My decision to study and teach history was stimulated in part by reading Francis Schaeffer’s writings while I was an undergraduate at Texas Christian University in the late 1970s. Schaeffer argued that Christianity was still an intellectually viable worldview at a time when Christian influence was waning and almost extinct in the academic world. Though I did not agree with all of Schaeffer’s interpretations, his excursions into the historical roots of modern thought piqued my interest in the history of ideas. Ultimately this led me’through some twists and turns’to study modern European intellectual history in graduate school.
But how did I come to the point of even reading Schaeffer in the first place? I had been raised in a devout Lutheran family, and before high school I had attended Lutheran schools. However, as a teenager in the early 1970s, I rebelled against my religious upbringing. I simply didn’t find fulfillment in going to church, which I considered much too stuffy and formal. I preferred hard, driving rock music, not organ music and choirs.
During this tumultuous time’both in my personal life and in our society’I still believed that a God existed. I had a deep love of nature, and I recognized the absurdity of believing that the complexities of nature could have arisen by chance. I still believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, because I knew that the historical evidence for it was overwhelming. But somehow, I was still a rebel in my heart, hating the Establishment, thinking egoistically that if I only had the chance, I could straighten out this irrational, materialistic, power-hungry society. I couldn’t even live in peace with my parents, but I thought I could solve the problems of the whole world.
Like many other young idealists in the Sixties and Seventies, I came to realize that I was missing something in life. I wanted to know the meaning and purpose of life, and what I was filling my life with’rock music, TV, and sports’didn’t fill the void. Nor did social or political causes, no matter how idealistic.
At age sixteen (in 1974), in the midst of this searching, my best friend, Stan Dunham, invited me to go with him on Friday evening to a Christian meeting. Little did I know how my life would change as a result of my experience there. Growing up in a formal, liturgical church, I had never seen anything quite like this meeting. About fifty mostly young people gathered in a large basement, sitting on the carpeted floor. Several guitarists began to lead in joyful singing of Christian songs, many of them with lyrics straight out of the Bible, while everyone clapped the rhythm. Sometimes between songs various people at the meeting would spontaneously speak up, telling about how God had answered their prayers or had spoken to them.
Though I had heard a lot about believing in Jesus as a child, I had always thought that God was somewhere far off in the cosmos. Now I came to understand that I could have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and I embraced this opportunity. My life changed radically from that point on. I began reading the Bible daily and it came alive to me, transforming my life. My rebellion and contempt for others dissipated, replaced by love and concern.
I have never regretted my decision to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost. Not only have I discovered again and again that Christianity is true, but I have always found my relationship with Jesus fulfilling in every other way, bringing me love, joy, peace, and self-control.