This past week I finished reading Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. He presents the reasons why this movement has experienced a resurgence, and why, in particular, it has had appeal among younger people.
As Hansen told his own story, he included a bit of biographical information that might be of interest to United Methodists. Hansen writes:
I had been a Christian for about two and half years when I arrived in Evanston, Illinois, in 1999 to study journalism at Northwestern University. During my last two years in high school I had helped lead United Methodist Youth Fellowship at my family's small church in rural South Dakota. The denomination even paid for me to fly to Los Angeles to attend a conference for youth considering full time ministry.
All the while, my knowledge of Scripture grew very little. Sin plagued me with guilt, and I saw little victory over temptation. . . Yet I knew without a doubt that I had been saved. I recalled with joy the moment my resistance fell and I trusted Christ to forgive me of my sins. I knew God gave his church the Bible so that we might know about Jesus and learn the story of salvation. I actively shared with unbelieving friends and family about the joy God had given me.
Even before I enrolled, I confirmed that Campus Crusade for Christ ran a chapter at Northwestern. I harbored no false expectations about the climate for Christians at this school that long ago ditched its Methodist roots. I hoped Crusade would help me grow in faith and introduce me to other students trying to follow Christ. Crusade did that--and much, much more.
Our campus director studied for his Master of Divinity degree up the road at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Most Crusade students attended a nearby Evangelical Free church, pastored by a Trinity grad. My first morning in church, the pastor rocked my Methodist sensibilities. It wasn't so much that the sermon's content shocked me. Rather, I was surprised the sermon contained any content at all. On top of that, the pastor even raised his voice a few times and preached for more than thirty minutes. That kind of behavior gets you fired by Midwestern Methodists.
I had never heard of Calvinism until a Crusade friend, also a Methodist, told me she believed that God predestines salvation. Before long that's what I believed too. My weekly Bible study with fellow freshmen worked through Romans. An older student took me to hear R.C. Sproul preach.
I didn't go looking for Reformed theology. But Reformed theology found me. Beginning college as I did with an almost blank slate, Calvinists impressed me with their knowledge of Scripture and devotion to theological depth. Calvinism made the best sense of what Scripture teaches about salvation. None of this theology seemed to dampen my friends' passion to evangelize the campus and consider serving as missionaries after graduation. As I began teaching Bible studies and mentoring younger students, we discussed Calvinism.
I'd temper Hansen's presentation with a tale from my own experience: I know that in my early to late twenties, many of my questions took the form of, "Why have I not been taught this before?" I grew up in a healthy church environment, and upon reflection, found that it is more likely that I was not ready developmentally to receive all that I was being taught within my church community, rather than simply not being taught at all. This does not mean that Hansen's church did not fail him (as he seems to suggest), but in my experience, we tend to frame things a certain way autobiographically, particularly when we have moved from one place to another. No matter where we are headed, we like to portray our stories as moving us toward the Celestial City.
I offer this story as something for my United Methodist readers to chew on, largely because this tale continues to be true. I have met enough United Methodist students to know there is a lack of biblical and theological knowledge. I have also worked with enough United Methodist students to know that there is a hunger for doctrinal and biblical teaching that is personally challenging and intellectually stimulating. Calvinism is not the only theological system that can be taught with passion.