“She recently converted to Christianity.”
That is the simple, direct way Wikipedia concludes the entry for Molly Worthen. Before that, the editors briefly state other facts: that she is an assistant professor of American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; that her undergraduate and graduate studies were at Yale University, culminating in a PhD degree in 2011.
She was raised in a suburb of Chicago. She has written two books, one on the history of Evangelical Christianity in America since 1945. She writes for some elite publications, including the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News.
That’s all, except this: “She recently converted to Christianity.”
There is a footnote on that last statement, directing the curious to a video interview conducted by Collin Hansen and sponsored by the podcast of The Gospel Coalition.
That sponsorship is the first clue to the fuller understanding of what happened and when and why.
Collin Hansen is the editor in chief for The Gospel Coalition, which was founded in 2005 by theologian D. A. Carson and pastor Tim Keller, who until recently was pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City. Hansen is also executive director of the Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, recently launched and named for Tim Keller.
The online documents describing these various organizations do not fully disclose what most people know; namely, that The Gospel Coalition and the Keller Center are staunch adherents to the New Reformed Movement, pushing back against what they see as liberalism and advocating strict adherence to creeds and confessions of what the rest of us would call Fundamentalism, mostly of the Reformed sort. Their comrades in the cause include Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary, John McArthur of The Master’s Seminary, Timothy George of Beeson Seminary, and John Piper of Bethlehem College and Seminary.
Now these men have a woman to deal with. Molly Worthen.
Molly may or may not know what she is getting into, and her journey will be of interest to many, including myself. I listened to the 94-minute video conversation with the aforementioned Collin Hansen, host the podcast called Gospelbound. It took place on May 9, 2023.
Who does not like a good conversion story?
I have collected and treasured many, from Paul of Tarsus of New Testament fame to Augustine of Hippo a few centuries later. In modern times, the conversions of Thomas Merton, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Colson were particularly influential to my own spiritual journey.
I had no conversion. I invoke the words used to describe Paul’s young associate Timothy who “shared the faith that first filled your grandmother and your mother.” I would add, “grandfather, father, aunts, and uncles” to that rollcall of those before me in the faith. I was born into it, embraced it as a child, then again as an adolescent, and finally, many times as an adult. I was nurtured into Christ, and for this I am grateful.
Molly has a preamble to her salvation. In the interview, she describes her baptism in the Episcopal Church in New Haven, while still a student at Yale. She discounts that as meaningless, but I am not so sure; just as I am not quick to dismiss the infant baptism and childhood formation into faith of C. S. Lewis, years before his famous sidecar conversion while a scholar at Oxford.
Molly read Lewis when first she became aware of her serious search for answers. She read his space trilogy, and the heavy works of Anglican theologian N. T. Wright, and the winsome book by none other than Tim Keller, Reason for God. Her description of all this searching is winsome, even charming, and thoroughly compelling. It will help others, I predict.
Her coach through all this searching, during the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-two, was J. D. Greear, pastor of the Evangelical multi-campus, mega-church near the campus of the University of North Carolina where so many of Molly’s students get their religion. They call it The Summit. It was Greear who, after hearing her pray the sinners prayer, put her all the way under and up dripping wet. Last August.
Molly is swimming against the current, against several currents. University faculties are not famous for their culture of Christian faith and practice (but it is not as barren as many assume). She will have much more to say (and write) as she attaches her new Christian identity onto her role as a tenured professor at a major university.
But as she joins the ranks of Southern Baptists, she is swimming against another strong current. People by the hundreds of thousands are leaving that denomination, just as they are leaving most other Christian communities. It will be interesting to see how she reacts to a wider fellowship that has trouble confessing its own sins and listening to the wisdom of its own women.
I rejoice at any and every conversion, and I will seek an opportunity to talk with Molly in The Meetinghouse. Converts are welcome here, those moving into Evangelical life and those moving out, those moving into Catholicism and those leaving it behind.
I welcome all comers. I am always curious about how they describe what led them on their journey into or out of faith. We are all on a journey. In fact, we are all traveling together and are called to be kind one to another along the way. That is the least we can do.
Welcome to the road, Molly. It is the adventure of a lifetime. And beyond.