Since its inception in 1941, the Covenant Quarterly has sought to serve Covenant clergy, a fact evident in its original title, Covenant Minister’s Quarterly. I believe this goal begs the question, How has the Covenant Quarterly impacted Covenant theology and identity? I offer two answers to this question: the Quarterly has shaped Covenant identity by (1) modeling Pietism as a theological discrimen and by (2) engaging in disciplined theological reflection on contemporary social issues.
Covenant leaders have debated and shaped Covenant theology on the pages of the Quarterly through the story and language of Pietism. The term “discrimen” comes from an article by C. John Weborg, where he defines it as “a configuration of criteria that are in some way organically related to one another” (41:3, 1983). This technical term is needed to underscore the fact that the Quarterly has not defined or enforced Covenant identity according to the standard of Pietism. Rather, the Quarterly has used Pietism in a much more a fluid, dynamic, and imaginative sense that has fostered debate and growth in key areas such as biblical interpretation and social justice.
To give an example of the former, many Quarterly articles approach biblical interpretation with Pietism as a theological discrimen. F. Burton Nelson’s article “An Evangelical Approach to Biblical Authority” (41:3, 1983) is representative. Responding to competing conceptions about biblical authority, Nelson asks whether the Pietist understanding of “life in Christ” might be a viable alternative to traditional evangelical understandings of biblical authority. Nelson here appeals to the Covenant’s Pietist heritage not to enforce a particular system of doctrine but to raise a question. Rather than closing the conversation, this approach spurs dialogue and debate about life’s essential questions. Nelson’s article reflects how denominational leaders have used the language and spirit of Pietism within the pages of the Quarterly to create a unique space within the theological imagination of the denomination. Examples could easily be multiplied.
A second way the Covenant Quarterly has shaped Covenant identity is by providing the first forum within the denomination for reflecting theologically on contemporary social issues. Articles on race and racism, the civil rights movement, Liberation Theology, immigration, urban ministry, women in ministry, ecumenism, poverty, and missions can all be found within the Quarterly. Some of these articles are raw and unrefined – at times even objectionable by current standards. But they all attempted to serve the Evangelical Covenant Church by initiating dialogue and wrestling honestly with issues of faith and culture.
In these ways, the Covenant Quarterly historically has connected the heritage of the Covenant to its future through theological reflection that seeks God’s glory and neighbor’s good. It is for us to decide whether it will continue to do so.
Andy Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is head of electronic resources and interlibrary loan at the North Park University’s Brandel Library. A graduate of NPTS (MA), he is currently pursuing a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois. Andy serves on the seminary’s Library & Publications Committee and as technical adviser to the Covenant Quarterly.