Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963)

From Hauna Ondrey, ed., “Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963): Full Report with Supporting Historical Documents(all excerpts drawn from the 1963 report):

The 1963 report cover

The human situation, as described in the Bible, is a situation in servitude. Humanity is enslaved to numerous powers: to sin, law, death, and spiritual forces. These debilitating servitudes keep individuals from realizing their own meaning and potential. Enslaved by these powers they cannot discover what God meant them to be. They are not free.

The good news assures us that these many servitudes may be exchanged for one new commanding control—a voluntary bondage to God. Paradoxically, this voluntary bondage to God is freedom itself. For the yielding of one’s life in obedient love to the will of God is the avenue to human fulfillment. In this yielding of self to God, the person discovers their own true destiny. Hereby one becomes what they were meant to be: the servant, the child, the friend of God. To become what one is meant to be, to realize the very purpose for which one is created, that is freedom. Freedom, then, is the gift which comes through obedience to God’s will.


If we believe that our freedom is found in our conforming to the will of God, then it becomes imperative that we know what that will is. According to the Christian faith, God has revealed his will to humanity in the Bible and supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence, the Bible is the avenue to freedom. Its message is God’s word, to which human beings, if they would be free, must respond in obedient faith.


This understanding of freedom as submission to the will of God was exemplified in the work and teaching of the founders of our denomination… While they were appreciative of the wisdom reflected in the creeds of the church, they saw the creeds to be partial and imperfect summaries of what is said more powerfully in Scripture itself. Therefore, they refused to make any of the written creeds binding in an absolute sense, lest slavish adherence to a creedal statement make it difficult to hear and respond to the full implications of the word for their day. They believed that true freedom came by faith in and surrender to Christ and the word alone….

For them the church was the fellowship of believers and was brought into being through the redemptive work of Christ and the “renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Accordingly, the one basic requirement for membership in the church was the experience of the new birth and a consistent confession of Christ as Savior and Lord…. Thus, our forebears found it spiritually meaningful to live in Christian fellowship with persons holding different doctrinal viewpoints in some important areas as long as their life and spirit witnessed to their submission to Christ and devotion to the word of God.


If we are to be true to this aspect of our heritage, we should sincerely and faithfully use this principle of freedom as a basic element in our existence as a Christian people in today’s world. To do so we must enter into the stream of present theological discussion and exercise our freedom creatively and helpfully with respect to the issues which now confront the Christian church. The theological concerns of the present moment differ in many respects from those of the past. Although many of the questions now being debated in the church were well known to our predecessors, others have arisen since their day and could not have been known to them. Thus, to say that we may differ only at those points where they permitted differences would be to deny to the present generation the freedom in Christ which prior generations enjoyed. In the basic and central affirmations of the Christian faith there must be unity, but in their expression and interpretation there is room for wholesome divergence. It is, therefore, our duty to approach the areas of theological tension with courage, fraternal understanding, and unfailing devotion to Christ and the Scriptures.


We maintain this principle of Christian freedom only as we maintain our spiritual vitality, which we have by the grace of God. The problem of maintaining it, therefore, must be approached in a contrite and penitent spirit in which we seek the mercy of God in permitting us to return to him. Out of such an attitude, we pray, will come a renewed experience of the vital life in which we become free children of God under the lordship of Christ as the truth is revealed to us in the Bible.

 Read the full article here

Find the original report here, in the Frisk Collection of Covenant Literature, created and maintained by the Covenant Archives and Historical Library. The Covenant Yearbook excerpts reprinted in the article are available in full through the Frisk Collection of Covenant Yearbooks.

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:3-4 | Covenant Freedom

Much recent dialog has taken place in the Evangelical Covenant Church regarding the nature and limits of Christian freedom. The upcoming double issue of the Covenant Quarterly seeks to both resource and further this conversation, offering historical context and theological application and inviting your responses

Hauna Ondrey, assistant professor of church history at North Park Theological Seminary, offers introduction and annotation to Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom, a report adopted in 1963 by the Annual Meeting of the Covenant Church. The report is reprinted in full with updated language, preceded and followed by the Annual Meeting minutes detailing the report’s origin (1958) and adoption (1963).

“If we are to be true to this aspect of our heritage, we should sincerely and faithfully use this principle of freedom as a basic element in our existence as a Christian people in today’s world. To do so we must enter into the stream of present theological discussion and exercise our freedom creatively and helpfully with respect to the issues which now confront the Christian church. The theological concerns of the present moment differ in many respects from those of the past. Although many of the questions now being debated in the church were well known to our predecessors, others have arisen since their day and could not have been known to them. Thus, to say that we may differ only at those points where they permitted differences would be to deny to the present generation the freedom in Christ which prior generations enjoyed. In the basic and central affirmations of the Christian faith there must be unity, but in their expression and interpretation there is room for wholesome divergence. It is, therefore, our duty to approach the areas of theological tension with courage, fraternal understanding, and unfailing devotion to Christ and the Scriptures.”

From “Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963): Full Report with Supporting Historical Documents”

Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary, surveys the historical and theological understanding of Christian freedom within the Evangelical Covenant Church, linking it to other Covenant Affirmations and offering a theological account of, and criteria for, faithful dissent within Christian freedom.


“This is the heart of freedom, the commitment that distinguishes the Covenant Church in significant and life-giving ways. The Preamble to the Covenant Constitution celebrates freedom as essential: “Our common experience of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ continues to sustain the Evangelical Covenant Church as an interdependent body of believers that recognizes but transcends our theological differences.” Growth is painful, and the renewing work of the Spirit is vulnerable. Yet these commitments lie behind the Covenant’s historical commitment to freedom in Christ.”

From “Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-All?”

Stay tuned for the full issue, which goes live this Monday.

Wrap Up & Look Ahead


Our May 2017 Quarterly issue commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Sujin Pak expanded her article on the Reformers affirmation of Scripture’s clarity in an interview, in which she shared how the Reformer’s interpretation has impacted her own, and discussed contemporary misunderstandings of the Reformers’ commitment to perspicuity. Stephen Chester evaluated the ongoing usefulness of Reformation readings of Paul and offered a public lecture on “Reading the Bible with Martin Luther after 500 Years,” available online.


The next issue of the Covenant Quarterly will engage the “Doctrine of Discovery” and its ongoing impact in the church, featuring contributions by Soong-Chan Rah, Mark Charles, Randy Woodley, Jim Sequeira, Lenore Three Stars, Curtis Ivanoff, and Jonathan Wilson. Be in touch to recommend Forum contributors on the theme of congregational vitality – or to contribute yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to Forum to receive notification when corresponding posts begin.

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:2 | Reformation 500

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which set into motion the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Our latest Covenant Quarterly issue commemorates this watershed movement. 

G. Sujin Pak

G. Sujin Pak, assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, discusses what the Reformers intended in their affirmation of Scripture’s perspecuity, how this affirmation was rooted in the concept of justification by faith alone, and how it impacted their understanding of the church’s role in the task of interpretation.

“[The Reformers’] point was not that any person, or even any Christian, has what they need to interpret Scripture in and of their own ability. More specifically, the Reformers’ point was not that by the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit one’s own abilities were purified and empowered. Rather, their very point was that Scripture is clear and accessible not by virtue of any human efforts or abilities, even sanctified abilities, but solely by virtue of the gift of faith through the work of the Spirit – precisely the gift of faith given when one is justified by faith alone. Just as the Protestant Reformers affirmed that only God can initiate faith and do the work of salvation in a person, so also they insisted that only God is the actor in any true interpretation of Scripture.”

From “The Perspicuity of Scripture, Justification by Faith Alone, and the Role of the Church in Reading Scripture with the Protestant Reformers”

Stephen J. Chester

Professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary, Stephen J. Chester, engages with the Reformers’ “new Pauline exegetical grammar” and its relevance for contemporary Pauline interpretation.

“How should we think about the Reformers as interpreters of Paul at the 500th anniversary of their transformation of church and society? Should our interest be antiquarian only, their interpretation of the Pauline letters of value for how we understand the sixteenth century and its conflicts but of little direct interest for our own task of interpreting the New Testament in and for the twenty-first century? Or, at the opposite extreme, do the Reformers provide for us exegetical and theological touchstones, departures from which must be resisted as a falling away from the truth of the gospel? … In my view, neither of these responses is helpful.”

From “Reading Paul with the Reformers”

Read the complete issue here.

An Interview with Mary Miller

Ordained five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the ECC, Mary Miller conducted the very first decadal study on Covenant clergywomen. At the 2017 ECC Midwinter Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Miller was honored with the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service. I was fortunate to sit down with Miller to discuss the 40-year survey, how it compared to her own findings thirty years prior, and what she hopes for the future of women in ministry in the ECC. Here is a portion of that conversation, lightly edited for publication.


Mary Miller accepting the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, January 31, 2017

Mahon: After comparing the results of the forty-year study to your own experience with the ten-year study, what changes do you see that should be celebrated?

Miller: The way the author, Lenore M. Knight Johnson, concluded the study was a celebration. She didn’t say we’re in crisis pain or in the sharp pains of trying to figure it out and feeling rejection, but that there were more celebrations. There still are horrible situations, but there are more good ones. You know, on a percentage, on a holistic, wider vision, that’s really nice to hear. For people in my generation, we have not done anything. We have not gotten anywhere. We have one woman in a church over two hundred. One woman. One, after this many years. You have a tendency to get into a funk about what has not happened rather than what has….

We’re quite adept at saying, “Oh, we have so many women who are ordained!” And we changed it so that it’s not Word and Sacrament and Specialty Ministry – it’s all lumped together. I do affirm the priesthood of believers; I do affirm specialty ministries. But the role that challenges authority is Word and Sacrament – predominately preaching these days, more than other sacraments, with our theology. So I do so very much grieve that. I also really appreciated the author bringing in contemporary readings on the subject, because I don’t know that literature.

Mahon: I also appreciated that Knight Johnson brought in other studies. It’s one thing to look at where we are, but it’s helpful to know it’s not just us. It’s systemic among evangelical denominations.

Miller: Yes. We hardly ever bring in the Holiness Movement, women who were part of their founding. I knew a woman in her nineties from the Church of God in Indiana, Anderson, and they would brag on their women preachers. There is no second-guessing or anything, and I thought, “You know, they’re evangelical.” But we only bring in a certain kind of evangelical.

Mahon: In the ten-year study, you quoted a woman saying, “When I began ministry eight years ago, I did so with full hope that there would be others, women as ‘settlers’ who would follow, surpass, better us ‘pioneers.’ Now I find that hope not just frustrated but pretty much shattered.” As one of those pioneers, have you seen “settlers” follow you? Or do women graduating from seminary today still need to be ‘trailblazers’?

Miller: I would say there are more settlers. There are some who will go into much more difficult situations and take on the challenges….Some [men & women] are not fitted, temperament-wise, to do any challenging – or they challenge itty-bitty things, rather than the main things. There’s some wisdom, and Lord knows, I challenged wrong things. I have some really stupid and embarrassing situations (but I’m not going to tell them!). But you know, you have to pick and choose. You can’t just say that everything is important…

It’s been three years since I was on the Biblical Gender Equality Commission. At my last meeting I distributed a chart depicting the number of female pastors ordained to Word & Sacrament compared to the whole ministerium. That percentage was somewhere around twelve percent at one time. Over the course of forty years it has reduced to about two percent.  It marks a huge change in the landscape of ministers in the denomination. Even if new leadership made women in senior ministry a significant thing – like we as a denomination have done with racial diversity – it would take a long time to restore.

Ministry areas affecting that decrease are hirings for church planting and some of the conference visions rejecting egalitarian relationships. I asked if I could plant a church and was denied. The percentage of solo men to women as church planters is significant. Many of the women accepted are co-pastoring as complementarian planters with their husbands. We keep adding new planters from outside the Covenant who have no commitment to theology of women in senior leadership. I think it is a justice issue that Covenant money is being given predominantly to men for this specialization. Ha! I think I know who would win a class action lawsuit!

Mahon: One of the questions you asked respondents in the ten-year study was, “If you had a magic wand, what would you do with it to aid the progress of women in ministry in the Covenant?” How would you answer that question now?

Miller: I would bring that two percent up to about fifty-one percent.

Mahon: Do you have any advice or encouragement for beginning women pastors and seminary students?

Miller: The world is getting smaller with all the technology, all our relationships and traveling, so find alternate role models, encouragements, skills, and behavior sets. They’re out there and available now, which is different than when I started. You can borrow from other traditions. You can borrow from stories of people who are now known…. I’m going to accept this award tonight on behalf of my husband who paid for my degree and then died. It was an investment that we couldn’t afford, but it gave me my whole life. I’m also accepting it for Victoria Welter. In 1903 she was the first woman to get a theological degree from North Park Theological Seminary, and the class was allowed to vote whether or not she would be in the class picture. They voted no. Now, everybody thinks the story ends there, but the grace is that she became a missionary in China. So, I know that one illustration. It’s insidious, but I’m sure they were very nice about telling her she couldn’t be in the picture. Now, though, there are enough examples like that that we know, as well as the positive ones where they were stout and it worked. In some ways those resources – they don’t do the work for you, but they shore you up and encourage you.

Mary Miller was ordained in 1981, five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the Evangelical Covenant Church. She currently serves as the chaplain of Covenant Village of Cromwell, Connecticut

Mackenzie Mahon is an MDiv/MNA dual-degree candidate at North Park Theological Seminary and serves as student assistant for the Covenant Quarterly

Image credit: The Covenant Companion

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:1 | 40 Years of Women’s Ordination

The first Covenant Quarterly issue of 2017 is now published. 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church‘s vote in favor of women’s ordination. Four decades later, how is the denomination doing? This issue considers the past, present, and future of women’s ordained ministry in the Covenant.

Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity Christian College, presents the results of the forty-year study on Covenant clergywomen.

“While the ECC has made important strides in relation to its stated position on women’s ordination, I argue that a combined focus balancing structural and cultural change is necessary for the denomination to truly break through the barriers clergywomen continue to encounter in their service to the church.”

From “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church


Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston

Covenant pastor Kelly Johnston surveys the pioneering ministry of Covenant clergywoman and theologian Jean C. Lambert (1940-2008).

“In 1989, on behalf of the board, Lambert wrote ‘an open letter to each woman seeking to obey Christ’s call to ministry in the Covenant Church, both volunteer lay workers in local congregations, and pastors, missionaries, and staff ministers.’… Lambert’s words were both stark, speaking in plain terms about the reality of sexism in the church, and encouraging, expressing solidarity with Covenant women as ministers of the gospel. She admitted that all women in ministry in the Covenant Church were ‘pioneering in a treacherous wilderness.'”

From “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer


Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise D. Kettering-Lane, associate professor of Brethren studies at Bethany Theological Seminary, evaluates Philipp Jakob Spener’s beliefs and practices regarding women’s roles in Christian ministry.

“If anything, Spener’s correspondence to women substantially increased over the course of his life. Thus throughout his life he consistently adhered to the notion that developing a more involved laity would result in an improved church, and he recognized that women were part of that laity. While publicly conforming to many social conventions, privately Spener regularly encouraged women’s activities in his correspondence.”

From “Philipp Spener and the Role of Women in the Church: The Spiritual Priesthood of All Believers in German Pietism

Read the complete issue here.

Walter and Kersten: The Future of NPTS

From Gary Walter’s “I Believe in the Future of North Park Theological Seminary”:

All seminaries, including our own, are navigating precarious times. The three-year, full-time residential model of seminary preparation that has been the standard for decades is under pressure at schools of all stripes. In the meantime, some schools are closing and others are consolidating. When I gather with leaders of other denominations, conversations about the future of theological education are common. No one is confident they have “figured it out.”
In previous generations, the general consensus held that a seminary degree was the threshold for entering the ministerial vocation appropriately prepared. If you wanted to be in ministry, you went to seminary, just as you went to law school to be a lawyer or medical school to be a doctor. While this is still broadly true, increasingly churches are calling ministry staff based on observed rather than “projected” effectiveness. In some quarters a seminary education is viewed more like an MBA—a value-added degree to enhance the efficacy of those already in ministry rather than the necessary gateway to ensure readiness prior to ministry. This is particularly true for special focus positions such as youth, children, worship, and others, which comprise more than half of all ministry positions in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). The percentage of seminary students already in ministry positions is higher than it has ever been.

Schools will need to see students as multi-dimensional and not merely consumers of biblical and theological content…. Intellectual preparation is only one dimension of seminary training. It is never less, but it is always more… a comprehensive view of student preparation for ministry must integrate spiritual, character, and skill development… Seminaries will need to be multi-lateral. Effective seminaries of the future will provide instruction by partnering scholars and expert practitioners…

Finally, seminaries will need to be authentically engaged in multi-ethnic realities and opportunities.
From David Kersten’s “Strategic Initiatives: Planning for the Future”:
Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

In the past decade, the seminary classroom has been changing. No longer

are seminary courses filled primarily with those in pursuit of a senior pastor role… In meeting the needs of the changing demographics of the church, we have embarked on a vigorous strategy of “right-sizing” and “right-timing” our master of divinity degree, launching a revised degree in the fall of 2015. This degree requires fewer credit hours, decreasing its cost by 14 percent, with a strengthened and simplified core curriculum and a renewed emphasis on preaching, intercultural studies, and pastoral leadership. While we have reduced the number of credits needed to earn a degree, we anticipate the number of courses taken over a graduate’s
lifetime to increase as the interest in and demand for lifelong learning opportunities grow.
In addition to denominational partnerships, we are pursuing further opportunities for collaboration with our university colleagues. These include joint teaching between the seminary and the university’s Biblical and Theological Studies (BTS) Department, providing students with a broader spectrum of professors. Also in collaboration with the BTS Department, we envision developing a “fast-track” undergraduate to seminary degree. The seminary currently cross-lists its courses, allowing undergraduates to take seminary classes for undergraduate credit. We hope to expand this partnership, providing undergraduates advance standing toward a seminary degree and making it possible to complete both a bachelor degree and an MDiv degree within five to six years.
Next spring, in collaboration with Serve Globally and Start and Strengthen Churches, we will begin offering the church planting certificate to the Covenant Church in Taiwan. We also hope to offer our certificates and potentially degree programs to our partner churches in the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. These partnerships strengthen the cross-cultural competency of NPTS students and Covenant pastors. As the ECC becomes more reflective of all of God’s people, NPTS intends to be at the forefront of engagement with the world.
We are researching the viability of a plan that would supply all of our students with a modest interest-free loan to cover their tuition costs. Such loans would come from major initial gifts from donors that will be invested and will also secure a larger credit facility. This would form a captive loan pool to cover seminary tuition, allowing students to defer all payment until graduation. Students would make a modest monthly payment for seven years following graduation. These payments will go back into the loan pool to help replenish funds. Through investment and program management provided by affiliates of the ECC, there is also a significant tuition discount built into the program, and the interest-free nature of the loan reduces the overall costs of seminary further. Students will also be encouraged to form a team of ministry partners to help support a portion of their education, financially and in prayer. These ministry partners can help reduce costs even further while bringing a sense of support and community to the students. Students will be held to minimum standards of performance in order to continue to qualify.
A highlight for North Park in the area of ecumenical partnerships has been the development of a course taught by Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom at Stateville Correctional Facility in Chicago. This course involves both seminary students and Stateville students learning together. Some Stateville students have expressed the desire to continue their education at North Park after their release. This endeavor shines light on the type of restorative justice we as a community of believers can bring about in our city and world.

C. John Weborg: Reflections of a Seminary Student and Professor

From “Inhabiting a Dwelling Place: Reflections of a Seminary Student and Professor” by C. John Weborg


C. John Weborg (Image credit: CAHL 18760).

I left North Park with a historical and theological identity. That identity has not changed. I am still a Lutheran Pietist with only this difference: that which was a latent Lutheran dimension has become more theologically articulate. I still have a clear sense of the vocation I was taught at North Park Seminary but with a profounder confidence in the God who is at work through his word. The educational methodology that fostered this identity was in no sense a form of indoctrination. It did include a disciplined learning of the church’s confession of faith and the Scripture on which that confession is based. It is that material, long in formation, endowed with faith, hope, and love, that was mediated to us at North Park. It was an education rich in reading original sources – patristic, Reformation, and contemporary – as well as the required textbooks that provided students with a treasury of wisdom and knowledge.


I recall asking a student from Kenya or Nigeria (my memory is not sure which) how he might teach the doctrine of the church in his culture. He told me of a certain tree whose age was older than his people. This great tree had collected so much dust in its branches, crevices, and leaf structures that seeds borne by the winds took root in the collected dust. The seeds grew into a diversity of trees, all living together in the big host tree. Birds of species normally hostile to each other lived in peace in this tree. I learned to not do the “western” thing and analyze this rich response. Theological thinking by storytelling allows the story to disclose its meaning – although I wonder if “meaning” is even too immobile a word. The story itself releases its power, enfolding the listener in it, rather than simply disclosing an interpretation or deducing a conclusion from it.


The fixed world of my education with which I began this article met its challenge in my introduction to world Christianity. World Christianity is not simply a topic but an entire discipline, challenging church history as it is conventionally understood and taught, drawing attention to the fact that early Christianity was far more geographically vast than conventionally presented.


Not least of the value in this global historical awareness is that congregations today are increasingly ethnically diverse. Depending on location, one’s parish may include refugees, immigrants, exchange students, and American citizens of various ethnicities. Some knowledge of this “world church” – at least enough to know where to look for the specific data one needs to do ministry – is a key component of pastoral competence. Knowledge of world Christianity also contributes to pastoral care in preparing congregants for international business, educational, and philanthropic assignments.


Seminary faculty, 1970s. Weborg is third from the right in the second row (Image credit: CAHL 19358)

Seminary faculty, 1970s. Weborg is third from the right in the second row (Image credit: CAHL 19358).

The communication of the infinite value of a person’s humanity is gospel. It is not the entire gospel – and we cannot fail to preach and teach the full intellectual content of the faith – but it is the beginning. In Irenaeus’s bold gospel claim, the glory of God is the “human being fully alive.” The “human being fully alive” begs to know what dehumanizes the person, what vandalizes the divine image…. In order to get a hearing for the gospel, whether from the SBNR or East Germans, we must first come as fellow human beings. In meeting human to human, the Holy Spirit will show the other that we can be trusted with the deeper matters of their lives. Effective pastors something about context. And they do not make the mistake of respecting the fully human and calling it secular humanism.

Read the full text here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

Not A “Simple Preacher’s School”: David Nyvall and NPTS

From “David Nyvall’s Enduring Impact on Christian Higher Education” by Scott Erickson:

David Nyvall (image credit: CAHL 3880).

David Nyvall (image credit: CAHL 3880).

David Nyvall (1863-1946), founding president of North Park University and Theological Seminary, was an impactful leader. He was purposeful in requiring his church to think innovatively about its philosophy of education. He is relevant today because he established an academic culture that has sustained and extended the immigrant community beyond its first generation.


During his first half-decade in America, David Nyvall had become increasingly concerned with the future of education in a largely poor Swedish immigrant community. It was a community struggling to survive and negotiate its ethnic identity. Swedish immigrants were navigating their way in unfamiliar territory without a school, educational plan, or academic culture of their own. If Swedish immigrants assimilated readily into the American culture, Nyvall feared they would get lost like small plants in the large American garden. They would become “foreign flowerpots” hidden inconspicuously “in the window of an attic.” Urged by Nyvall, the Covenant Church voted to establish a school in 1891, with Nyvall appointed as president, located first in Minneapolis and by 1894 in Chicago.


Nyvall did not want his immigrant community simply to “Americanize” and thus lose its identity in a melting pot. He rejected an easy and straightforward cultural assimilation, causing some to accuse him and his immigrant community of denying their American citizenship. When a journalist charged immigrant schools with being un-American, Nyvall retorted in 1899: “Our American friends ought to be patient with us. We are coming. But it takes time to die for a nation so much alive as we are; it takes time to die when to die should mean to live again…”


Nyvall Hall, early 1950s (image credit: CAHL 13365)

Nyvall Hall, early 1950s (image credit: CAHL 13365)

The theories that North Park should be a Bible school were directly opposed to Nyvall’s consistent vision for North Park. In two letters from 1893, he sharply criticized the philosophy of a simple preacher’s school, insisting that North Park would not and should not be “merely a preacher’s school,” as that would not be a school at all. Rather, it would include three academic departments: business college, seminary, and academy for the liberal arts.


In order for the immigrant church to survive and thrive, Nyvall argued that it was necessary to establish an academic culture defined by a care for the life of the mind, embracing theological complexity and developing an intellectual life. He further believed it was unsustainable for North Park to separate Christian faith from a liberal education.


Nyvall’s leadership ensured that North Park would not adopt the “simple preacher’s school” model. He set in motion many broadly conceived and far-reaching initiatives. Theological education, according to Nyvall, would not indoctrinate the preacher; instead, it would nurture and develop the preacher’s intellect.


For Nyvall, the life of the mind never required a choice against faith. The strength of a person’s Christian faith and character should be nurtured to withstand the very vices Blanchard feared. Avoiding the world should not be the goal of the person of faith, as Blanchard would argue. Cordoning off intellectual challenges was not Nyvall’s vision. Instead, Christian character would be developed in young people through their liberal education. Christian faith and a liberal education should have a constructive relationship in the Christian university, and not be relegated to a Scylla-Charybdis dichotomy. Nyvall wanted to inspire young people to welcome critical intellectual reflection in the context of their Christian faith.

 Read the full excerpt here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

Philip J. Anderson: “On the Beginnings of North Park University”

From Philip J. Anderson’s “On the Beginnings of North Park University: ‘Risberg’s School’ and Covenant Ministerial Education, 1885-1916”:

Fridoph Risberg (image credit: CAHL 3880)

Fridoph Risberg (image credit: CAHL 3880)

Congregational aid to Swedish Mission Friends represented the coming together of varying degrees of cultural nativism and a growing conviction that these people were indeed Congregationalists, but, according to Scott, “there were no Congregationalists in Sweden to tell them so.” In 1867 The Chicago Association discussed how to reach immigrants and concluded that “the aim should be to nationalize them and gather them into our churches, rather than to establish churches exclusively of foreign elements.” Levi Cobb, superintendent of the AHMS in Minnesota, asserted in 1878: “To us nothing is plainer than this — that God has sent these people to our very doors for us to Christianize. We must do it, or they will make Europeans out of us.” The challenge to “Americanize, Christianize, Congregationalize” was summed up by Curtiss when he asked, “What have we, orthodox offspring of the pilgrim fathers, done to teach these children of Luther a more excellent way?” By the mid-1880s this nativism had developed into a rhetorical tradition justifying aid to Scandinavian free-church immigrants while glossing over inherent doctrinal and ecclesiological differences.


This, then, sets the context for Risberg’s arrival at CTS in the autumn of 1885, a world of faith and education that must have seemed very foreign to him. While the Congregationalists were quite certain of the qualities that defined an American, such an identifiable species must have seemed highly illusive through the eyes of an immigrant initially. No doubt, CTS provided Risberg with a culture and context that allowed him to be a bridge among Swedish leaders and groups between 1885 and World War I, three decades that comprised the most critical period for issues of identity, self-differentiation, and degrees of ethnic consciousness, made all the more pressing by generational change.


[Risberg’s] work at CTS was guided by the conviction that eventual assimilation into the American church would best serve the needs of the Swedish Mission Friends. In 1892 he wrote, “My opinion is that Every European who makes this land his home should think from the very beginning that he is to become a good American… It is because the training of Swedish preachers among Americans has a future before it that I willingly labor in this seminary.”


Composite of Swedish Department students at CTU, Risberg and D. Nyvall in middle (CAHL 5295)

Composite of Swedish Department students at CTU, Risberg and D. Nyvall in middle (CAHL 5295)

Nyvall, however, vigorously disagreed with Risberg’s views of Americanization, saying that “in all things personal Risberg and I were one, but in school matters and in matters of denominational interests we did not agree.” His role in the unfolding stormy discussions of schools and possible mergers led to the conviction that the Covenant needed its own school if the denomination was to have a future and if Swedish-American people were to shape their own cultural and religious lives.


David Nyvall and Axel Mellander, who in 1892 became dean of the Covenant school, anticipated the Covenant’s rejection of the overture. In January 1890 Mellander wrote in Missions-Vännen that the freedom of the Covenant “cannot be sold either for Congregational favors or American bribes.” A week later, Nyvall added, “we shall not be assimilated because we shall not be Americanized. By making the best of what we now are, we can best educate the nation in America… If we are good Swedes (in an apolitical sense), we are good Americans.”


On the one hand, the distinctives that divided the Covenant, the Free, the Swedish Congregationalists, and the independents, come into sharp focus. On the other hand, one can also see the development of a pan-ethnic “Mission” identity that embraced all the Scandinavian free churches and fostered cooperation and hopes for merger, driven by religion and held together by ethnicity. The challenge was to steer between the Scylla of assimilation without tradition and the Charybdis of tradition without assimilation.

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection