Westmont Magazine Who Can Find a Virtuous Life?
Jay Wood ’76 had no interest in Christianity when he followed a girl to a Youth for Christ camp at Westmont. “I was a bit of a juvenile delinquent in high school and thought I was too cool for school,” he says. But a class on the philosophy of religion intrigued him and so did the teacher, Bruce Baloian ’69, a Campus Live staff member who later became a professor.
“Bruce introduced me to C.S. Lewis and “The Problem of Pain,” he says. “It was enough to show me that Christianity was not just for intellectually complacent or weak-minded people.” Jay began a slow conversion. “Bruce hung with me for several years,” he says. “I was a new Christian by the time I enrolled at El Camino Community College, which I attended before transferring to Westmont. I didn’t know anything about college, but if it was good enough for Bruce, it was good enough for me.”
Insecure about measuring up intellectually, Jay received encouragement from his professors and fellow philosophy students, including Laura Zimmerman Garcia ’77, Steve Bilyn- skyj ’77 and Mark Lebar ’77. His senior year he held four jobs to supplement his Cal Grant and scholarship from El Camino. Jay and Warren Shank ’76 unloaded boxcars together in the freight yards of Los Angeles during the summer.
“My undergraduate training deepened my questions and made them more complex and nuanced,” he says. “When we were teenagers, philosophical questions were in the air. Forming an adequate philosophy of life was a leading goal in the annual UCLA survey of incoming first-year students.
“I realized I needed more training to address deeply the questions philosophy posed, so I studied with Alvin Plantinga at Notre Dame during graduate school. My professors encouraged me, as did friends; Steve and Laura also studied philosophy at Notre Dame.”
Laura, scholar in residence at Boston College, Steve and Jay earned doctorates in philosophy. Steve went on to seminary and serves as pastor of Valley Covenant in Eugene, Oregon. Mark got accepted to Notre Dame but received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Arizona and teaches at Florida State University.
Jay knew Nathan Hatch, then a history professor at Notre Dame, from a Bible study and from painting his house. Hatch casually asked him if he were interested in the philosophy position at Wheaton. Jay had not been invited to apply, but Hatch encouraged Art Holmes, chair of Wheaton’s philosophy department, to consider him. Holmes offered Jay the job a day after interviewing him.
During his 37-year career at Wheaton, Jay has studied philosophy of religion, epistemology and virtue ethics. He has written widely for both scholarly and popular publications, and his books include “Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous” (Contours of Christian Philosophy, InterVarsity Press) “God” (Central Problems of Philosophy, McGill-Queen’s University Press), and “Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology” with co-author Robert C. Roberts (Oxford University Press).
Virtue has exploded as a topic of academic interest. “I have 10 feet of books in my office on the study of virtue, and most of them are more recent,” Jay says. He applauds this development at a time when basic standards of civil discourse and decency are deteriorating. A lag time usually occurs before academic study becomes part of the public discourse, but Jay notes that David Brooks and many others are sharing some of the work on virtue with a popular audience. Quoting Aristotle’s belief that training in childhood is important in developing virtue, Jay notes that virtue as a subject has filtered in to elementary and secondary education.
How can Christians best convey virtue? By embodying it, Jay says. “All those years ago, Bruce showed me an authentic and compelling life of virtue. Our moral improvement occurs when we come in contact with people we love and respect. Ideally that begins at home and, for Christians, in church. Seeing people live excellent lives attracts and inspires us.”
Jay says we become Christ-like not by being stamped by a cookie cutter, but by being transformed, like a cater- pillar. “I’m surprised by the activist language in the New Testament,” he says. “Train yourself in godliness, work out your salvation, fight the good fight. Developing virtue requires effort.”