I have ten minutesÖlet me first talk about my road to tenure.
I love literature and writing and thinking. I always have.
And so, without really intending it, I was drawn into graduate
studies. I started out at Baylor University and finished
up graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. Thatís
where Stan Mattson and I were drawn together Ė discussing,
thinking. I had not decided to be a university professor.
In fact, I never decided to, I just ended up there.
After I finished with Baylor, we went back to Janeís home
in Georgia. There for a year I taught English Literature
in high school, and Jane taught junior high literature.
I was Associate Pastor of a Baptist church there. During
that year I became convinced that I really was a hazard
to the people who had to listen to me. I really didnít knowÖespecially
about God and the soul. And by that time I knew that I wouldnít
be able to study those topics in seminary. And I knew that
I wouldnít be able to study them in psychology. And I knew
that philosophers spent more time talking about these topics
than anyone else. So I decided to study philosophy for a
couple of years.
I didnít intend to take a degree, but one thing lead to
another. We were deeply involved in Christian events around
campus and in a little Christian Missionary Alliance church
nearby. One thing led to another. I finally took the degree,
and they invited me to stay and teach there the following
year. Mark Singer primarily was the one who did it, I think.
During that year the Lord said to me, "Now if you stay in
the churches, the university will be closed to you; but
if you stay in the university, the churches will be open
to you." I know that the Lord said that to me because I
sure didnít have enough sense to understand what it meant.
I really didnít. The church was still the cultural authority.
It wasnít for long after that, but it was still the cultural
authority in 1964. I had no idea what was happening culturally,
and so I just say that the Lord moved me step by step. We
were offered a position at the University of Southern California,
without even applying. So you can see itís certainly not
due to me.
Now hereís the part that might be interesting to you. And
I really do believe this is just me Ė it may not be you,
thatís all right. Basically, when I decided to start teaching
at Wisconsin, I said "My role is to share understanding
with my students." I can guarantee that I loved philosophy,
and no one had to give me any incentive to do that. When
I left home after graduating high school, I left as a migrant
agricultural worker with a Modern Library edition of Plato
in my duffel bag. It sounds kind of crazy, but I loved it.
I loved the stuff. Before I knew there was a subject called
philosophy, I loved it.
I decided I would do nothing trying to secure myself or
gain advancement. I am very much a literalist in terms of
the Bible. The Bible says promotion does not come from the
East or the West, it comes from the Lord. So OK, I donít
have to do anything about promotion. But what I did was
this: I said, "I am going to do the best work I can by Godís
help," and that meant in writing and teaching. And once
again, it wasnít that I was smart. The Lord just guided
me. So I worked on papers, and my idea was that, if it was
any good, I would be able to send it to the best journals
(where no one knew me), and it would be accepted.
The first two papers I published were each two solid years
in writing. They came out in print 12-15 pages long, but
theyíd probably been re-written 65 times. Thatís what I
tell my students now. "Work on it. Work on it. When you
think itís good, itís probably not. Just keep working. Itíll
get better. All writing is re-writing. You never get it
right; itíll just get better. When youíve gone through it
many times and replaced the one word with another word,
and then replaced that word with the same word again, youíre
getting there." So thatís how I worked.
Just before school started in the Fall of 1965 at USC,
I sent an article to Gilbert Ryle, who edited arguably the
leading philosophical journal at the time called Mind, and
within a week and a half I had a really wonderful letter
back from him saying, "We want to publish this. We donít
like the last few paragraphs, but thatís OK."
So on to the next paper. My strategy was this Ė do really
good work. Do work that you would think God had to help
you with to get you there, and then do some more. Just stay
at it. Thatís the only strategy Iíve had is to work in that
way. My view is that, if you are in a good field, you must
work on the things that are really central and essential
to that field. And you ought to believe that God will enable
you to do work in that field that will be a benefit and
challenge to everyone. And going back to some things that
Calvin (Edwards) said so well earlier ó what we as Christians
want to do ó we want to get to the point where people scattered
around the academic world are worried about what we are
doing. They sit up at night and think about us. They get
on the internet, and they chase our work down. I really
challenge you to believe that about yourself, whatever your
area of work is. Not because you are so good, but because
God is so great.
I donít know anything more to say in terms of how I work,
because thatís all there is to it. I try to teach classes
well. I pray for my students. I pray as I set up the course
schedule and the outline. I pray for them when they come
in to interview. They donít know Iím praying most of the
time, but I pray for them, and I pray for the class. I say,
"Lord, let this be a class that will really help these students
in their work, in their field, in their self-confidence."
Because, you know, many of the students I have, especially
in the beginning, donít know they have a mind. One of the
things I will do often in a large introductory course is
say, "How many of you would like to be known as thinkers?"
Of 150 people, you may get 3-4 hands, and those will be
tentative. And then I say, "How many of you would like to
be known as feelers?" They all want to be known as feelers.
So you know that you have to start working to encourage
knowledge of what itís like to learn, to build their foundation,
to help them to come to understand how the mind works.
Iím not there to be a witness. Iím there to do a good job
as a teacher and writer. I will be a witness. I canít help
that. The only question is, "What am I going to witness
to?" And I take a lot of comfort from Jesusí statement that
you cannot hide a city that is set on a hill. So I donít
have to think about it. I have to try to do real good work;
and thatís my business Ė to do real good work. I wouldnít
say itís the best in the world or anything like that, others
can make judgments, but my intention is to do the best work
possible. And by that I donít mean within my human limitations;
I also mean God helping me. Iím going to put my human limitations
on the line, but my expectation is not from them. I expect
to see something happen that I could not possibly do. And
I would do that if I were preaching or witnessing on the
streets, or doing whatever wherever. I want to see something
happen that I couldnít possibly do. And thatís what I would
encourage anyone in the academic line of work to do: to
say "I know what good work is. Iím going to do it, and I
expect God to help me. I will give my life to it." Of course,
I will be a prisoner of Christ; thatís what I am. Because
when I am doing my work as a philosopher or a writer, thatís
what Iím doing. Of course, I write a lot more in philosophy
than I do in religion, but few people read that. Thatís
kind of the way it is in the academic world, the writing
in philosophy helps me in everything else I do. So I really
want to do very good work in my field. I guess thatís the
simple thing I would say: I just want to do good work.
Iím afraid to say this, because Iím afraid to burden someone
else. But I never ask for a promotion. I never ask for money.
Of the books Iíve published, all have been solicited from
me by the publishers. And Iíll tell you why I have approached
things in this way. When I was at Baylor University as a
young man, as a very green young man, I was watching other
green young men trying to find a place to preach. And the
Lord said something very simple to me: "Never try to find
a place to speak, try to have something to say." If you
read my books, you know that I really do believe the Lord
speaks to us. And one reason I believe the Lord speaks to
me is because I donít have enough sense to know things like
that. So that helped me a lot, just in terms of what I donít
have to mess with and what I then can concentrate on.
I donít know if that may have helped anyone, but it is
really all I have to say about my path to tenure and beyond.