Are American Evangelical Students Really Interested in the History of American Evangelicalism?

Boyer Hall

I am not in Dallas this week for the 2018 CCCU International Forum, but I have been following along via Twitter.  (Thanks to all of you who are tweeting from the conference!)

I was struck by a couple of tweets:

I really wish that Molly Worthen was right about this.  I really do.  But I just don’t see it.  With a few exceptions, I rarely encounter evangelical students (or students of any faith for that matter) who “crave a sense of knowing who they are….”  If there are students who are “hungry for a historical renaissance,” I have not met them yet.  I am sure that there are professors at other CCCU institutions who might be able to tell a different story.

I wrote about this at length in a May 2014 post after I learned that only a handful of students signed-up for a class I offered at Messiah College on the history of American evangelicalism.  The course had four regularly enrolled students and two auditors.  Here is how I would describe the students:

  • A female Catholic history major who knew nothing about evangelicalism but was intellectually curious.
  • A female non-traditional student and an employee of Messiah College who was interested in the topic.  (She was an auditor)
  • A male religion major who was basically there to criticize the evangelicalism of his childhood.  (He was also an auditor)
  • A male history major who was raised in evangelicalism but didn’t know it until he started recognizing some of the ideas we discussed.
  • A female history major who knew very little about evangelicalism.
  • A male history major who was a progressive Christian curious about American evangelicalism.

These were great students, and I enjoyed teaching them, but most of them were just there to fulfill a history requirement that fit their schedules.

I am sure there a lot of reasons why this course, which was capped at 25 students, was so under-enrolled, but I am guessing that lack of interest in the subject was at the top of the list.

I doubt many students will ever be interested in this subject at Messiah College.  Yes, we have A LOT of evangelical students, but we have very few professors in the humanities and liberal arts who self-identify as evangelicals or who might be interested in exploring evangelical identity with students.  This is just not how we assimilate our students into the life of the college.  Evangelical identity not a priority.  Sadly, we do a disservice to hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) of students from evangelical backgrounds.  They will learn very little about their heritage. For most of the students at the Christian college where I teach, a course on evangelicalism will be viewed as just another elective–a course that students think about in the same way that they think about a course on the American Revolution or world religions.