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Sunday, May 1st 2016

20:56

A Festschrift for Dr. Norman L. Geisler

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Indiana

Time to get back to the old blog to talk about some things too long for a Facebook post.

The catalyst this time is that yesterday (Saturday) I received in the mail a copy of the long-awaited Festschrift in honor of Dr. Norman L. Geisler.

I Am Put Here

What is a “Festschrift?” you ask. That’s a German term referring to a­­n anthology of essays and recollections in honor of a scholar who has made great contributions over a long career. More often than not, it’s tied to a particular point in time, such as the person’s 65th birthday, or whatever. It’s a good thing that this one wasn’t attached to any special event because it took a whole lot longer to see the light of print than was anticipated by any of the contributors, let alone by Terry Miethe, who edited this tome.

Actually, this is the second book that has been called a “Festschrift” for Norm. The first one, To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (IVP, 2004), was edited by Frank Beckwith, Bill Craig, and J. P. Moreland. It bore the secondary subtitle Essays in Honor of Norman L. Geisler, and it contains good articles by good people. There are four of us who have made contributions to both books, Ravi Zacharias, the Brothers Howe (Thomas and Richard), and your humble bloggist. There are a lot of names on the front cover, including mine, though not as Win Corduan. For anthologies my pen name is “and others,” and so I show up on a lot of book covers.

As I’m poking just a little bit of fun, please know that, my silliness aside, in terms of content, the 2004 book is truly excellent. Also, the occasion of its release actually got me a one-time invitation to take part in one of Bill Craig’s annual apologetics conferences. The title of my article in the 2004 volume was “Miracles,” not entirely the focus of my scholarship, but a topic that I do enjoy writing on from time to time.

Part of that enjoyment comes from the predictable knee jerk reactions one gets from internet atheists who get outraged by my conviction that they’re not qualified to determine if, when, or how a miracle may have occurred. After all, they’re atheists. They don’t think that God exists; in fact, many of them are not at all hesitant to tell us in so many words that people who believe in God are intellectual Neanderthals. But surely, if that’s their position, then they would be really bad internet atheists if they thought they could decide whether God had performed a miracle at a certain time and place. You can’t have miracles without a God who does them. So my duty is to shield internet-atheists from violating whatever oath or other formality they may have taken to ridicule Christians and other religious people. Maybe they pledge their allegiance to Richard Carrier or the well-known subject mentioned in the opening verse of Psalm 14 . I wouldn’t know. Nobody likes an inconsistent atheist, and if they try to declare what Christians should believe about miracles, we owe it to them to clarify that their opinions are irrelevant and hopefully thereby keep them from looking silly. If you don’t believe in God, you may perhaps believe in magic, but not miracles. (Note: not all atheists are “internet atheists.”)

Sorry, I'm still stacking as always. Pop!

Alas, as good as the 2004 anthology is, it did not contain many of the features that typically come with a genuine Festschrift, such as personal memories of the person honored. Terry Miethe decided that Norm deserved something that really fit the typical pattern and took the initiative to edit a book that conformed much more to the usual expectations for a Festschrift. Terry and I both go back to the golden years of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when its faculty was a veritable Who’s Who in evangelical scholarship. We both got our MA’s the same year, with Norm as our thesis director. Terry went on to get his first [sic!] Ph.D. at St. Louis University only three years later and not too soon thereafter a second one at USC. He also bears the official title of “DPhil Oxon cand.,” which means he has done doctoral studies at Oxford University. You know, that old school in England.

I probably still have Terry’s e-mail somewhere, in which he invited various folks who have had close associations with Norm to contribute to his effort. I won’t check it now, and I can’t even remember right now what year that was, but his words for the project were something along the line of “I will get this done or die trying.” It turned out that he came close to the second option. He saw it through during a time when his wife, Beverly, was fighting cancer, and he also has come down with health issues. If I understand things correctly, he’s had to take early retirement on disability shortly after taking an unpaid semester-long leave to work on this project. Adding the virtual inability to find a publisher for what turned out to be a 441-page tome added a lot of stress to his life, which he did not need. Amazingly, with God’s help, he made it! And we are thankful to Wipf & Stock for publishing the book.

I think I understand now why Craig, Beckwith, and Moreland got their volume published with apparently little difficulty, namely because they did not include much of the usual Festschrift materials, but basically stuck with the collection of essays. At this juncture in time, publishers apparently are leery of investing in Festschriften because they see them as having ephemeral significance. Once the occasion is over, people have a copy of the book as quasi-souvenirs, and there may be no further call for it. In your bloggist’s opinion, the potential publishers are probably right for many cases, but in the case of Norm Geisler, may have been just a bit short-sighted. I’m pretty sure that this anthology will have a long life. Norm Geisler has left a large legacy, and—let’s face it—there are some really good essays in that book.  

Speaking of the essays, different readers will have varying opinions of them, and I expect that some of the reviews will reflect their personal opinions on “Stormin’ Norman” as much as, or perhaps even more than, the value of the contributions. Many of the essays are framed by the authors’ reminiscences of how Norm affected their lives. Terry did me the honor of taking my remembrance and moving it into the first section, entitled “Tributes to Norman L. Geisler,” under the heading of “Biographical Reflections” (xxxv-xxxvi). There I recount how … Oh, did you really think I was just going to give it away here?

Aquinas by Scrivelli

For my article I chose a somewhat improved version of a paper that I wrote for Norm as part of an independent study in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas entitled “Some Features of Finite Being in St. Thomas Aquinas” (169-191). He had taught a course on Aquinas a couple of years earlier, and it would not be on the schedule again for a while, so I worked through the Angelic Doctor’s writings relying on various good resources and the occasional consultation with Norm. This would not be the last time that I would be grateful for all of the years of studying Latin (which I would eventually even teach), and it certainly came in handy there as well as for my thesis and—much later—my Ph.D. dissertation.

I might mention here parenthetically that for my first year of teaching at Taylor U, my department head and the dean had arranged that my teaching load would be just a little lower than normal (at the time 28 hrs. a year), but I gave up the load reduction for the spring semester because the philosophy majors asked me to, please, give them a course on Aquinas. Like I always say, Taylor students have been and probably still are simply the best! (Yet another stack! :) )

Anyway, I remember vividly writing that paper. It would have been at the end of the first quarter of my second year at Trinity and, thereby, when June and I had been married for just a few months. We lived in Kenosha, WI, because the cost of subsistence in Wisconsin was so much lower than in Illinois and it was worth the longish commute. At the time the MA program in philosophy required of 72 quarter hours of class work (usually two full years) plus a thesis, theoretically written during the second year while also taking a full load of classes. Many of us squeezed the two years into three.

In my typical fashion I waited to write the paper until the very last moment, specifically two days before it was due. First, I needed copies of some of Aquinas’ works that were only available at the nearby St. Mary’s Seminary in Mundelein, IL. (The most amazing library I have ever been in, right out of a medieval setting.) Since I wanted to take the books home, inter-library loan was the means to procure them for a time, but that would usually take several days. So, I devised a method that caused the raising of a few eye brows. “We’ve never done things this way before” was the response I got on both Trinity’s and St. Mary’s ends. I suspect they may not have allowed it after my machinations either, but the surprise factor probably helped me out. With an honest-looking guy (with beard and long hair, of course) standing there staring innocently and pleadingly into the librarian’s eyes, I got approval on both ends. I asked the inter-library loan person at Trinity if she would sign the request forms for a few volumes, e.g. De Potentia Dei, then personally took the forms to St. Mary’s and picked up the books in the name of inter-library loan. I was warned on both ends that if I screwed up (undoubtedly not the expression they used), my days of utilizing library services at St. Mary’s were over, but I was good and returned the books before they were due back. (Nowadays all those works are on-line.)

Then I went home, stacked the books on one side of the desk and started typing the final text right then and there; no note cards, outlines, or rough drafts. I do not recommend that method, but 1) there was no time for any preliminaries, 2) I had a clear outline in my head, and, thus, I knew exactly where I was going and which books contained the content that I needed, and 3) I was a good typist (and I guess I still am, though word processing has taken the adventure out of it), so I knew that slow and inaccurate typing would not be a serious impediment.

The bottom line: Norm liked the paper, and wrote some comments on the front that I am far too humble to disclose. With its publication, I hope that further readers will also enjoy it and learn from it. If not mine, then surely some of the other essays.

Other than Norm’s name, Terry’s is the only one on the front cover. And that’s how it should be. No “stars,” no special mentions, and, best of all, no “and others.” Thank you, Terry, for your work on this project and for pouring so much of yourself into it.

4 Comment(s).

Posted by Penjammin:

Looking forward to this. Thanks so much for writing on it.
Monday, May 2nd 2016 @ 1:13

Posted by Kathy:

You are right Win. Just as no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one likes an inconsistent atheist. I love your blog.

This comment has been moderated by the blog owner

Wednesday, May 4th 2016 @ 15:36

Posted by Barbara Byron:

Liked the article, and thought your line about being humble funny. I know you are, but if Norm liked the paper, the comments must have been something else. Since you are a genious (I'm serious), I don't find it hard to believe that Professor Geisler liked it. You are my favorite professor of all time. Love, Barbara:)
Thursday, May 5th 2016 @ 16:29

Posted by Winfried Corduan:

Thank you, Kathy and Barb!
Thursday, May 5th 2016 @ 22:56

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