Last week I wondered why so many students at the school where I teach seem to lack interest in the history of American evangelicalism. Read that post here. Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz appears to agree with me.
As someone who has taught history in a CCCU school for fifteen years, I’m going to join John in being skeptical of the desire of my students to better understand the history of American evangelicalism. Not only for the reasons that John shared at his blog, but because so few of my students identify with evangelicalism. We draw a lot of conservative Lutherans and a few Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians, plus megachurch kids who don’t even realize that they’re associated with the Baptist denomination that sponsors Bethel — let alone some larger movement called “evangelicalism.”
This is a great point. Like Bethel University, Messiah College also has many non-evangelical students. But the majority of our students, I would argue, come from evangelical backgrounds.
Gerhz then adds some words of optimism:
Now, if you asked my incoming students what “think they seek more than anything” from their Christian college experience, most would answer, “a job.” (Or maybe, “a spouse.”) But that’s because that’s what they’ve been trained to say — by our own marketing and recruitment folks as much as by their parents and the media.
But if you peel back such anxieties, I’ve often found a deeper longing, much more like what Worthen describes. And church history can help to satisfy that desire.
I won’t pretend that most Bethel students are thrilled that they’re required to take the multidisciplinary church history course that I coordinate and help teach: Christianity and Western Culture. I’m sure most are happy just to be done with a course as demanding as CWC.
But at some point in every semester it’s taught, I’m sure every CWC student experiences the sensation of glimpsing herself in the distant mirror of church history. She hears a lecture or reads a primary source and recognizes that the way she thinks about God, about herself, about America and the world, and about justice, beauty, and the good life is rooted in history. That her Christian story is bound up with earlier Christian stories.
That, for better and worse, who she is as a follower of Christ has been shaped by the past. For she comes to see that she is not alone in time, but a part of a centuries-old community of faith that is composed of a great cloud of witnesses, living and dead. She finds kinship with what one of my colleagues yesterday called a “lineage of sojourners” (in an opening reflection on Psalm 39:12).
Read the entire piece here. “Lineage of sojourners.” I like that.