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

 

View and download the full issue and individual articles here. Over the upcoming weeks, Forum will be hosting discussions about each article and posting related content. Sign up for email notifications and join the conversation.