You came be too careful what you say to the press. The previous day I had been interviewed by an Oslo daily and had even had my picture taken. It must have gone to my head and led to some unguarded language, for the accusing headline duly appeared: EVANGELICAL VISITOR OPEN TO OTHER POINTS OF VIEW. Methought how fortunate it was that few of my friends knew Norwegian; my evident lapse into a frightful tolerance might never be known Less selfish thoughts finally prevailed: let this, then, be an awful warning to posterity and all others interested.

Norway I found full of surprises. Here Honest to God is regarded as a curiosity piece and nothing more. The theological professors with whom I met were genuinely astonished to hear that John Robinson’s book had been taken seriously in Britain and had even made some impact in America. Let it not be imagined that this reflects either ignorance or obscurantism: Norwegians know their German theology. Norway has, moreover, experienced all the strains, controversies, and renewals so common elsewhere. Talks with various professors and church leaders elicited expressions of keen disappointment that the 1963 Lutheran World Federation congress in Helsinki had failed to produce a popular statement on the meaning for today of justification by faith.

A most significant development in Norwegian church history occurred at about the turn of the century when three liberal professors were appointed to the university theological faculty founded in 1811. Matters came to a head when the chair of systematic theology became vacant in 1903. Battle raged over this key post, culminating in 1906 with the appointment of another liberal. As a result one of the evangelical professors resigned, and in 1908 there was founded the Free Faculty of Theology (Menighetsfakultetet; literally, The Congregation’s Faculty). Here it was that Ole Hallesby, Ph.D. of Erlangen, taught from 1909 and wrote his famous evangelical works. Despite the absence of any state subsidy, but supported by voluntary gifts from the congregations, this seminary has gone from strength to strength until now, with more than 400 students, it is training 80 per cent of Norway’s theological students.

I found the church generally more conservative in Norway than in any of the other four northern lands. This was seen not least during the German occupation in 1940 when Bishop Berggrav called for unity in recognition that “it is the old unabridged Gospel which alone can save our people.” The bishops openly condemned German and Quisling outrages and attempts to make teachers and pupils join Nazi organizations. Finding their position intolerable, all seven bishops resigned as civil servants. Deans refused to be appointed to the vacant bishoprics, and 787 of 858 clergymen broke with the regime, refusing to accept salary but continuing to hold services and minister to their parishes. Scores were arrested or interned, but others carried on, sometimes amid great hardship.

The king is head of the Norwegian church and is required to profess, maintain, and protect the national polity. Norway has had surprisingly few problems in reconciling spiritual and temporal authority.

To God give all glory, to king his tax yield;

Remember that meadow and hillock and field

You have from your God and your monarch.

Although they have nearly 900 missionaries working abroad, none of the country’s twenty-three missionary societies is affiliated with the WCC; the latter is regarded as having an unsatisfactory attitude to the Bible as the Word of God. Another feature of missionary activity is its traditional link with a strong lay movement.

God is far from being nudged out of the curriculum in Norwegian schools. “The Evangelical Lutheran religion shall remain the public religion of the State,” says Article 2 of the Constitution. So close, indeed, is the bond between church and education that one government ministry deals with both areas. There is no discrimination against those who are not members of the state church, but as someone suggested, “An outspoken atheist would probably not make a very good living selling brushes at doors in south Norway’s ‘Bible Belt.’ ” (In 1952 a court case there centered around a teacher who had doubted Methuselah’s age.)

Pietism is still strong in Norway, as in Finland (the two northern lands most directly involved in World War II), but it is no longer vulnerable to the charge of “lacking in ethical seriousness” brought against it by Hans Nielsen Hauge (born 1771), who made personal Christianity come alive for so many of his fellows. Hauge was imprisoned for several years for violations of the 1741 Conventicle Act against lay preachers, repeal of which was long overdue. “If half-educated people can freely write against God’s Word for millions,” complained the Bishop of Bergen at that time, referring to the recent introduction of freedom of the press, “then surely also uneducated people who love God’s Word must be allowed to preach it freely.…” Harassed and persecuted as he was, Hauge toward the end of his life warned his followers against separatism and disorder, which strong confessionalism characterized also the Johnsonian revival of a century ago. Perhaps this explains why no substantial free church has ever existed in Norway, where the state church claims 96 per cent of the people. The evangelical still claims on good historical grounds to be the loyalist in his denomination at a time when the new Athenians (if I may coin the phrase) are restlessly casting around for theological novelty.

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Novelty was in evidence also some years ago when missionaries from Utah began to microphotograph all the church books in the country for ancestor-tracing purposes. Church people objected to such records’ falling into the hands of alien religionists. The government generally tended toward a policy of non-interference but showed itself opportunistic by obtaining a copy of all films for its archives—a project previously impossible because of lack of funds.

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