How A Charismatic Found His Way To A Reformed Presbyterian College
Now that’s a title you don’t read very often—especially these two subsets of Christianity comingling in one believer’s life.
Before I go any further, this isn’t a post about the theological divides between Reformed Theology and Charismatic Theology. I’m aware of them. Additionally, the post doesn’t intend to sway readers one way or another. Having grown up with a mother and father who came to know Christ through the Charismatic Renewal in the 1970s and 80s, I have seen how attending to the spiritual gifts have cultivated a healthy place in my own walk of faith.
I also recognize that there have been abuses of the spiritual gifts within the Charismatic/Pentecostal circles. Dr. Michael L. Brown, a leader in the Charismatic movement, as well as a Messianic Jew, has recently published, Playing With Holy Fire: A Wake-Up Call to the Charismatic/Pentecostal Church, which gives an honest consideration of these issues (another great work of his is Authentic Fire).
I’ve witnessed the damages done. On the other hand, occasion after occasion, I’ve seen mature leaders operate with integrity in regard to spiritual gifts, grounded in Scripture and mindful that, above all else, Christ is King, no matter the denomination.
Wherever you stand, I hope you find this post encouraging. Experience isn’t everything, but there’s a story in where I’ve been and who I’ve met. And that story is about how I found myself at Geneva College, a Christian liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, 31 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is the only undergraduate school in the U.S. affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.
One Step Behind
Curiously, I didn’t begin my college experience at Geneva, though it was on my list of prospective schools. At the time, the finances didn’t line up, and another small liberal arts school, the one I ended up enrolling in, provided a sizeable scholarship.
I started my freshman year in this other college, which I knew was affiliated with a denomination that leaned more theologically liberal, but I figured the Christian worldview would at least get a fair hearing.
An English Literature major, I was steeped in the world of literary criticism and noticed a trend in the curriculum I studied. It was a lot of cultural Marxism, dreary nihilism, and moral relativism packaged together.
Understanding that college is a marketplace of ideas, I didn’t bang my fists or walk out of class. Everyone needs competing perspectives and free-thinking debate in their life, so I committed myself to being receptive and tasting from the well.
Yet, throughout the first two semesters of my freshman year, I observed a concerning tendency in the curriculum and a large portion of the professors. A kind of groupthink existed, where classrooms and curriculum got heavily politicized, and leftist politics undergirded lectures.
I don’t write that to vilify people who are left-of-center in their politics, but I was quietly frustrated that, if you were either a Bible-believing Christian or politically conservative—both of which I happen to be (though I don’t mean to equate the two on equal stature)—your ideas oftentimes got mocked in the classroom. The stories piled up for me after two semesters, where professors led discussions with students that turned more into a comedy roast than a free-thinking exchange.
I can remember a professor in my Western Civilization class spending portions of lectures telling us that the U.S. had no need for a Second Amendment, or that the Bible was a rip off of other ancient near east religions. His word was the final word, and I thought it was strange that personality could silence a class on complex, intricate issues like the ones he brought up tangentially.
In a writing class, I penned a fictional story about a pro-abortion writer having a change of heart and adopting a pro-life stance. After reading the draft, my professor told me that, if I wrote this kind of story in upper-level English classes, other faculty may not permit it to be written. Now, as a freshman, my writing was clumsy, but that story didn’t contain anything vitriolic or condemning, so I was struck by my professors’ comments. To her credit, this professor was completely fine with me writing a pro-life story; her warning was more out of embarrassment than any kind of reprimand. What happened to diversity of opinion? I thought to myself.
Again, I didn’t have meltdowns in class, run for a safe space, or start a protest because the curriculum and professors didn’t share my perspective. I kept quiet, learned the lessons, and tried to be generous when I raised a dissenting opinion.
What did frustrate me that I was shelling out thousands of dollars a year to get an education that didn’t edify me spiritually or catalyze me as a writer when it came to mastering the technical aspects.
I had to make a decision. I could eat up three more years of the same, which I was prepared to do because the thought of transferring made me feel disloyal. I don’t want to misrepresent my experience. I didn’t get bullied or harassed for my ideas. In fact, I had made solid friends and did encounter professors who exemplified the ideal of college as a marketplace of ideas.
But there was still that unsettling feeling that remained—a desire to get fed from a place that gives Biblical Christianity a roster position. Also, since I was dumping money into my education like any other student, I wanted a return on my investment.
So, following my freshman year, I transferred to Geneva College in 2016. Now heading into my senior year next fall, I can attest that I found the marketplace of ideas I longed for.
Maybe my perception is skewed due to prior experience, but I’d contend that Geneva does a commendable job ministering to the wide spectrum of academic, denominational, and political perspectives. No institution is perfect, but I’ve had numerous professors who, if you stacked them side-by-side, would fall all along divergent denominations, political parties, and cultural backgrounds. The same goes for a student body.
If you know anything about the Reformed tradition and the Charismatic renewal, then you’re informed that the two do business quite…differently.
So, the question is, why would I choose Geneva?
What I admire most about Geneva is that it sets the tone in its stance on doctrine. The required Bible classes and chapel services have given me the most holistic instruction on creation-fall-redemption-consummation that I have ever received. That has brought me much comfort, especially since the Reformed tradition stresses the sovereignty of God and his overarching plan for creation.
Additionally, the cohesive approach edifies how Christians should approach the task of redeeming culture. We still study the same perspectives and philosophies as I did at the other college I attended, but it’s in tandem with a Biblical outlook. And that’s what I was starved for. It’s not the I wanted to muffle contesting worldviews, but rather, I needed a slot for a Scripture-based approached alongside them.Its humanities courses are first rate in that regard. As a result, Geneva’s given me the tools to discern with Christ-centered approach.
Consequently, I have confidence that Geneva will stand for Christ, for the Word, and for His people, regardless of whether the academic or cultural winds will shift.
Before coming to Geneva, I knew nothing about how the Reformed Presbyterian Church structured their worship. In chapel each week, we sing only the Psalms, because they are Scripture and include just about every situation that a Christian will face during his or her lifetime. They reference Christ, and speak to the themes of creation-fall-redemption.
If you read this far, you’re probably thinking, “How did that sit with you, especially considering your denominational tradition?”
My home church is part of the Assemblies of God, which is one of the larger Pentecostal denominations in the U.S. (There’s lot of overlap between Pentecostals and Charismatics, so the differences aren’t always neatly defined). I’ll admit, I’m used to a worship style that mixes contemporary worship music and hymns, along with instrumentation.
But I found singing the Psalms a vivid experience. You can’t go wrong with singing scripture, and there’s just something about going acapella with the whole school. The Holy Spirit’s there, and I consider it one of the few sacred moments I have during the week.
It’s also a picture of the church, which grasps beyond experience and theological minutiae, drawing us toward Christ and His Gospel.
If you hear the story of another Geneva student’s experience, you may get a completely different autobiography. I don’t intend mine to be representative of any other student.
But I’m not the only one who comes from the Charismatic perspective, and you’ll find dozens and dozens of different denominations represented. And I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the most profound, warm, and accommodating fellow students, not to mention the superb quality of the professors, who explicitly model their faith.
So thank you, Geneva College, for giving this Charismatic a slot on its solid ground, and no matter the distinctions, continually reminding me of Pro Christo et Patria. For Christ and Country.
Author’s Note: This post is the opinion of the author himself and does not claim to speak for the view of Geneva College or its administration.