Who Are the Most Surprising Christian College Alumni?

Wes Craven in 2010
Wes Craven in 2010 – Creative Commons (Bob Bekian)

Until he died last night, I had no idea that horror film director Wes Craven had graduated from Wheaton College. (He discussed his fundamentalist Baptist upbringing and his decision to flee from it in a 2011 interview with the New York Times Magazine.)

Of course, this got me wondering: who else would I be surprised to learn attended a Christian college?

Now, I hesitate even to set up that criterion… After all, Christian colleges educate all sorts of people who take all sorts of paths with their lives. Why should any of their former students doing anything surprise me? But after spending some time going through the “Notable Alumni” sections of the Wikipedia pages for many Christian colleges, here are the categories of people that jumped out at me.

We’ll start with Wes Craven’s field.

(By the way — and maybe it’s just that the semester started today — I’m oddly tickled by this line in Craven’s Wikipedia bio: “Craven left the academic world for the more lucrative role of pornographic film director.” Write your own joke…)

Show Biz

As a fan of Davy Crockett in my childhood, I was happy to find Fess Parker (Hardin-Simmons) on this list — but not really surprised. And I already knew that my own employer (Bethel of Minnesota) helped pave the way for Mystery Science Theater 3000 by educating Joel Hodgson. And didn’t Tony “Buster Bluth” Hale go to Regent? (Yes, after getting his bachelor’s from Samford.)

But let’s go deeper. Did you know that our list includes:

  • Blue Man Group in 2009
    Blue Man Group performing in Brazil in 2009 – Creative Commons (Léo Pinheiro)

    The founder of the Blue Man Group, Phil Stanton (Evangel)?

  • Television guitarist Tom Verlaine (attended Erskine College)?
  • Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean (briefly at Eastern Nazarene)?
  • Creed singer Scott Stapp (expelled from Lee University)?
  • One Republic frontman and songwriter-producer Ryan Tedder (Oral Roberts)?
  • Nineties one-hit wonder Montell “This Is How We Do It” Jordan and acting siblings Tahj, Tia, and Tamera Mowry (all at Pepperdine)?

Or that Kim Fields went to Pepperdine after her concluding her run on Facts of Life?!?

Then the final test: which comedienne went to Bluffton at the same time as longtime TV broadcaster Hugh Downs? I’ll save that one for the bottom of the post.


This is mostly about Christian colleges generally being smaller schools that play far from the bright lights of the NCAA’s power conferences, but it was somewhat surprising to see just how many alumni had made it to their respective big leagues. (Or, in the case of former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Jackie Slater, returned to a Christian university — Azusa Pacific — for a graduate degree.)

Dee Gordon with the Miami Marlins
As of the writing of this post, Gordon is leading the National League batting race (.332) and has the highest WAR (3.7) of any NL second baseman – Creative Commons (Arturo Pardavila III)

In fact, you could build at least a mediocre major league baseball roster with nothing but players who spent at least a year or two at a Christian college, with Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon (Southeastern University) and Royals super-utilityman Ben Zobrist (Olivet Nazarene and Dallas Baptist) forming a nice little nucleus for the club. (Not only is Zobrist a pastor’s kid, but he’s married to a Christian singer.)

Of course, our team would be owned — and then sold — by one-time Calvin College student Wayne Huizenga. Bull Durham writer-director and Westmont grad Ron Shelton would be given free rein to oversee our media efforts. And though he’s both dead and a basketball coach, I think we can get Cotton Fitzsimmons (Hannibal-LaGrange) as our honorary manager.

(That one is mostly to see if HLG provost Miles Mullin has any time to read this blog now that he’s in his new job.)

But my favorite sports nugget takes us back to my childhood as a fan of 1980s baseball… Two of the greatest relief pitchers from the 1980s both attended Christian colleges in California: the Royals’ Dan Quisenberry (Fresno Pacific, attending a Mennonite Brethren church while there) and his cross-state/cross-league rival Todd Worrell of the Cardinals (Biola).

Perhaps more surprising is that Christian colleges have produced a handful of pro wrestlers (Ted DiBiase, Jr. of Mississippi College and Maven Huffman of Eastern Mennonite — of all places!) and mixed martial artists (Shayna Baszler of MidAmerica Nazarene and Stipe Miocic of Trevecca Nazarene). Not to mention heavyweight boxer and occasional actor Tex Cobb (Abilene Christian)…


Then a few more that came up in my, ahem, exhaustive research:

• It’s troubling just how many politicians have been churned out by Christian colleges, but I have to confess, I had no idea that Huey Long was a product of Southern Baptist education (Oklahoma Baptist).

• It’s entirely predictable that Christian institutions of higher learning would have a few alumni who have famously turned away from the faith of their youth (e.g., Bart Ehrman of Moody Bible Institute; Dan Barker of Azusa Pacific). But conversely, I suspect that many secularists would be surprised to read a list of Christian college alumni played leading roles in the sciences (e.g., astronomer Owen Gingerich of Goshen; neuroscientist — and Prozac inventor — David Wong of Seattle Pacific).

• And the funny woman educated by the Mennonites of Bluffton?

Your turn: who have I missed?

9 thoughts on “Who Are the Most Surprising Christian College Alumni?

  1. Here’s another one for you: Laurell K. Hamilton, Indiana Wesleyan University alum and a New York Times-bestselling author who writes ….*wait for it*…. erotica stories… with vampires.


    I only know this because a fellow IWU alum I knew worked for IT services and knew that her Wikipedia entry was routinely removed from the IWU Wikipedia list of “prominent alums.”

  2. Do we not see Baylor as a Christian university? RGIII may be having a rough few weeks but he certainly did well while at Baylor. Andy Dalton went to Texas Christian University, and another member of your baseball team could include Matt Carpenter who’s currently with the Stl Cardinals. SMU has long ties to the Hunt family who in turn own the Chiefs, as do the Tysons of chicken fame.

    1. Like I said in the sports category, I was more interested in Christian colleges and small universities. Not sure there’s much surprising about big universities in Texas sending players to the NFL…

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