Words: Eliana Chow ’21
Photos: Tyrie Mehaffey
Sadie Rynbrandt ’23
Sadie Rynbrandt ’23, a Biblical and Theological Studies (BITH) major pursuing an Early Christian Studies Certificate, vividly recalled her first lunch in Wheaton College’s dining hall, Anderson Commons. She was a prospective student at the time and remembered students from a wide variety of majors earnestly discussing how theology intersected with their respective fields.
Around that time, she started asking questions about her faith’s foundation. “As I read more resources and spoke with spiritual mentors, I found that there weren’t necessarily straightforward answers to all my pressing questions. Instead, I could develop a framework that would hold true despite our inability to fully understand all who God is,” she explained. With this foundation, Rynbrandt entered her undergraduate years with a keen desire to pursue truth in community.
Looking back, Rynbrandt cited three faculty members in the BITH department who have played an integral role in her academic, spiritual, and personal development, both as a Wheaton student and a developing scholar. She was first exposed to the field of historical theology in a class with Rev. Dr. Jennifer McNutt, Franklin S. Dyrness Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies, who encouraged Rynbrandt to pursue her passion for applied church history and tap into the network of classes and scholarship available to undergraduates through the Wheaton College Graduate School.
The course also set Rynbrandt on the path toward earning a certificate in Early Christian Studies, which set her in close contact with Dr. George Kalantzis, Professor of Theology and Director of The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies. “Dr. Kalantzis demonstrated that not only is there a need for women in academic, theological circles, but there is also a place for them starting in his own classroom,” Rynbrandt said. “That has been very powerful for me this semester as I look ahead to applying for seminary.”
Dr. Keith Johnson, Professor of Theology, has also inspired Rynbrandt to new depths of theological thought. A renowned scholar and professor who cares deeply about his students, he represents many of the things to which Rynbrandt aspires in her own career trajectory. “I’m in class with a lot of future pastors,” she said. “It’s encouraging to watch my professors—like Dr. Johnson—equip these students with the ability to challenge and nuance their beliefs. I would love to participate in that pivotal formation for young ministry leaders.”
In line with her desire to build up young adults in the church, Rynbrandt said she comes alive at the intersection between classroom learning and church ministry. As an intern at College Church, she was able to apply her academic theology pursuits to serving junior high school students. She had the opportunity to guide students through a baptism class, worship, and other one-on-one discipleship contexts. “Sometimes I experienced a little bit of whiplash leaving a dense lecture on John Calvin’s Institutes and coming into church to speak with an 11-year-old student for their upcoming baptism,” she reflected. “But it was beautiful to notice an overlap. As I read Calvin, I was convicted that baptism is something God instituted to accommodate himself to us rather than reward our own initiative. I could naturally integrate what I was learning by asking my students how God had been gracious to them and why this step acknowledges his work in their lives.”
Rynbrandt also participated in the inaugural student cohort for Wheaton’s Semester in Jerusalem, a study abroad trip that launched in the fall of 2021. Open to Wheaton students from all majors, the semester presented a unique experiential learning opportunity for undergraduates to encounter the Holy Lands. Upon entering the program, she wondered if she would set foot on the dusty roads and feel a heightened awareness of the Lord’s presence. Yet her key takeaway from the trip was much more nuanced. “Israel is a normal place filled with normal humans like you and me,” Rynbrandt said. “But it was a place where the Lord chose to show up, entering into our space and time. He’s doing that at Wheaton, too. As I look forward to furthering my studies, I know Wheaton has prepared me well to pay attention to how the Lord reveals himself to his people in both academic and ministry contexts.”
Wheaton has prepared me well to pay attention to how the Lord reveals himself to his people in both academic and ministry contexts.