I’ve been told that the one imperative law of successful blogging is to blog regularly, which makes the lapse of the past six weeks an egregious sin. Sorry about that. Shortly after the beginning of the semester it dawned on me that I needed to draft a plenary address for a national meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, an organization of Christian historians of which I am honored to serve, for the time being, as president. Before coming to Wheaton College three years ago, I was for more than two decades on the faculty of the University of Washington, a large and systemically secular research university, and the Conference on Faith and History provided the kind of community of Christian scholars that was nearly impossible to duplicate at a place like UW.
When I first arrived at UW, I was ill prepared to think critically about what Parker Palmer has called (in To Know as We Are Known) the “invisible curriculum” of the university, with the result that my mind quickly conformed to the presuppositions of the academic community in which I found myself. Over time, by God’s grace, I began to think more deeply about the pluralistic multiversity of which I was a part, but as I did so I also began to experience what Harry Blamires called (in The Christian Mind) “the loneliness of the thinking Christian.” I came to see myself, as Blamires put it, as “caught up, entangled, in the lumbering day-to-day operations of a machinery working in many respects in the service of ends that I rejected.”
Combating this growing sense of alienation was a challenge. I had one wonderful Christian colleague among the forty-some-odd professors in the History Department, and the monthly Christian Faculty/Grad Fellowship regularly attracted another half dozen professors from other departments (from the university’s more than thirteen hundred full-time faculty). Its meetings were greatly encouraging, but while they helped me as a Christian they did not—and could not—help me in defining my calling as a Christian historian. This is where the Conference on Faith and History was invaluable. The first meeting that I attended was in 2002 at Huntington University. By that point I had been either a graduate student or faculty member for twenty years, and yet the first session of the convention that I attended was also the first time I had ever been in the same room with as many as two other Christian historians! It was the first professional gathering I had ever experienced in which I could substantively integrate my faith in Christ with my love of history and my passion for the life of the mind. The fellowship that I have encountered there has encouraged more than I can possibly convey.
The opportunity to deliver a plenary address to the CFH’s biennial meeting (held this fall at Gordon College, just north of Boston) was a chance to share with the Christian historians in attendance a challenge to serve the church as well as the academy. (For an extremely gracious commentary on the address, go here.) While I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything, it did force me to suspend this conversation with you for quite some time, both while I prepared for the address and as I tried to get caught up at work after returning from the meeting. I’m glad to be back. Thanksgiving is only three days away, so look for a brief post about the Pilgrims in the next day or so.