Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac, we remember Ole Hallesby and his impact on the Norwegian Church.

It is the 22nd of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


A hybrid show today- I received an email just last week from Mike in Ossian, Iowa- he wrote:

“Hey Dan,

Have you ever produced a piece about O. Hallesby? His devotional, God’s Word for Today is an all time favorite of my wife and mine.”

I love emails like this- I often see if we did a show or not and then make a note of the person and check their dates. And guess what? Hallesby just happened to have died on this day in 1961.

So- Mike from Ossian- (Osh-ain) has a population of 802- wowza! And I see from your city website that you are close to both the house Antonin Dvorak spent his summer in and the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So- Ole Hallesby is a fascinating character emblematic of the division in the Norwegian church in the last century. He was born in 1879, one of 8 children born to farming parents. His father was also an assistant pastor at their local parish- one nurtured in the tradition of Hans Nielsen Hauge- a revivalist, entrepreneur, and pietist.

Hallesby went off to the University of Norway to receive his bachelor's in 1903- he had struggled in school with the modernism of his professors (typically anti-supernatural), and this led to a kind of “re-conversion” moment when he adopted the faith of his father and the Pietist tradition. He would first work as an itinerant preacher in the style of Hauge before being invited to be the chair of Theology at the newly formed Free Faculty of Theology- a school set up as a conservative response to the State University. He would also serve as the chairman of the Norwegian Lutheran Home Mission. A “Home Mission” was a domestic mission society- something akin to a “parachurch ministry” today.

During the NAZI occupation, Hallesby used his platform as a popular preacher to publicly condemn the NAZI- he was arrested. He spent the years 1943 to 1945 in a concentration camp in Oslo.

As the voice of a Christianity critical to the state, he was the target of various smear campaigns. But the controversy that dogged him the most was on account of a sermon he gave on state radio in 1953. The story made its way to America in the pages of Time Magazine that reported on the sermon in which he enraged some listeners by saying: “If you are not a believer, be careful! If you were to collapse and die suddenly, you would crash straight into Hell!”

His longtime theological opponent- Bishop Kristian Schjelderup, publicly condemned him, and others for what they believed was too strong a statement to be made over state-controlled radio. Time magazine goes on to note that in the aftermath of this sermon, Hallesby “was convicted of tax fraud over a period of at least ten years. He resigned his presidency of the Lutheran Inner Mission Society, stopped preaching, canceled a lecture tour.”

We see in this controversy the seeds of the de-coupling of the Norwegian state and State Church, a process that only legally occurred in 2017. Hallesby would be an icon for the movement that wanted to return to Norway’s Haugean past- pious and industrious.

Hallesby would become known outside of Norway not so much for his controversies but for his works translated into English and other languages. This includes the devotional that Mike wrote to me, “God’s Word For Today,” as well as his book on prayer- titled “Prayer.” It is a classic of 20th-century devotional literature. He also wrote “Why I Am A Christian” with the subtitle “A word to honest doubters.” It reads like both a personal testimony and apologetic text in the vein of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (but written by a Lutheran pietist rather than an Oxford Don). He also published a collection of his popular lectures under the title of “The Christian Life In Light of the Cross”- the title page reads: “ I am enjoying the unmerited privilege of living my life in light of the cross. It is my desire that I may see everything that I experience in that light” he concludes that this work might “comfort others with the comfort wherewith I myself have been comforted.”

Ole Hallesby would die on this, the 22nd of November in 1961- born 1879 he was 82 years old.


The last word for today comes from Hallesby- from his book on prayer.

“The work of praying is prerequisite to all other work in the kingdom of God, for the simple reason that it is by prayer that we couple the powers of heaven to our helplessness, the powers which can turn water into wine and remove mountains in our own life and in the lives of others, the powers which can awaken those who sleep in sin and raise up the dead, the powers which can capture strongholds and make the impossible possible.”


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who could eat his own weight in Gamalost- a Norwegian sour cheese aged with a mold rub- He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who has only been punched in the face once- in 7th grade, but by a small Norwegian boy called Hans. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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