Christ & Culture Series: Academia

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This is a continuation of a current series

In this post I interview my dad, Robert Oleck, about the academic world. Growing up my dad was always my ‘go-to person’ for theology and apologetics questions. I credit him for influencing me, at a young age, in my love for Bible Doctrine and Reformed Theology. 

His academic background includes a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Rutgers University, an M.S. in Architectural Engineering from Penn State, and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Syracuse University, where he also was an adjunct Professor of various engineering courses from 1983-1990. 

In 1973 (before attending Syracuse University in 1977) my dad came to know Christ, and in 1997 he also received an M.A. in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary in the Central Florida area. He is currently retired and doing consulting and freelance engineering work, while serving as an Elder at Grace Church in his hometown of Winter Garden, FL.


 

Did your Christian beliefs have an effect on your years as a professor? If so, how and why?

Yes, my Christianity gave me a new view of the physical laws we engineers use to design structures, aerospace vehicles, cars, etc. These physical laws are extremely precise and if not adhered to will cause failure and collapse. Somehow I wanted to try and get this point of view across as I taught Engineering Mechanics to undergraduates, a couple of graduate courses in Earthquake Engineering, and courses in Advanced Reinforced Concrete design. We engineers are the practioners of the physical laws of the universe that God has put in place in order for the universe not to be in chaos. In subtle ways I would mention this point of view when possible.

Compare your student years as a Christian and non-Christian. What were the differences and similarities?

As a non-Christian, at Rutgers and later Penn State, my ambition was to get a good job so I didn’t have to work manual labor. My motivation was also to get a better salary as well as enjoy myself as much as possible. As a Christian at Syracuse University I still wanted to better my education but now more to help my family have a better life and to glorify God through what I could learn. As a non-Christian my ambition was self-centered, but as a Christian I became more God and family oriented.

Does God’s Word have any bearing on the academic world? If so, how and why?

Yes it should because the academic world should teach us how to think. God’s Word answers some of the questions about our world and ourselves that in a growing number of educational institutions are not being asked, such as: Where did we come from? What is our purpose? Are we basically good or evil? How do we arrive at our knowledge of what is good and evil? What happens after we die?

As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, we engineers had to take one course in philosophy, and the professor said that most philosophies come down to assuming man is either basically good or basically evil. As an engineer I was trained in only the physical sciences. I learned all the equations and formulas, but not to think critically in any way.

How do you think our culture views the academic world?

Based on discussions I’ve had with professors and students from various universities, our current American culture has become very one-sided in its view of God, man, and right/wrong. The educational institutions are the factories that reproduce this cultural bias into the next generations. However, I think our culture believes they are right about this approach to education and resists anyone or anything that tries to offer an alternative view. The surprising thing about this attitude is that it contradicts the post-modern philosophy that advocates relative truth and acceptance of multi-cultural beliefs. A current book confirming this hypocrisy is The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, by Kirsten Powers.

In addition, even the Greek philosophers were interested in comparing ideas. Plato expressed this view as follows, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Sec. 38 of Plato’s Apology.)

How should Christians view the academic world differently?

God has provided various sources of general or normal means besides the Bible (General Revelation) about Himself, His ideas, His view of right and wrong, etc.,  Though there are some good things we can learn from the academic world, Christians should also see education as an opportunity to learn many points of view about the questions I mentioned above as a way to reach out to other cultures, beliefs, and different peoples with the gospel.

Example: Paul at Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34) had learned the Greek philosophers. In Paul’s presentation of the gospel he quotes a Greek poet and philosopher to indicate that there is an “unknown” Greek god that he would inform the audience of at the Areopagus (a philosophical discussion group) near Athens. This approach enabled Paul to introduce a “bridge” between the Greek culture and the gospel.

What is also interesting about the group at the Areopagus was that they were interested in hearing what Paul had to say, which is better than what occurs at our academic institutions where any ideas that are contrary to the current philosophy are prohibited.

Christ & Culture Series: Education

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This is part 2 in a series exploring areas of culture through a Biblical lens. The first post introduces the series, and in it I’m talking with my husband about juggling artistry, business, and theology. In this post I keep it in the family and talk with my older sister (Charity Bianchi) about her specialty: education. She hails from Syracuse, NY, where she lives with her husband of 19 years and her 6 children, who range in age from 15 to 3. She homeschool’s 4 of her children, while the oldest 2 attend Christian school.

She graduated from Oswego State University in New York state with a bachelors degree in Elementary Education in 1997, and in 2000 she received her Masters degree in Special Education. She was a full time 5th grade teacher at a Christian school for 2 years, but quit to stay home with her children. She began homeschooling in 2005.


What are some ways the culture views education?

The culture elevates education to a higher function than necessary.  Many people, even in Christian circles, can view education as the answer to a “successful life”  leaving out the true core of what makes success. Because academia is so important in our world to acquire a job and good standing, many can run to it as the answer to the problems we face. The mentality being that, “our society would be better if only we had a better education system.”  Our culture also can rely heavily upon our government as the answer to education.

What makes an education distinctly Christian? 

I believe when you place Christ and the gospel at the center of all you teach it becomes distinctly Christian. Because God is our creator every discipline of education intertwines (such as various subjects: reading, math, science, history, as well as the building of the child’s biblical worldview) and is interrelated to God’s plan for mankind.  When you use Gods word as the foundation of education, truth and insight will be transposed.

What’s your goal in educating your children?

I have two goals. The most important is from two verses. One is from the Old Testament book Deutronomy 6:4-9 and from Proverbs 22:6,

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old they will not depart from it.” 

If my children are the most educated, well read, and well spoken people, but do not love their God and know his word I feel I have not truly educated them.  I have to constantly remind myself of this and keep this on the forefront as I teach them daily, even though I am not consistent and as faithful as I would like to be in this area.

The second goal is to give them a good education, while instilling a godly work ethic, with the basis of gaining a Biblical worldview.  My children’s academic capabilities vary greatly, and I don’t know what God has for their lives in the future, but I know I want them to be set apart (be a light in the darkness) by their knowledge, work ethic, and godly character.  It is wise and important for us to raise a generation of Christians that can be intelligently articulate on many issues and most importantly to be able to express an accurate Biblical worldview about them. (A great resource for homeschoolers on this topic is When You Rise Up: A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling by R.C. Sproul Jr.)

Can our culture’s view of education and a Christian education coexist?

It really depends on what the parents or school convey to the children and how.  It’s interesting, because the school systems want “moral” acting students, but they want to teach immoral and ungodly information.  Worldly humanism is pervasive in our schools and homes.  Humanisim can be taught both socially and educationally. We can all fall prey to it if we are not vigilant and active thinkers.  A Biblical worldview is the answer to this and training children in discernment at a young age (seeing Gods evidence in creation) and as they get older asking the right questions (based on their previous knowledge of scripture) will help them sift through the worldliness and into the truth.  Our culture wants us to behave in a moralistic fashion by teaching children not to lie, steal, and cheat, but they do not understand where morality is rooted. I don’t think morality and humanisim can coexist and produce authentic Christian children.

How can Christian parents who don’t homeschool give their kids a distinctly Christian education, and one in which they are involved?

There are many wonderful Christian schools that will partner with parents to provide their children with a distinctly Christian education.  If that’s not an option and your children are in public school, it’s going to look different and may require more intentionality, but parents can work with their children and discuss with them how topics are being taught at the school and any social issues with peers. Parents can use God’s word and other Christian literature to supplement and teach them how to refute opposing secular views.

Being in a non-Christian educational environment can be helpful for the child to learn how to put a Biblical worldview into practice.  Depending on the child’s age the school can also be a good outreach for the child to pursue others who need to hear the truth. Parents can actively get involved at the schools by volunteering or being a part of a school board. I know many families that have done a tremendous job guiding their children spirtually through their education process at public school.

What are some ways we can glorify God through education?

Education is a good thing and God wants us to acquire knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to ultimately glorify him. One way we can glorify God through education is by aiding our children through the education process and training them toward godliness in their school work ethic. School is a child’s “job” and we need to teach them to “work as unto the Lord” at a young age. Another way we can glorify God through education is to have children grow to embrace the Biblical worldview and be able to stand firm in their faith despite contrary beliefs.