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Posted January 24, 2018 by Wheaton College

Nathaniel Perrin

Nathaniel Perrin '18 is majoring in Philosophy and is currently writing both an English and History honors thesis. He is also the president of the Philosophy Club. 

The word “college” can bring many different pictures to mind. For some, it is the beginning of independent adulthood; it is embarking on a voyage where you at last are the helmsman who can make his or her own decisions and choices. For others, it is a preparatory training program where you are equipped with skills, courses, and a degree which can grant you access to high-paying jobs and success in the world. And yet for a third group, it is a haven of reckless abandon, a time to let loose and party as hard as you can before you are subject to constraints and confines of tedious adult life.

As Hollywood, literature, and political rhetoric clearly demonstrate, each of these three pictures holds strong purchase throughout America. But these portraits have entirely neglected (and perhaps even forgotten) one essential dimension of the education process: character formation through the life of the mind. For a technical, career-oriented mindset, the humanities offer little financial reward and can often be seen as more of a hindrance than an advantage which is perhaps why most students’ interaction with philosophy is merely a checkbox on their graduation requirements. They may encounter names like Plato or Kant but often without any kind of personal resonance or inquisitive fascination with their ideas and their visions of the world.

However, this kind of personal connection with philosophy is crucial for the development of the individual person not just in secular terms but in the language of Christian spiritual formation as well. The life of the mind breathes energy and care into all other aspects of human existence whether it be our work, our families, or our communities. By sharpening and invigorating our thought, we can better recognize and respond to the needs of the church and the world at large, but this requires a personal investment and choice which cannot be imposed through mandatory courses.

Fortunately, Wheaton is blessed with a Philosophy Department faculty that is both rigorous and challenging in their expectations while simultaneously devoted to the growth of students. The questions they prod and poke their pupils with will often open minds to the wonders and tragedies of our fallen world in ways that they could not see before. These professors can turn a checkbox requirement into a personal mission to learn, question, struggle, and understand the world through the lens of God’s revelation.

But, engagement with deep, probing questions should not just be limited to the classroom. Personal formation, intellectual or not, should not be confined to basic institutional frameworks and technical requirements cached out in terms of credit hours and GPA. It must be a choice to dedicate some recreational time to contemplate, to think, and to discuss as so many of the great thinkers of the past have done before us.

This is the basis of Philosophy Club. Ever since I got involved freshman year, I have been blown away by the intellectual community one can find in Wheaton. It is one thing to find people who are smart, but it is quite another to find people who are smart but also passionate about learning for the sake of learning, seeking truth for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. This is the community I found in Wheaton’s Philosophy Club, and it is an environment I attempted to maintain and cultivate throughout my leadership over subsequent years.

The Philosophy Club is dedicated to meeting the intellectual needs of the Wheaton community on two levels: the highly invested, passionate core engaging a wide variety of ideas and texts on the one hand and the broader group of students who were interested (but not wholly devoted to) philosophical questions on the other. To meet these needs, the Philosophy Club hosts free pizza dinners where we talk about particular topics. We run book clubs that engage weighty philosophical texts. We create environments where peers can both challenge and encourage each other as they pursue the questions that most deeply fascinate, most deeply move them, and it is through this intellectual struggle that we emerge both better thinkers and better people.

Philosophy is sometimes criticized as a destructive tool that lead its young explorers into pits of nihilism, but such a claim is not only highly reductive, but it is also, frankly, inaccurate. Philosophy is a discipline of openness, of expanding horizons, and developing a broader understanding of the world through questions and concepts. Our Christian duty to love others and show them charity cannot be restricted to economic generosity; it must be extended to their thoughts and mindsets as well.

How can we bring others into the folds of God’s love when secular perspectives outwit Christians who close themselves off from intellectual formation? If we are so certain of the truth of the gospel, then shouldn’t we pursue it even deeper? What better way to be a witness for Christ than to offer a robust vision of the world rooted in biblical principles and embellished with philosophical wisdom. We can better meet the needs of this world—both in terms of truth and practical justice—through enriching our mind and developing our character through the kind of process philosophy encourages.

Philosophy Club is dedicated to this task of helping our peers not just thirst for deeper truths but also to truly care about the thoughts and feelings of others whether Christians, non-Christians, or the oppressed. This is not to say that the life of the mind is the end all be all of spiritual formation, but it is an indispensable part of the whole person, and Philosophy Club is driven to help the Wheaton community create better Christians through the tools of philosophy. It is this kind of character formation and intellectual passion which should be definitive of college life (not degrees or parties), and we hope a student-led initiative such as ours can bring that ideal closer to reality.