Bob Wennberg 1935-2010
Of all the lessons Bob made available to us, two head the list. One was that authentic tolerance requires the simultaneous holding of serious beliefs not held by one's interlocutors. Bob was not bashful about his Christian faith, so he could manifest tolerance toward persons without it. But, second, neither was he ungentlemanly in conveying his beliefs. He was ever the winsome witness, even when he was not overtly witnessing. He exuded a sweetness of spirit seldom found in men, and not exactly universal among women either. His conduct and conversation operated as an analgesic balm. Today's sick academy seems on the verge of succumbing to mortal rancor. As does our whole nation. Can the spirit of our genial model ever prosper among us? It seems, at the moment, unimaginable. Let us cherish Bob's memory and ever nurture hope. But let us right now weep for the loss we have suffered.—Edward E. Ericson, Jr., Professor of English, Emeritus, Calvin College
What I valued most about Dr. Wennberg (I still think about him by that name) was his way of challenging his students to think for themselves. I use something he said in a History of Civ class with my students when I am trying to teach them to be critical thinkers: Beware of charlatans. I can't recall the context now, but I do know we were in the auditorium and he was on the stage, pacing back and forth in the animated way that he had, trying to get 300 freshmen or sophomores to engage with some philosophical text or other.What I took from that lecture that day was an admonition to be wary of the easy answers, the smooth delivery, ideas and messengers who make things too easy. In teaching my own students critical thinking, I return to that warning again and again, especially in the political and religious climate we find ourselves in. Too many easy answers for problems that get more and more difficult.
Dr. Wennberg also pointed to a particular New Testament passage that I have often used with students of faith who find it uncomfortable to think outside the dogma of their faith. He and now I point to 1 Thessalonians 5.21: "Test all things; hold fast what is good."
What I remember most vividly from his courses in the history of philosophy and metaphysics (a whole semester discussing the nature of the mind, where it is located, whether it is real, whether it is the same thing as the soul!) is his absolute delight in ideas. I can remember his laughter as he challenged timid students to consider ideas without fear of being wrong, to reason through what they thought. He seemed to have a true joy in engaging students to take on the difficult questions and the more difficult answers. He set me on a path to read widely and deeply, to engage in a consideration of the "big ideas." He prepared me to teach the multidisciplinary course in the humanities in which I challenge my students in much the same way that he did at Westmont.—Laura (Weiss) Zlogar, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin—River Falls.
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