Don Everts and Doug Schaupp have written a new book based on their experiences doing campus ministry with college students in Colorado and California for the last twenty years. They describe the spiritual journeys of these students and how they have tried to help. Anyone who works with college students or wants to understand them better, will find this book illuminating and encouraging. See my full review below.
I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp (Paperback - May 30, 2008)
Must reading for those involved in Christian campus ministries, September 19, 2008
Don Everts and Doug Schaupp help the reader become sensitive to the typical stages college students move through when they become Christians.
This book would be particularly helpful for those who work with college students or want to better understand college students--as it describes the pressures, thought processes, and friendship dynamics of this age group.
It would also be helpful for those who ask the question, "Does anyone today convert to Christianity as a thinking adult?" Indeed they do. Everts and Schaupp try to find patterns in the journeys of the people they have observed moving through this process.
They identify Trusting a Christian, Becoming Curious, Opening Up to Change, Seeking After God, Entering the Kingdom and Living in the Kingdom as key "thresholds" that people move through.
The book is nice and concise (134 pages) and reads quickly. Everts and Schaupp are not trying to make an argument that these are the thresholds all Christians need to work through. Rather it is sociological or anthropological work--similar to the famous Kubler-Ross stages of loss (denial, anger, acceptance, etc.) or Christian Smith finding the phenomenon of "moralistic therapeutic deism" in teens.
Everts and Schaupp essentially share their experiences and then ask if this resonates with others. This is not to denigrate their experiences--they have done a significant amount of interviews and they are in as good a position as anyone with their experience in college ministry with InterVarsity to make these kind of observations. Does their model have explanatory power? I think it does.
If they are right that college students (and perhaps teenagers and adults as well--who knows?) that become Christians, move through these thresholds well, what are the implications for how college ministry and church ministry should change if they want to see more people become Christians? The unmissable point is that these students who have moved through these thresholds certainly did not do so because of one event or program. Someone needed to listen to them, give them advice, challenge them and encourage them. Though Everts and Schaupp sketch a process, they explode the idea that some specially designed program would be able to mass-produce followers of Jesus. This book is much more about how to do spiritual direction than how to do evangelistic programming.
The book does not contain much formal theological language. In my quick reading, I do not remember a reference for example to the Holy Spirit or to baptism. Their goal is not to reflect theologically on conversion. Similarly they do not engage developmental psychology or other sociological research and draw parallels between that research and their conclusions. An academic researcher would want to do interviews with a representative sample of people who became Christians in college to test Everts and Schaupp's tentative conclusions. [See update below].
One final note, the book has in its subtitle the controversial word "postmodern"--What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus. I would simply say that this word plays almost no role in the book. It is not a book that views postmodernity positively nor one that views postmodernity negatively. The book describes students at colleges in California and Colorado in the last twenty years--that is all the authors mean by "postmodern."
In conclusion, I would highly recommend the book as insightful, brief, hopeful and stimulating. College students will be loved better by people who read this book.
As far as other books that talk about conversion, see chapter five of the December 2008 release: Douglas Campbell, Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). See especially pages 200-211 for numerous bibliographic references and a good summary of recent sociological discussion of conversion. Much of the discussion by Campbell revolves around the insights of John Lofland and Rodney Stark. The discussion begins with these citations.
John Lofland and Rodney Stark, "Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion from a Deviant Perspective," American Sociological Review 30 (1965): 862-75; and Lofland, "Becoming a World-Saver Revisited," American Behavioral Scientist 20 (1977): 805-18 and Lorne L. Dawson, "Who Joins New Religious Movements and Why: Twenty Years of Research and What Have We Learned?" in Cults and New Religious Movements: A Reader (Blackwell Readings in Religion) ed. Lorne L. Dawson (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 116-30.
According to Campbell,
Lofland and Stark hypothesized that converts possessed three “predisposing conditions”: acutely felt tension or deprivation, a religious problem-solving perspective, and an overall self-definition as a religious seeker. Four further conditions—“situational contingencies”—depended upon a concrete encounter with a cult: a self-perceived “turning point” (near the time of the encounter), a strong affective bond with one or more cult members, reduced or eliminated extra-cult attachments, and further intensive interaction with other cult members. An individual who met these four further conditions experienced full-fledged conversion and became a “deployable agent” of the new cult (Douglas Campbell, Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 200-201.
I cite Campbell's work to (1) highlight his book and (2) to note that Everts and Schaupp are not alone in their interest in conversion; there are theologians like Campbell and sociologists like Lofland and Stark exploring similar questions.
Campbell notes that young and educated people are particularly likely to convert and that rational as well as situational factors are involved--consistent in some respects with the observations of Everts and Schaupp.
Christian Smith, Getting a Life: The challenge of emerging adulthood in Books & Culture, November/December 2007. (Available online).
Notre Dame sociologist Smith (and attender of Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church where he along with Campbell and I attend) overviews recent sociological, anthropological, and psychological studies of young adults.