Thirty years ago this spring, my colleague and long-time close friend JP Moreland and I started what has become a dream come true.We still pinch ourselves regularly in disbelief when we look back at what God has done in our philosophy program over the past three decades.
When JP and I first put our heads together to think about starting a master’s-level program in philosophy at Talbot, we had no idea that we were riding a wave of interest in the field. Our dean at the time told us that he would give us three years and if we couldn’t make a go of the program, he would pull the plug on it. Our aims were pretty modest at the start — we figured if we could maintain a population of 30 to 40 students, send a few to doctoral programs and get a handful of graduates teaching in secular universities, we’d call it a great success.We didn’t realize that we weren’t thinking nearly big enough for what our God had in mind.
Our goal at the beginning was pretty simple — as we would put it, we wanted to “reclaim lost intellectual real estate in the university.” We were alarmed at the rampant advance of secularism, not only culturally, but especially in the university — which, we considered, along with the media, to be the most influential segment of the culture at large. We wanted to offer rigorous training in all the major fields of philosophy, exposing our students to the best of opposing views and offering our critique of those views. For example, my students in bioethics would read the best of scholars such as Peter Singer. JP’s students would read the philosophical naturalists such as Paul and Patricia Churchland and human person physicalists such as Jaegwon Kim.
But the program was not simply high-level abstract philosophy, unrelated to the issues of real life and Christian discipleship.We desperately wanted our students to grow closer to Jesus in the process. I vividly remember one of our graduates telling me about how much he grew spiritually while in the program. He said to me, “Some of the times I’ve felt closest to God were when I was studying metaphysics.” Does that sound strange? I can see where it might, but that experience was not unusual for our students, most of whom would not be surprised by such a sentiment. Many of our students have told us of how they were indelibly marked spiritually by the time in the program.We also wanted our students to apply their work in metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of mind, to issues in ethics. For example, I would regularly take my bioethics students on hospital visits,where we would make rounds with physicians in the ICU of their hospital, with our students getting a bedside education in bioethics.We had opportunities to talk to seriously ill patients, their families and the physicians who treated them, and had several opportunities to pray for the patients with their families. In one setting, the head of the ICU and his chief associate physician, both believers, invited our students in and required the residents training in their department to participate in our rounding sessions. He told me later that he considered our times together as much of an education for his residents as I did for our philosophy students.
The program grew quickly and much faster than we expected. JP and I were speaking all over the place, especially JP, telling anyone who would listen about our program, which at the time had no competitors of which we were aware.We realized that we needed to add faculty to meet the growing demand for the program — Doug Geivett joined us in the mid-1990s and Dave Horner and Garry DeWeese came a few years after that (Doug and Garry have since retired). Tim Pickavance, one of our graduates, joined us in 2008 and has chaired the program until very recently. Greg Ganssle joined us upon DeWeese’s retirement after 20 years in faculty ministry with Cru and regular adjunct teaching in the philosophy department at Yale.
Over the past 30 years, our faculty have been widely published, both at the academic and popular levels and have produced major textbooks in general philosophy, apologetics, metaphysics and ethics. Our faculty have spoken all over the world in a variety of settings ranging from high-level technical philosophy to popular venues related to spiritual formation.
But we are most proud of the accomplishments of our graduates — they continue to make us look good! As of today, we have sent more than 200 of our graduates into Ph.D. programs, mostly in philosophy, and some in theology, and at last count, roughly 75 of our graduates are teaching in secular universities and public community colleges. Places where they are teaching range from community colleges to research universities. For example, graduates are teaching or have taught at places such Texas A&M, Air Force Academy, Cal State Sacramento (where one of our grads is the department chair and hired another of our grads to join him full time and another as an adjunct), Northern Arizona University, Southern Nevada University, University of Wyoming, Baylor University, and many others. Some have taught in places where we might least expect — for example, one of our grads has taught ethics courses at the Pentagon. In addition, more than 50 of our graduates are teaching in Christian colleges, several at Biola, some of whom were instrumental in founding Biola’s Center for Christian Thought.Another of our grads heads up the Dallas Willard Center at Westmont College, very appropriate given Dr. Willard’s significant impact on several of our faculty and our graduates who studied with him at the University of Southern California (myself and JP included!).
One aspect of the impact of our grads was one we didn’t realize for a while. The normal experience of our grads once they enter a doctoral program was to be teaching undergraduate courses in addition to their own studies. We realized that they were regularly teaching philosophy courses to undergraduates, sometimes in quite large sections, and conducting discussion sections for classes in which they were not doing the majority of the teaching.We realized our grads had been teaching, while doctoral students, at places like Georgetown, University of Texas, University of Colorado, Boulder, Baylor, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Bowling Green, Rice University, University of South Carolina, and many others.The cumulative impact of those teaching assignments numbers in the thousands of students in these universities.
Another impact of our graduates that we didn’t fully realize had to do with all the other types of ministries outside of college teaching in which they were involved.We realized that only about 40% of our grads are headed to Ph.D. studies, which means that the majority end up in some other type of Kingdom service. For example, graduates are teaching in public high schools and in Christian high schools, introducing high school students to high-level philosophy for better understanding and articulating their faith. One of our grads long ago started a philosophy club at his public high school, which has functioned in effect as something like campus apologetics ministry.Another of our grads launched two elective courses in philosophy at the public high school where she teaches English. In fact, she was the English teacher for my son when he was in high school! We have graduates who have returned to college campus ministry after finishing our program. Two of our grads returned to direct Cru at Stanford (following in Dave Horner’s footsteps as he was the director for Cru at Stanford in his younger days!), and another of our grads and his wife still lead the largest Cru ministry in the United States at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Others of our grads serve faithfully and well in various pastoral roles in the local church, fulfilling our desire to see the life of the mind take root in our churches. We have long maintained that if loving God with our minds doesn’t catch on in our churches, we have little hope for it gaining traction in the culture at large.We are so encouraged to see our grads serving well in so many of our churches around the country, and in various outposts in other parts of the world. For example, one of our grads came to study with us from Sweden, and returned there to take up pro-life ministry in that challenging environment. We have had graduates of the program go to law school, medical school, and into various fields in business, where they are involved in Kingdom service as they live out their vocations and serve Christ in doing so (Col. 3:23).
In recent years, we have been able to extend our reach by virtue of taking the M.A. in Philosophy program online. The entire program can now be completed online, enabling us to reach students anywhere in the world. This is especially helpful for students who cannot relocate to Southern California and take courses in residence. As much as we like to know each of our students personally and have them in residence, we realize that extending our influence to men and women who would not otherwise be able to study with us is a great opportunity for the future. One of our major aspirations for the next 30 years is to establish “strategic beachheads” for Christian philosophy in other countries around the world. This prospect is very exciting for us as we look forward to the next generation of Christian philosophers and theologians, pastors, teachers and church leaders continuing the Kingdom work that was launched 30 years ago.
We realize that we owe a significant debt of gratitude to Talbot and to Biola University for providing the infrastructure and support for the program to flourish. In addition, major thanks go to our faithful donors (you know who you are) who have generously supported the program and our students over the years. If you would like to become one of those investors in our program, visit giving.biola.edu, click "Give Now" and select "Talbot School of Theology" under the drop-down menu.
The Talbot community in general and the M.A. in Philosophy community in particular, are so thankful to God for his faithfulness over these past 30 years.Would you thank God with us and pray for our program and the impact it could have over the next 30 years?