• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Four Reasons Why Christians Are Smarter than We Used to Be

Calvin College recently hosted a session with four of its most esteemed alumni and former professors: George Marsden, Richard Mouw, Alvin Plantinga, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. You can view it here, and you should:


Even in the space of an hour, time for only four short presentations and a couple of question-and-answer rounds, one can see the power of a confident, but humble, Christian worldview.

I have been greatly privileged to have been shaped by each of these four scholars. George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture provided me an inspiring early model for the writing of North American church history. George also gave me personal encouragement at key points in the decade or so in which I learned and plied his trade, from a letter (that I still have—of course I do!) kindly praising my master’s thesis that he himself used in his history of Fuller Theological Seminary to his positive verdict, fifteen years later, as one of the two external examiners commissioned by the University of Manitoba to advise them on the matter of my application for promotion to the rank of professor.

George also, however, wrote some of the earliest and most thoughtful reflections on the theory of writing history I encountered, and legitimated for me the novel and bold idea that one could pursue one’s intellectual life straightforwardly as a Christian.

As this video makes clear, that crucial idea was integral to Calvin College’s heritage, and philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff have inspired and equipped an entire generation of Christian thinkers to do likewise. Al particularly has helped me, though, in tackling both the problem of evil and multifarious problems of epistemology, generously tutoring me by e-mail—sometimes back and forth a few times as I plodded along trying to catch up with his long Frisian intellectual strides.

I have recognized elsewhere my even greater debts to Nick as he helped me twenty years ago transition to the other side of my training—theology and philosophy—and has gone to bat for me numerous times since: to publishers, granting agencies, and prospective employers. Along the way, I have read with great profit the versatile Professor Wolterstorff on a dozen subjects. But Nick also provided me, as he has so many others, with an early and glorious vision of shalom as flourishing, a view of the world to come that validates the full range of proper human endeavour and creativity.

Rich Mouw has done quite a bit of writing on my behalf as well, but he, too, early on helped me see that the whole world of culture is the Lord’s (his unjustly neglected meditation on Isaiah 60, When the Kings Come Marching Inwas particularly inspiring). He also has exemplified the engaged Christian thinker who is by turns trenchant and hospitable, convinced but also willing to learn—and invariably with good cheer. Indeed, the wry sense of humour these four share—a vein evident on so many pages of the late, lamented Reformed Journal to which they frequently contributed—has also been of both entertainment and encouragement to me, since I have trouble writing or speaking more than a paragraph without pausing to attempt a joke.

As the video session concludes, in fact, we see these themes of courage and humility emerge with humour as a fitting valediction from these four sages…whom the president of Calvin College happily calls “The Beatles of Calvin College.” Take an hour and treat yourself to a few appetizers of what top-drawer Christian thinking looks like.

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