Tag Archives: Lutheranism

Tormod Engelsviken, Ernst Harbakk, Rolv Olsen & Thor Strandenæs (eds.), Mission to the World; Communicating the Gospel in the 21st Century. Essays in Honour of Knud Jørgensen (Oxford: Regnum Books & Egede International, 2008)

We wish to give the benefit of the doubt to the subject, but ultimately the assumptions are not empirically accessible. The author can make brilliant logical arguments, based on a subjective line from the sacred texts. As such, theology (to the outsider) is a give and take between the rational (-logy) and the ultimately unknowable (theo-).

Christianity is suffused with these paradoxes:

  • Is the church an entity of the community or of the leadership? Catholics and Lutherans for instance will answer this question in differing degrees on this scale, but this tension exists in both churches.
  • In spreading the gospel, how do we meld the gospel with indigenous beliefs to honor our targets without compromising the religion itself? This tension goes on today in Indigenous American communities, and Jorgensen dealt with it in Ethiopian and Chinese communities.
  • In our personal faith, when we accept our vocation and participate in mission, how do we know we are serving God and not our own sense of self-importance?

Knud Jørgensen has dealt with these tensions or paradoxes throughout his life’s work. He was born in Denmark in 1942 and followed a career of study and missionary work that included education, radio, Africa, Asia, and greater Europe. In honor of his 65th birthday, and to reflect on his life’s work, Regnum commissioned a “festschrift:” Mission to the World: Communicating the Gospel in the 21st Century  (2007).

An exploration of the tension inherent in these three paradoxes forms the basis of this festschrift. The section on mission explores several aspects of this. Aano discusses the emergence of the global South as the new direction for the church – but not one that necessarily will yield to European dominance in leadership (92-102). Ho-Fai (85-91) discusses the challenges of cultural work to meet the people of China in evangelism. Lutheran scholars try to use Chinese history to be relevant to potential Chinese Christians in Hong Kong. At the same time, Buddhists are using traditional evangelical tools to reach modern Chinese. The tension here is a postmodern one where the interplay between history and modernity is complex enough that the best strategy for growth is not clear.

Kraft addresses the tension between multiple religions as a collection of forms expressed within a given culture and faith. Kraft defines faith as a “commitment to someone or something, supported by a set of deep worldview-level assumptions.” (182) The tension discussed by Kraft is one between social structure (religion) and personal devotion. The first can be a vehicle for the second, but can just as easily obfuscate or become its own goal. Holter (205-214) looks at the Bible’s adoption and use in Africa, wondering rhetorically who actually ‘owns’ the book. He notes that the first extreme was Europeans’ use of the book as justification for the colonisation and exploitation of Africa. The other extreme is represented by the translation of the bible into three hundred languages, including which vernacular polytheistic gods should represent Yahweh, and adopted by people for whom the events in the stories happened literally in their back yard.

Eskilt’s (382-390) research investigated the concept of “calling” to their mission among boomer and Xer Norwegians. She found that indeed the different generations did understand their calling somewhat differently. The older respondents saw their calling in much more clearly delineated and objective terms than the younger respondents, who were more likely to use subjective and blurry language. The boomer generation had a much stronger institutional connection than the X generation.  Mortensen (405-418) closes the book by reflecting upon the tension of teaching missiology academically within a non-religious university. In the contemporary secular university world this necessarily marginalizes missiology. She recognizes the contemporary conflict between university neutrality and religious-based studies, or even a postmodern recognition that objectivity might not even be possible. She concludes that this sometimes awkward context for missiology in the university allows for an understanding of the cultural discourse that missionary work itself must address. After all, missionary work necessarily entails addressing non-Lutheran cultural and religious contexts.

This festschrift is a complicated work, with perhaps many applications. It is very large, with around thirty contributors and stretching over four hundred pages. At the same time, most of the essays are short and very digestible, so its breadth means that there will be works that appeal to many readers. While the theological topics are certainly (and appropriately!) Lutheran, this Catholic reader found them relatable, as many similar issues are happening with the Roman church as well.


N.B. Special thanks to Joe Domko of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Boulder, Colorado for his theological assistance.

Philip J. Anderson and Dag Blanck (eds.), Norwegians and Swedes in the United States: Friends and Neighbors (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012)

The collection is divided into four distinct sections—Context, Culture, Conflict and Community—each undertaking a thorough examination of the relationships and interactions between the largest immigration populations from Scandinavian to the United States. As the subheadings suggest, a comprehensive study of the relationship between Norwegians and Swedes in the United States cannot be sustained on comparison alone. Indeed, as Donna R. Gabaccia outlines in the very useful foreword to the book, the narrative of this relationship continues to develop new strains due in part to increasing attention to “inter-ethnic perspectives” concerning American immigration history in general and Scandinavian interactions in particular. It is the developing story of Scandinavian “inter-ethnic perspectives” that the collection aims to uncover and narrate and as a whole this aim is successful. As Gabaccia rightly points out, however, the collection downplays the “importance of contention” between the two groups, by choosing to highlight “the Americanization that brought both groups of immigrates closer to each other.”


The first section on context contains two substantial introductory chapters: “Friends and Neighbors? Patterns of Norwegian-Swedish Interaction in the United States” by co-editor Dag Blanck and “Norwegians and Swedes in America: Some Comparisons” by H. Arnold Barton. The opening chapters strive to broadly describe the identities of each group and the patterns of interactions between them. Blanck develops a useful chronology for grappling with the complex issue, dividing recognizable patterns of interaction into three periods. Blanck emphasizes that although there has yet to be a systematic and comprehensive study of the history of the Scandinavians in the United States, certain patterns emerge from the studies that do exist. When division did occur between Norwegian and Swedish immigrants it was along religious lines, more so than national ones. In matters of the heart, however, Norwegians and Swedes found each other the most desirable and within the political sphere they were each others’ closest allies. Barton’s comparative study of the two groups is admittedly more speculative in nature, but no less productive in results by focusing on the differences between the groups. Some of Barton’s findings are less surprising than others. That the Norwegians were the more nationalist of the two immigrant groups makes sense in term of Norway’s political development over the nineteenth century ending with its independence in 1905. That Norwegian Americans wrote more novels than Swedes was unexpected. As was the conclusion that Swedish Americans generally outpaced their Scandinavian neighbors in the sciences and technology, the visual arts and business. As Barton states, differences such as those I have pointed out are compelling and open new lines of investigation for further research. How to assess why these differences occurred, however, is not as easy or apparent.


The second section examines the central position that diverse aspects of culture held in the Norwegian and Swedish immigrant experience. The following three chapters stood out: Odd S. Lovoll’s opening chapter, “Preserving a Cultural Heritage Across Boundaries: A Comparative Perspective on Riksföreningen Sverigekontakt and the Nordmanns-Forbundet” skillfully depicts how even as societies were started in both Norway and Sweden to promote home colonization, the two societies mentioned in the title were founded to cope with expanding populations outside the nation state. Lovoll’s explanation of how each society aimed to create a notion of worldwide nationality founded on the promotion of cultural retention within emigrant populations is thought provoking, particularly regarding the underlying conservative politics at its core, a point I would have liked to see more thoroughly developed. In “Freedom, Identity, and Double Perspectives: Representations of the Migrant Experience in the Novels of Vilhelm Moberg and O.E. Rølvaag,” Ingeborg Kongslien illustrates that although each author penned works of historical fiction and not historical accounts per se, due to the authors’ personal experiences the novels nevertheless provide ample and reliable insights into Scandinavian emigration, including those historical, psychological, sociological and existential. James P. Leary’s “Är Du Svenske?”–”Norsk! Norsk!”: Folk Humor and Cultural Difference in Scandinavian America” is the highlight of the section as it is rich with familiar jokes that become compelling examples of the development of cultural difference between Norwegian and Swedish Americans. Leary convincingly maps how “Scandihoovian” humor is more about negotiating relationships between Norwegians and Swedes in the United States than about any actual reference to the homeland. Indeed, he illustrates that what often appears as insider teasing is in reality a way to communicate cultural difference to the wider, and often undiscerning, American public.


The third section of the collection identifies areas where conflict arose between the Scandinavian immigrant groups. The first two chapters examine how Norwegian independence affected relationships between Norwegian and Swedish Americans, while the second two chapters scrutinize the complex divides, factions and mergers within the varying denominations of the Lutheran Church in the United States. Jørn Brøndal’s “We are Norwegians and Swedes Now, Not Scandinavians”: The Impact of Norwegian Independence on Scandinavian American Politics in the Midwest” and Ulf Jonas Björk’s “An End to Brotherhood?” Swedes and Norwegians in America Discuss the 1905 Union Dissolution” are complimentary chapters that detail the ramifications of Norway’s independence on political and social alignments between Norwegian and Swedish Americans. The conclusions of both chapters reflect back to my earlier statement concerning the collection overall: conflicts were limited and those that arose were short-lived. As each chapter suggests, pan-Scandinavianism seems to have post- dated any animosity, albeit at varying levels across time and place. Kurt W. Peterson’s “A Question of Conscious: Minnesota’s Norwegian American Lutherans and the Teaching of Evolution” is the stand out piece of the collection. Peterson targets the imperative position that Norwegian American Lutherans held in early twentieth century debates concerning the status of evolution in public schools and by doing so, places current discourse on the subject into a new, and nuanced historical context. The chapter is filled with—what was for me at least—compelling insight into how Lutheran history supported the separation of church and state, thus ultimately rendering null the scheme to legislate the exclusion of evolution in Minnesota’s public schools and universities. Peterson asserts that, “many Lutherans wanted nothing to do with [legislation] because they wanted nothing to do with the Reformed tradition. Their fight was not simply over the teaching of evolution; for them, the heart of their Lutheran theological heritage was at stake.” Equally compelling is the way in which Peterson details the close ideological ties between Norwegian American Lutheranism and the broader Evangelical movement.


The closing section of the collection is a fitting bookend to a study that casts a wide net as it examines both distinct features and broad trends within the Norwegian and Swedish American community. That this section is the largest reinforces the collection’s unifying intentions. Each chapter features a case study of a specific cluster of Norwegian and Swedish immigrants within the United States. The section is rich with description and details, demographics and specifics, whether investigating the nontraditional immigrant position held by many Norwegian and Swedish engineers and architects, as in Per-Olof Grönberg’s contribution, or chronicling the narrative of an insulated Scandinavian enclave on the shores of Lake Superior, as in Philip J. Anderson’s piece. All but one chapter, however, focuses on Scandinavian communities in the Midwest. The exception being Jennifer Eastman Atterbery’s “Scandinavian’s in the Rocky Mountain West: Pragmatic and Programmatic.” Atterbery’s very interesting examination of Scandinavian settlements in Montana and LDS Utah (touching only briefly on California) broadens the scope of what is an otherwise very regional-specific section. In fact, the exclusion of the West is one of the shortcomings of the collection as a whole and I would have liked the same rigorous scholarship that pervades the collection applied to Norwegian and Swedish communities in California, Oregon and Washington, or for that matter, to those in New York and the East. One of the most outstanding features in this section is the way in which personal narrative and family history interjects into large-scale and oftentimes characterless demographic statistics. In more than one instance, particularly in Byron J. Nordstrom’s “Norwegians and Swedes in Willmar, Minnesota, in the Early Twentieth Century,” general and sweeping statistical information is transformed from the tedious to the compelling by granting the dates, numbers, and anonymous names on the page, a narrative. By fleshing out both the communities under study and particular individuals within those communities, the closing section is a fitting end to what is a comprehensive, informative and insightful study of Norwegians and Swedes in the United States. The information presented in this study will most certainly fuel and encourage subsequent research and publication in the field.