Remember your teachers

by Mark Safstrom

When the revival preacher Carl Olof Rosenius died prematurely in 1868, many of the thousands of people who had come to depend on him as a teacher were doubtless at a loss for how to proceed. In this moment of crisis, two women stepped in to offer their services in processing this great loss, as well as to begin to explain the significance of Rosenius’s life and point the way forward for the revival movement. Amy Moberg had served as Rosenius’s right-hand woman in the publication of Pietisten, and took on the task of organizing the scattered accounts of Rosenius’ life into the first biography on him “Teckning af Carl Olof Rosenii lif och verksamhet.” In this endeavor she was helped by none other than Lina Sandell, the great hymn writer. The Bible verse these two authors chose to adorn the title page was taken from Hebrews 13:7 (the verse reads differently in Swedish than in many English translations):

“Remember your teachers, those who have spoken the word of God to you, and follow their faith, considering the outcome of their lives.”

As the verse suggests and as the rest of the biography goes on to demonstrate, Moberg and Sandell were not primarily focused on Rosenius’s theology, but instead on his life. Weaving together primary sources such as journal entries and letters, these women highlight what it was like to be Rosenius, to exist as a real person struggling to understand faith and apply it to his life. The result is an account that is easy for the reader to understand, because it is relatable to many people’s everyday experiences with the doubts, setbacks and triumphs that characterize Christian faith. Moberg and Sandell were able to see an important dynamic between teachers and students, that in order for a teacher to succeed in passing on wisdom to a student, the student has to be able to see how this wisdom can apply to his or her own life. It has to be more than intellectually interesting in order to take root and be transformative. Rosenius succeeded in modeling faith for Moberg and Sandell, and in return, they wanted to pass this skill on to others.

In reviewing the articles for this issue, a common theme that has emerged is the relationship between teachers and students, mentors and mentees. The front-page article by Donald Frisk provides an insight into the historical conversations that Covenant Church leaders were engaged in, as they attempted to articulate an alternative educational philosophy to that of the mainstream culture in the 1960s. Here, the emphasis of Pietism on lived experience is identified as one of its strengths, and also as a helpful aid in explaining the relationship between faith and reason. David C. Bjorkquist’s article reflects on the remarkable ways in which the faith of an Augustana pastor has manifested itself in the life of his grandson. Jon M. Sweeny’s review of the recently published papers of his former teacher, Paul Holmer, celebrates how Holmer’s intensive faith inspired him and exemplified alternative ways of imagining the role of faith in academia. David Gustafson’s article on Ellen Modin highlights the important role that she played in establishing ministries and instilling missional values in generations of teachers within the Evangelical Free Church. And Tom Swanson and Edmund L. Train give personal testimony to the way in which the communities that they each have participated in have benefitted them in terms of values and perspectives gained.

Let’s remember how our teachers lived, as well as what they said.

Guds frid – God’s peace.

Mark Safstrom is Chief Editor of Pietisten, and teaches Swedish language and Scandinavian literature at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

See all articles by Mark Safstrom