Author’s Note: If you have not yet read Part 1 of my series introducing Shine Catholic and my series on why I became a Catholic, please do so here.
Like more and more people these days, my college experience began at community college. Glendale Community College (GCC) was close to my home turf, and when I applied for admission and took my entrance tests, I was offered a President’s scholarship by the Honors program. I eagerly dove into my studies which focused on math, computer science, and a host of general education Honors classes geared toward two associates degrees, one in arts with an emphasis in English and communication and the other in science with an emphasis on computer science. Not all of my time was spent on my studies, though–I was heading off to college as a passionate evangelical Christian on a mission that is perhaps best summed up by the following statement that I scrawled into my Bible:
If you are at college for any other reason than to be a missionary for Jesus Christ, you are there for selfish, sinful reasons.
So, as you can imagine, I quickly plugged in with a group of fellow students to get a group called Christian Challenge off the ground. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Christian Challenge, it is a Southern Baptist-based outreach program tailored to college students. Naturally, it can take many forms depending on the wants and needs of the particular college that it serves; at GCC it took the form of a nondenominational student organization hosting Bible studies on campus that were largely student-led.
Serving with Christian Challenge on the GCC campus was an exhilarating experience–it gave me an opportunity to broaden my perspective as a Christian to those who were outside of my Baptist upbringing, as we all sought as a group of fellow-believing Christians to make God known across our campus. New people continually came into our organization and had the opportunity to deepen their faith and share it with others. I had the opportunity to challenge many non-christians to reconsider the logic of Christianity against the logic of their position and to bring a large number of apathetic Christians to know their faith more deeply than before. In the end, our group brought Christians together from all different faith backgrounds to serve our campus together in the name of Christ. Many students were truly looking for a group like the one we had created, and our growth exploded from from a single weekly small group to multiple weekly large groups and an extension group at GCC North.
However, with the massive growth came challenges. Rapid turnover rates meant that it was not long before I found myself in leadership–a task for which I quickly realized how unprepared I actually was. I had been taught massive amounts of Scripture and theology rooted in the Baptist tradition for which I was and always will be grateful, but that had done precious little to prepare me to work with individuals from other cultural backgrounds and faith traditions. I gradually began to recognize a disturbing reality–not all Christians hold the same essential beliefs that I held, for a variety of reasons. I had always been taught that the Holy Spirit would reveal the truth through the study of Scripture and prayer to true Christians, but I was encountering differences on the essential doctrines sincerely held by true Christians that could not be simply be explained away with Scripture or the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I had done in the past.
The more I observed this phenomenon, the more troubled I became about what it meant for the philosophical underpinnings of my faith. I firmly believed that God was the God of truth who had revealed all truth through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10), but I could not reconcile that with the significant differences of belief staring me in the face. While I could see instances where my beliefs were compelling, I could also see other cases where other beliefs were unconvincing. To make things worse, I ran into a larger problem– how could I know with certainty whether I or another believer was right or wrong? We both could look to Scripture as our authority and claim the Holy Spirit for guidance, but still come no closer to a solution. As these conundrums began to pile up, I began to wonder if I was I unintentionally missing revealed truth from God.
As graduation approached, I was looking forward to moving to the next stage of life–my bachelor’s degree. I pounced on the opportunity to be recruited as an Honors student by top four-year universities throughout the United States with strong computer science programs via a bulk university application through Phi Theta Kappa, the Honors society for community colleges. I focused the application toward institutions rooted in my Evangelical beliefs, hoping to obtain not only admission but also scholarship offers generous enough to make attending a Christian school as affordable as ASU, our state university.
My search yielded multiple admission and scholarship offers, including two that were more than generous enough to accept all transfer credit and equal the total costs of attending Arizona State University. Due to our family situation at the time, taking advantage of those offers ultimately did not work out and I ended up attending ASU. I remember being frustrated about not only being stuck on America’s largest college campus where I knew no one but also by not getting the opportunity to directly ask the big questions to top Evangelical theologians. Finding the answers would now become much harder and would require independent study. I could sense that God had deeper plans; but nowhere in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that my quest for answers would raise even more questions and eventually take me inside the doors of the last place I expected–the Catholic church.
Stay tuned to hear about what happened as I went to ASU!
About Joshua Baldwin
Joshua Baldwin is a full-time aerospace software engineer and a convert to the Catholic Church, joining from a Baptist background at Easter 2015. A Phoenix native, Joshua holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Arizona State University and is passionate about studying Scripture and mastering apologetics to further the Church in its New Evangelization mission. Joshua is a parishioner at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe, Arizona, where he serves in many capacities to shine for the New Evangelization!