by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
Wm. B. Eerdmans, Minneapolis. 312 pages
reviewed by JOSEPH DELAHUNT
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson stepped down recently from his position as general secretary of the Reformed Church in America.
This was the latest episode of an eclectic working life we learn about in this recent memoir. Other episodes include his years serving on Sen. Mark Hatfield’s staff, then as the general manager of Sojourners Magazine, founding the New Creation Institute in Montana to address environmental concerns, and then directing the church and society work of the World Council of Churches. Along the way he was one of the founders of Christian Churches Together.
But his memoir is not a chronicle of these and other events of his life. It is built around four themes: the widening of his early evangelical consciousness, Christian ecumenism, his struggle to find an authentic devotional life, and his persistent interest in institutional leadership. These are the lenses through which he tells his life story. Each episode connects with one or more of these themes. At the same time, his story takes on the rhythm of breathing, alternating inward and outward movements. It’s as though he sees his life as an example of what one of his mentors, Elizabeth O’Connor, called the “Journey Inward, Journey Outward” (HarperCollins, 1975).
Granberg-Michaelson grew up in the atmosphere of Norwegian pietism, which in this country became an important part of the broader evangelical subculture. His grandfather Gundersen had an enormous influence both upon him and that evangelical world.
From an early age, though, there were always windows beyond the cozy embrace of that somewhat self-enclosed evangelical world, beginning with Roman Catholic and Jewish childhood friends. He describes an upbringing in the shadow of the bastion of evangelicalism, Wheaton College, where his family and church expected him to go to college. So his decision to attend Hope College in Michigan set off a bit of a family crisis. But Hope represented his entrance into denominational life and the Reformed world. Going on to Princeton Theological Seminary, he found his interest in politics stimulated by the ferment of the ‘60s. Rather than follow a traditional ministry path, he began his work on Sen. Hatfield’s staff. Those were years of seeking to find his way as a Christian, wanting to go deeper on the one hand and yet also connecting with the real issues of war and poverty. This led to his involvement with the Church of the Savior community in Washington and Sojourners.
It may be that Granberg-Michaelson’s lasting influence will be his passion for bringing Christians together. His ecumenical vision is much wider than that of the World Council. He has looked for tangible ways to include Roman Catholics, Evangelicals and Pentecostals in the conversation. The book begins and ends with reflections on his involvement with the World Pentecostal Congress in Stockholm, which he attended representing the Global Christian Forum.
JOSEPH DELAHUNT is pastor of First Baptist Church of New Haven, Conn.