Without a doubt, this has been a banner year for my friend and colleague, Dr. Paul Franks. At the university graduation on May 10, it was announced that Paul had been promoted to the rank of ‘Associate Professor’ with tenure. This is perhaps the greatest milestone in the career of any academic. Very few of those who obtain a PhD degree (which is itself a slim minority) ever reach this point. It signals a transition into a select company of permanent researchers and teachers at your home institution. It’s also an indication that (in the opinion of senior researchers in your field) your own research—both in terms of its quality and quantity—has met the highest standards. That Paul achieved tenure so early on in his career is a real mark of distinction.
Dr. Franks arrived on the Tyndale campus for the Fall of 2008. At the time, the department of Philosophy had been reduced to but a single member (myself). As any department chair will tell you, you can’t run a proper academic major that way. During the hiring process, I knew that we would need to hit a home run–most likely a grand slam. We needed someone who could publish frequently, teach maybe 10-12 different courses with extreme excellence, relate to students on a personal and spiritual level, recruit for the major, be entrepreneurial in vision casting for the program, and be an example of what an evangelical philosopher should be – someone students can admire and emulate in their attempts to integrate philosophy and biblical truth. Well, my heart sank as I thought of how statistically improbable it would be to find all of these qualities resident in one individual.
We received applications from supremely qualified people across North America, but again and again God seemed to lead me back to Paul’s application, as if to say “This is the one I want.” The rest, as they say, is history. Paul accepted our offer, moved to Toronto from Oklahoma, and dug right in. In the last 5 years, he’s written a complete doctoral dissertation (on the problem of evil), published 5 technical articles, 1 book chapter, 2 magazine pieces, and presented papers at 12 philosophy conferences (!) – all while teaching new courses in virtually every semester. Since his arrival, the number of our majors has increased dramatically, so much so that at one point it comprised nearly 10% of the total student body. Still further, he has played an enormous role in helping to place the greater part of some 30 Tyndale UC Philosophy majors into MA, PhD, and Law programs around the world (see here). The truth is: most of these students have drawn their grad school writing samples from Paul’s upper-level seminars. It’s really quite remarkable.
On a personal level, it is simply a joy to work with Paul. He’s full of energy and enthusiasm for philosophy, and its application to Christian intellectual life and discipleship. I always have a good laugh when I’m sitting in my office, and then all of a sudden hear Paul’s booming voice (piercing right through the cement wall separating our offices), warning some unwary first year student of the vice of talking about ‘valid premises’ and ‘true arguments’, or the folly of thinking it meritorious to embrace Christianity apart from or even against the evidence. At those moments, I think of the goodness and grace of God. It’s hard to imagine Tyndale Philosophy or even Tyndale without Paul. But I’m afraid I’ll shall have to do my best—at least for a time—since Dr. Franks has just been awarded a prestigious Templeton Research Fellowship at Ryerson University for 2014-2015. He’ll be a member of a research team, along with Klaas Kraay (Ryerson) and Nick Trakakis (Monash), investigating the axiological implications of theism (link). This is a truly outstanding accomplishment for such a young scholar. The department at Tyndale is bursting with pride.
If you have never read any of Paul’s fine work, I’d would suggest a visit to his Academia site (see here). Two of his most accessed (hence popular) articles are “Against a Postmodern Pentecostal Epistemology” (link) and “Original Sin and a Broad Free Will Defense” (link). I highly recommend both. On occasion, the two of us have presented a conference paper together, including this one at Ryerson (here) and another at the EPS Annual Meeting in Baltimore (here). And finally, here’s Prof. Franks in action, talking philosophy and apologetics, at his home church in Newmarket (link).