Things that grow big start small. The January Series at Calvin College fits the pattern. More than 30 years ago it began as a lunch-break lecture series for first-year students enrolled in a three-week exploration of “Christian Perspectives on Learning,” with a mix of local faculty and guest speakers. As its founder June Hamersma was able to add more prominent figures to the lineup, audiences grew and donors vied to be daily sponsors. In January 1997, to cite just one year’s roster, students and local residents had a chance to hear free one-hour presentations by Hanan Ashrawi, David Broder, Morris Dees, Jeffrey Stout, James Fallows, and Jonathan Kozol.
Under the guidance of Hamersma and her successor Kristi Potter, the three-week series has become one of the most popular escapes from the rigors of a Michigan winter, for both the Calvin community and the wider community of West Michigan. Three times it was honored as “Best Campus Lecture Series in the U.S.” by the National Platform Society. In recent years, each lecture has been streamed live to audiences at nearly 50 remote sites. Viewers in Tucson and Tulsa and Denver and Boston have been able to listen to the presentations and even to question the speakers via email and Twitter. (Archived video and audio recordings of most lecturers, and advance notice of each year’s speakers, can be found at calvin.edu/january.)
One of the January Series events in January 2016 featured not a single speaker but a panel devoted to “The Renaissance in Christian Thought.” This was a rather grand title for a set of personal and intellectual reminiscences by four former faculty members at Calvin: historian George Marsden and philosophers Richard Mouw, Alvin Plantinga, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Each of the four began teaching at Calvin between 1959 and 1968. After a couple of decades at Calvin, each moved on in the 1980s – to Duke, Fuller Seminary, Notre Dame, and Yale, respectively – but maintained close ties to Calvin.
And each is widely recognized for his many contributions to the resurgence of Christian scholarship in the humanities, which was no more than a small seedling in the overwhelmingly post-Christian academy in which they received their graduate training. Enriched by their work in history, philosophy, and theology, and by that of their contemporaries at many other Christian colleges and universities, that seedling has grown into a large and capacious tree – or better yet a whole forest – of faith-infused scholarly inquiry across all the disciplines in the academy. Christian Scholar’s Review has been a vital part of this history as well, from its founding as a successor to the Gordon Review in 1970 to its present status as a pre-eminent outlet for interdisciplinary Christian scholarship.
We asked these four eminent scholars to share their reflections with CSR readers, not as an inclusive or definitive account – many others in many disciplines and on many campuses played no less important roles, after all – but simply as a set of insightful personal narratives from a few of the leaders in the effort to bring religious perspectives back into the conversations of the academy. We hope readers will find something here both to inform and to inspire.
On January 7, 2016 – at precisely 12:30 p.m. – Calvin’s president, Michael LeRoy, welcomed the reunion of “Calvin’s Fab Four” to the stage of the Covenant Fine Arts Center. (Marsden opened his remarks with the comment: “I’m not sure who is John and who is Paul and who is Ringo, but I am definitely George.”) College chaplain Mary S. Hulst added a brief introduction, saying, in part:
Each of the men who we will hear from today spent some time on this campus—two of them as students, all of them as professors. Because of their work, people actually think differently. People think differently about art and justice, evil and the existence of God, evangelicals and Mormons, Jonathan Edwards and Abraham Kuyper. Their writing and teaching have shaped the thought life of generations of students, and for that we are grateful.
These four white guys would be quick to point to those who shaped them. From John Locke to Thomas Reid, from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Kuyper, from Harry Jellema to Henry Stob, all of these men have been shaped by those who came before. But the man who shaped them the most is Jesus.
For they are not just professors Marsden, Mouw, Plantinga, and Wolterstorff. They are also Nick, who’s lost a son; and George, who’s fought cancer; and Rich, who knows addiction from the inside; and Al, who understands life with a mentally ill parent.
They are not just worthy of endowed chairs, or status, or fame. They are our brothers, created by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to think and write and love and teach, and to show us how to suffer, and to show us how to stand. It is a joy to welcome our brothers: Nick, Rich, George, and Al.