Before Jay Green, Eric Miller, and yours truly got together to start Current, we edited a book titled Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (2010). The book includes essays by Mark Schwehn, Una Cadegan, Beth Barton Schweiger, Tal Howard, William Katerberg, Michael Kugler, Bradley Gundlach, Christopher Shannon, Jim LaGrand, Tracy McKenzie, Doug Sweeney, and Wilfred McClay.
The historical profession has changed a lot in the thirteen years following the publication of Confessing History, but many of the essays on the historian’s vocation still stand the test of time and the book is still used in historiography and historical methods courses at Christian colleges. (When my daughter was a history major at Calvin University a few years ago she had to read it for Katerberg’s historiography senior seminar. My daughter Caroline, a Calvin political science graduate, is the one holding the book in the above picture.)
We are thus honored to see that Bethel University history professor Chris Gehrz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman,” has chosen Confessing History as the book that has most shaped his calling as a Christian scholar. (Also good to see three of my former Messiah University colleagues [now retired] on this list: Richard Hughes, Ronda Jacobsen, and Doug “Jake” Jacobsen.)
Most of what I teach at Bethel isn’t actually about Christianity, but one of the joys of working where I do is that I’ve learned to think with greater rigor, nuance, and openness about the relationship between my faith as a follower of Jesus and my vocation as a scholar and teacher. I haven’t always been comfortable with the language of “faith-learning integration,” but I do appreciate how that project pushed me to see different parts of my life in closer relation to each other — something that I increasingly notice by its absence in churches of most any Christian tradition.
I’ve often summarized my journey in this way: early on, I learned a lot from Reformed colleagues in my discipline (Mark Noll, George Marsden) and out of it (Arthur Holmes, Nicholas Wolterstorff, James K. A. Smith), but came to realize that there was a broader array of Christian reflection on these matters — much of it from fellow non-Calvinists — through books by Richard Hughes and Douglas and Rhonda Jacobsen.
But I was probably most deeply shaped by another somewhat non-traditional book: not a monograph, but an edited collection of essays by academic historians.
Around the same time that I followed John Fea into blogging, I started reading (then teaching) Confessing History, a volume he edited with Jay Green and Eric Miller. Whether I agreed with the contributors (e.g., Beth Barton Schwieger on history as a means of loving our neighbors; Thomas Albert Howard on prudence as an intellectual virtue) or disagreed with them (e.g., Christopher Shannon’s traditionalist Catholic critique of Enlightenment values like autonomy and objectivity), that book helped me aim for “a deeply Christian practice of history” throughout my career, whether I was researching Pietism, writing a spiritual biography of a non-Christian, or teaching about anything from world wars to professional sports.