Summer/Fall 2002
Volume 7 Number 1
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Eric Springsted

When in 1967 Diogenes Allen was offered the position in philosophy at Princeton Seminary, at first he was inclined not to accept it. Teaching in a theological seminary was not how one advanced a philosophical career. It was Jane Allen who, as her husband pondered the choice, pointed out that this might not simply be an offer, but a call; its importance might be its opportunity to serve. The point was not wasted on a man who after returning from England and a Rhodes scholarship nearly 10 years earlier had, instead of going straight to graduate school, gone to seminary and taken a Presbyterian parish in Windham, New Hampshire. The church had been formative of Allen, and he understood the importance of serving its people.
 
Books and Videos by Allen

Books
   
Leibniz' Theodicy, 1966
The Reasonableness of Faith, 1968
Finding Our Father, 1974  (The Path of
   Perfect Love
,1992)
Between Two Worlds, 1977
   (Temptation, 1986)
Traces of God in a Frequently Hostile
   World
, 1981
Three Outsiders: Pascal, Kierkegaard,
   and Simone Weil
, 1983
Mechanical Explanation and the
   Ultimate Origin of the Universe
   According to Leibniz
, 1983
Philosophy for Understanding
   Theology
, 1985
 
Love: Christian Romance, Marriage, and
   Friendship
, 1987
Christian Belief in a Postmodern World:
   The Full Wealth of Conviction
, 1989
Quest: The Search for Meaning through
   Christ
, 1990
Primary Readings in Philosophy for
   Understanding Theology
, 1992
Nature, Spirit, and Community: Issues in
   the Thought of Simone Weil
, 1994
Spiritual Theology: The Theology of
   Yesterday for Help Today
, 1997
Steps along the Way: A Spiritual
   Autobiography
, 2002
 
Videos
Eight Deadly Thoughts
Love: Christian Romance, Marriage,
   and Friendship

The Significance of Suffering
   Temptation
  All videos include a book and a study guide and are designed for use as adult education tools. They are available from PTS’s Media Center. Call 609-497-7900.

To order, call PTS’s Theological Book Agency at 609-497-7735.

Diogenes Allen retired in June from his position as Stuart Professor of Christian Philosophy after 35 years of committed service as a teacher in the mission of the church. That is how Allen has always understood his role as a teacher, and he has worked hard at teaching philosophy that way. For example, in 1985, noting that fewer and fewer entering seminary students knew the philosophical background of so much theological thought, he wrote Philosophy for Understanding Theology precisely to teach it to them. That book and a companion anthology of primary readings published later have been the texts for a course that has long been immensely popular with PTS students. The books have also been regularly used in many other seminaries across the country. Numerous PTS students, who usually take the course in the semester they are taking introductory church history, have exclaimed how much more accessible it has made the history of Christian thought to them.

Allen will long be remembered as an extraordinary teacher, particularly for the clarity he brought to his difficult subject matter. Few have been able to make difficult thought so understandable and so attractive. Though care was required—as former student George Conway (Class of 1973, M.Div.), now himself a school headmaster, remarked—lest one mistakenly believe it was simple thought that could easily be put some other way than Allen had explained it!

That ability to bring clarity has also made Allen a speaker much in demand throughout the country. When he entered the parish he told the people of Windham he couldn’t promise to be always interesting, but he would promise always to talk about what is important—and he hoped that would be interesting enough. It always has been. Because he is willing to talk about what is important without sounding self-important, Allen has always been able to draw in the seemingly most unlikely listeners and to excite them. One former student remembers during the 1980s inviting him to give a lecture at the college where the student was then teaching. The lecture was to take place during a mandatory convocation, which guaranteed a large but restless audience of potentially hostile post-adolescents. Allen chose to speak on Kierkegaard, causing his host to hold his breath anxiously. But not only was the audience attentive, afterwards students streamed up asking where they could find a copy of Kierkegaard.

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As Jeffrey Eaton (M.Div. 1971, Ph.D. 1979) once introduced Allen, “He teaches with authority, and not as the scribes and Pharisees.” And he has that ability with a wide range of people. Recently I was taking a cab at 6:00 a.m. to the airport in South Bend, Indiana, when much to my surprise the radio station to which the cabby was listening broadcast an interview with Allen on the difference between eternal life and long-lasting life! I proudly told the cabby that that was an old friend and teacher. The cabby didn’t talk much, though. He was listening to the interview, even though it was the end of an all-night shift. But as I got out of the cab, he told me to make sure I told my friend that he was really good.

If Allen’s career has been a life of service, he still has had an important philosophical career. Stanley Hauerwas once called him “one of the good guys.” Allen has authored and edited 14 books, establishing himself as an authority on Leibniz and as a major interpreter of Simone Weil—and has been instrumental in drawing attention to her. Work he has done on the problem of evil is continually referred to in philosophical literature.

Yet, it isn’t that he has also had a philosophical career. The service to the church he has thought so important has shaped what he has written. He has brought concerns of spirituality both to philosophical discussions of Christianity and to Christians who have forgotten that “theology is prayer; and prayer, theology,” as Allen is fond of quoting the desert father Evagrius. Whether it is in his approach to the problem of evil and suffering, or to apologetics in Christian Faith in a Postmodern World, or in his discussions of spirituality in Spiritual Theology, Christian practice has informed his thinking and writing. And the importance of that link between thought and practice has been an invaluable lesson Allen has passed on to his students.

Eric Springsted received both his M.Div. (1976) and Ph.D. (1980) from Princeton Seminary, and has taught on its faculty. He is currently teaching at General Theological Seminary in New York City. He recently published The Act of Faith: Christian Faith and the Moral Self (Eerdmans) and in 1998 edited a festshrift in Allen’s honor titled Spirituality and Theology: Essays in Honor of Diogenes Allen (Westminster/John Knox Press).


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