Center for Christian Thought launches in spring 2012

The Center for Christian Thought will launch in spring 2012 and will host a number of professors and visiting scholars.


Tyler Otte

The new Center for Christian Thought is being built in Upper Rose with expected completion in spring 2012. | Tyler Otte/THE CHIMES

Christine Chan, Writer

The new Center for Christian Thought is being built in Upper Rose with expected completion in spring 2012. | Tyler Otte/THE CHIMES

In an effort to further Biola’s direction as a leader in Christian thinking, the Center for Christian Thought will be launching a research fellowship in the spring of 2012 that is designed to foster excellent evangelical scholarship and will include both Biola professors and visiting scholars.

The Center for Christian Thought, which has been in the making for three years, is a fellowship program consisting of a select few scholars from a variety of different disciplines. Half of the eight visiting fellows come from other institutions — including one scholar from the Princeton Theological Seminary — and two scholars from Notre Dame and Yale will also be visiting for a two-week period.

New research theme chosen every year

The program will feature a different theme each year for the scholars, who will come to La Mirada for either a semester or a full year to research new information. The resources they produce from their research will explore Christian perspectives on the questions addressed in the theme, and much of the scholarly work will be presented at a conference at the end of the year.

“I think [the Center for Christian Thought] is giving Biola more academic credibility,” said junior Haleigh Barnes, a psychology major.

The spring 2012 theme is “Christian Scholarship in the 21st Century: Prospects and Perils.” Other themes, ranging from psychology to intellectual virtue in the public policy arena, have been designed for the following three years, said Thomas Crisp, associate professor of philosophy.

Initial vision for center cast by President Corey

The idea for the center was originally pitched by president Barry Corey, around his second year in office, said Gregg Ten Elshof, chair of the philosophy department and director of the center. Corey approached both Ten Elshof and Michael Wilkins, New Testament professor, about creating a group to help cast a vision for the center.

“We are committed to being more than an ivory tower of learning, but as an arm of the body of Christ, to find ways to nurture the church with the intellectual resources that God has given us,” said Todd Pickett, dean of Spiritual Development, in an email on Tuesday.

Pickett was part of the team that conceptualized the center and now serves as a consultant for it.

“It wasn’t even a center at that point, just envisioning something that would push Biola into a new kind of leadership in the Christian thought world,” Ten Elshof said. “It really came out of Barry’s desire to see Biola take next steps toward being a leader in Christian thinking.”

Ten Elshof confirmed that his time as the philosophy chair is ending this semester, however it is not in response to his new position as director of the center.

“I have no desire to stop teaching philosophy.” Ten Elshof said, “If those were the conditions under which I would have to be involved with the center, I wouldn’t do it. It’s too important to me.”

He has been working closely with associate directors Crisp and Steve Porter, associate professor of theology, as well as assistant director Todd Vasquez.

“We have a two-fold mandate. One is to provide a context in which Christian scholars can do high-level, first-rate scholarship on important Christian topics,” Crisp said. “Secondly, we want to provide a means of disseminating the best of Christian scholarship to a non-scholarly audience, so that this information is available to the Christian community at large.”

Vasquez, in particular, is tasked with popularizing the materials provided by the scholars for more general audiences in forms of podcasts, video interviews and occasional public lectures. A film festival might also be in the center’s future, according to Crisp.

Center hopes to secure outside funding

While the launch is currently being funded by Biola’s operational budget, the long-term plan for the program is to eventually become self-sustaining by securing outside funding, in the form of grants, foundation funding and donor-supported funds.

Fellows who are participating in the program next semester are each awarded $25,000. This is given to cover housing and living expenses, which the fellows are primarily responsible for finding themselves, since Biola is not providing room and board.

Students will benefit from having the center on campus

Students will indirectly benefit from the program’s presence on campus, because the Biola faculty will be able to interact with leading scholars working at the center, Ten Elshof said.

Barnes already sees benefits to having the center’s fellowship on campus.

“We’re backing it up and not just thinking based off Scripture but general revelation as well, and using our intellect to support what we believe in,” she said.

Additional hands-on experience will be offered for a few graduate students at the center. Students in the relevant fields may apply to to research assistants to the fellows.

The center will be located in upper northwest Rose Hall and structured to facilitate informal, collegial discussion with individual offices for visiting scholars, a kitchen and a large seminar room.

Biola aspires to be global center of Christian thought

“Over the years, we’d love for word to get out to faculty everywhere — scholars around the world — that if you’re really interested in doing interdisciplinary work that’s biblically informed, you gotta get over there to Biola because it’s a really first-rate space,” Ten Elshof said.

The Center for Christian Thought review team — made up of Ten Elshof, Crisp, Porter and four Biola faculty — is currently in the process of evaluating applicants for the “Neuroscience and the Soul” 2012-13 year.

“Biola aspires to be a global center of Christian thought and spiritual formation, but in order to be a global center of Christian thought, you need to be more than just primarily a teaching institution,” Crisp said. “You need to be a center of research and scholarship.”

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