Chris Mitchell Interview: “To Relate our Learning of the Faith to our Learning of the World”

Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute has just announced the hiring of Dr. Chris Mitchell, who will begin teaching at Torrey next fall.

As one of the members of the search committee that selected Chris, I’ve had the chance to get to know him over the past few months, and I am excited about adding him to the Torrey faculty. Any academic program always hopes to hire professors who will be a good fit, but when you hire somebody who’s further along in a career and has an established track record, you have a chance to plan for real synergy. There is an obvious and profound synergy between what we do in Torrey and what Chris does as a scholar and as director of the Wade Center. I asked him a few questions on this subject; here are his answers. 

Chris, how did you first hear about Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute?

I have been aware of the Torrey Honors Institute for at least a decade. It began when Dr. Donna Thoennes invited me to share with a couple of her classes. Then last March, Dr. Matt Jenson invited me to give an evening talk to a group of Torrey Honors students. I was impressed ten years ago with the program and its students, and I was equally impressed last March.

Torrey follows a great books curriculum and uses Socratic pedagogy. Are you on board with those commitments?

For more than a decade I have been saying that if a person were to simply read the books C.S. Lewis mentions in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, they would receive a first rate liberal arts education. The exercise of having to think through and to digest the thinking of others is the first step in our training to think through a thing for ourselves. What eighteen years as the Director of the Marion E. Wade Center has shown me is the enormous educational and spiritual value of a broad and deep reading of critical works of literature over a wide range of topics, periods, and cultures alongside an equally critical reading of biblical texts. One value of the Torrey program that stands out is its resistance to what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. That is the conviction that the thinking of the past no longer holds any real significance for the present. The prospect of being in a position to effectively push back against this doctrine as the Torrey Honors program affords, is deeply attractive. So too is its value as it relates to the increasing emphasis on globalization. The experience of encountering past thinking in the context of diverse cultures and ages places one in the position to think rightly about present day thinking and situations very different from one’s own context.

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