Yesterday I was saddened to hear the news that Diogenes Allen had died. As the former Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. Allen had the opportunity to impact hundreds of young minds…including mine. During my very first semester in graduate school, I took his class “Prolegomena for Theology,” a course for which he had literally written the book. It was tough. Probably one of the toughest classes I have ever taken in my entire life. I struggled for the grade I received. The material was intense–covering a broad range of philosophy and theology over time. Allen? He was pretty tough as well. He was grumpy, demanding, and under no circumstances “suffered fools.”
Yet even in the midst of such cantankerous teaching, Allen found a way to inspire and draw the best out of us. His grumpiness and demands for excellence causes us to want to achieve…and I’m not alone in feeling this way. As my Facebook feed attested yesterday, many of my fellow PTS alumni join me in mourning the loss of such a singular professor.
Over seven years since I started the only course I ever took with him I still value what I learned, both in curricular content and wisdom. In those early days at Princeton, Allen’s class made me feel like a true graduate student even as I struggled with the question of whether or not I wanted to go on to such goals in the first place. I’ve particularly remembered something he said about the world of academics all those years ago. A token of realism to all of us overachievers with pipe dreams of PhDs in our eyes that constituted permission to be who God intended (I paraphrase): “Academics is like a sport. It isn’t for everyone. But if you’re not meant to be involved in higher academics, don’t go out for the team.” Though I myself did end up trying out for the “team,” the honesty and time-worn wisdom of Allen’s statement has reminded me that such goals were not–and are not–the only thing in life. They are just a thing, like so many other things can be worth doing under the right circumstances.
I could say more, but for today I’ll just say this: If I can have a fraction of the impact on my students that Diogenes Allen had, I’ll be a happy man.