Rosenius at North Park

by David M. Gustafson

The video from Mark Safstrom’s lecture on Rosenius is available to view on Vimeo: “The Church that Reads Together, Stays Together: C.O. Rosenius and the Reading Culture of the Mission Friends”

An event at North Park Theological Seminary in late February celebrated 200 years since the birth of Carl Olof Rosenius (1816–1868). In a lecture about the life and work of Rosenius, Mark Safstrom highlighted Rosenius’s impact on the Pietist movement in Sweden and America in the 19th century.

David Gustafson and Rosenius

David Gustafson and Rosenius

Having just re-read Pia Desideria by Philipp Jacob Spener with students at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I was impressed with Mark’s comments on Rosenius’s application of Spener’s principles and proposals for Bible reading and discussion. Rosenius’s readers’ groups took up the scriptures too, read them aloud, and amiably discussed each verse in order to discover the simple meaning and whatever would be useful for the edification of all. Mark highlighted the contrast between the preaching of a parish priest that was considerably doctrinaire and authoritarian in tone, with the readers’ groups that promoted a more democratic process of participation with the goal of edification — building up one another in love.

Mark explained insightfully the shift that came after Rosenius’s death when P. P. Waldenström — Rosenius’s successor as editor of (the original) Pietisten — published in 1872 his five theses on Christ’s atonement. Against the advice of Rosenius’s former assistant, Amy Moberg, Waldenström introduced to readers of the journal a subject more doctrine-oriented than edification-oriented. The well known atonement controversy followed.

I came away from the event at North Park appreciative again of Rosenius’s emphasis on the spiritual edification of the Bible readers. While orthodoxy is important, when right teaching is emphasized to such a degree that edification is overshadowed or, God forbid, excluded, such teaching becomes doctrinaire, scholastic, or in 20th century terms, “fundamentalistic.”

Celebrating Rosenius’s birth in 2016,reminds us of a heritage that Bible reading was never intended to end with right doctrine but to go further to edification — building up one another in love.