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In this paper, Christopher Gehrz explores the educational philosophies of two leading figures in the history of Swedish-American pietism: Carl H. Lundquist (president of Bethel College and Seminary, 1954-1982) and Karl A. Olsson (president of North Park College and Seminary, 1959-1970). While Olsson and Lundquist disagreed on several points, their common emphasis on “convertive piety” resulted in a distinctively pietist understanding of the purposes of the Christian college and its nature as a Christ-centered community. Mr. Gehrz is Associate Professor of History at Bethel University.

“Why a Christian college?” Arthur Holmes’ answer to this question is so familiar on evangelical campuses as to seem timeless: “Its distinctive should be an education that cultivates the creative and active integration of faith and learning, of faith and culture.”1 Christian higher education inculcates a Christian worldview, as the foundational assumptions of academic disciplines are integrated with the foundational beliefs of Christian faith, equipping graduates to play redemptive roles in society. Holmes’ “integrationist” answer remains an important one, admired even by those who disagree with it: “This is a powerful vision of faith and scholarship, and it has spawned perhaps more sustained reflection on faith and learning than any other Protestant theological tradition,” grant two critics.2

“But,” asks philosopher James K. A. Smith, “…what if this line of thinking gets off on the wrong foot? What if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires?” Rejecting the rationalist contention that humans are primarily thinking animals (“containers for ideas”) and questioning the Reformed tradition’s response that we are, still more fundamentally, believers, Smith insists that “our primordial orientation to the world is not knowledge, or even belief, but love.” The failure to recognize this orientation has been costly. Smith laments that the integrationist-worldview model, which “doesn’t touch our core passions” and is “un-hooked from the thick practices of the church,” rarely forms disciples of Christ who most deeply desire his kingdom. Graduates of colleges and universities following this model can articulate a “Christian perspective,” but they act much like everyone else.3

Smith’s critique is particularly striking because it comes from a leading scholar operating within the tradition (Reformed) and institution (Calvin College) that have most profoundly shaped and modeled faith-learning integration. But it may resonate most strongly with the many Christians for whom, as Douglas Jacobsen andRhonda Hustedt Jacobsen have argued, the Reformed language of worldview is quite alien. Especially if they come from traditions that stress the experiential and affective dimensions of Christianity, non-Reformed scholars “will probably feel they are speaking a second language of sorts if they try to adopt the integration model in its entirety.” Pietists, for example, are likely to be suspicious of any approach attaching special importance to the examination of philosophical presuppositions and theological propositions “because for them the real nub of faith is to be found in the heartfelt experience of God.”4 As in seventeenth-century Germany, today’sPietists worry that thoughtful belief amounts to nothing more than “dead orthodoxy” if the thoughtful believer’s heart is not transformed by the experience of conversion and regeneration.

But do Pietists have anything to contribute to an enlarged conversation about Christian higher education other than suspicions and concerns about the Reformed model? If not the integration of faith and learning, what do Pietists see as the purpose of Christian higher education? Have Pietists defined distinctive educational models of their own? Unfortunately, neither Smith nor the Jacobsens seem all that interested in these questions. In the midst of his argument that we should recognize Christian higher education as an ecclesial task of kardia formation, Smith admits that “for some… such talk seems to come with the baggage of fundamentalist Pietism. It seems to make the Christian college an extension of Sunday school.”5 Instead of considering that something often described as a “heart religion” might provide resources for his “re-visioning” project, Smith seems simply to associate Pietism6 with fideism. Also seeking to move beyond the Reformed language o fintegration and worldview, Douglas and Rhonda Jacobsen encourage all Christian scholars to explore a wide variety of theological, spiritual and socio-political traditions. But while they teach at a college in whose history (as written by Douglas Jacobsen, among others) Pietism was a key influence,7 they lump Pietists with Baptists and evangelicals into a “primitivist tradition” whose ability to sustain meaningful scholarship they doubt.8

Like all Christian traditions, Pietism has had anti-intellectual offshoots on its fringes, but more commonly Pietists have been dedicated to educational reform. Early leaders like Philipp Jakob Spener, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf and especially August Hermann Francke devoted ample attention to schools, universities and seminaries, as did leading thinkers of cousin-traditions like Moravianism (especially Johann Amos Comenius) and Wesleyanism.

This article will survey the ideas of two Pietists who are less familiar than those early modern leaders, yet speak more directly to contemporary debates in Christian higher education. In the late nineteenth century, Pietists joined a massive migration of Swedes to North America and there founded new denominations, including the Baptist General Conference (BGC) and my own, the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). These two groups established seminaries that have since grown into small universities: Bethel and North Park, respectively. As these schools completed the transition from two-year junior colleges to four-year liberal arts colleges in the 1950s and 1960s, their presidents were, respectively, Carl H. Lundquist and Karl A. Olsson.

Though little known today outside of their traditions, Lundquist and Olsson were thoughtful, articulate leaders who drew on recurring themes in the pietist tradition to help define the purpose and nature of Christian higher education in an era of profound changes for their denominations, their colleges, and the larger church and academy. Most fundamentally, each defined the purpose of higher education in what can only be called salvific terms, believing that God worked through education to transform the whole person—heart and soul, not just head—as part of the process of conversion. After introducing how what Olsson called “convertive piety” shaped his and Lundquist’s theories of education, we will consider two important criticisms of Pietism: that it focuses on the individual to the neglect of the church, and that it strives so hard to avoid “dead orthodoxy” that it breeds heterodoxy. Olsson and Lundquist’s responses to the first of these concerns will help flesh out further similarities in their understandings of Christian higher education by defining the church-renewing mission of the pietist college, its features as a community sharing devotion to Jesus Christ, and the role of the professor in that community. However, their answers to the second will show them parting company over what remains a challenge for Pietists: how to reconcile dual emphases on freedom and holy living.

The two men were not regular correspondents, so we do not have the benefit of years-long conversation to help sharpen our image of their similarities and differences in philosophy. But comparing and contrasting how each Pietist president answered the question, “Why a Christian college?” yields a dialogue that still has much to contribute to the larger conversation about the purpose of Christian higher education.

A Brief History of Pietism: From Germany to Sweden to America

While the recent proliferation of Pietism studies on both sides of the Atlantic has resulted in a much more complex picture of that tradition than this article could convey, church historians within (including Karl Olsson) and without the Swedish-American pietist tradition underline its continuity with the familiar story of pietist reform in Germany after the Thirty Years War.9

Lutheran pastor Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) is often credited with founding Pietism, owing to his encouragement of conventicles (collegia pietatis) in Frankfurt and his publication of Pia Desideria in 1675. For Spener and his followers, confessions of propositional belief such as the Lutheran “Symbolical Books” had to be tested against the rule of Scripture alone and accompanied by holy living and heart-felt devotion; absent orthopraxy and orthopathy, orthodoxy was “dead.”The “Pietists” (so called by their critics) did not reject Luther ’s model of forensic justification, but they did emphasize soteriological ideas viewed with suspicion by Lutheran scholastics: God’s work of regeneration in what the Lutheran mystic Johann Arndt (1555-1621) had called the “new life” of the Christian, which required a personal conversion to Jesus Christ and led to sanctification. In addition to the inner life of personal piety, the love-activated faith of the Pietists took the external form of social action. Most famously, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727) established an orphanage, publishing house, missionary center and educational institutions in the city of Halle.

Pietism moved north to Scandinavia in the time of Spener and Francke, and the appearance of small groups independent of the Church of Sweden led to an edict against conventicles in 1726. Though pietistic Moravian missionaries continued to arrive throughout the eighteenth century, Pietism did not develop into a mass movement in Sweden until the 1830s, when the English Wesleyan evangelist George Scott led a revival. Even after Scott was forced to leave the country in 1842, Pietism flourished both in Stockholm, under the leadership of Carl Olof Rosenius (1816-1868), who edited the newspaper Pietisten and helped organize the Evangelical National Foundation in 1856, and in the countryside, where small groups ofläsare (“readers”) studied Scripture in their homes.

While such conventicles were no longer illegal, Swedish Pietists struggled with their relationship to the established church. Baptist preachers like Fredrik Olaus Nilsson (1809-1881) and Gustaf Palmquist (1812-1867) were the first to break off; as historian Mark Granquist points out, “in denying the validity of infant baptism,[the Baptists] eliminated the keystone of the whole Swedish religious-political system.”10 Rosenius and most other Pietists remained within the Church of Sweden and did not require immersion of believers, but, like the Baptists, they emphasized the necessity of conversion and regeneration and continued to meet independently for Bible study. Rosenius’ successor as editor of Pietisten, Paul Peter Waldenström (1838-1917), appealed to his own reading of Scripture to challenge the Lutheran doctrine of penal atonement and questioned whether unconverted individuals ought to receive (or serve) Communion. In 1878, he and other Rosenian Pietists formed the Swedish Mission Covenant, retaining nominal ties to the state church.

The revival soon spread across the Atlantic Ocean, as Pietists were among the 1.3 million Swedes who migrated to North America between 1850 and 1930. Leaving behind persecution in Sweden, Nilsson, Palmquist and other Baptists founded their first churches in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota in 1852-1853. State conferences began to organize in the 1850s and 1860s and came together as the Swedish Baptist General Conference in 1879. Waldenströmian “Mission Friends” began to arrive in America in large numbers in the 1870s and formed new Lutheran synods. After deciding not to unite with the more confessional Lutherans of the Augustana Synod, they organized as the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant in 1885.11

Bethel and North Park, Lundquist and Olsson

Like other Scandinavian immigrants, Swedish-American Pietists took a keen interest in education. Within one generation of arriving in the United States, the Conference Baptists and Mission Covenanters had each founded an institution of higher learning that became more than the “simple preacher’s college” that some descendants of the läsare movement would have preferred. Bethel and North Park followed similar trajectories of development: both started as small seminaries (Bethelin 1871; North Park in 1891) and added junior colleges (North Park, 1901; Bethel, 1932) that evolved into four-year liberal arts colleges after World War II (Bethel,1947; North Park, 1956).

In 1959, North Park welcomed its first fourth-year students and its fifth president, Karl A. Olsson (1913-1996). Mentored as a young student and instructor at North Park by the school’s founder, David Nyvall (1863-1946), Olsson pastored churches in St. Paul and Chicago and served as an army chaplain during World War II before completing his doctorate in English literature at the University of Chicago. He returned to North Park in 1948 to teach literature, church history and homiletics. As president, Olsson sustained a prolific, varied writing output, producing regular columns for the denominational magazines of the ECC and the American Lutheran Church, as well as devotional works, fiction and the official Covenant history, By One Spirit (1962), in which he placed Pietism at the heart of Covenant identity. In 1970, Olsson left North Park and joined the ecumenical ministry Faith at Work.12

His contemporary Carl H. Lundquist (1916-1991) lasted significantly longer as president of his alma mater, remaining in office from 1954 to 1982.13 Before returning to Bethel, Lundquist studied and taught at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and was pastor of Elim Baptist Church in Chicago. Lundquist also played a prominent role in the National Association of Evangelicals, serving a term as its president from 1978 to 1980. After retiring from Bethel, Lundquist shifted focus to promoting Christian spirituality as founder of the Evangelical Order of the Burning Heart, but also headed the Christian College Consortium until 1990.14

As presidents of new four-year colleges, it should not be surprising that Olsson and Lundquist left behind numerous reports, articles and speeches reflecting on the nature of education. Everything from objectives and curriculum to their school’s size and location came up for debate during their tenures. Of course, the most fundamental question for any Protestant college president in the middle of the twentieth century was whether his school would loosen or drop ties to its founding church, or otherwise drift toward secularity. Neither Olsson nor Lundquist allowed that North Park or Bethel might follow what Olsson termed the “mournful example of scores of church-related colleges” and have “our historic devotion to Christian objectives and programs be watered down to a pale affirmation of religious values,”15 but the sheer importance of the issue led them to devote much time to rethinking and rearticulating what was distinctive and valuable about the education their institutions offered. Consistently, one finds that Pietism shaped their visions of the Christian college.

Since Lundquist and Olsson’s educational philosophies emerged primarily in communications with their own constituencies, it is important to understand that growing shares of their audiences were unfamiliar with or indifferent to Pietism. As the BGC and ECC sought to outgrow their immigrant origins (for example, both deleted “Swedish” from their names), they drew newcomers influenced more by fundamentalism or Reformed evangelicalism than Pietism. Bethel and North Park, too, began to welcome more students and faculty of non-Baptist or non-Covenant backgrounds. Olsson described the meeting at which he was elected president “hinge time” in the ECC’s shifting ethnic and theological identity, and in 1962, one former Bethel professor observed a sharp decline in agreement—among BGC leaders and Bethel faculty—that Swedish Baptist Pietism provided a unifying heritage.16 By presenting a distinctively pietist vision of Christian higher education toBGC/Bethel and ECC/North Park audiences, Lundquist and Olsson were not simply mouthing pious platitudes that evoked misty-eyed nostalgia. On the contrary, they were reinterpreting, in light of contemporary concerns, what they found valuable about a tradition that, for many of their readers and listeners, was unknown, forgotten or irrelevant. Above all, they returned to the question that had preoccupied Pietists since the seventeenth century: How are we saved?

“The Salvation of the Whole Man”: Conversion and Higher Education

As a graduate student, instructor, and assistant dean at the University of Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s, Karl Olsson was in good position to come under the influence of that school’s controversial president, Robert M. Hutchins, whose educational philosophy Olsson summed up as nothing but “the classic function of training the intellect.” Yet when he addressed North Park professors at the beginning of the 1961-1962 school year, Olsson placed their college in radical opposition to Hutchins:

By tradition but much more by conviction, the institution we serve is committed to a more comprehensive view of education. North Park has always lived in the Platonic or Augustinian tradition of learning. It has believed that education is linked not only to the training of the intellect but to the salvation of the whole man.

In his conclusion, Olsson made clear that the earlier use of the word “salvation” was no mere rhetorical device:

…we seek to bring the student to personal fulfillment and to his eventual salvation. The school is not solely or even primarily interested in the training of cooks and bakers, engineers and physicists, teachers and preachers; it is not even interested primarily in giving its students the zest and the joy of intellectual and aesthetic adventure: the burning corolla of the world, the ravishment of line and color and tone, the bitterness and delight of ideas, the ice and luxuriance of style. It is primarily interested in pointing beyond itself and beyond all created things to the Source of life and truth, who by giving us Himself to us [sic] sustains within us the hunger for salvation.17

As he had said when installed as a seminary professor at North Park, Olsson wanted Christians to wield learning “as an instrument of deliverance whereby men are freed from bondage to the creature and hence from sin and death.”18

Not accustomed to seeing education clothed in soteriological garb, we should pause to consider how Olsson understood salvation. In his first faculty address as president, he emphasized the centrality of conversion and regeneration both for the ECC and its college:

The faith which underlies the intellectual process at North Park… is articulated in a personal encounter with Jesus Christ…. This “faith encounter,” which is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual, endows his existence with a new quality. He views existence from anew perspective.19

What he called “convertive piety” Olsson saw as essential to all Pietists. If the “pietist is by definition committed to the call to the unconverted to turn and live,”20 so the pietist college must point “beyond itself and beyond all created things to theSource of life and truth” in order that its students might turn to Him and find new life.21

A convertive, Christ-centered piety also marks Carl Lundquist’s writings on education, foremost of which are his unusually philosophical annual reports to the BGC. Consider how he described the ideal Bethel graduate in his 1965 report: “His own Christian journey began with God’s miracle of inner regeneration. Awareness of this personal salvation has imparted to him both a sense of certainty and an evangelistic zeal.”22 And Lundquist’s 1959 report seems to anticipate Olsson’s 1961 address in its explanation of the fundamental purpose of education:

The simple intention of our people is that its college is to be Christocentric. This ignores many other basic issues being discussed today, but it sets in place a keystone for a Christian philosophy of education. It affirms that the unifying center of the academic program is neither Truth nor the Pursuit of Truth but is Jesus Christ Himself. Ultimately, in our Christian view, Truth and Christ are one, and the important thing about Truth is that it ought to point to Christ.23

Lundquist’s belief that truth is “ultimately personal,” to be found in “God, Who is Truth,” served as the first assumption undergirding a mid-1960s redrafting of Bethel College’s objectives.24

An important implication of so closely identifying truth with a personal God is that love, as well as faith, becomes a cardinal epistemic virtue. While at the University of Chicago, Olsson contended that Christian higher education had to transform the affections, not just the intellect:

To know and to will the good are the ends of Christian education, and knowing and willing ultimately depend upon the love which energizes both. The Christian college thus seeks not only to make truth understandable but to make it lovable in order that it may be willed and done. And since for the Christian, truth can be made lovable only by an act of faith which joins the soul to Christ, faith in Christ becomes the presupposition for knowing, willing, and loving the truth.25

Olsson, who understood faith in terms of the mysterious experience of regeneration, had little interest in integrating learning with a faith defined largely in terms of theological propositions or systems. Lundquist did employ the integrationist language associated with Reformed scholars like Arthur Holmes, but ultimately deemed their efforts to synthesize propositional faith with cognitive knowledge insufficient:

Truth… is personal as well as propositional. Truth, in fact, is troth—a way of loving. And it is motivated not only by curiosity and the desire to be in control but by compassion. Truth is meant to be personalized through our response of obedience to it. Surely this is a natural implication of Christ’s insistence, “I am the truth.”26

Pietist Colleges as Ecclesiolae in Ecclesia

Thus far, there seems to be considerable affinity between Olsson and Lundquist’s understanding of the purpose of Christian higher education and that of James K. A. Smith. They would certainly share his anthropology of the human person as a creature that loves (and is loved) and his overriding interest in how education can form our “ultimate loves—that to which we are fundamentally oriented….” But it is telling that, unlike the two Pietists, Smith does not frame education in terms of individual salvation. Indeed, he emphasizes that he is not offering a “picture of just what it looks like for me to be ‘saved,’” since the “individual is always already embedded in a nexus of social relationships and institutions.” Instead, he insists that the telos of individual desire is a “social vision.” 27

We do not have space in which to consider Smith’s argument that education forms disciples ready to “[follow] the example of Jesus’ cruciform cultural labor.”28 But if he is right to understand Christian, or “ecclesial,” universities as “extensions of the mission of the church—as chapels that extend and amplify what’s happening at the heart of the cathedral,”29 then we should consider a common criticism of Pietists: that, fixated on the subjective experience of individual conversion, they care little for the larger church. For example, Harry Lee Poe and James T. Burtchaell are critical of Pietism’s influence on Christian colleges in part because its “emphasis on spiritual experience and the individual believer leaves little place for the church beyond one’s own personal associations,” substituting instead a “generic and lonely discipleship” detached from the church.30

Olsson and Lundquist would surely scoff at this assessment of Pietism and join Smith in understanding Christian higher education as an extension of the church’s mission. At a time when the gap between college and church in the United States was becoming a chasm, Olsson discouraged any notion of severing or weakening North Park’s ties to the ECC, and Lundquist routinely described Bethel as an “educational ministry” of the BGC and “the church on mission in higher education.”31 At the same time, each president simultaneously claimed an independent, even prophetic voice for his college, since it had the responsibility to “[raise] disturbing questions, [engage] in rigid self evaluation, [express] dissatisfaction with the status quo and [seek] less popular but more consistently Christian solutions to the problems that vex mankind” — not out of disdain for the larger church but concern for its continued vitality.32

Though some Pietists were, like the Swedish Baptists, hounded out of established churches, Spener, Francke, Rosenius, Waldenström and other “churchly” Pietists saw theirs an internal renewal movement; pietist conventicles were meant to be “little churches within the church” (ecclesiolae in ecclesia), not breakaway sects. As Olsson and Lundquist understood it, the pietist college functions like an ecclesiola, distinct from the ecclesia but seeking to revive it from within—not entirely unlike Smith’s vision of the “ecclesial university” as a chapel connected to the cathedral.

But what kind of ecclesiola? What does Christian community look like in a pietist college? Or does an educational model that focuses on converting individuals tend to produce hermits devoted to working out their own salvation in their own way? For Arthur Holmes, such radical individualism threatened the purposes of Christian higher education: “Individualism therefore becomes excessive when individuals without essential community of value and purpose fragment the life and frustrate the goals of an institution.”33

Olsson would see no conflict between conversion and community, since “Pietism also understands the koinonia as a necessity. The converted man seeks the fellowship.”34 Indeed, convertive piety anchored his and Lundquist’s conceptions of life together in the pietist college. During a 1970 faculty and staff retreat, Lundquist identified shared commitment to Jesus Christ as the first “point of unity” holding together a Bethel community buffeted by Vietnam-era conflicts:

He has become the supreme affection in our lives. As a result we enjoy a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord that adds the warm overtones of deep spiritual devotion to all of life. This New Testament teaching has been intensified for us at Bethel by the pietistic heritage in which our school was born.35

Responding to similar tensions two years earlier, Olsson had likewise urged his faculty to place Jesus Christ at the center of life at North Park:

I would like to propose for this community the recovery and the cultivation of devotion tot he living Christ who is the Lord of history and whose presence in history makes meaningful what we seek to do…. This revelation in Jesus tells us that God accepts us as we are. Such an acceptance helps us to accept ourselves and to accept others as persons.36

The pivotal role in this community belonged to professors, converts well along in their walk with Christ who played a formative, even pastoral role in the lives of their students, in and out of the classroom. Indeed, Lundquist, if forced, would compromise in hiring faculty “at the point of scholarship before [he] would at the point of Christian character” because

we believe that in the end the impact of one life upon another is probably greater than the impact of an idea or a method of teaching or a favorable physical setting…. At Bethel we want our young people to enter into personal contact with their teachers, and we hope to keep such academic paraphernalia as the curriculum, course credits, class hours, and examinations from getting in the way of this relationship.37

Olsson cautioned that the “teacher is not primarily in loco parentis, or counselor, or tennis partner, or fellow pub crawler, or buddy,” but still described the North Park professor as someone who “will see his student as a person and will be a steady, firm, but gentle midwife of the soul.”38 Olsson found it “unthinkable that a Christian teacher should be as confused as his student…. If he is to be a midwife of the soul, he cannot himself be caught up in the travail of birth.”39 At the same time, North Park (unlike Bethel) admitted non-Christian students and required no doctrinal test in faculty hiring. Again placing convertive piety over assent to theological propositions, Olsson trusted the “Christian vitality” of its faculty rather than “Christian dogmatics” to sustain North Park’s distinctive mission and character and keep it from becoming “something sub-Christian or pseudo-Christian.”40

The Challenge of Seeking Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy in Freedom

This does raise a second important criticism of Pietism, and of the pietist educational model that we see emerging in the thought of Lundquist and Olsson: that an emphasis on subjective experience as the basis for knowledge and community risks substituting living heterodoxy for dead orthodoxy. Assessing the influence ofGerman Pietism on modern European thought, historians have blamed it for enabling everything from theological liberalism and rationalism to humanistic romanticism and nature mysticism. Both Mark Noll and James Burtchaell, for instance, credit the German Pietists with reinvigorating moribund Protestant churches, but lament that succeeding generations constituted, in Burtchaell’s words, a “subversive influence.” Noll suggests that later Pietists sometimes found it “difficult to distinguish between those forms of feeling that remained within the Christian orbit and those that had spun off as meteorites with no fixed center.”41 To Noll and Burtchaell, Pietism tended to overturn all objective authority in favor of emotion and experience, leaving belief to drift further and further from orthodoxy.

Olsson and Lundquist were aware of this danger and certainly did not intend a North Park or Bethel education to lead young Christians into heresy or apostasy. Decrying secularization at other church colleges, Olsson thundered that he would “rather be a Jesuit” than embrace modern Protestantism’s seeming dissolution into “amiable nothingness.”42 Lundquist took pains to reassure BGC audiences that Bethel would remain conservative and orthodox in theology, making this the thesis of his first and last columns as Bethel president for the denominational magazine.43 And in an early chapel talk, he warned that there was “no virtue” either “in being orthodox simply because we know no other point of view” or “in having an open mind toward that which God has closed.”44

Although Olsson disliked the biblicist “intransigence” of neo-evangelicals like Lundquist,45 both men appealed to the authority of Scripture to help keep their colleges within Noll’s “Christian orbit.” Olsson contended that North Park’s founders defined “new life in terms of classical Biblical faith.”46 Lundquist believed it possible to contain subjectivism with the “objective authority” of Scripture.47

Save for maintaining this “norming norm” of “classical Biblical faith,” the two presidents hesitated to limit the freedom of inquiry of their faculty and students. Like most Pietists, they preferred irenic dialogue to heresy-hunting, valuing voluntary, heartfelt devotion over intellectual assent. Though Lundquist vaguely reported to the denomination that “all of our teaching is carried on within the framework” of the BGC Affirmation of Faith, he (like Olsson) defended the academic liberty of his faculty against fundamentalist criticism.48 And when he identified individual freedom as one of two key features distinguishing Bethel from other evangelical colleges,49 Lundquist could also draw on the Baptist doctrine of soul liberty, insisting “that every believer be allowed the privilege of freely interpreting for his own life the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the light of the Scriptures.”50

Valuing individual freedom to this extent carried the risk of tearing apart the Christ-centered community. As Lundquist admitted, “The right to answer to God alone means also the right not to answer at all. The right to accept Jesus as Savior means also the right to reject Him.”51 As the ECC’s leading historian, Olsson understood that his denomination’s tradition of “almost total freedom of thought and action within the boundaries of Scripture” had resulted in “doctrinal spaciousness… [bordering] on anarchy.”52 Nevertheless, he embraced turbulent uncertainty as the cost of trusting the movement of the Spirit:

To embrace Christian vitality is to invite the visitation of the Holy Ghost and to live and think in the presence of wind and fire. It is not a very tolerable experience. It is conflict, anger, bitterness, humiliation, and endless toil. And it is joy—of a sort. Let the buyer beware!53

In the same speech in which he proclaimed his desire that education contribute to the salvation of the student, Olsson accepted that free discussion of any question might lead students into doubt:

We do not believe that the academic play should be encumbered by frantic endeavors to make every discussion come out ‘right’ or that creative doubt is an evil. The class session may well end in a mood of fear and trembling; no student ever matures who has not felt the earth shaking beneath his feet.54

Lundquist did not disagree, but on the larger question of student freedom we see a significant split with Olsson. Reflecting the influence of the Keswick movement in his own life, Lundquist emphasized the pietist interest in holy living to a much greater extent than did Olsson:

In my theology we are on the road to holiness. But while struggling for sinless perfection may be a heresy, contentment with sinful imperfection also is heretical. The Keswick understanding of Romans 8 is not that it is impossible to sin but that in any given circumstance it is possible not to sin.55

In part, this emphasis shows up in Lundquist’s stated belief that “it is not enough to know that truth is. It must be manifested in its seeker. Truth can never remain an abstract, intellectual proposition but must become a personal, spiritual incarnation.” The very act of seeking truth should foster the virtue of truthfulness.56 But even outside the classroom, Lundquist wanted the pietist college to train its students in “the distinctive Christian life as one of voluntary self-discipline,” set apart from the permissiveness of the larger culture. Among other practices, he warned of the evils of premarital sex, the use of alcohol and tobacco, social dancing and “in-discriminate participation in the average Hollywood or Broadway type of entertainment.”57

Some of these proscriptions seemed outdated even in 1965. Still, if Olsson is right that we should understand education as leading to the “salvation of the whole man,” it would hardly be unreasonable for Lundquist to expect a pietist college to seek the transformation of the “physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual impulses” that, for Olsson, made up the human person.58 Orthopraxy, after all, is even more important than orthodoxy for Pietists.

So why does personal holiness rarely, if ever, appear in Olsson’s discussions of the goals of a pietist college? First, recurring throughout his writing is Olsson’s disdain for the self-righteous legalism and hypocrisy he had observed among Christians stressing sanctification.59 Writing just after his resignation from North Park, Olsson recalled how the strictness of his own upbringing set an impossible, crushing standard for much of his adult life—including his tenure at North Park.60 (Lundquist, of course, denied the charge of legalism, claiming that rare instances of disciplinary action at Bethel were “redemptive and helpful to the student.”61)

Second, Olsson found it increasingly difficult to reconcile a high view of freedom with the top-down legislation and regulation of behavioral norms. Even as he prepared to defend North Park’s traditional “pietistic concern for student behavior” (specifically, chapel attendance and bans on smoking and social dancing) in the protest-filled year of 1969, he experienced a “little Damascus”:

But while I was in the process of working out the defense of the Establishment, I found myself more and more in sympathy with the students. I began to understand the psychological and spiritual rootage from which they came; better than that I began to feel it.62

That same year, Lundquist both defended student activism and persisted in describing personal holiness as an educational objective.63 He hoped Olsson would agree, as he concluded a letter inquiring about North Park’s debate over social dancing:

I know that both of us are concerned about conserving the heritage of the past while being responsive to the needs of the new generation. The history of Christian higher education is marked with so much erosion, however, that all of us need to be vigilant. I am hopeful that we can mutually strengthen one another in the emphasis we place upon a distinctive lifestyle appropriate to committed Christian young people in the twentieth century.64

Lundquist tried to steer a middle path between “authoritarianism” and “permissiveness,” claiming in 1972 that Bethel both had “been historically ahead of the curve in granting freedom to students” and remained committed to a “distinctive way of life for its own community.”65 Three years later, a national newspaper profile found that most Bethel students strongly supported their mod suit-wearing president’s vision of distinctive living.66


Today, one may visit North Park University without ever realizing that Karl A. Olsson spent more than a decade as its president.67 It would be virtually impossible to tour Bethel University without encountering the name or portrait of Carl H. Lundquist. But while Lundquist’s legacy as an educational leader is more visible than Olsson’s, both men articulated distinctively pietist visions of higher education that deserve greater attention from Christian scholars of all traditions. If they hope to offer their own answer to Arthur Holmes’ question, “Why a Christian college?,” pietist educators especially can learn from Lundquist and Olsson’s desire for the salvation of the whole person, their conception of the Christian college as a church-renewing community sustained by shared convertive piety, and their struggles to seek orthodoxy and orthopraxy without sacrificing a high view of Christian freedom.68 

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Christopher Gehrz, “Recovering a Pietist Understanding ofChristian Higher Education: Carl H. Lundquist and Karl A. Olsson”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 40:2 , 139-154


  1. Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1987), 6.
  2. Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 26.
  3. James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (GrandRapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 17-18, 46, 219. Italics original.
  4. Jacobsen and Jacobsen, Scholarship and Christian Faith, 26, 28.
  5. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 219n.
  6. At least, “fundamentalist Pietism,” a definition or examples of which are not provided.Smith tried to clarify his use of “Pietism” in a review symposium on Desiring the Kingdom featured in Christian Scholar’s Review 39 (Winter 2010): 231.
  7. Douglas Jacobsen, “The History and Character of Messiah College, 1909-1995,” in Modelsfor Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Success in the Twenty-First Century, eds. Richard T.Hughes and William B. Adrian (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 327-45.
  8. Jacobsen and Jacobsen, Scholarship and Christian Faith, 89-90.
  9. Virgil A. Olson, “The Baptist General Conference and its Pietistic Heritage,” Bethel SeminaryQuarterly 4 (May 1956): 54-66; Karl A. Olsson, By One Spirit (Chicago: Covenant Press, 1962),7-34; Jonathan Strom, “Problems and Promises of Pietism Research,” Church History 71 (Sept.2002): 544.
  10. Mark Alan Granquist, “The Swedish Ethnic Denominations in the United States: Their Developments and Relationships, 1880-1920” (PhD dissertation, University of Chicago, 1992),73.
  11. On the development of the two denominations in the United States, see Adolf Olson, ACentenary History, As Related to the Baptist General Conference of America (Chicago: Baptist Con-ference Press, 1952), and Karl A. Olsson, Into One Body… by the Cross, 2 vols. (Chicago: Covenant Press, 1985-1986).
  12. On Olsson’s life, see Philip J. Anderson, ed., Amicus Dei: Essays on Faith and Friendship (Chi-cago: Covenant Publications, 1988), 4-29.
  13. Bethel’s development under Lundquist is recounted by G. William Carlson and DianaMagnuson, “Bethel College and Seminary on the Move,” in Five Decades of Growth and Change:1952-2002, The Baptist General Conference and Bethel College and Seminary, eds. James and CaroleSpickelmier (St. Paul, MN: The [BGC] History Center, 2010), 29-39.
  14. Lundquist had been instrumental in founding the consortium in 1971; see James A. Patterson,Shining Lights: A History of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (Grand Rapids:Baker Academic, 2001), especially ch. 2-4.
  15. The Covenant Companion, September 9, 1966, 5.
  16. Olsson, A Family of Faith: 90 Years of Covenant History (Chicago: Covenant Press, 1975), 108;Robert Sandin, “The Transferential Motif in the Christian Idea of Liberal Education,” BethelCollege Faculty Journal (Feb. 1962): 2. Sandin later served as dean of North Park College.
  17. Olsson, “The Meaning of Comprehensive Education,” Sept. 7, 1961, Olsson MinisterialPapers (OMP), series 6/1/2/1/32a, box 19, Covenant Archives (CA), Brandel Library, NorthPark University, Chicago.
  18. Olsson, “The Church and the Advancement of Learning,” The Covenant Quarterly 8 (1948): 200.
  19. Olsson, “The Idea of a Christian School,” Sept. 25, 1959, OMP, 6/1/2/1/32a, box 19, CA.
  20. Olsson, “Pietism and Its Relevance to the Modern World,” Moravian Theological SeminaryBulletin (Fall 1965): 44.
  21. For an extended discussion of the role of conversion in Karl Olsson’s educational philosophy, see Kurt W. Peterson and R. J. Snell, “‘Faith Forms the Intellectual Task’: The PietistOption in Christian Higher Education,” in The Pietist Impulse in Christianity, eds. G. WilliamCarlson et al. (forthcoming from Cascade Books).
  22. Carl H. Lundquist, “Report of the President, 1965,” published in Annual-Baptist GeneralConference of America, 1965 (Chicago: BGC, 1965), 129.
  23. Lundquist, 1959 Annual Report, 137. See also his 1963 Annual Report, 87.
  24. Draft of Bethel Objectives, undated [likely Jan. 1968], Lundquist Papers, “Bethel Objectives” folder, Baptist General Conference History Center (BGCHC), Bethel University, St.Paul, MN.
  25. The Covenant Weekly (Sept. 12, 1947): 8.
  26. The Burning Heart 7 (June 1986). Emphasis mine.
  27. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 50-51, 53, 71. Italics original.
  28. Suffice it to note, first, that Smith again dismisses Pietism as an ally, since he defines it as akind of culture-rejecting quietism (Ibid.,190 n82) and, second, that Lundquist and Olssonwould vigorously dispute that definition. See Lundquist, 1970 Annual Report, 120-34, andOlsson’s letter of May 11, 1970 in defense of student anti-war activists, Olsson PresidentialPapers (OPP), 9/1/2/6, box 9, CA.
  29. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 220.
  30. Harry Lee Poe, Christianity in the Academy: Teaching at the Intersection of Faith and Learning(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 48, and James Turnstead Burtchaell, The Dying of theLight: The Disengagement of Colleges & Universities from their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 846-47, respectively.
  31. For example, in Lundquist, 1965 Annual Report, 120. See also note 49 below.
  32. Lundquist, 1961 Annual Report, 137. For a similar perspective, see Olsson’s discussion ofthe North Park-ECC relationship in “What Shall We Do to be Saved?,” 1967 address to NorthPark faculty, OMP, 6/1/2/1/32a, box 19, CA.
  33. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, 78-79.
  34. Olsson, “Pietism and Its Relevance,” 42.
  35. Lundquist, “Bethel as Community,” The [Baptist General Conference] Standard (Oct. 5, 1970):16.
  36. Olsson, “Polarization on the Campus,” Sept. 27, 1968, OMP, 6/1/2/1/32a, box 19, CA.
  37. Lundquist, 1959 Annual Report, 144.
  38. Olsson, “The Teacher as Professional,” Sept. 20, 1963, OMP, 6/1/2/1/32a, box 19, CA; andidem, “The Meaning of Comprehensive Education” (1961), respectively.
  39. The Covenant Companion (Sept. 10, 1965): 9.
  40. Olsson, “The Volcanic Campus,” Sept. 21, 1962, OMP, 6/1/2/1/32a, box 19, CA.
  41. Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 48-49;Burtchaell, The Dying of the Light, 838-47.
  42. The Lutheran Standard (Mar. 22, 1966): 30.
  43. The [BGC] Standard (Sept. 17, 1954): 4, 8; and (Nov. 1981): 44-45.
  44. Lundquist, “The Limits of Tolerance,” undated [1954-1955, but misplaced in “Messages,1975-” folder], Lundquist Papers, BGCHC.
  45. Olsson affirmed the authority of Scripture, but not verbal inerrancy; on his critique of neo-evangelicalism, see Olsson, Into One Body…, 2:313-320.
  46. Olsson, “The Volcanic Campus” (1962).
  47. Lundquist, 1965 Annual Report, 122, 124.
  48. bid., 121. On Bethel’s belated entry into the modernist-fundamentalist debate in the 1960s,see Norris A. Magnuson, “A Decade of Progress in a Century of Educational Advance,” inThe 1960s in the Ministry of the Baptist General Conference, ed. Donald E. Anderson (Evanston,IL: Harvest, 1971), 125. On similar controversies in the mid-1960s involving North Park faculty, see Olsson, Into One Body…, 2:364-733.
  49. The other being Bethel’s unusually close relationship with the BGC; Lundquist, 1960-1961Annual Report, 132.
  50. The [BGC] Standard (Apr. 18, 1960): 18.
  51. The [BGC] Standard (June 20, 1952): 14.
  52. Olsson, Into One Body…, 1:x-xi.
  53. Olsson, “The Volcanic Campus” (1962).
  54. Olsson, “The Meaning of Comprehensive Education” (1961).
  55. Lundquist, 1981-1982 Annual Report, Bethel Focus (Aug. 1982): 5. Named after the Englishtown where its annual conventions have been held since 1875, the Keswick movement promoted a view of sanctification as leading to “victorious living” and service to the church.
  56. Lundquist, 1963 Annual Report, 87.
  57. Lundquist, 1965 Annual Report, 128.
  58. Olsson, “The Meaning of Comprehensive Education” (1961).
  59. See especially Olsson, Passion (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 52-53.
  60. Olsson, Come to the Party: An Invitation to a Freer Life Style (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1970), 29-37.
  61. Lundquist, 1971-1972 Annual Report, excerpted in Bethel Focus (Oct. 1972): 9.
  62. Olsson, Come to the Party, 50-51. Italics original.
  63. See his 1969 Annual Report, 120-32, which explored the theme of personal freedom.
  64. Lundquist to Olsson, Apr. 25, 1969, OPP, 9/1/2/6, box 9, CA.
  65. Lundquist, 1971-1972 Annual Report, excerpted in Bethel Focus (Oct. 1972): 9.
  66. “The Wholesome Life Is the Only Life At Bethel College,” Wall Street Journal (May 21):1975.
  67. Olsson the historian minimized the importance of Olsson the educator, making himself little more than a bearer of David Nyvall’s torch; for example, in Olsson, By One Spirit, 615.
  68. The author would like to thank the Professional Development Committee of Bethel Uni-versity for a grant that made possible his research in Chicago, Anne Jenner and DianaMagnuson for their assistance in navigating the archival records of North Park and Bethel,and Phil Anderson, Kurt Peterson, and Sara Shady for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper

Christopher Gehrz

Bethel University (MN)
Mr. Gehrz is Associate Professor of History at Bethel University.