One of the clearest depictions I’ve ever read of my Christian liberal arts college, ca. 1980, is Joseph Bayly’s story “Ceiling Zero.” It’s the sequel to “I Saw Gooley Fly,” which can be found in a compilation called A Voice in the Wilderness. In these stories, Herb Gooley can’t do much of anything right – but he’s the only one on campus who flies.
When I was in college, we talked about supernatural living but lived naturally. On-fire freshmen cooled within a year or two (or transferred). We sang about the power of God in chapel, while the editor of the newspaper spent his Friday nights in gay bars and a girl in a nearby dorm made a summertime visit to an abortion clinic.
Evangelicals are proud of their belief in the Bible, so I thought correct belief was the key to Christianity. I certainly knew that the liberal churches I came from didn’t believe the Bible. But only recently have I realized that commitment to the Bible per se was not the issue in the great moves of God. Liberalism never captured the hearts of millions until this century perhaps. An orthodox Christian world view was assumed.
If, in the depths of their spiritual crises, Martin Luther, John Bunyan or John Wesley had answered a routine altar call in an evangelical church, the altar counselor wouldn’t have known what to say. These men already believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. They already knew He shed His blood to save them. Bunyan and Wesley would have been given some Scriptures on assurance of salvation and sent away — in an unregenerate state!
As a Christian college student, I spoke on the campus radio and in chapel, wrote for the newspaper and led ministries, (because I believed the right things) but I never had an experience with God of the sort that was expected as a bare minimum in 17th century English Nonconformist churches or 19th century Methodist churches — or at my own college not too many years ago. And I’m not sure very many of my fellow students had either.
Lack of belief is still a challenge for many students, I’m sure, but is lack of experience still a greater one? Students are learning to walk right, but can any of them fly?