Congratulations Chris Woznicki, IVP Early-Career Philosopher of Religion 2018!
Chris Woznicki is PhD Student in Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He received a MA in Theology (Biblical Studies) from Fuller Theological Seminary and a BA in Philosophy from UCLA. Prior to starting his PhD he served as a college minister; he currently serves with an evangelistic ministry to high school students called Young Life. He and his wife Amelia have a two-year-old daughter named Shiloh Grace.
1.Congratulations on being named IVP Early-Career Philosopher of Religion 2018! What does it mean to you?
First, I must say that it really is an honor to have my work recognized by IVP and the Tyndale Fellowship! For me, however, it’s more than just an academic accomplishment; there is something deeply personal about it because of how it relates to my testimony.
I vividly remember a conversation I had with my pastor back in 2007. I was entering into my second year of university. And my life was sort of falling apart in terms of family but also academics. Through secondary school I was a +4.0 student and I had been accepted into UCLA as a physiological studies major. But one year into my university studies, I was facing academic probation. This was a huge shock to say the least. I had never done poorly in school. But I found myself struggling. In the midst of that struggle, I found philosophy and fell in love with it. My pastor told me about how some professors at Biola University had a goal of raising up 100 Christian philosophers and placing them in secular grad schools.
Up until that point, I had never even heard of “Christian” philosophers. If anything, I had been warned about being taken “captive by philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition.” (Colossians 2:8) Well, it was because of that conversation that I decided that I wanted to do philosophy, but entirely Christian philosophy. Over the next 10 years or so, God took me on a different path. Even though I majored in philosophy as an undergraduate (and ended up graduating with honors) I didn’t end up studying philosophy formally in graduate school but I still loved it and hoped that one day I could get back to doing it.
Around the time that I discovered Christian philosophy, a discipline called “Analytic Theology” was beginning to flourish. One easy way to describe “Analytic Theology” is that it is the intersection of systematic theology and analytic philosophy. I ended up getting involved with Analytic Theology while at Fuller Seminary and because of that I have had the opportunity to dive back into philosophical topics. All this to say, even though I am not formally a “philosopher”—formally I study systematic theology—winning this prize represents the fulfillment of that desire that God put on my heart back in 2007 to do explicitly Christian philosophy.
2.Why was it important to you to study theology?
I have had the opportunity to serve in a number of ministry roles over the years. But even though my ministerial roles have changed over time one thing has remained constant: a sense that my calling is to equip the church for the sake of mission. I’m convinced that if the church is going to live out its calling in its 21st century context it will have to be grounded in Scripture and it will need to have an awareness of how our brothers and sisters who have preceded us thought about God and remained faithful to God in their own contexts. As someone who feels called to equip the church, it’s important for me to carefully study these things. I thoroughly believe that theology not only impacts the way we think as Christians, but it also affects the way we live.
3.How did you interpret your essay question and how did that steer your research?
This year’s question was, “Of the different kinds of freedom which might matter to the Christian, which one matters most?” As I thought about this question I thought about another question, “Which spiritual practices really matter to Christians?” Of course, there are many! Preaching, evangelism, worship, reading Scripture, baptism, receiving communion, generosity. But one that I have been thinking about a lot recently is prayer. The practice of prayer is very important to Christians, regardless of what denomination or tradition one belongs to. It is so important that in Matthew 6, Jesus doesn’t have to tell his disciples to pray—he assumes they are already doing that—he teaches them how to pray. So, when I approached the question, I had already been thinking about prayer. Additionally, I know that there have been some critiques of Reformed accounts of prayer. So I thought to myself, if for some reason a Reformed (or compatibilist) account of freedom undercuts the possibility of genuine petitionary prayer, that would be devastating to Christians who identify with that tradition. The challenge I put before myself was to see whether we need a libertarian account of freedom to make sense of petitionary prayer. I concluded that we don’t. A compatibilist account of freedom can make sense of one of the most significant Christian practices: petitionary prayer.
4.How did you manage your fear when tacking hard topics?
I’m glad you said “manage” rather than “conquer” because sometimes it really feels like all I am doing is keeping fear at bay rather than vanquishing it! In some ways fear can be paralyzing; when it comes to tackling tough topics, you might be afraid to even attempt to address them for fear of giving the wrong answer. But in other ways I find a certain kind of fear is a good thing. Perhaps it isn’t really a sense of fear, but rather a sense of gravity. Some of the most difficult topics are the ones that really have an impact on people’s lives. So, there is a heavy sense of responsibility that one carries when dealing with such topics. This sense of responsibility encourages me to think deeply and carefully. I want to give a well thought out answer, because these questions really matter!
5.You’ve been invited to present your paper at a conference next June. What do you look forward to most?
I’m really looking forward to meeting other philosophers who are trying to do evangelical philosophy. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with some friends who are currently studying in the UK. Finally, I hope to explore Cambridge a bit. It might sound a bit silly, but being from Los Angeles, almost everything is “new,” at least by historical standards. So I think visiting a university with such a long history will be a fun experience.
6.What’s next for you as an academic?
Well, I just started the third year of my PhD program. In the American system, the third year usually begins with comprehensive exams. So, I will be taking my exams in November-December. After that I will enter into the dissertation writing stage. My dissertation will be on T.F. Torrance’s theological anthropology. However, I hope to continue writing about my other areas of interest which include prayer, atonement, and the theology of Jonathan Edwards. I hope that upon graduation I will be able to teach in a seminary or Christian university, that way I can continue to fulfill my vocation of equipping the church.