The Gigs of a Christian Philosopher
by Douglas Groothuis
Today I spoke to a group of seventy fifth and sixth graders on what it means to be an author, how to be a good writer, and writing an argumentative essay. As I was talking with a student of mine after this, I reflected on all the different speaking opportunities given to me since I started speaking publically in the late 1970s. Since I love jazz, I will call the gigs. Let me steal a line from Grateful Dead from “Truckin”—“Lately it occurs to me: What a long strange trip it’s been.”
Teachers need gigs, just like musicians. You cannot teach unless someone learns. Jazz musicians need rooms in which to play and people to fill the rooms. Teachers need rooms in which to teach and people to fill the rooms. These are not always easy to come by. If I think I have something significant to teach, I may offer myself for a gig, as opposed to being asked to do one. As I reflected on almost forty years of teaching, several kinds of gigs and specific gigs come to mind.
My first teaching on cultural criticism and apologetics was in 1977. I was a student in a special class at the University of Oregon, which explored the Christian worldview in relation to other perspectives. Since was a new Christian, who had made an idol out of music, I gave a talk on the influence of Eastern mysticism in modern rock music. I was following Francis Schaeffer in critiquing culture from a Christian angle. I taught from a single-spaced outline for about an hour and a half. I still have that outline somewhere. When I asked a friend how it was, he said, “It was good, but too long.”
Just after graduating from the University of Oregon in Philosophy, I was asked to give a Christian perspective on film. Undaunted by that daunting task, I gave a short lecture, which mostly consisted of quoting from a book by Donald Drew called Images of Man. When I finished, perhaps twenty-five percent of the students were still listening, and this included a gorgeous co-ed. Sadly, I did not ask her out. This was the first talk for which I was paid! I think I was given $25.
Working in campus ministry at the University of Oregon brought me more teaching opportunities. A faculty member sponsored me; and, the department approved the content of my lectures. Meeting these requirements allowed me teach a year-long class called, “The Twilight of Western Thought.”
This course was sponsored by the sociology department, but was more theological and philosophical in focus. In the first two quarters, we discussed the Christian worldview in relation to other worldviews and also addressed theology of culture and social ethics. After co-teaching the class for a few quarters, I took it over. I was involved from 1979-84. During this time, I learned how to teach and how to discipline myself to study for teaching and later writing. I am still amazed that I was given this platform in a secular school. Those years were foundational for all my later work as a teacher, writer, and preacher…
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