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Stranger in a Strange Land: C. Stephen Evans

Arthur Holmes: A Life Well-Lived

Editor's Note: In this issue we feature a guest column by Baylor University's C. Stephen Evans. This tribute to longtime Wheaton College philosophy professor Arthur Holmes, based on a eulogy Evans gave at the memorial service, will appear in slightly different form in Wheaton's alumni magazine.

It is impossible to say all that should be said about Arthur Holmes in the brief time I have, since Arthur made such a profound impact in so many areas, several of which I can only mention. But I want to begin by paying tribute to the crucial role Alice Holmes played as his partner, confidante, encourager, and so much more. I know from my experiences in their home that Art would not have achieved what he did without Alice.

Now to Arthur. Of course something must be said about Art's role in making Wheaton College the institution it is today. Not only did Art create a first-rate philosophy program; he constantly worked to make the college as a whole both academically first-rate and deeply Christian in every way.

Next, consider Art's contribution to Christian philosophy. Many of you have heard of Art's dream of sending 100 students into philosophy to give the profession of philosophy a solid Christian presence, a dream that with God's help was substantially fulfilled. Art not only sent generations of Wheaton students to graduate school, but made considerable contributions to the field through his own publications. He also played a key role in the establishment of the Society of Christian Philosophers, which today has more than a thousand members.

What about Art's contributions to the whole community of Christian higher education? Many of the brightest Christian scholars in many fields, such as Mark Noll in history, David Jeffrey and Roger Lundin in literature, Marianne Meye Thompson and Walter Hansen in biblical studies, were transformed by being Art's students. And that is not to mention the contributions Art's students have made in theology, biblical studies, the law, medicine, and even the business world. In lectures given all over the country, as well as in his writings, Art labored tirelessly to give Christian colleges a vision for excellence and an understanding of what it might mean to integrate faith and learning.

Above all, Art was a great teacher. Of course he had all the tools you would expect: great learning, intellectual brilliance, passionate enthusiasm, dedication to his students expressed in hours of preparation and even more hours of one-on-one office sessions. I will share two examples of that personal counseling. I was struggling to decide which church I should attend, and came in to Art for advice. In a matter-of-fact tone he told me, "Steve, remember that when you choose a church community you are choosing the people you want to have around you when you die." A second story: My wife Jan, at that time my fianceÉ, came to Art's office have a talk about what it would be like to be the wife of a Christian philosopher. When Jan posed her question, Art said, with a twinkle in his eye, "I think you will need to talk with Mrs. Holmes to find out about that." But then he went on to patiently explain for her benefit how philosophy was then perceived in the evangelical world. We shared that story with Art during our last visit and it was delightful to see the smile of recognition on his face.

I want to single out two qualities of Art whose presence together might seem paradoxical, but which made his teaching, especially his teaching of the history of philosophy, unique. On the one hand, Art—more than any philosopher I have ever known—had a marvelous ability to empathetically enter into the mind of every philosopher he discussed. When Art taught Plato or Aristotle, you felt that you were listening to Plato or Aristotle. Even deeply non-Christian philosophers such as Nietzsche or Spinoza were treated in such a way that you felt that Art had gotten inside these thinkers. There were no straw men; every point of view was explained in the most charitable and sympathetic way possible. This characteristic of Art as a teacher stemmed from a deep personal virtue. Roger Lundin noted that in over 40 years he had never heard Art disparage or demean or degrade another human being. I would say the same; Arthur had an amazing ability to see the good in everyone he dealt with.

The second quality was this: Art exhibited the most deeply Christian mind I have ever encountered. He did not just talk about Christian perspectives; he embodied them. Now you might think the first quality is incompatible with the second. But I think that it is precisely because Art was so fair-minded and honest in his treatment of other philosophers that his Christian perspective was compelling. When he criticized another philosophical perspective, you knew the criticism was earned. He provided a fearless example of a Christian intellectual unafraid to encounter the world of thought, and many times he showed those of us fortunate enough to study with him that, before writing off or refuting a perspective, there was much that we as Christians could learn from that view.

Both as a teacher and as a colleague, Art, more than any other person, helped me gain an understanding that I had a calling from God to do Christian philosophy. Repeatedly he asked me, "Steve, how can you invest your life strategically for the kingdom of God? What is it that God wants you to do?" He never tried to answer those questions for me; indeed he constantly preached that you could serve God in whatever calling you had: business, missions, church ministry, medicine, whatever. But in his life he modeled a more specific answer for me: I was called to be a Christian philosopher with a double mission: to represent Christ in the world of philosophy, and to bring my gifts as a philosopher to the service of Christ's church.

Art did not merely help me gain this sense of calling; he taught me what it meant. He helped me see that the intellectual life is a place where faith makes a difference. Philosophy is not a purely neutral quest for truth; it is an expression of the whole person and is ultimately shaped by the heart. The task of the Christian philosopher is to learn to look at the world through the eyes of faith.

In helping me to see philosophy in this light Art gave me yet another priceless gift. Once one sees the spiritual battle being waged in the intellectual world, it is all too easy to demonize unbelieving philosophers and withdraw into a Christian intellectual ghetto. Art refused to allow his students to take this way out. All truth, he insisted, is God's truth. God's common grace sends rain on the godly and the ungodly. Nor are Christian philosophers exempt from error. Triumphalism is out of place, for Christian philosophers remain finite creatures and they remain sinners, even if they are redeemed sinners. I learned that my task was to think Christianly—to develop an authentic Christian view, but not to think of my own work as the Christian view.

The final gift I received from Art may be the most significant of all. Having taught me that I was called to invest my life strategically for the kingdom of God, Art also taught me to leave the results in God's hands. In assessing the meaning of my life, the question that matters is not "what have I achieved?" but "have I been faithful?" Success in any external sense is completely up to God. So my task in the classroom is to give of myself to my students. What they will become must be left to them and to God. My task in the study is to do the best thinking I can do, to write the best books and articles I can. Whether anybody else notices any of that is ultimately not my concern nor my responsibility. Art also taught me that seeing the scholarly life as a calling to faithfulness rather than success is not an excuse for mediocrity. We cannot give God less than our best.

Through God's grace we have received great gifts from the life and work of Arthur Holmes. I hope that we will show our gratitude for those gifts by renewing our own commitment to the ideals Arthur embodied. We best honor Arthur Holmes by continuing to work to actualize the vision with which God blessed him. Thank you, Arthur, and thanks be to the Lord who blessed us with your presence.

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