Olle Engström 1920 — 2003

In our very last issue there was a letter from Olle Engström. He wrote about Pietisten moving in “…limited waters, but waters of great interest for me and my wife, Margit.” “Sometimes,” he concluded, “I wish I could use one of the boats in your wonderful advertisements to cross the Atlantic in a private World Cup Pietisten Race. Thank you for years of refreshing reading. Good luck for years to come.” We relish that fine, beautiful blessing.

People from many, many parts of the world testify that they have been blessed by this Swedish Churchman and gentleman. Engström stood for ecumenicity. He lived and worked for universal brotherhood.

Olle Engström grew up in Småland and Dalecarlia, Sweden. He was a Christian humanist of the first rank, a churchman with a broad, deep, pietistic spirit. He served as Dean of the Swedish Mission Covenant Theological Seminary in Lidingö from 1962 until his retirement in 1985. Olle was a delegate to the Evanston meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1954 and he served on a number of committees thereafter. He had a wide circle of friends in Sweden, America, France, and other countries, and was at home in several languages.

I knew Dr. Engström only by reputation until I with met him for an interview at the 1989 Covenant Annual Meeting at Seattle Pacific University in Tacoma, Washington. He knew little of Pietisten at the time and feared it might be driven by folks who were on an evangelical crusade of some sort. He asked me: “What is Pietisten’s agenda?” When I told him I couldn’t think of anything, he relaxed and smiled.

At that time he was Chairman of the Committee for Local Ecumenism of the Swedish Ecumenical Council. When I asked what he would like to tell American Christians including the Covenant, he said:

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 [the Seminary] 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, Fall, 1989, p. 11)

In his December 9, 2003 Christmas email greeting Olle wrote:

Our world is in trouble. The famine in Africa and in other places is appalling. Still more, all of us know that the policy of the present government in Washington is very much under dispute, rightly so we think. Still deeper, the challenge of Islam to our Western world is something that we as Christians have to cope with. It is a clash between different civilizations, and we should let no prejudices stop us from an honest debate on the whole issue. Islam is too important, not to be seriously studied. For a Swedish monthly I have written a review of Bernard Lewis The Crisis of Islam (Weidenfeld & Nicholson), a book worth reading.

We salute Margit as we send our blessings to her and the entire family. We will long be blessed by the work and memory of this fine person who reached out to the whole world with God’s love.