Friday, October 19 , 2018, 10:26 pm | Fair 67º


Longtime Westmont Professor, Author Robert Wennberg Dies of Cancer

A memorial service is planned for July 30 to honor his life and work

Robert Wennberg, who taught philosophy at Westmont College for 37 years and authored several books, including Faith at the Edge: A Book for Doubters and God, Humans and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe, died July 18 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75.

Robert Wennberg
Robert Wennberg

“We are deeply saddened by Bob’s death,” Westmont President Gayle Beebe said. “He personified what we encourage our professors to be: effective, engaging teachers who make a lifelong impact on students, and dedicated scholars who fearlessly seek the truth while holding firmly to faith in Jesus Christ.”

Wennberg, who retired in 2005, continued to write and lecture about the difficult issues of abortion, euthanasia and animal rights. He earned a doctorate in philosophy from UCSB in 1973. He held master’s degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Pennsylvania, and bachelor’s degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary and Bob Jones University.

Wennberg was named teacher of the year at Westmont a record five times — in 1973, 1982, 1989, 1995 and 2002 — and received the faculty research award in 1986. In 2003, Shirley Mullen, former Westmont provost and current president of Houghton College, honored Wennberg with a distinguished professorship award.

“His scholarship work is marked by that careful attention to balancing tensions and to ruthless honesty about ambiguities that grows out of his gift of constructive criticism,” she said.

Other books Wennberg authored include Terminal Choices: Euthanasia, Suicide and the Right to Die, Life in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy, Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil and The Right to Life: Reflections on Three Theories.

Wennberg, who began teaching part time at Westmont in 1968, has educated generations of students, including Jim Taylor, Class of 1978, a Westmont professor of philosophy, and his daughter, Sarah Taylor, Class of 2007.

“In his books, he invites readers to consider his point of view instead of insisting that he is right,” Jim Taylor said. “Though Bob had strong convictions, he was aware that there are reasonable alternative philosophical positions in addition to his own. He encouraged his students and his readers to explore these options, and to make up their own minds about them.”

In the past month, about 400 former students and colleagues joined a Facebook site celebrating Wennberg’s life.

W. Jay Wood, Class of 1976, a Wheaton College philosophy professor, wrote: “Dear Bob, at your retirement I wrote to share how important your encouragement was for me as an undergraduate. It was one of the reasons I had the nerve to go to graduate school, leading to my career as a philosophy teacher, now in my 29th year! I share regularly the occasion of sitting in your office as you helped me on a paper, and remarked that a couple of my ideas were worth pursuing. I remember vividly the boost I got from that session, and I remain grateful. I was just reading through Faith at the Edge, and I continue to appreciate your clarity, wit and good philosophical instincts. You have touched so many lives, mine among them.”

Wennberg is survived by his wife, Eleanore, and their daughter, Siri Pratt, who graduated from Westmont in 1988.

A memorial service for Wennberg will be at 2 p.m. Friday, July 30, at First Presbyterian Church, 21 E. Constance Ave. A reception will follow in the Christian Fellowship Center at the church.

— Scott Craig is the media relations manager for Westmont College.

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