Interview with Olle Engström

Olle Engström is Rector Emeritus of Teologiska Seminariet Lidingö — the seminary of the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden. From 1968 to 1983 Olle Engström was a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. For seven years he served as the moderator of one of the major units of the WCC: The Committee on Education and Renewal. In 1981, Uppsala University gave special recognition to Olle Engström's work and ministry by granting him the honorary degree of Doctor of Theology. Dr. Engström, a former professor of history, is a lay-person.

This interview occurred over a very pleasant lunch with Dr. and Mrs. Engström at Pacific Lutheran College, Tacoma, Washington, June 23, 1989.

Pietisten: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you. I have prepared some questions that I would like to ask.

Engström: Would you read the questions? Then we can determine the best place to begin. We hold your paper in high regard and want to answer well.

[The questions were reviewed and the interview proceeded as follows.]

Pietisten: What are your activities these days

Engström: I am presently serving as chairman of The Committee for Local Ecumenism of the Swedish Ecumenical Council. Sweden is divided into 13 conferences corresponding to the dioceses of the Church of Sweden. Every single Christian congregation, be it Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, has been invited to participate, which is an event of church history. Never before has this been done.

The purpose of the local groups is to worship and to study together. Study groups have begun which include theological lectures and Biblical studies. These studies are centered around the basis for Christian unity. Christian unity is the esse for which Christ prayed and Paul preached. This has been my main work since I retired four years ago as Rector of the Seminary at Lidingö.

Pietisten: What would you like the American Covenant to know about the World Council of Churches?

Engström: It is a body in which a small church can have a say. The World Council is under change all the time because it is a living body. Our experience is that it has given even us, as a small denomination, a voice and a role in shaping the larger Body of Christ.

Pietisten: What would you like to tell American Christians and Christian denominations, including Covenant?

Engström: The same thing as I tell the Swedes. We must not over-estimate our own capacity to interpret the Gospel. Poor and oppressed people in the Third World and the East might know much more about Christian faith then we do. We are tempted to be the "know-hows." The world-wide church is more dynamic than we realize. We must be ready to listen and to learn — and, especially — to be aware of the fact that evangelism does not mean the export of Western life style.

One place this becomes clear is in the matter of language. English speaking people seem at times to think that everything important happens in English. I have even been asked if we teach all our classes at Lidingö in English. Of course we don't. Why would we? We are Swedes. In that respect we may have an advantage. We know that very few people other than Swedes speak Swedish. If we want to communicate with others, we must learn their language or a more common language. Learning "foreign" languages is a prerequisite for peace and international understanding.

Pietisten: When did your experiences with the World Council of Churches begin and how did you feel about it at that time?

Engström: The first WCC meeting I attended was the 1954 meeting in Evanston. I was proud to be a part of that meeting and to be learning from others, for example, about ethical lines of action, There are some people who say that the WCC is the anti-Christ. These people judge in ignorance and prejudice, and out of fear. Their courage is amazing, though not commendable. There are Christians who would rather shoot than talk.

Pietisten: What comments do you have about President Larsen's sermon last night, "Renewing Our Covenant with Each Other?"

Engström; It was a great sermon. I hope and pray for the effects of what he said about Christian unity and I wonder what consequences it should have for the Covenant. We have hoped that the North American Covenant, which is so dynamic (benevolent institutions, evangelism, new churches coming), would participate more in the life of the larger church. It seems to me that the dynamism of the Covenant in America, being too internal, is not put at the disposal of the wider church.

Pietisten: What sort of discussion goes on these days in Sweden about Rosenius, Waldenström, and Ekman?

Engström: The questions of their day are still here, but I am happy to say that the theological debate has been immensely enriched by influences from the wider church.

Pietisten: Do the pietist roots of the two Covenants matter today? Is this heritage worth attending to?

Engström: Definitely. The accents upon a personal relationship with God, on personal piety, on evangelism, and on a simple life style matter a great deal.

Pietisten: How did you and Mrs. Engström meet each other?

Engström: We met at a Student Christian Movement Conference in Sweden.

Pietisten: It is a pleasure to get to know you both and to get a chance to talk with you. Thank you for your time and thank you for being here in Tacoma.

Note: The reader will find two recent articles by Dr. Engström illuminating: "Encounter of Joy and Agony; The Role of the Ecumenical Movement and the Response of Our Covenant Churches," The Covenant Quarterly, Vol. XLV, No, 4, November 1987, pp. 155-165 and "Together with All the Saints: The Rediscovery of the One Church through the Ecumenical Movement," The Covenant Quarterly, Vol XLVI, Nos. 2 and 3, May/August, 1988 (Amicus Dei, presented to Karl A. Olsson), pp.163-177.