I am a 2005 Cedarville graduate. Currently, I serve as senior pastor of Warman Mennonite Church, just outside of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. My previous ministry experience includes serving inner-city teens in Chicago at Living Water Community Church, helping plant a young adult congregation with First Presbyterian Church of DuPage in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and working as a missionary among Roma, Macedonian, and Albanian peoples for seven months in Skopje, Macedonia, with SEND International.
After finishing my BA in Pre-Seminary Bible (minors in Literature and Honors) at Cedarville University, I went on to complete (with distinction) an MA in Theological Studies at Loyola University Chicago in 2008. Then in 2011, I graduated summa cum laude with an MDiv (Cross-Cultural emphasis) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
I don’t enjoy reciting my list of degrees, achievements, and service. But I do so here to emphasize the excellent way in which Cedarville’s philosophy department forms students. I credit, in large part, the philosophy department–the courses I took there and its professors who contributed to the Honors sequence (especially Dr. Dave Mills)–for enabling me to discern the path on which God has led me and for equipping me to be able to journey along it.
The possibility that the University may cut its philosophy program sickens my heart. It calls into question the University’s commitment to the very good things for which I treasure it.
The globalizing society of 2013 is equally or more complex, spiritually tortuous, and ethically ambiguous as the world was when I began university at Cedarville, days after September 11th, in Fall 2001. I came to Cedarville brash and reactionary, convinced that I knew instinctively precisely what the world needed. While my heart may have been in the right place, I needed the gentle hand of philosophy professors, like Dr. Mills, to encourage me to pause, pray, and think deeply both about our social and cultural realities and about Scripture.
Learning the history of critical thought, from Socrates to Rorty, schooled me in a practice of self-examination. Over and over again I read the exciting story of how this or that school of thought became stylish, only for it then to be purified, reformed, or toppled by new thinkers who asked questions their teachers had overlooked or ignored. I learned to ask what, if anything, my own motives or assumptions were based on. Surely my own enthusiasms weren’t innocent of neglecting uncomfortable perspectives. I learned a very particular kind of intellectual and spiritual patience, a confident humility.
(I later read philosopher-mystic Simone Weil’s words on this sort of intellectual habit. She said, “Humility is attentive patience.” This kind of humility, this waiting for God to make clear what is confused, reminds me of what I learned from the philosophy department.)
My experience with the philosophy department instilled in me a value of community: I need other people around me to discern truth. I took this value into my Bible courses with me, slowly realizing that I needed fellow believers–be they professors, students, or the church folk I saw each Sunday–if I was going to rightly discern what God says through the Bible.
The deep impression that Dr. Mills and others in the philosophy department (including not only professors but also students in the Philosophy major) left on my life shaped me, first of all, for the ministry I’ve led since then.
Young and freshly graduated, I signed on to serve as a missionary in Eastern Europe primarily because my philosophy courses had taught me that intellect and practice go together, that the sort of knowing that comes from education must be matched by the knowing that comes from service. Serving with SEND in Macedonia was a way to fill out, to embody the knowledge of God I had begun to learn at Cedarville.
When I returned to the States, that same epistemological insight guided me to an inner-city congregation in Chicago. While I worked hard each week to proclaim the gospel from the Bible, I spent an equal amount of time tossing around a football and cooking meals with at-risk teens.
It was the communal character of life in Christ, of knowing God (cf. John 1:18), that led me to begin a new congregation in cooperation with First Presbyterian Church of DuPage in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Philosophy courses taught me that I need the perspective of others to make sure that I am interpreting and applying Scripture correctly. This community, with weekly potluck meals and an open mic for sharing and response after each sermon, embodied this communal and Spirit-led epistemology.
Both these epistemological lessons shape my ministry now in Warman, Saskatchewan, with my congregation of Evangelical Mennonites. I don’t know if I would have ended up here had it not been for Cedarville’s philosophy department.
Second, the philosophy department also equipped me for my graduate coursework at Loyola University Chicago and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Here I could also credit the intellectual-spiritual habits and virtues instilled by Cedarville’s philosophy department. But I’d rather focus on the way studying the content of the history of philosophy prepared me to not only excel in both these institutions, but also to give consistent witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Loyola University Chicago is Jesuit school; its commitment to and understanding of the Christian tradition, even within its Theology department, is worlds removed from that of Cedarville. The instruction in historical theological, biblical criticism, and theological method at Loyola were excellent, but they pressed my own understandings of faith, spirituality, and the Bible to their limits. Again, I view the courses I took in Cedarville’s philosophy department as vitally responsible for giving me the skills, first, to hold onto my faith when it was tested, second, to locate the contextual world out of which these other theologies and approaches to Scripture grew and, finally, to respond from a stance of faith. If I hadn’t been taught the history of Enlightenment thought and its modern and postmodern critics, I would have had much more difficulty. My faith may have been shipwrecked. Because of my preparation, I was able both to excel and maintain my faith and witness.
Later in the explicitly Evangelical atmosphere of my seminary training at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the same lessons I learned at Cedarville through the philosophy department enabled me to engage at deeper level in my courses on theology, Scripture, ethics, and practical theology. As an example, my familiarity with the history of Western thought enabled me to think through the positive and negative aspects of missionary contextualization, religious pluralism, and the religious dimensions of recent political movements. While my biblical education (especially courses in Greek and Hebrew) at Cedarville readied me for excellence in my biblical and exegetical courses, it was Cedarville’s philosophy courses that prepared me to think through how to apply biblical truth.
For the benefit of students like me, please do not cut Cedarville’s philosophy program. If anything, the world we live in–as well as the sort of Christian discipleship to which God summons us within it–requires a stronger (better-resourced) philosophy program at Cedarville University.