Whenever Michael Bauman, professor of theology and culture, looked down at his class roster, his students knew he was about to call on someone to defend a theological position. And this is how he would use much of his class time.
Bauman, 69, died on Oct. 2 of complications from a stroke he suffered this summer. Funeral services were held in Hillsdale on Oct. 10, officiated by his colleague Thomas Burke, professor and chair of philosophy and religion, who also gave one of the eulogies.
Bauman’s brother, Chris, said in a message that he heard nothing but praise for Bauman from former students.
“Because he was a humble person, I had no idea that he had such an impact on thousands of lives,” he said. “Many people followed him from Summit Ministries — a Christian apologetics conference — to Hillsdale, and vice versa, because he had a way of reaching them and challenging them like they have never been challenged.”
Chris Bauman even said he knows of former students whose children also took classes with Bauman, and this, he said, is his legacy.
After graduating from high school, Bauman served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He studied at Trinity College and eventually earned his Ph.D. from Fordham University. Bauman also taught at the University of Oxford as an associate dean with the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
Bauman, who also served as the director of the Christian Studies program at Hillsdale, arrived on campus in 1988 and taught courses ranging from the history of Christianity to seminars on John Milton and C.S. Lewis. He was also the author of 20 books, as well as a blog on theology, politics, and social issues. He was known for his method of prompting students to defend a variety of beliefs and arguments.
“Whatever the student answered, he’d challenge it with the other point of view,” Burke said. “His goal was to bring the student to arrive at the truth by virtue of them seeing it for themselves.”
One of Bauman’s recent students, junior Jared Key, enjoyed this style of learning. Having taken Bauman’s Western Theological Tradition and History of Christian Thought I courses, Key said it was Bauman who made him want to study philosophy and religion. As Bauman taught mostly night classes, Key said his teaching style worked better for a two-and-a-half hour class than a short lecture period.
“On the first night of Western Theological Tradition, he proceeded to explain the first four Christian councils by making us have to defend what the councils had to defend without knowing about them,” Key said. “After we all failed miserably to defend the divinity of Christ, he would then explain what they said.”
Joshua Klooz, ’08, took classes from Bauman. Klooz said he fondly remembers taking his C.S. Lewis seminar as an upperclassman. Bauman’s lectures on Lewis’ novel “Till We Have Faces” were particularly memorable, Klooz said.
Klooz said Bauman was one of the most honest people he knew at Hillsdale and he showed this when he was struggling through understanding a text with his students. Bauman never worked from prepared notes, so class was always fresh, Klooz said.
“Class was combat,” he said. “You didn’t want to bring any Sunday school answer. If you gave the right answer, he’d ask why. Did you earn that answer or was it given to you?”
Klooz also said Bauman was incredibly generous with his time, in and out of the classroom. When Klooz was looking at graduate school and the military, Bauman offered his advice on both.
“Time is so valuable, and you don’t run across very many people who are as generous with that resource as he was,” Klooz said.
One of Bauman’s friends, Bill Lundberg, assistant professor of sports studies and Hayden Park director, said Bauman’s goal in the classroom was to get students to consider their thinking process. Over the years, many of Lundberg’s student athletes would take Bauman’s classes and he recalls sitting in on some.
“He’d say to the students, ‘Coach Lundberg is here to gain wisdom, too, just like you,’” Lundberg said.
Lundberg said Bauman’s knowledge only enhanced his Christian faith, something that helped him during a series of health issues toward the end of his life.
“He was always so eloquent and great to be with and hear him speak. He was really witty,” Lundberg said. “He was a hero for Christ.”
Professor of English Michael Jordan said Bauman spent a lot of time reading widely.
“Over the years, I noticed he seemed to have read everything,” Jordan said.
Burke said that Bauman once told him his writing habits were inspired from conversations with theologian Alister McGrath at the University of Oxford. When Bauman asked McGrath how he wrote so much, he responded by saying he would get up every day and write for several hours. This inspired Bauman to dedicate himself to constant writing. Because of this, Burke said he ended up with a good library of published books.
Bauman was also a resident scholar for the Summit Semester, a spiritual and educational program from Summit Ministries held in Colorado. In a lecture he would give at Summit, titled “Chronicle of Deception,” Bauman would tell students the story of how he came to Christianity after subscribing to the social movements of the 1960s.
“I confess to believing, at one time or another, nearly all the persistent or pervasive fantasies of the 1960s,” he said in the lecture. “If the truth be told, of course, I knew nothing — at least nothing worth knowing.”
Outside of his scholarship, Bauman was an avid athlete. According to Lundberg, he had a background in track and field, but Bauman especially loved cycling. He even spent time training with a world-class cyclist in Italy, Jordan said. Bauman competed in a number of cycling races, often doing well for his age group. He even won the world championship UltraMarathon in 2000, according to his obituary.
In the last few years of his life, Bauman dealt with a number of health issues, including strokes and bouts of cancer. In the fall of 2016, he was cycling with Lundberg and other professors when he fell and fractured several bones.
As a result, Bauman spent considerable time recovering in hospitals and at home. During these times, Lundberg, Jordan, Burke, and other colleagues would visit him. Jordan and his wife would often bring meals to Bauman, and it was those times when Jordan got to know him better.
“I thought he was undergoing some of the afflictions of Job. The number and series of calamities that came were really trying,” Jordan said. “I think that there was a stoic and Christian endurance of affliction.”
Lundberg remembers one time he went to the hospital and Bauman asked him to help plan an escape. While they didn’t go through with their plot, of course, Jordan said that instance showed Bauman’s character of determination.
Burke said that over the years, he and Bauman would have conversations on theology, and that Bauman showed a desire to pursue truth.
“He was very committed, but at the same time, he was open-minded,” Burke said. “He changed his position on certain theological positions a number of times over the years. He loved to argue because he thought that was the way to find out what’s what.”