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)

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Mackenzie Mahon