What is going on? There is a rise, a burgeoning rise, of young college students converting from low church evangelicalism, with its anemic, unhistorical ecclesiology, to the great liturgical traditions: Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Three students this semester have already told me they are considering converting. I have spoken with professors or chaplains at a few colleges and they are seeing the same thing. The numbers are not large, but the students themselves are often some of our brightest and best. So, what to say?
We’d like to hear from students (and others) who are considering this turn, from those who have already made the turn, and from chaplains and college professors who are witnessing the experience.
Paradoxically, I see this as part of the emerging movement. One of the themes of the emerging movement is made up of several threads: weariness with evangelical bickering, a yearning for liturgical form, and an awareness of the value of the ancient fathers of the Church. But instead of pursuing the vicious radical low church ecclesiology we see in some writers today, which is evangelicalism on steroids, these young students move out of evangelicalism with some emerging ideas and return to the ancient church traditions. (I trace some of this story in Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. In this book I cite the major collections of stories of conversion to liturgical traditions.)
Here’s how I see it, and I’d love to have a public and open conversation right here about this topic among those who are seeing this first hand. (So College profs and chaplains, let’s hear what you are seeing. You need not mention your school; you can. It’s going on all over the place.)
How do you explain it? Here is the beginning of my thoughts:
These kids come to college with:
1. No ecclesiology to speak of in their low-church evangelical experience.
2. Complete ignorance of the first 1500 years of the Church.
3. A chaotic postmodern culture in search of anchors.
4. Pastors who act like popes and read the Bible authoritatively with reckless disregard for anything prior to 1500.
5. Professors who each interprets the Bible for himself (or herself if they are lucky to have a woman reading the Bible).
6. Learning to read the Bible for themselves … again with little regard for anyone or any tradition.
And… then these students …
1. Land upon Ignatius and Irenaeus and Athanasius, each of whom materially shaped what we believe.
2. Are told by professors how important these great thinkers were.
3. They see the budding rise of early Catholic and Orthodox thinking in these writers.
4. Know that Nicea is not only a good set of ideas but something you better believe or you get kicked out.
In other words….
Everything in favor of thinking EO or the RCC just might be the way to go.
And I suspect they have friends, good solid mature spiritual friends, who are EO or RCC.
And a professor or two who teaches Aristotle or Thomistic thinking (behind RCC) or some good solid Platonism (behind EO).
The conversion of young low church evangelicals to liturgical traditions should hardly surprise us. What we should be doing is correcting our weaknesses by listening to those converting.