Post: Readers Respond
I want to begin by thanking you for keeping the heritage alive. This is so important and yet at times so neglected.... Again, I say thank you. May God continue to bless you as you continue in this important work. Patrick Genseal, Lindsborg, Kansas.
There it is again! I heard the call of the Swedish siren in your delightful description of Founder's Day 1989 (Spring, 1989). I could feel the mood and tenor of the service — Karl, Ted, Skoogsberg, Skoog, Wiberg, all there in one way or another, the way anybody important to us is there in special moments. And I could imagine myself there, joining in, loving every moment of it, and feeling only slightly cheated because I hadn't INA:n there, yet, profoundly glad that it had taken place one way or another, with or without some of us who might have wanted to be in that company.
Ah, but there is a problem. If a critical issue in the first century church was how to become a Christian without having to become a Jew first, and a present-day issue for Jews is how to become a Christian without becoming a Gentile first, then for others it is how to become a Covenanter and claim all that wonderful heritage without having to become a Swede. Though it might seem from within the Swedish culture that for anyone else to adopt that culture as one's own is a step up, it must be objectively realized that "it ain't necessarily so."
Much as we may regularly include songs of the Scandinavian heritage in our worship here in Cromwell, there are still many — and a growing number — for whom the singing of hymns of another minority — black slaves — strikes a much more familiar note.
On the other hand, I am not in favor of a model of our life together that focuses on worship as program and entertainment with Bible Camp choruses and popular, peppy songs and gimmicks as the norm. In such a situation everybody is welcomed and included, but at the cost of heritage, dignity, respect, and awe.
I am very happy to serve here as pastor of a very good church. And there are some of us who deeply appreciate the heritage given to us. But, if we are to effectively include all those in our area with their great variety of religious, national and ethnic backgrounds, we cannot overstress our Swedishness, though we do take careful pains to express our joy and appreciation for it. Those congregations that cling to that tradition will either die, become islands in a rising sea, or face the necessity sooner or later of being born again.
Let us continue to enjoy and benefit from our heritage and to build on it, as Pietisten seeks to do (and I am a hearty reader of it) and let us also find ways to avoid becoming too narrow as we face the future. It is nice to see on the list of contributors (along with the name Penrod, who is a Swede, I suspect), the name of Snodgrass, a refreshing change from all those... sons.
On another note, WaldenstrOm's commentary on John 17;20-26, translated by Tommy Carlson, is interesting in its emphasis on the unity of all believers. How is this unity to be expressed? "...That they may be one after the pattern of the father and the son's unity," "The believers' lives, in fellowship with the father and the son, shall produce a mutual fellowship among themselves." "... This unity... must be in external appearance a unity that can be seen by the world. All division among the believers works against that big ~ purpose for which Christ offered himself." "If the world is to, ~ through the believers' unity, understand that it is God who has sent Christ, this unity must show itself in external appearance, so that the world can see it. All the believers' dissensions in different parties and denominations is also an obvious fight against God's whole salvation plan, as well as a hindrance for the salvation of the world." "Dissension is of the devil; unity is of God." This is powerful stuff!
Many believers are ready to do battle over a variety of issues, big and little, but John 17 gets trampled on day by day, year by year. The concern of Waldenstr5m is both our Pietist heritage and our Christian joy and duty. Let us explore its meaning and live it out in our witness. Warm regards, Robert McNaughton, Cromwell, Connecticut.
I enjoyed reading the responses to your article "A Blessed Escape" in the Spring 1989 issue. I was glad to see that Klyne Snodgrass and I had some of the same reactions to your article. From your response to our letters, I sec that much discussion could still go on.
Please allow me one comment. You wonder in your response if textual critics of the New Testament will be led by their methodology to "purge" accounts of events in the gospels that contain discrepancies (e.g. the accounts of Judas' death). Again I feel you have misconstrued the discipline of textual criticism. Textual critics seek merely to ascertain from the divergent copies of the text which one conforms most nearly to the original. Hence the textual critic is not concerned in the course of this process with discrepancies between one gospel and another. The textual critic is concerned merely with the textual history of the piece of scripture in question. Hence I believe your fears are misplaced.
Please keep up the good work! I am grateful that your publication provides a place for this kind of discussion within the Covenant. David Freedholm, North Easton, Massachusetts.
In this decade of the '80s, I have run into Covenanters who reflect new skepticism toward the "relevance" of Covenant tradition. All share a lack of faith in the ability of Covenant history and tradition to inform and enhance present church efforts to reach out to others.
At the Annual Meeting in Chicago last June, I spoke with a Covenant minister friend who feels that the Covenant will not be able to reach out as it should until it discards its Swedishness. A few years ago I told another Covenant minister friend of mine that I had been studying Swedish. He suggested that doing so was an abstract and rather indulgent exercise and said he thought learning Spanish would better reflect a desire to spread the gospel. Both of these friends grew up in this denomination and both have a deep interest in reaching out to others. Both also see Swedishness as a stone hanging around the neck of our denomination.
I think, however, that in blaming Swedishness for some of our problems, they fail to distinguish it from other factors, as well as overemphasizing its role as a source of trouble. feel that ethnicity is a mixed bag with both positive and negative contents. Especially in the last two decades, some Americans of Greek, Swedish, and other descents may have appeared to "try too hard" to resurrect their ethnic past. These efforts may have made up for artificial efforts of earlier generations to leave the past behind. In any case, the ethnic revival may have alienated people outside of ethnic groups by making them feel even more like outsiders. However, Covenant history involves much more than such a narrow ethnicity. I feel my friends have wrongly equated Covenant history with Swedishness and then made it the "fall guy" for many denominational problems.
The character and Christian integrity of my friends, who have tired of Swedishness, is a testimony to the richness of our denomination's past. And this past conWns much more than ethnic one-upmanship. It would be a mistake to discard elements of that past, like pietism and immigrant consciousness, by labeling them as nothing more than part of an exclusive Swedishness. On the other hand, I think they are parts of our past which can inform our efforts to reach out. For example, pietism first came to Scandinavia from Germany. For Swedes, it was a foreign movement that helped to nurture a new religious character. Although Swedes, in turn, brought pietism to America, pietism can hardly be seen as something for Swedes only. In addition, I think that studying the Swedish language has improved my ability to reach out to others. Studying Spanish may have helped me communicate, but studying Swedish helped me understand what things in my collective experience existed for me to share with others.
I would argue that perceptions of the need to escape our history are often shaped by that history. The person whose history has nurtured a desire to reach out to others with the gospel may find himself, in turn, feeling that that history keeps him from reaching out to the extent he would like. I would suggest that at that moment if such a person learned more about his history he might reconsider his efforts to transcend it.
In the 1989 issue of The North Parker, for example, President Paul Larsen was quoted as saying:
Our pietism sometimes defeats us... we can have a sort of "feeling theology" that allows us to say, "somehow I just don't feel we're ready" [for women in pastorates.]
I think that in this case Rev. Larsen uses pietism as a scapegoat. Because he doesn't define what he means by pietism, one wonders just what aspects of Covenant tradition, history, and theology it might include. He seems to mean by pietism whatever it is that sometimes defeats us and portrays it as an emotional and perhaps sentimental tradition that does not have enough substance to rationally inform our efforts to face a current issue responsibly. I doubt that in a serious study he could show pietism to be a source of prejudice toward women as pastors. Larsen treats pietism as an antique kettle with a hole in it that may look nice on a shelf, but can't be used to boil water any more. He should first define pietism more precisely, and then distinguish it from other factors that may be related to, but different from it, before singling it out as a source of our problems.
If enough people in the denomination think that its history cannot inform decisions we have to make about present problems, our history will simply stop informing those decisions. I fear that those in the denomination are naive who 'think that we need to find a new objectivity that frees us from the chains of tradition. If we distance ourselves from a consciousness of ow past in the hope of becoming more free, we may in fact only be making ourselves vulnerable to unknown influences. We may hope to freely sail but in reality be cut adrift and founder before being rescued by a ship that has no idea who we are or where we were going. Ted Roberg, Chicago, Illinois.
Pietisten continues to be a strange and marvelous publication. I am pleased that it seems to be gaining a widening readership.
I appreciated your response to Klyne Snodgrass. Perhaps more important than the specific arguments raised by Klyne and yourself is the difference in spirit and tone in your respective articles. I get edgy when someone claims to distinguish between "true repentance" and those whose "escape cannot be condoned." I know the ambiguities in my own life that some would not condone, and the practice of counseling has given me the privilege of being with many others at their own points of vulnerability. In the process I have learned that life is too rich for our categories and judgments.
On the more specific issue of defining scripture, I agree that in 1989 it is a little late to be amending the Bible. For good and/or ill it is what it is. We could no doubt "improve" it in many ways — remove corrupted texts, eliminate N.T. books of non-apostolic authorship, delete sayings and stories of dubious authenticity, place asterisks by sexist and antiJewish sayings, and so forth. Fortunately the church has generally been reluctant to "improve" the Bible
An alternative is to accept the scriptures as part of the tradition of the church while embracing a more dynamic relationship with that tradition. The church is under the authority of the tradition, but it is also creator of the tradition and critic of the tradition. As a Christian I stand below, above, and alongside the Bible. I am to obey the Bible, argue with the Bible, be inspired by the Bible, and so forth. Our tradition's emphasis on the Bible suggests that one thing we cannot do is end our dialogue with the Bible, whether that occurs through neglecting it or through worshipping it. Ross Peterson, Mount Prospect, Illinois.
I want to thank Peter Sandstrom for explaining his attraction to pietism in the last paragraph of his "Spener's Proposal, Part III." If that's what pietism is all about, I'm all for it.
Also, though I missed the original Klyne Snodgrass articlein the Companion, I have enjoyed reading the various reactions to it. It's refreshing to see textual criticism given open discussion. It's so important to recognize that the Bible didn't arrive full-blown (like Minerva springing full-grown and full-armed from the brow of Jupiter), nor were its contents dictated into the ears of Old or New Testament writers by Caravaggian angels. Jerry Nordstrom, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The arrival of the most recent Pietisten reminded me that my two favorite magazines come from the Twin Cities — Pietisten and The Minneapolis Review of Baseball. And, after reading your "Bull Durham" article, may I suggest that you might appreciate reading the MRB. People as diverse as Ron Shelton, Rob Johnston and Bart Giamatti all know that there is some kind of a connection between baseball and religion. My advice: forget the Vikings, and study baseball.
A final comment on your magazine. I would like to see some articles in Pietisten on "contemporary pietism." I find it easier to understand pietism historically than to know what a pietist looks like today. What are the characteristics of a contemporary pietist? What does a pietist think about and believe, and how does a pietist use money and time? Or to put it in baseball terms, can you tell a pietist without a program, and if not, what does the program say? Keep up the good work, Bryce Nelson, Seattle, Washington.
So, are you for or against the Satanic Verses? The Word is very much alive in Islamic circles even if it is (or seems) dead elsewhere. A Moslem friend here says that Rushdie exercised his freedom of speech, but so did Khomeini. If the West is outraged, so is Iran. Score: 0 to 0. Of course this is simple but it underscores much of the problem. In Islam, the collectivity, the community, does take precedence over the individual; and in this matter of the Word, the Koran is truly sacred. Rushdie was a fool to have forgotten this (if he did).
The West's reaction, though, strikes me as somewhat tinged with the arrogance characteristic of 19th century missionaries bringing THE TRUTH. There is nothing absolute about freedom of speech, as the UK government's attempt to ban Spycatchers last year proves. We just no longer ban on theological grounds. Too expensive an exercise. Even the "Index" has been suppressed. Unfortunately, Islam has another (and equally valid!) tradition about tolerance. We should, perhaps, brace ourselves....
Have you read the Jerusalem Bible in any of its parts? I happened to dig out the English translation of the French version of the it. Very clear, by the by, much more so than the recent Oxford version and a definite improvement on the Revised Standard and King Jimmy's attempt. And in many spots, very elegant. I don't believe that one has to understand the Bible so much as to feel it, to be moved by it (do I hear the long knives being sharpened in the background?). You would have one hell of a struggle getting me to believe that St. John understood what he wrote [in the Apocalyse, we presume], and meant it. The medium is here very definitely the message, and the medium is the heart. Anyway, the Jerusalem Bible seems quite an achievement. Robert Thompson, Geneva, Switzerland.