Longtime readers of Mere-O know my fondness for my alma mater, Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute.* When my good friend and founder of the program John Mark Reynolds left, it was something of an upheaval. Torrey and John Mark were almost synonymous for me.
But not quite. Torrey has continued on, as things do. The new leadership is as focused and dedicated to the task of helping undergraduates encounter the good, true, and beautiful as it ever was. Paul Spears is in earnest about ensuring students have a world-class experience and I have total confidence that he’s going to pull it off.
Which is why it’s exciting to see Dr. Christopher Mitchell come on board to Torrey. It doesn’t seem very often in the world of Christian higher education that people who are well established at leading institutions leave for different confines, especially when their responsibilities involve directing the highest profile center for C.S. Lewis in America. (Right? Is there a place besides the Wade Center that has as many Inklings resources?)
I’m excited for Dr. Mitchell and for Torrey. It’s a challenging landscape for every institution of higher education and I think having Dr. Mitchell on board signals a deepened commitment to providing students an academic experience that is located in a broader context of mentorship.
Fred Sanders interviewed Dr. Mitchell about the transition. Here’s what Dr. Mitchell had to say about Torrey:
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.
As for pedagogy, here I confess my indebtedness to Dorothy L. Sayers who eloquently argued that the end of all education is to bring a person to be able to intelligently and effectively think through a thing. Over the years I have become increasingly aware of the value of two pedagogical styles that have this as their aim: one, the Oxford tutorial system, and two, the Socratic method. It was a happy discovery to learn that both approaches inform the Torrey Honors Institute. This is not to say that I have ceased to value the lecture approach that informs the majority of our educational system. I do still value that. Rather, I have come to recognize in myself a growing passion to be involved in the non-lecture approach.
So welcome to Dr. Mitchell and congratulations to Torrey. It will be fun to see how all this plays out.
**Disclosure: I’m currently doing some consulting work for Torrey.