I graduated Cedarville in 1996 with a major in philosophy; since that time I have been working with my father in the business he founded. There is a part of my being which continues to grieve over graduate studies not pursued, probably in political theory, but oftentimes, in this life, family responsibilities assume precedence.
In the fall of 1993, at a time of personal crisis, inclusive of questions about my Christian faith and its relationship to the (post)modern world, I withdrew from the Bible college I had been attending. My coursework at that college neither challenged me nor answered the questions which perturbed me. In point of fact, it couldn’t answer them, because it never even acknowledged them. Not knowing what I would do during the next academic term, and not knowing how soon I could be admitted to another college, I confided in an old friend, a guidance counselor at the private, Christian high school I had attended. He recommended that I consider Cedarville, an institution he held in high regard; knowing my interests, he recommended that I apply to the honors program, which he believed would provide me with the tools to begin addressing my questions. I accepted his advice and applied to Cedarville, and transferred for the spring 1994 semester, originally enrolled as a political science/history major.
Within days of the opening of classes that spring, I realized that the courses in the honors program, particularly the Making of the Modern Mind sequence, were precisely what I required. I was not being inculcated in the Answers, as though they were self-evident, requiring only the application of memory; rather, I was being taught how to apprehend and analyze complex intellectual and social environments, in which the answers were not always obvious – indeed, where some matters might be fundamentally undecidable – but where Christian witness was nonetheless required. What is more, I also began to learn the virtues of humility and charity, especially as these apply to intellectual disciplines. Intellectual arrogance, in my case and in most (all?) others, is born of intellectual and spiritual insecurity, of a gnawing dread that something in one’s formation and commitments is somehow untenable, or at least difficult to articulate and defend, and a fear that once that thing goes down, along with it will go an entire intricate latticework of commitments, defenses, and self-understandings. It is a state of brittleness and frailty, masquerading as strength and fidelity. I was also prone to this tendency as I learned more with each passing week. Fortunately, in form and substance, the coursework in the honors program militated against this vice. In learning not only what intellectuals and philosophers, great and not-so-great, had thought through the ages, but why they thought what they thought, how they arrived at their conclusions; in learning to afford even an intellectual opponent his strongest argument, I learned how to live the Gospel in academic life: to treat another, even when arguing with him or her through a text, across the ages, as I would wish to be treated. I learned that I didn’t have all the answers, and could not, as a mortal. To learn this lesson, especially in private conversations with the director of the honors program, was painful, but intellectually and spiritually necessary; I still, all these years later, recollect those experiences and lessons when I find myself veering off course.
Dr. Mills assumed responsibility for the honors program, and for most of the philosophy courses, after Dr. Percesepe departed Cedarville; those of us who were there in 1995 probably remember a bit of turbulence and uncertainty. I had switched my major to philosophy in mid-spring 1994, on Dr. Percesepe’s advice, and I was concerned about the commitment of Cedarville to philosophy after his departure. Dr. Mills allayed my fears by the entirety of his conduct as professor of philosophy and faculty adviser to philosophy majors. When I had questions or interests that went beyond the coursework, he did not hesitate to recommend additional sources and lines of inquiry, and to encourage me to pursue them. When a formulation in a paper was wanting for accuracy or clarity, or perhaps just infelicitous, he pushed me to become more precise. Whenever I tossed off some piece of opinion which either lacked substantiation or misrepresented a philosopher, he demanded either substantiation or correction. He required that we strive to understand any philosopher in his own words, on his own terms – charity and humility, again – and in accordance with the best scholarship. And he pushed us academically, beyond what we thought we could endure, through which I learned not only that I could endure, but that this rigor was precisely what I had lacked at Bible college, and in high school; above all, Dr. Mills provided me with the training and impetus to integrate philosophical and cultural pursuits with my Christian faith, whether we were discussing Kant or aesthetics.
This is why, in the final analysis, Cedarville needs the philosophy program. Christianity and philosophy are inseparable. It was only the existence of Greek philosophical concepts, and the terminology associated with those concepts, that enabled the Christian Church to articulate its own fundamental doctrinal affirmations: that God is a Trinity, but One; that Christ is God and man, fully each yet without mixture or confusion. Absent philosophy, the entire theological history of Christianity is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, without a key. Absent philosophy, Christians would be left without the means of comprehending the world in which they live, in all its proliferating variety, in all its manifold tendencies. Absent philosophy, Christians would be deprived of an understanding of how the world of the twenty-first century came to be, of how it came to be the way it is, since so much of the history of Western thought has been steeped in Christianity, formed and molded by Christianity, and Christian concepts, even secularized ones, all of it inseparable from philosophy. Absent philosophy, Christianity would be nothing but that intricate, brittle latticework, if even that much. This is more than a metaphor for the labors of the mind; it is also a metaphor of spiritual peril, for Christians incapable of articulating their faith and relating it to the cultures of which they are parts, or worse, unwilling to undertake that labor, will become brittle, fearful, and hubristic – and will fail to image Christ in the world. Many will also lose their faith, as I might well have, but for the model of Christian philosophical inquiry I experienced at Cedarville under Dr. Mills’ instruction. One cannot affix a price to that; the strict balance-sheet approach cannot encompass it; the callous cash-nexus cannot assign a valuation. I protest vigorously the proposed dissolution of the philosophy program.