Interdisciplinary Work Inspired by the Life and Teachings of B. T. Roberts

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Andrew C. Koehl, David Basinger
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , August
     268 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In this collection, an interdisciplinary cohort of faculty and administrators provide a festschrift of sorts for a figure now one hundred and twenty-five years deceased. The authors, all currently or previously affiliated with Roberts Wesleyan College or Northeastern Seminary, have derived their topics from the life and ministry of Benjamin Titus Roberts, founder of the school from whence those two institutions have evolved. The volume is immensely narrow in purpose, if quite broad in thematic scope. The book’s rationale is to “contribute to a fuller understanding of the academic and pastoral life of B. T. Roberts” (xvii), and the essays included derive from psychology, theology, history, communications, nursing, social work, English and rhetoric, and beyond. 

For academics, the value of the essays depends much on the discipline being explored and the section being read. Theologians and historians will find the most material, particularly in Douglas Cullum’s essay on the evolution of women’s participation and leadership in the Free Methodist tradition and Jeffrey McPherson’s comparative examination of Roberts’s and Walter Rauschenbusch’s approaches to reform in their western New York contexts. Elvera Berry’s analysis of the rhetoric of dissent in Roberts’s advocacy of female ordination is a strong and relevant contribution. Other essays in the first section cover interesting if rather niche topics: Roberts’s function as a “social entrepreneur” well before that term was devised, the savvy real estate investments by which Roberts built and sustained his seminary, and the extent to which Roberts’s theology and ministry encompassed “creation care.” 

The second half of the collection shifts from academic analysis into disciplinary application, with authors contemplating what Roberts’s theology might look like for practitioners of faith in fields such as nursing, social work, psychology, philosophy, and biblical hermeneutics. Within this section, Andrew Koehl’s reflection on the use of threat and inducement in Christian theology, and Richard Middleton’s application of Roberts’s hermeneutic of Genesis 2-3 in discussions of religious egalitarianism, are particularly thought-provoking and the most broadly relevant of the essays in this half of the volume. The other essays here are thoughtfully written and incorporate relevant scholarship, but overall the second section suffers from an extremely limited scope and a general disjointedness, which is frustrating for the academic reader. Rather than being a truly interdisciplinary work wherein various scholars and fields are in conversation with one another, the essays here feel forced together and topically isolated. This is unfortunate, for the individual chapters are generally well-composed and engaging. The volume was compiled for the sesquicentennial anniversary of Roberts’s Chili Seminary, founded in 1866, and indeed, the contributions would have made for an excellent conference for those affiliated with the schools that have arisen from the Chili Seminary. As a published work, however, Earnest lacks even the loose cohesion of a traditional festschrift compilation. 

Those affiliated with the Free Methodist tradition, and theologians or historians specifically wishing to learn a little more about B. T. Roberts and his work, will find value in the first section of the book. Theologians interested in particular subtopics explored will also appreciate some of the individual essays. Beyond those groups, though, there is little academic market for which this volume may be practically recommended.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Corey J. Markum is Assistant Professor of History, Philosophy, and Political Science at Freed-Hardeman University.

Date of Review: 
September 10, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andrew Koehl is professor of philosophy and director of general education at Roberts Wesleyan College. His academic work is in the field of religious epistemology.

David Basinger is professor of philosophy and chief academic officer at Roberts Wesleyan College. He is editor of Reason and Religious Belief (2013).


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