I can still recall the day, seventeen years ago. We were introduced one Sunday by a mutual mentor of ours, the late, much lamented Fr. Michael E. Trigg. After the morning liturgy, we three talked for quite an extended time in the parish hall during the coffee hour, talking books, ideas, and Socratic pedagogy. By the end of our conversation, I knew that I had made a friend for life. Little did I know that this meeting would change the course of my life.
Three years before this chance (or perhaps, divinely serendipitous) meeting, I had been a doctoral student drop out, having become a bit restless. I was Odysseus, wandering through Europe in search of “home,” and having had a dramatic re-encounter with God, I endeavored to return to California and figure out what direction my life was going to take. A friend introduced me to Thomas Aquinas College’s curriculum, based on Socratic pedagogy and reading of the great classics of western civilization, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do with my life. The only question was, where? At Thomas Aquinas College itself?
I prayed earnestly to God that if he had indeed enkindled this passion in me, and had given me the gifts to do it successfully, then to give me direction as to how and where these gifts would be put to good use. That’s when my encounter with John Mark Reynolds occurred.
He unfolded his plan for an honors program at my alma mater, Biola University, which would take thirty units of Bible on the one hand, and fifty-three units of general education on the other, and fuse them into a powerful Great Books curriculum that would employ Socratic pedagogy. The object of this program would be to serve Biola’s mission of “biblically-centered education, equipping men and women in mind and character to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then came the question I was not expecting: “Would you like to join me”? The answer was an unequivocal “Yes”!
The fall semester of 1996 was when this great adventure began. I was to sit in and watch him teach, and when I did, I thought to myself, “How in heaven’s name am I going to be able to replicate this?” He made rigorous Socratic pedagogy look effortless, seamlessly doing solid textual analysis, biblical integration, and personal application. At times, he seemed to be doing all these things at once, with an energy that had students at the edge of their seats, engaged in this great conversation.
It was with great trepidation that I took the reins of the class, teaching a second session on the book of Exodus. John Mark was simply a hard act to follow.