story goes. . . .
Without a doubt, the Brethren in Christ were also connected to the larger evangelical world beyond NAE. Church members attended evangelical schools like Houghton College, Taylor College (now University), Biblical Seminary of New York, and Fuller Seminary. They read periodicals like Christianity Today, and listened to radio programs like the Old Fashioned Revival Hour. They participated in evangelical initiatives like Youth for Christ and Child Evangelism Fellowship. Like thousands of other Christians in North America and around the world, they attended the revival crusades of Billy Graham; some even served as event staffers. These involvements would also decisively influence Brethren in Christ theology and practice.