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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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[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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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

Sneak Peek: CQ 73:3-4 | NPTS@125

The latest issue of the Covenant Quarterly is now published. This special double issue celebrates the 125th anniversary of  North Park University and North Park Theological Seminary, with a particular focus on the seminary. 


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Philip J. Anderson

Philip J. Anderson, professor emeritus of church history at NPTS, contextualizes North Park’s origins within the competing educational ventures pursued by free church Swedish immigrants, 1885–1916, each advocating divergent pathways with respect to ethnic identity and American assimilation.

“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.”

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

 

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Scott Erickson

Head of the Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, California, Scott Erickson presents the rich educational philosophy of NPTS founding president David Nyvall.

“For Nyvall, the life of the mind never required a choice against faith… 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… Nyvall wanted to inspire young people to welcome critical intellectual reflection in the context of their Christian faith.”

From “North Park at 125: David Nyvall’s Enduring Impact on Christian Higher Education

 

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C. John Weborg

C. John Weborg, emeritus professor of theology at NPTS, reflects on his decades of experience as an NPTS student and professor.

“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 order to get a hearing for the gospel, whether from the SBNR [spiritual but not religious] 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… do not make the mistake of respecting the fully human and calling it secular humanism.”

From “Inhabiting a Dwelling Place: Reflections of a Seminary Student & Professor

 

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Al Tizon

Al Tizon, executive minister of Serve Globally for the ECC and affiliate associate professor of missional and global leadership at NPTS, offers a list of the ideal characteristics found in a well-educated seminary graduate.

“Inherent in quality education is developing the ability to think critically, to question assumptions, and to be willing to abandon beliefs that don’t hold up in the crucible of honest investigation. Theological education is no exception, as we help students to question their assumptions about God, truth, church, and mission. If I may boast, I can deconstruct, interrogate, subvert, and turn tables with the best of them. However, if at the end of a student’s harrowing theological journey their love for God has not been deepened and strengthened precisely by the transforming process of quality education, then we have failed.”

From “The Graduate

 

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David Kersten

Dean of NPTS David Kersten writes about strategic initiatives in process to ensure a strong future for the seminary.

“The ongoing need to keep seminary education affordable and our institutional operation sustainable has led to innovative solutions. Working with Covenant Trust Company (CTC), National Covenant Properties (NCP), and the financial division of the ECC, as well as North Park University, we are in the process of developing the North Park Plan — an interest free lending strategy meant to keep overall lending costs low for our students while increasing per student tuition revenue to the institution.”

From “Strategic Initiatives: Planning for the Future

 

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Gary Walter

Evangelical Covenant Church president Gary Walter examines the viability of continued seminary education.

“Yet even in this era of uncertainty in theological education, I am certain of this: NPTS can be, and must be, a pace-setter among schools preparing leaders in service to the mission of God in the world. My macro view is that the seminaries with meaningful futures will be committed to a particular framing concept: Not merely to theological education but to missional theological education. A commitment is more than an implicit hope; it is an explicit frame of reference.”

From “I Believe in the Future of North Park Theological Seminary

 

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