Clayton Cramer links to an excellent article in the Boston Globe that discusses the return of evangelical Christians to liberal colleges in New England. I've written about growing conservatism among Millennials before, and this lengthy article was profoundly encouraging to me in a lot of ways. I suggest you take the time to read the whole thing, but let me quote a few excerpts.
"When I came to MIT, I was expecting it to be full of nerds -- people who don't really put together science and religion," says Benjamin Brooks, a senior from Paterson, New Jersey, who belongs to the MIT chapter of the evangelical group Chi Alpha. "I was really surprised -- and still am -- by the volume of Christian fellowship here."I've been to some of the Christian groups at UCLA, and the author's description would fit them perfectly as well. Many evangelical churches are modifying their methods to attract younger crowds... but in many cases the doctrine is kept purely Biblical.
It's the same on campuses across the Boston area. At Harvard University, "there are probably more evangelicals than at any time since the 17th century," says the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, religious historian and minister of the university's Memorial Church, who arrived on campus in 1970. "And I don't think I have ever seen a wider range of Christian fellowship activity." ...
Park Street is the flagship church for college evangelicals from about 20 campuses in the Boston area. Ten years ago, the church's traditional Sunday night service was attracting only 40 people and was about to be canceled. Church leaders instead decided to refashion it to suit college students and partnered with Campus Crusade and InterVarsity. These days, more than 1,000 students show up at Park Street most Sunday evenings. Church leaders have had to expand to two services.
It's a young show for a young crowd. The band -- electric and acoustic guitarists, drummer, keyboard player, tambourine-shaking lead singers -- is fanned out in front of the altar. The college students in the pews -- women in sundresses and jeans, guys sporting fresh buzz cuts and puka-shell chokers -- clap and sway to the music. Lyrics, superimposed on images of cliffs and forests, flash on a screen behind the band, PowerPoint style. "You make me move, Jesus/Every breath I take, I breathe in You!"
Associate minister Daniel Harrell, dressed in green khakis and a yellow Izod shirt, stands up to deliver his sermon. His easy sense of humor and rounded North Carolina accent make for a relaxing environment. Still, there can be no soft-peddling the central doctrines of this brand of Christianity. Evangelicals believe the Bible should be interpreted literally and relied on uniformly for answers to questions of faith and personal behavior. Premarital sex? Getting drunk? Homosexuality? All forbidden and not open to debate. While peaceful coexistence with other religions is preached, so is the message that eternal salvation is open only to those who line up behind them and Jesus Christ.There are a few testimonials from students that brought tears to my eyes.
Fred Lee is a second-year doctoral student in electrical engineering at MIT. He wears big glasses and a bigger, near permanent grin. He came to MIT with a predisposition against organized religion, in favor of science. "My parents were very against religion," he says, "especially my dad."While our parents' generation constantly demands the separation of church and everything, us Millennials often see things in a different light.
Yet the undergraduate years are often when the Big Questions move to the forefront. And so it was with Lee. He became friends with some Christians on campus, and they got into discussions about faith and life. When they invited him to join their fellowship group, he resisted. Then one day in his junior year, a friend handed him a book called The Case for Christ, a defense of Christianity by former Chicago Tribune investigative journalist Lee Strobel. The book persuaded him that the Bible is true. Lee joined a fellowship and called his mom. "I told her, 'I've become a Christian. But please don't tell Dad.' " (His father eventually came around.)
How has being reborn changed Fred Lee? He says he feels God at work in his relationships and in his answered prayers, even "in the science I study at MIT." This connection with Christ has given Lee new friends, new purpose, and new confidence. He successfully auditioned for MIT's Christian a cappella group. "I would never be randomly singing or even think about singing, much less in a group, before I was a Christian," he says. "After discovering Jesus, I wanted to sing all the time."
"The central message is: Christianity impacts your entire life, from how you relate with your family to the classes you choose," says 30-year-old Dakota Pippins, who joined the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship as an undergraduate and eventually dropped his high-tech career aspirations in favor of pursuing a Harvard Divinity School degree and joining the staff of InterVarsity. "That means giving up church compartmentalization, where you go to church on Sunday and then have the rest of your life. That's not attractive to college students. With everything you can spend your time doing on campus, if it's going to be worth giving an hour a week to, it's got to be worth a whole lot more."It goes without saying that the future of America -- and the world -- two decades from now will be guided by my generation, and I've got a feeling it's going to be quite different than our parents expect.