GW Carlson in his office

Mark, Sam, and I had expected to be recording the next episode of The Pietist Schoolman Podcast right about now, but we’ve decided to postpone for a week our discussion of why Pietists — despite everything that’s wrong with Christianity — would hope for better times. At least for Sam and me, our hearts wouldn’t have been in it.

See last Friday our colleague G.W. Carlson died at age 72, ten days after suffering a stroke. As I wrote on the occasion of his retirement from Bethel University in 2012, forty-four years after he returned to his alma mater to teach history and political science, GW had

an odd kind of celebrity: to be so well known to thousands of people that your mere initials conjure instant recognition and appreciation, while being so little known beyond that community… that it would take me considerable time to even begin to describe him to anyone else.

Sam actually talked about GW last month, in our survey of living examples of the Pietist ethos. He recalled how studying and working with GW helped him ask

what does Pietism look like in terms of how I interact with the world: how do I interact with American culture, how do I interact with political culture… That helped me realize, “This isn’t just about me; this isn’t just about my church. It needs to engage in the culture, too.”

Sadly we won’t get to fulfill Sam’s hope to have GW appear on a future season of this podcast. But to get a fuller sense of how our friend and mentor understood and embodied Pietism (within the context of a Baptist college and denomination), see this December 2011 post at my blog. Here’s the conclusion:

Not content to describe, or even to prescribe, GW has sought to be an agent of change. While this sometimes prompts him to take to the pulpit for talks like the two summarized here, GW promotes his understanding of “the Baptist Pietist heritage” primarily by teaching and mentoring young people. As he told a reporter for Bethel’s student newspaper recently, GW has four dreams for all his students: that they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and commit to the Gospel; that they undertake a “Christian spiritual journey”; that they become lifelong learners; and that they serve others, particularly those on the margins of society.

Or flip through back issues of The Baptist Pietist Clarion, which GW founded in 2002.

We’ll be back next week to talk about hope.

Image Credit: GW (Bethel’s resident bibliophile) in his office ca. 2006 – Bethel University Digital Library

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