Saturday, March 5, 2016

Reverand John Edgren (1839-1908): Founder of Bethel University

Reverand John Edgren
John Alexis Edgren was a Swedish-American Baptist Minister. Edgren began what eventually evolved into Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Born in Varmland, Sweden, in 1839, Edgren received a fine education in Karlstad. At an early age, he became a seaman and by the time he was 20 years old, he had achieved the rank of captain. During a terrible storm on a voyage to America, Edgren turned his life over to Christ. He was baptized in 1858 at the Mariner’s Baptist Church in New York City.

He offered his services to the Union Navy in the American Civil War and was honored by the Union for his service and bravery.

Edgren took theological training at Princeton Seminary and the Baptist Theological Seminary in Hamilton, N.Y., before returning to Sweden as a missionary. He taught at Bethel Seminary in Stockholm, and served as a pastor in churches in Uppsala and Göteborg. His wife’s poor health prompted a move back to the United States.

Called to serve as the pastor of the First Swedish Baptist Church in Chicago in 1871, he immediately advertised the beginning of a Swedish Baptist Seminary, which soon became the Swedish department of the Baptist Union Theological Seminary. He completed academic work at the Baptist Union Seminary for his B.D. degree and was granted a D.D. by that school in 1883. At first, Edgren was the sole instructor and administrator of the new seminary. The school struggled with inadequate budgets and few students. However, in five years, all the Swedish state conferences had voted subsidies for the school and the American Baptists were assisting in finding financial supporters. By 1879, the Swedish Baptist Conference had established a school board. At the end of the first 10 years, the student body numbered 28 students, with more than 50 graduates serving churches in the rapidly growing Swedish Baptist Conference. The school is now known as Bethel University.

Bethel University in St. Paul, MN
The relationship between Edgren and the Baptist Union Theological Seminary was not an easy one and he took issue with Christians becoming part of secret societies such as the Free Masons. In 1884, the Swedish Conference voted to establish a seminary in Minnesota, and Edgren moved his students to St. Paul. The seminary became known as the Swedish-American Bible Seminary and was housed in First Baptist Church in St. Paul (now Trinity Baptist).

He painted wonderful oil pictures as an avocation. He mastered 32 languages and was consulted by European scholars on the translations of ancient manuscripts. He also founded a Swedish language paper called Zions Waktare, (The Watchman of Zion), which marked the beginning of a Baptist denominational press.

He moved to California to pursue literary pursuits and became the author of books on many theological and Biblical subjects. He died at his home in Oakland from heart disease. 

Sources: New York Tribune, Bethel University, Wikipedia

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