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Fall 2017 · Vol. 46 No. 2 · pp. 218–231 

Love of Wisdom and Truth

Elmer J. Thiessen

My philosophical career began rather early. I can still picture a scene in our three-room house in Rhineland, a village in southern Saskatchewan, where I began my schooling. Our house was attached to the school, separated only by a door with a peephole in it so that the classroom could be monitored by my father or mother when needed. I can also remember as a child sitting on the steps to the attic, badgering my mother with questions as she was working in the kitchen. I suspect all this questioning, including questions about the Christian faith, caused my poor mother to worry about me. Although she was an intelligent woman, her lack of formal schooling would no doubt have made her concerned about my insistence on asking hard questions. It is this questioning that led to my childhood conversion, and in the end that led to my choice of an academic career in philosophy.

To pretend that we can arrive at absolute Truth is to be conceited. But without absolute Truth as a goal, our search for truth becomes hollow and directionless. {219}

My early academic interests, however, were not in philosophy but in the sciences. After graduating from high school, I received a scholarship to attend university, and so proceeded to the University of Saskatchewan to study science. It was a very difficult year, in part because I was grieving my father’s death in the previous summer; in part because of loneliness; in part because I simply wasn’t mature enough for university; and in part because I was scared about what a university education would do to my faith. Indeed, my dear grandfather, Jacob G. Thiessen, a well-known preacher in Mennonite Brethren circles, was opposed to my going to university immediately after high school. I survived the year, thanks in a large measure to the support of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) on campus.


It had always been my intent to get some Bible training at some point in my education. Given the many difficulties I faced during my first year at university, I decided to interrupt my university education to study at Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC) in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My initial plan was to stay only one year. During that first year, I took every available Bible course and thoroughly enjoyed getting a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. David Ewert’s courses in particular showed me how careful scholarship and a love of Scripture can go hand in hand! In the end, I stayed at MBBC for three years, graduating in 1963.

I benefited enormously from my three years at MBBC, not least in simply growing up. Of special significance was my acquiring a better understanding of the Bible. However, there was little by way of encouraging critical thinking. Answers were at times too pat, and there was a bit of a fortress mentality at the college. So, beyond giving me a good grounding in the Scriptures, the college did little by way of preparing me for the challenges I would face when I entered the field of philosophy. However, my studies in theology and the history of the church did help me to develop some competence in the humanities—I had nearly failed an introductory English course in my first year of university.


I returned to the University of Saskatchewan to finish my science degree. However, I did take a course in philosophy during the first year of my return to university, and after that I was hooked. I went on to complete an honors year, ending up with a double major in physics and philosophy. Before I focus on the philosophical part of my story, let me reflect a little on my background in science. I loved science. It was precise, it dealt with the observable, and it produced clear-cut answers. I absorbed the typical {220} twentieth-century attitudes toward science, attitudes that were shaped by the Enlightenment. Science is objective, and it gives us certainty and knowledge. My studies in science also shaped my philosophical outlook. It gave me a healthy respect for empiricism, which claims that knowledge must be based on the five senses.

Of course, empiricism seems to create a significant challenge to Christian faith. God would seem to be beyond sense experience. The issue of empirical verification was at the heart of the logical positivist movement that began in the 1920s, and still had significant influence in philosophy departments in North America when I was completing my undergraduate studies. I wrestled with the challenge of logical positivism to religious faith in my early studies in philosophy. During my fourth year at university, we studied A. J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic (Victor Gollantz, 1936/1946), and I couldn’t help but be impressed with Ayer’s verification principle: a genuinely factual statement must be empirically verifiable. But does the principle of verification entail that statements about God are meaningless? This challenge created significant doubts about my Christian faith. Indeed, it was during this year that I experienced a crisis of faith, and began wondering whether intellectual integrity demanded a rejection of the Christian faith with which I had grown up.

The local chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship held a Christian mission on the university campus during my graduating year (1966), and the main speaker for this mission was John W. Montgomery, an historian, Lutheran theologian, and Christian apologist. He was also invited to lecture in one of my philosophy classes, and I was deeply impressed with his clear reasoning. I asked if I could meet with him to discuss my doubts and a paper I had prepared, “A.J. Ayer and Religious Knowledge,” which I was going to present to the philosophy club. We met, and his first comment was, “This is a great paper. You should definitely go on in philosophy or theology.” I certainly needed this kind of encouragement at the time. Here is an example of a little word of encouragement playing a significant role in someone’s life. I pray that I will have done this for other students in my own academic career.

Montgomery also addressed my doubts concerning the verifiability of the Christian faith by highlighting the significance of the Word becoming flesh (John 1:1-11). God entered space and time in the person of Jesus Christ. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provide empirical justification for believing in the existence of God. I purchased Montgomery’s book, History and Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1964), which provides an outline of an historical argument for the existence of God. This book, my discussion with Montgomery, and his lectures on campus led to a renewed confidence in my Christian faith. {221}

Over the years I have come to appreciate the significance of the incarnation as the foundation of the Christian faith. For many people, especially philosophers, this foundation might seem rather flimsy, based as it is on contingent historical fact. Indeed, this is in part what lies behind Paul’s claim that the preaching of Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23, NIV passim). But Paul goes on and dares to suggest that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then “our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor 15:14).

It is this historical event that continues to be the bedrock of my Christian faith—God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Over time, I have, of course, had to address additional philosophical challenges that are raised by this empirical approach to justifying the Christian faith. Then there is the question about the historicity and the accuracy of the gospel accounts of Jesus. But I remain convinced that there is an historical core to the Gospels, and this is enough for me. I am therefore deeply saddened whenever I read or hear theologians and preachers make light of this astounding empirical claim, or when they raise skeptical doubts about the Gospels, which record this momentous event in history.


Why did I switch from science to philosophy? It wasn’t easy to make this change. Some members of my family were strongly opposed to my entering the suspicious field of philosophy. But I was facing an increasing disenchantment with physics. Yes, there was something satisfying about the precision of science, but in what way did the complicated formulae on the blackboard relate to existential questions about life and its meaning? Learning about the laws of science seemed to me to be increasingly unimportant. After all, science itself rests on philosophical assumptions, and it was these assumptions that I was finding more and more intriguing.

My final course in the sciences was Physics 351, Introduction to Modern Physics. I had told my professor that I was taking a double major in physics and philosophy, and thankfully he sympathized with my divided loyalties. He loved to tease the class by pushing the boundaries of science into discussions of philosophical assumptions underlying nuclear physics. I loved these integrative excursions, and it made my transition to philosophy easier. But Professor Montalbetti was a bit ahead of his time in recognizing that ultimately science is shaped by worldviews, and perhaps even theology!

In part, my enchantment with philosophy was also due to the tensions it created regarding my Christian faith. I wanted to test my faith. I wanted to see if it could withstand the challenges of rigorous thinking, and philosophy seemed to be the area where the challenge might be the {222} hottest. My first philosophy teacher was an ex-Baptist, turned atheist. Professor T. Y. Henderson loved to spend the first fifteen minutes of many a philosophy class heaping ridicule on the Billy Graham column of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. I still remember one of the first philosophy essays that I wrote for him, in which I made a valiant effort to provide a rational defense of my Christian faith. When I got it back, Professor Henderson had written the equivalent of another whole essay of comments in glaring red ink, but amazingly, I still got a good mark on the essay.

Another significant event in my intellectual development was the reading of Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian (London: Allen & Unwin, 1957). I still remember my hesitation in reading this book. It remained on my shelves for quite some time before I mustered the courage to read it. I was rather delighted to discover that the book wasn’t as threatening to my faith as I thought it would be. The margins of my copy of this book are scribbled full of my rebuttals to Russell’s objections to Christianity.

Throughout my philosophical career I have struggled with the relation between faith and reason, and as I have already described in the previous section, my struggle nearly ended with a loss of faith. After years of reflection, I still believe that faith and reason must go together. Faith without reason leads to irrationalism. A sharp compartmentalization between faith and reason ultimately breaks down: people who hold this position are always inconsistent. They inevitably use reason at some point to defend their faith. I further believe that we are called to love God with our minds (Matt 22:37). Failure to think is a betrayal of our humanity. We are called to supplement faith with knowledge (2 Pet 1:5). Religious commitment without reflection leads to dangerous fanaticism, which Paul warns against (Rom 10:2). 1 Instead, as Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the eleventh century, stated, our approach should always be one of “faith seeking understanding.”

My philosophical outlook has been shaped to a significant degree by what has come to be known as “Reformed epistemology.” Indeed, I often say that I owe my philosophical salvation to the Reformed philosophers who have built on the writings of John Calvin and Abraham Kuyper. I was first introduced to this philosophical tradition by the writings of Francis Schaeffer in the late 1960s. 2 I found Schaeffer’s overview of the history of ideas most instructive. He introduced me to the notion of presuppositions, underscoring the importance of penetrating to the underlying assumptions of a belief system to really understand a position or argument. 3

Reformed epistemology challenges the notion of the autonomy of human reason. Ultimately a person’s reason is shaped by a pretheoretical faith commitment. It is the heart that determines the direction of human {223} reason. Our thinking is further very much influenced by our history, our environment, and even our psychology, and so we need to give up the Enlightenment idea that rationality is all of one piece, that we all reason in the same way, and that all rational people will come to the same conclusion. Hence the appropriateness of the title of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book: Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (University of Notre Dame Press, 1988). Indeed, these insights of Reformed epistemology have been reinforced by any number of postmodern critiques of the Enlightenment.

This emphasis on presuppositions and the subjectivity of reason seems to lead to epistemological relativism and social constructivism. It is these problems that I have been wrestling with in the last few decades and have gradually come to adopt a position of critical realism. 4 Regarding relativism and truth claims, I have found that confusion abounds when we fail to differentiate between the search for truth and Truth itself. The human search for truth is relative—we are often forced to admit that we have got it wrong. To pretend that we can arrive at absolute Truth is to be conceited. But without absolute Truth as a goal, our search for truth becomes hollow and directionless. One of my favorite quotes is from William James: “The ‘absolutely’ true, meaning what no further experience will ever alter, is that ideal vanishing point toward which we imagine that all our temporary truths will someday converge.” 5

The limitations that surround our search for truth highlight the need to be open-minded, another theme that has been the focus of some of my writing. 6 Indeed, I believe open-mindedness is a key intellectual virtue. But like all good things, this intellectual virtue can be distorted. We can be so open-minded that we forget about the goal of coming closer to the Truth (cf. 2 Tim 3:7). Somehow, we need to find a healthy balance between commitment and open-mindedness.

In the last few decades I have also explored the notion of “worldview,” and more specifically a Christian worldview, and have been teaching courses on this subject since my retirement. 7 I have been inspired by a statement made by Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch journalist, politician, educator, and theologian, who in the climax of his inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880 stated, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ ” 8 This statement summarizes a long-held passion of mine for developing a uniquely Christian mind in the field of philosophy. Here I am indebted to a book I read while I was still an undergraduate student, The Christian Mind, by Harry Blamires (S.P.C.K., 1963). Another essay I discovered later in my career, and that I found deeply inspiring, was Alvin Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers.” 9 Sadly, there are Christian scholars {224} who deny outright the very idea of a uniquely Christian perspective on their disciplines. Hence my continued urging of Christian scholars to develop a distinctively Christian mind in their academic disciplines. 10


My first year of graduate studies at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) was a challenge because my background in philosophy was not that strong, given my double major in physics and philosophy in my undergraduate studies. During our seminars, I often found myself struggling just to keep up with the discussion. Indeed, I was seriously questioning whether I should go on in this discipline. Here again it was a few encouraging words from a professor that played a significant role in my continuing in philosophy.

My future wife, Maggie Friesen, was “coincidentally” also studying at McMaster. We were married the following summer and soon after the wedding went to Germany for a one-year “honeymoon,” as I had received a one-year exchange scholarship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst. While in Germany I completed my MA thesis on the concept of God in Immanuel Kant’s writings. I was applying for jobs during this year, as I wanted a break from studies. Surprisingly, despite an incomplete MA, I got a sessional appointment at Waterloo Lutheran University, Ontario. Despite the challenges of these first two years of teaching, I found teaching invigorating and sensed a calling to teach philosophy, and so I enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Waterloo.

In the meantime, we had our first child. I started applying for jobs, in part because I was very conscious of my responsibilities in supporting a growing family, but also because philosophy positions in Canada were scarce at the time. Thus, I did not hesitate to accept an offer from Medicine Hat College in Alberta when it came, even though I had only completed one year of PhD studies. As a result, completing my PhD was stretched out over the next ten years. I ended up staying at Medicine Hat College for thirty-six years.

Here let me identify two specific challenges that I faced in my teaching career. My church background entrenched in me a dualistic, sacred-secular, attitude toward work. Indeed, I read essays that argued that work was merely a context in which one’s true evangelical calling as a Christian could be fulfilled. 11 This approach leads to a trivialization of the endless hours one spends at work and in one’s career, and further has the effect of creating a lot of guilt, because it is hard to evangelize when one is marking papers! It took me a long time to see that work well done honors God (Col 3:16). 12

This is not to say that evangelism should not be part of the practice of one’s vocation. And it is here where I faced the second challenge in {225} my teaching, as I tried to find a way to do this in a professional and ethical manner. I experimented with various ways to declare my Christian commitment in the classroom. Whatever approach I used, eventually I made it a point to openly declare my faith and warn my students (with a smile) that they were stuck with a Christian philosopher, and that my commitment would color everything that I said in the classroom. I don’t think it is possible to be neutral in that setting. Nor is it desirable. Having a professor who teaches from and for commitment is much more interesting for students. Indeed, I believe integrity demands openness about our ideological commitments, especially in a subject area like philosophy. Obviously, there are some professional and ethical constraints to being open about one’s faith in the context of philosophy lectures in a secular classroom. 13

One student, in an evaluation of one of my ethics courses wrote, “This was a great class, Dr. Thiessen. Unfortunately, you opened my conscience up; is there another class I could take so I can shut it off!” No, I didn’t offer such a course, because I believe in teaching for commitment.

I love teaching. Teaching for me wasn’t just about doing philosophy—it involved mentoring and caring for the whole student. Invariably, there were a few students who would dialogue with me after class, or whose visits to my office were more frequent, and I cherished these deeper relationships. Here I could be more open about my Christian faith. I was also able to encourage Christian students who were struggling with their faith. During my thirty-six years of teaching at Medicine Hat College, I taught over four thousand students. What a privilege!


While I had vowed to focus on teaching at the beginning of my career, I was surprised to discover that I also loved to write and that my stuff did indeed get published. Alvin Plantinga, in an essay previously cited, urges Christian philosophers to let the church set part of their agenda. I concur, and so some of my academic writing has focused on topics that are important for the church. In my first book, I defend Christian nurture in the home and in Christian schools against the charge of indoctrination. 14 My second book defends Christian schools and colleges against a variety of charges. 15 After my retirement, I have moved to more theologically-oriented research and writing. Hence my latest book on the ethics of evangelism. 16

However, my academic writing is not only done for the church. For example, my book on the ethics of evangelism is written with two readerships in mind: skeptics who are opposed to religion and religious persuasion, and religious adherents, especially evangelical Christians, who are very much committed to evangelism. Indeed, one overriding aim {226} in my academic writing has been to bridge the divide that all too often separates the Christian and the secular mind.

I have found myself within a secular academic context for most of my career and all of my graduate studies. This has presented some unique challenges, including the call to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ. A department chair once told me that whenever they processed applications for a new position, any applicants that had a religious background were put on the bottom of the pile. He didn’t realize that I had applied for a position in his department some time earlier! Needless to say, I didn’t get that job.

I have also experienced anti-Christian bias in applying for various kinds of research grants and fellowships. In one case, a referee claimed to speak on behalf of other Canadian academics in my field, informing me that some scholars, both in philosophy and in religious studies, regarded me as “narrow in training and perspective.” He went on: “It is true that in certain ways Thiessen marches to the beat of a different drummer than most of his colleagues in Canadian philosophy of religion and religious studies.” Another referee expressed concern about my “consuming research interests and studies,” which all seemed to be related to religion. And then this: “Could he overcome his own personal religious convictions and concentrate on developing philosophical arguments that could compel and stand against any critical inquiry simply because they represent philosophical thinking at its best?” This very same comment appeared again in a later evaluation of an application for a major Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant. I suspect it was the same person.

Well, I didn’t get that grant, nor the earlier fellowship. While I would be the first to admit that there may be some good academic reasons why I didn’t get them, and while I am also prepared to admit that some of the criticisms made in these reports may have some justification, I do have a problem with their cutting edge. There are anti-Christian biases out there, and they hurt. After reading these reports, I had to swallow hard a few times, pray a little, do some introspection, and ask myself the hard question as to whether there was some legitimacy to some of the criticisms. But, in the end I needed to move on, still marching to the beat of a different drummer, and still writing on topics that I felt called to write about. I also had to remind myself that Christ has called us to share in His sufferings, and that includes philosophers who are followers of Jesus Christ (Matt 5:11; 1 Pet 2:21).


I love philosophy and the exchange of arguments with fellow philosophers. I love ideas and interacting with others about ideas. I love teaching and {227} seeing students respond to new ideas. I love research and writing. But I have also come to see the dangers of a preoccupation with intellectual life and philosophy. An admonition of the nineteenth century Danish Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard has challenged me: “Christ did not appoint professors, but followers.” So has Blaise Pascal, a seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, who made this observation: “Pious scholars are rare.” We are called to love God with our whole being: with heart, soul, strength and mind. Then there is the call to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37-40). I have struggled with these calls to love and with discipleship, and I don’t think I am alone. I believe academics are generally not very good lovers—lovers of God or lovers of our neighbors. Somehow, the education we have received seems to militate against love and old-fashioned piety.

I recall my time at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College when for the first time I was reading the Bible as part of my academic studies. Again, I loved it. But I also remember struggling with the relation of my studies to my times of quiet meditation, devotional reading of the Bible, and prayer. In fact, were the latter even necessary, now that I was studying the Bible as part of my academic program? I’m not sure I resolved this question entirely while I was at MBBC. Once I was back at a secular university studying science and philosophy, the importance of a devotional life was again more obvious.

As I continued in my academic pursuits, I think I came to a better integration of heart and mind. Most days I spend some time in the reading of Scripture, meditation, and prayer. While teaching, I liked to begin my day with ten to fifteen minutes of devotional reading and prayer in my office—I felt it was important to “sanctify” the workplace. I have found it useful to combine the reading of a portion of Scripture with a good commentary on the passage of Scripture I am reading. As my mind is able to better comprehend the meaning of Scripture, I am led to worship, commitment, and prayer. So, my piety is intimately bound up with the exercise of my intellect. I believe that one temptation we academics face is to always take a stance of sitting in judgment over the Word of God, critically analyzing what is written. 17 I have found it important to give up my academic persona and to let the Word of God judge me.

One other experience deserves mention. I’m not even sure exactly when it occurred—it may have happened during my difficult first year at university, or during my fourth year at the university when I was I was facing intense doubts about my faith, coupled with deep discouragement and a lack of motivation, even to the point of thinking about quitting university. In any case, it was in one of those difficult years that I had what I can only describe as a mystical experience. Indeed, I may even {228} have spoken in tongues. I was in the home of an IVCF staff member, and must have been sharing the emotional turmoil I was going through. We all knelt to pray, and I kept on praying. I was so absorbed in prayer that eventually my hosts had to gently intervene because they had to go to another appointment. I recall repeating the name of “Jesus” over and over again. While in this trance-like state, I experienced an overwhelming sense of peace. God, I am sure, was meeting some deeply felt needs of mine at the time. Perhaps a human being is more than a rational animal! Over the years, this experience has also served to temper my criticisms of the charismatic branch of the Christian church.


I grew up within a Mennonite Brethren church context and am deeply indebted to this church tradition for nurturing me in the Christian faith. During graduate studies and early in my career, various churches provided opportunities for me to exercise my gifts in teaching and preaching. For most of my academic career I was actively involved in the local Mennonite Brethren church in Medicine Hat, Alberta, where I often served as Sunday school teacher and held a variety of leadership positions, including that of moderator and lay minister. My service in the denomination expanded over the years to include writing for the Mennonite Brethren Herald and being on conference committees and boards. A highlight for me was a year of pulpit supply in a small evangelical church near Medicine Hat while this church was without a pastor.

Belonging to a specific church is not always easy. Most often I have been the only philosopher in the church, and there were some in the church who were suspicious of academics, philosophers most particularly. Anti-intellectualism has of course been very pervasive among North American evangelicals in past decades, as has been documented by Mark Noll, 18 and this includes the Mennonite Brethren church. So, I had to work at continuing to relate to those who were not academically inclined, and to love those who looked at me with suspicion. In my teaching and preaching, I also worked hard at helping church members to come to an understanding of the broader implications of the gospel. I also felt called to counter the narrowness and dogmatism that is all too often present in evangelical and MB churches, and to offer critique where I have felt this was necessary.

After moving to Waterloo, Ontario, in 2007, and after several months of searching and discernment, we decided to join a Mennonite church whose membership includes many professionals and academics. Over time we have discovered that theological perspectives in the church are diverse, with many embracing a more liberal theology than our own. Learning to navigate these waters has been another interesting learning {229} experience. In my teaching and preaching in this church, I find myself once again trying to stretch my fellow church members, but this time in the opposite direction, attempting to bring them closer to what I consider a more orthodox understanding of the gospel and of the Anabaptist faith. I have discovered that resistance to change can be just as present within a liberal theological mindset as it is among those who are more conservative in theological orientation.

While in Medicine Hat I was considered too liberal; here in our Waterloo church I am viewed as conservative. Perhaps that is exactly where I want to be theologically—somewhere in the middle! My critiques of both sides of the theological spectrum have not always been welcomed. Yet while I have always learned from others in my local congregation, I have also not hesitated to play a prophetic role in the church. Sometimes this stance has led me to feel isolated. Then again, perhaps this is what we as Christians should expect, given that we are always longing for a better home (Heb 11:13-16).


My journey with Christ as a philosopher has been challenging but deeply satisfying. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. My journey isn’t over yet. With Paul, I continue to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (Phil 3:12).

What advice would I give to young people entertaining a future career in the academic world and perhaps even in philosophy? Always remember, all truth is God’s truth. So don’t be afraid to search for truth wherever it might be found. But as you search for truth, make sure that you are genuinely open-minded. Do not come to settled conclusions too soon. Be careful also to remain open to God’s wonderful revelation in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. And as you search for truth in essays and books written by adherents to other religions, atheists, and skeptics, read them with Christian charity, welcoming truth where it is to be found, but at the same time, being alert, critical, and on the lookout for presuppositions that run counter to God’s general and special revelation and will in the end lead you astray.

Cultivate a genuinely Christian mind, whatever your field of study. This will require additional reading that is specifically geared to integrating biblical truth with your discipline. Finally, continue to study and meditate on God’s Word. And when you do, make sure that you come with an attitude of humility and a willingness to submit to God’s Word. {230}


  1. Of course, I have had to wrestle with some theological objections to my emphasis on reason. Does not the writer of the letter to the Hebrews focus instead on faith (Heb 11:1)? And does not Paul say that “the message of the cross is foolishness,” and that God “will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1 Cor 1:18–19)? Here I have been especially helped by a book by Paul Gooch, Partial Knowledge: Philosophical Studies in Paul (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987). Gooch argues that Paul was not criticizing scholars and philosophers per se but dealing with the problem of intellectual pride that is a very real temptation for scholars. I have also come to see that the author of Hebrews is not in any way rejecting reason in favor of faith. Indeed, he goes on to say that by faith “we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command” (Heb 11:3). Faith involves understanding. Further, as I have often told my students, knowledge begins and ends with faith. We always start with presuppositions that are in one sense accepted by faith. And the conclusions we reach after careful empirical and rational investigation are never absolutely certain, and so we make a leap of faith even after we have reached tentative conclusions, just so we can get on with life.
  2. See Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1968) and The God Who Is There (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1968). My wife and I paid a visit to Schaeffer’s L’Abri retreat center in Switzerland in 1968, during our one-year stay in Europe after our wedding.
  3. Other Reformed books and essays I found particularly helpful in sorting out my epistemological outlook include George Mavrodes, Belief in God: A Study in the Epistemology of Religion (New York: Random House, 1970), Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), and William P. Alston’s essay “Religious Experience and Religious Belief,” Noûs 16, no. 1 (1982): 3–12.
  4. Critical realism maintains that while we can never access reality as it really is, there is still an objectively “given” reality that we are trying to comprehend, however incompletely, and against which our interpretations rub. We must therefore always be open to critically examining our present interpretation of reality in hopes of moving toward a better and more complete understanding.
  5. William James, Essays in Pragmatism (New York: Hafner, 1968), 170.
  6. “Religious Education and Committed Openness,” in Inspiring Faith: Studies in Religious Education, ed. Marius Felderhof, Penny Thompson, and David Torevell (Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2007), 35–46; “Teaching for Committed Openness,” in Cultivating Inquiry Across the Curriculum, ed. Kim A. Winsor (Lexington, MA: Lexington Christian Academy, 2008), 159–85.
  7. Here I am indebted to David Naugle’s book, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), and two books that I like to use as texts in my courses: Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), and Albert Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985, 2005). {231} More recently, Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew have published Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008).
  8. Quoted in Richard J. Mouw, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 4.
  9. Alvin Plantinga, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Faith and Philosophy 1, no. 3 (1984): 253–71.
  10. For some of my articles defending a Christian worldview, see “In Defence of Developing a Theoretical Christian Mind: A Response to Oliver R. Barclay,” The Evangelical Quarterly: An International Review of Bible and Theology 64, no. 1 (1992): 37–54; “Refining the Conversation: Some Concerns about Contemporary Trends in Thinking about Worldviews, Christian Scholarship and Higher Education,” The Evangelical Quarterly: An International Review of Bible and Theology 79, no. 2 (2007): 133–52; “Educating our Desires for God’s Kingdom,” Review article on Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, by James K. A. Smith. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), in Journal of Education and Christian Belief 14, no. 1 (2010): 47–53.
  11. I still have in my files an article written by a well-known Mennonite Brethren teacher and preacher, Frank C. Peters, entitled, “Brother, Your Work is Not Your Calling,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, 27 August 1971, 2–3.
  12. Thankfully, there are evangelicals who have come to a healthier understanding of work in the last decade or so, with many books being written underscoring the importance of work as a form of worship. See, for example, Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville, TN: Word, 1998).
  13. See my essay, “Evangelism in the Classroom,” in the Journal of Education and Christian Belief 17, no. 2 (2013): 221–41, for a treatment of this problem. A condensed version of this essay appears in Foundations of Education: A Christian Vision, ed. Matthew Etherington (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), 104–18.
  14. Teaching for Commitment: Liberal Education, Indoctrination, and Christian Nurture (Montreal & Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press; and Gracewing, Leominster, UK, 1993).
  15. In Defence of Religious Schools and Colleges (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001).
  16. The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defence of Proselytizing and Persuasion (Crownhill, Milton Keynes: Paternoster; and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2011). I have nearly completed another manuscript on the same topic, but which focuses on a biblical study of the ethics of evangelism. It will be published by Wipf and Stock under their Cascade label.
  17. See my article, “Temptations Facing the Christian Academic,” in Direction: A Mennonite Brethren Forum 37, no. 1 (2008): 60–70.
  18. See for example, Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).
Elmer J. Thiessen is a semiretired philosopher, having earned a BTh from Mennonite Brethren Bible College (Winnipeg, Manitoba), a BA from the University of Saskatchewan (with a major in physics and philosophy), and an MA in philosophy from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He received his PhD from the University of Waterloo in 1980, having successfully defended his dissertation on the problem of indoctrination. He taught at Medicine Hat College (Alberta) for thirty-six years. His most recent foreign teaching assignments include Meserete Kristos College in Ethiopia and the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology in Kingston, Jamaica. He currently serves as Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, Ontario.

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