Westmont Magazine Letter from the President
Across time and throughout history, God’s love has touched countless people. Often these encounters awaken a spiritual longing in us, and we begin to seek this love more fully as its presence grows in our lives. Forty years ago, this longing awakened in me. As I began my own spiritual journey, I received enormous help from brilliant professors, caring friends and a host of great works within the Christian intellectual tradition.
After college, I attended Princeton Theological Seminary, where I studied with Diogenes Allen, then serving as Stuart professor of philosophy. In the early 1980s, Dr. Allen was integrating philosophy, theology and church history in the most compelling synthesis I had ever encountered. He presented an order and pattern that unveiled the depths of our life with God while providing reasonable evidence of the intellectual credibility of Christianity.
But as I made progress in this life, close friends who rejected my convictions expressed general hesitancy and occasional disdain. These conversations renewed my interest and energy in the intellectual integrity of Christianity. I wanted to know for myself that the faith could hold up in the marketplace of ideas — that our life with God was more than just meaningful, that it was true and satisfied a deep longing. I continue to read the literature I first discovered at Princeton. I now realize that asking and pursuing answers to life’s most important questions is an essential part of the Christian life. What is the good life? Who is a good person? How do I become the kind of person who can seek and find the good life? Is there proof for the existence of God? What is the meaning of suffering, and how do I reconcile the idea of a loving God with it?
These questions and many more motivate every new generation to seek and find answers that can guide them to a rich and fulfilling life. But in our cultural moment, many have become indifferent and even contemptuous toward Christian belief. Leading institutions have set religion aside as a worn-out and irrelevant view of the world. When individuals experience a desire for God, the cultural environment fails to encourage any serious consideration of God and denies this desire the room it needs to develop. Why does a desire for God seem so marginalized today? In a word: distraction. In his Confessions, Augustine characterized our distraction by his famous phrase, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Reflecting on his own life, Augustine recognized that although he needed God, he failed to initially recognize the source and cause of his desire as a longing for God. Our capacity to perceive and respond to God’s love needs to be developed. As it grows, we can finally see and understand.
Today, we’re increasingly aware that we’ve severely compromised many of the centers of meaning and value that sustain and enrich us. At the same time, a significant chorus of writers seeks to recover the rich resources that have guided us morally, sustained us spiritually and satisfied our deep longing for God. The combination of these dilemmas and nearly universal access to these resources propels the resurgence of interest in the Christian intellectual tradition and invites our own engagement with it.
Many of us fail to see a pattern to our life or understand the purpose behind our individual experiences. We walk most of our lives in the dark, without attaining nearly as much understanding as we would like, even when we occasionally catch a glimpse of God’s grand design. But we also have a privilege and advantage denied to earlier generations.
We have the testimony of Scripture, which includes accounts of Jesus himself. We know the stories of the great saints
of the church as well as their essential writings across time. In every age, followers of God and earnest pilgrims have cultivated their life with God through the writings of Scripture, the theological reflections of others, the capacities of human reason, the cultural resources of the day, the regular rhythm of the church year and our daily spiritual disciplines. Through our engagement with this rich tapestry of resources, we begin to unify our inner life with the outward expression of these thoughts, ideas and feelings so we can become an expression of the life and thought of Christ. We never do this perfectly or completely, but the disciplines express the hidden, inward life where God works on our understanding, emotions and will. Here we encounter God and embrace the fullness of life with him.
As an institution that works at the heart of the Christian intellectual tradition, we recognize the role every discipline plays in building our faith. As we go forward in life, we’re grateful for the many resources God provides that sustain our longing for him. Every one of us is responsible to work out our life with God and bring it to its fullest expression. We make consistent and impressive headway when we draw on the wisdom of those who have gone before us — those who form an unbroken link in the great chain of the Christian intellectual tradition.
In the pages that follow, as well as the weeks and months that lie ahead, we want to address the various ways we seek to extend the reach and influence of the college by our deliberate engagement with this tradition.
Gayle D. Beebe