Ken Heffner’s faith influenced by unique Calvin College theology


Jonathan Boer

Ken Heffner, Student Activities Director, discusses his unique perspective on Christian faith.

Ken Heffner, the man behind the introductions to SAO concerts and movies, holds a transformative faith that seeks to witness within all facets of society.

You may have seen him in his button-up shirts and marbled brown-rimmed glasses introducing shows like Dr. Dog with The Nude Party. He exhibits his faith as the director of the Student Activities Office, developed by the theology of Calvin College which seeks to be agents of renewal. But the theology he upholds was not always the way it is now.

At one point, Heffner felt, “One group is telling me you can’t love the world. … It was Calvin people that gave me another way.”

Heffner’s guiding theology is that Christians must exercise discernment, but all things have elements of sin and grace in them.

“Christ is coming to make the world new, not to rescue you out of the world. If Christ is King of creation, that means everything matters,” he professed.

Long before coming to work at Calvin, Heffner’s faith started in high school.

“I had a conversion experience just before my senior year in high school … It was the classic alter call … and it was a conversion, I changed.. That relationship with [Jesus] can animate you. It can give you gas … I had the pieces, and that was the last piece,” he shared.

His conversion and his changed mindset led him to ministry.

“[If you’re] in the early 1970’s and you’re a Christian, what do you do? Your choices are being a pastor or a missionary. I went to college with the idea of going on to seminary,” he said.

His church growing up showed him a Christ who loves culture, but the message of a personal Jesus which so richly changed him came from more fundamentalist Christians who didn’t believe in a Christ who loves culture. Then he had the discovery that both could happen simultaneously.

“The harvest will separate the wheat from the tares. You have to accept that they’re all wrapped up in everything that we do,” he said.

This gave him grounds to enter into a vocation for redeeming the culture he was a part of.

“If everything matters, then we need to be working towards the redemption of culture. Culture is not the problem,” he insisted.

He now saw that any job, whether an engineer, artist, nurse, etc. could all be used to further Christ’s Kingdom.

“All these things matter. There are ways to try to discover, through the work of the Holy Spirit, how to be faithful in that thing so that that thing in some part can glorify God,” he said.

Heffner moved into campus ministry with his wife in Pittsburg. He did public ministry, starting schools, theatre companies and others. Then he went into journalism, on the beat of politics and arts for NPR to show people where there must be justice done.

“I think we need to find more nuanced ways to talk about things that point to the Kingdom without ever naming the Kingdom …When you do good work in the square inch, you can witness back to Christ. It can sometimes be subvert and not overt,” he testified.

His understanding of the Kingdom of God and his love for student activities brought him back to the institution that initiated the ideas for him, Calvin College.

“Transform everything. I have always been compelled and very excited about the big, gigantic implications about the core of Calvin College’s mission,” he said.

But Heffner notices an apparent disjunction, which the Calvin community can take part in.

“The wonderful gift that the Dutch Calvinists have given to evangelism is the vision for the renewal of all things, on the other hand, Dutch Calvinists have been reluctant to actually play that out,” he said.

Lastly, Ken Heffner’s faith seeks truth, distinguishing between“light and dark” and not creating unreasonable binaries.

Heffner’s mission is an active one: “We need to see it as a Spirit that moves through all places, all people and all activities.”