Westmont Magazine An Honored Alumnus
Who I am today is to a large extent the result of the instruction and the personal interaction that took place here a quarter century ago. I would be a completely different person, I think, were it not for the stimulation — the ideas and the experiences — I received here.
The irony is that I never intended to graduate from Westmont! Frankly, it was not my first college choice. I was given an early decision by Amherst College in Massachusetts. However, thanks to the wise counsel of Bob Gundry, I decided to defer admission one year and to do something else, something creative. I decided to get a Christian grounding before heading off to the secular East. I decided to come to Westmont. I’m probably the only person who took deferred admission from one college in order to attend another. In any case, at the end of my freshman year, I had a decision to make: I could make camp where I was or I could, like Lot, journey east to what at that time seemed the better portion. I took the road more traveled by, the road toward secular success; I left Westmont after my freshman year for my potted Ivy League college and became a freshman all over again.
I soon began to wonder whether I had chosen wisely. My introduction to philosophy course was more like an indoctrination to a particular way of doing philosophy; we spent the first five weeks ridiculing Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God. In my English courses, I was encouraged not to read to find out what the author was trying to communicate but to explore my own feelings. As I was planning to double major in philosophy and English, I began to worry. And I began to realize that my Westmont education had been more genuinely “liberal” — broader, more balanced — than what I was hearing at Amherst. Of course, I would not have known that I was being indoctrinated had I not already had courses in religious studies and philosophy at Westmont.
Anyway, half-way through the semester, I wrote a letter to Bob Gundry asking if the prodigal could return. Bob wrote a wonderful letter in response, assuring me that, should I return, the fatted calf of academic education would be roasted to my taste: well done. I came back, and it was. I have never regretted leaving Amherst. And I am delighted to be able to tell the story of my first homecoming to Westmont at my second.
Apart from the friendships I forged, what I most value from my time at Westmont is the vision, or perhaps the question, that haunted the curriculum: how do we integrate faith and learning? How can we pursue the liberal arts, the natural and the social sciences, in a distinctively Christian way? How can we undertake our various vocations to the glory of God? I said that I valued this question. I never got a single clear or definitive answer, but that didn’t matter. For the question, once posed, was impossible to forget, or ignore. It is a wonderfully subversive question. It is the question of the disciple who seeks to “hold Christ first” regardless of what else she or he happens to be doing.
This question, together with its implied vision of faith and learning working together in peaceful coexistence, continues to inform my work as a theologian. Thanks in large part to Westmont, the kind of theology I write and teach is more than biblical information processing. Indeed, it often looks like it belongs in a Christian liberal arts curriculum. For theology is about how to live wisely as a witness to the truth of Jesus Christ wherever we are, whatever we happen to be doing.
So, while I am very honored to be named alumnus of the year, I see that what really matters for my life is simply that I am an alumnus. Thank you.
by Kevin Vanhoozer ’78