As I unveiled on Tuesday, we’re kicking off a new feature at “the search for piety and obedience.” Entitled “Three BIC Books…” (a blatant rip-off of National Public Radio’s far superior series of a similar name), the feature will bring together BIC individuals from across the church and ask them to select and review three BIC-authored texts that “allow for conversation, completion, and understanding” of our shared heritage.
Since I’m responsible for inciting it, I suppose I should go first…
1. Quest for Piety and Obedience | Carlton O. Wittlinger
Wittlinger’s seminal history of the Brethren in Christ is the literary equivalent of my American Express card: I never leave home without it. Sure, it’s dense. And sure, since it’s more than forty years old, it’s pretty dated. But it remains the most widely respected historical narrative of the church up to the 1970s. It deftly narrates the church’s journey from a small River Brethren sect with Anabaptist and Pietist roots, to a burgeoning movement infused with the “holy fire” of the Wesleyan Holiness movement, to an international body heavily influenced by postwar American Evangelicalism. All future historians of the denomination owe a debt of gratitude to Wittlinger for his considerable tome.
If Wittlinger’s Quest for Piety and Obedience is the metaphorical grandmomma of all BIC historical studies, then Morris Sider’s Nine Portraits is everybody’s favorite aunt: warm, energetic, and filled to the brim with great stories. By focusing in on nine women and men who built the church in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Sider nimbly illustrates a community in transition: from strict separation to a nascent interest in home and foreign missions; from agrarianism to urbanism; from quiet Anabaptism to vigorous Wesleyanism.
By the time he penned this memoir in 1969, E.J. Swalm was likely one of the most experienced and most widely respected leaders in the Brethren in Christ Church — making his reflections, in the words of bishop Henry Ginder, valuable for their “historical value” and for their “enrichment to coming generations.” But more than that, Swalm’s writing is generous and hilarious — two qualities that elevate this book above the average BIC autobiography.
Readers: What are your three BIC books that “allow for conversation, completion, and understanding” about our shared heritage? Send me an e-mail and we’ll line you up for a future installment of “Three BIC Books…”!