Science, Engineering, and the Kingdom of God
Podcast: Axe to the Root
Topics: Christian Life
Social visibility doesn’t influence culture. Only service does.
– Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture, Herbert Schlossberg
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Welcome to Episode 50 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes we will talk about educational and career choices. That’s correct, the topic of this episode is science and engineering, but we won’t talk about science and engineering in a general, abstract way, not in terms of systematic theology. We will talk about them in terms of applied theology; that is, what do science and engineering have to do with our life choices for this specific point in time and history. And even more, what do they have to do with the choices our children make, choices for which we as parents are partially responsible, given that it is our parental responsibility under the Dominion Covenant to teach and direct our children in their individual purpose in the Kingdom of God. Thus, we will dive into the issue of educational and career development, and its relation to the Kingdom of God.
Among Christian families, and especially homeschoolers, it has become popular in the last decade or so to get their children interested and involved in activities and career choices of high social visibility. On one hand, we have a number of Christian colleges and universities – like Regent, Liberty, Grove City College, etc, – that place a high emphasis on education in social sciences, specifically geared towards training professional Christian social and political activists. (Whatever that means.) A number of them claim to offer a “classical liberal arts education.” In case you don’t know what the word “liberal” means in this combination of words, as was explained by one such educational activist a few years ago, its original meaning was that such arts are meant to be studied by “free men” (hence “liberal”). This, as distinct from the other arts, like mathematics, natural science, applied sciences, engineering, entrepreneurship, management, banking, etc., which in the classical world were reserved for the lower classes, that is, slaves and freedmen. Naturally, for we all know that engineering, entrepreneurship, applications require work, and work is simply another word for servanthood – in fact, in Hebrew, the word is exactly the same – abad – for “work” and “serve.” (In the Slavic languages the word for “slave” also comes from the word for “work.” The modern word “robot” comes from the Slavic word for “slave” and was first used by the Czech science fiction author Karel Čapek in his novel R.U. R.)The concept behind the popularity of liberal arts and the classical curriculum is that liberal arts must be studied by those who want to influence the culture. That is, learn the social sciences to understand the society and the culture, take an influential position in the society and the culture, and thus you will influence the culture.
Then, as part of the same drive, there was a renewed interest in Christian circles in Christian art. More specifically, Christian music and movies. Christians have always made music for their internal use, in the churches, Sunday morning. But recently that has expanded to mimic secular music – which, of course, is not in itself bad. Secular movie making, that is, Hollywood, has influenced Christians as well, and there has been a rising interest among younger Christians in this area as well. The success of the Kendrick brothers gave it a new impetus, as well as the short-lived but quite popular annual San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. A number of young men and women got involved in studying how to make movies. The impetus behind it was, again, that the high social visibility of the movie makers shapes the culture. Thus, if Christians learn to make expert movies, they will be capable of influencing the culture. There is also a philosophical reasoning behind this: the conspiracy theory of the so-called Frankfurt School and their “cultural Marxism.” I have talked about the oxymoron of “cultural Marxism” in another episode, and I have shown that the influence of the “Frankfurt School” has been rather a myth. But that myth in itself has prompted some circles within the Christian and conservative churches to oppose that supposed influence through producing Christian art and culture.
Then there is also the Seven-Mountains Dominion Theology, a Charismatic imitation of Christian Reconstruction, which sees the restoration of Christendom in Christian working to capture the “seven mountains of the culture,” namely, religion, family, education, government, media, arts & entertainment, and business. The idea is, again, cultural influence, through producing leaders in every one of these areas, who will take over leadership and will command the cultural choices of a nation. Only a small segment of all Charismatic churches has been affected by this theology, and much of it has been only wishful thinking – so far no great leaders have been produced by this movement, and, as I suspect, it is still in the stage of defining its terms.
There is nothing wrong with all these efforts per se, to be sure. No matter what we do, we need to work to bring the principles of the Word of God to every area of life, and we should be working to apply our faith to all we do, personally or corporately, as a society. There is, however, an unhealthy focus in all these campaigns of “capturing” or “influencing” the culture, which prevents them from producing fruit. So far, these efforts have not produced a single dent in our largely secularized and secularizing culture. If anything, it seems we have been spending money and effort only to register some small movement at the periphery of our society. The central idols of the society, however, have not been touched yet. The homeschool movement was and continues to be a smashing cultural success for Christianity; but it took no special efforts, training, or strategic planning or campaigns to do so, only the commitment of individual fathers and mothers, and a few small publishers to make the first steps. In comparison, all the Christian colleges and their classical liberal arts programs, all the Christian movies and music makers, and all the sound and fury of Christian organizations for capturing this or that “cultural mountain” still have their “successes” registered only in the small eco-chambers of their own small niches. As I have pointed many times before, just about 100 years before whatever happened in the Presbyterian churches in America was front-page news for most newspapers. Today, there is no Christian organization, ecclesiastical or not, that would capture the interest of the broader culture, despite all our efforts to “influence the culture.”
There is a reason for that failure. The reason is that behind all these efforts to “influence the culture,” there is a false philosophy. That philosophy is that cultural influence is achieved through high social visibility. The higher one’s position in the society is, the more influence he can have on the culture. Since in our own time the highest level of social visibility belongs to politicians and Hollywood actors, the assumption is that these are the true cultural leaders of the today. And that politicians and Hollywood producers by default set the cultural standards of today. Therefore, the majority of Christians today – well, the majority of active Christians today, to be precise, since a vast majority of those who go to church couldn’t care less about anything whatsoever – see the capture of those positions of high social visibility as the only way to turn the tide of secularism. If we only elect Christian politicians, we’ll have a Christian America again. (By the way, it was a majority of Christian judges who removed Judge Roy Moore in Alabama. And it is majorities of Christian politicians who keep abortion legal in most states.) If we only have a Republican majority on the Supreme Court, we will overturn Roe v. Wade. (By the way, it was a Republican majority that gave us Roe v. Wade in the first place.) If we only have more influential Christian lobbyist organizations, we could change Washington DC. (We have dozens of those, and they do nothing more than consume donations.) If we only start producing Christian movies, we will change the culture. If we only capture Hollywood. Etc., etc.
The problem is, even if we capture these “cultural mountains,” we won’t be able to change the culture nor influence the culture. Because the culture is not influenced by social visibility.
You all know about the modern obsession with gender and sodomite “marriages”; it’s a constant talking point for some conservatives pastors and church activists. Some even say that this is the first time in the history of Christendom when the meaning of marriage has been changed to mean a union between two men or two women . . . or whatever else it may mean. But this is not true. There has been such a period in history before, in the 14th century, when sodomy was on the rise among the ruling classes and even in the monasteries. It was openly depicted in art (just google homosexuality in art 14thcentury and see for yourself), and churches and priests in Italy and France openly performed same-sex marriage ceremonies. It was everywhere, among the most highly visible members of the society. Some Italian cities had their special part of town where male prostitutes lived and members of the nobility openly visited those parts. On the surface, it looked like Christendom would surrender to sodomy; after all, it was the most culturally visible members of the society who practiced it and promoted it. And yet, within just a generation or two it disappeared from the society. By the time of Erasmus in the second half of the 15th century, no memory had remained of the rampant sodomy just a couple of generations prior; and Erasmus only makes a hint to it in the monasteries of his time. Luther seems to not know of the problem in his time in the 16th century. Apparently, sodomy’s high social visibility didn’t give any cultural advantage to sodomy; the culture didn’t accept it as normative, and it died away. There is a multitude of such examples in history, the most amazing of which is the victory of the early church against the Empire in the first three centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection: Not only the Church was not culturally visible, it had to hide to survive. And in the final account, the catacombs won the culture over the palace. Social visibility doesn’t produce cultural influence.
Then what does?
Jesus explained it in Matt. 20:24-28 (also Mark 10:41-45; Luke 22:24-27):
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The mother of sons of Zebedee had come to Him and asked Him to place her sons in a position of high social visibility: “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” Jesus’s answer was, “You don’t know what you are asking for. My social visibility is of a different kind. And in fact, in the new world I am about to inaugurate, cultural greatness will be defined in a different way: not through being socially visible, but by being a servant. Or, as Dennis Peacocke summarized it perfectly well three decades ago, in God’s world, “whoever serves, leads.” The culture is never and has never been dominated by crafty political manipulators, or artists, or movie producers; these have, at best, only followed the culture. The culture itself follows those who serve. This truth manifested itself in Jesus’s life as well, when in John 6:26 He said that the real reason the people were seeking Him was not the miracles (that is, the high social visibility) but the fact that they ate of the bread and were filled (that is, real social service).
This, now, leads us to an important conclusion: if we want, as Christians, to influence the culture, we need to be looking not for ministries and occupations of high social visibility, but for those of real service. Whoever wants to be great culturally, must be the servant of the culture. And servant means not someone who simply speaks with culturally acceptable cliches of pretended humility – as so many of our churchian celebrities today do – but someone who has identified the real needs of the society and works to minister to those real needs. And in order to identify those needs, he has gone to the Bible, and to the meaning and purpose of man’s life, within the framework of God’s Covenant. And then, when he has identified and defined those needs, he has organized his life and the lives of his children – in terms of training, education, and career choices – to meet those needs.
Of course, the needs of men are a countless multitude . . . but only on a first glance. In reality, they are very few, or at least, can be summarized under one heading only: the Dominion Covenant. Man was created for a specific purpose: work to turn the formless earth into an ordered, capitalized city. Work real value into God’s creation; make it ordered and useful for future generations. Take the resources scattered in the garden and build then into a productive society in order to save other men time and effort, which they would be able to apply to even more stewardship of the creation. That original Dominion Covenant is still in force; we have never been freed of it. It continues to be our debt and obligation to God, and it continues to define our very nature as human beings. (Listen to my sermon, “What Is Man?”) This Dominion Covenant is also at the foundation of why we were saved: not to enjoy a purposeless eternity in golden slippers, plucking golden harps, but to continue to transform God’s creation into greater and greater order, for the glory of God. Make the creation productive. Make the society productive. Think of a country like Russia, having GDP of about $1 trillion with a population of 140 million. Now consider the fact that Greater Houston has an economy half that size, with a population of less than 5 million. When you add some adjacent areas, Houston has economy comparable to that of Russia. That is, it can produce as much as Russia, with a population of only one-25th of the population of Russia. And now consider that the Kingdom of God in its developed stage of covenantal faithfulness and blessings will have productivity far greater than that of Houston today.
This task at increasing the productivity of creation through order and capitalization helps serve all the other needs of man. While poor people will always be with us, and we can always give them whenever we want (Matt. 26:11; John 12:8), the best solution for poverty is not alms but increased productivity. Look around yourselves; even our poorest in America today are richer than many average people just 200 years ago. Increased productivity also helps men find new occupations and get involved in more and better focused ministries. It helps finance missions. It also helps give men their individual purpose in life better than poverty can. In the final account, a faithful culture is a culture that takes the Dominion Covenant seriously, and applies its energy to work and productivity, so that in the final account, the earth is subdued and serves man in the best and most economical way. Work, according to R.J. Rushdoony, is the social energy of the redeemed man in action. The redeemed man is a working man.
True covenantal service, therefore, must be sought not in socially visible positions of power. It must be sought in those occupations and ministries that help develop the productivity of mankind. It is there where we can only expect to achieve such positions of authority as to influence the culture. And it is there where we need to focus our attention and the attention of our children.
There’s hardly a need to explain to modern Americans the importance of science and technology for the enormous levels of productivity – and therefore prosperity – that our world today enjoys in comparison to previous generations. there’s probably not much need anymore to explain to American Christians the Christian origin and the Biblical foundations of modern science and engineering. Whatever mythologies secular historians may devise to claim some non-Christian origin of modern science and technology, historical data are clear: we owe our science and technology to the development of Christendom in the last 1,000 years. Indirectly, we can see the proof for this Christian character of science and technology in the cultural agenda of the enemies of Christianity today: it is not just by mere omission that Common Core math is designed to confuse children using completely illogical principles of reasoning. It is not by chance that environmentalists and socialists and global warming alarmists and others like them have made their target the technological development of the West. It is not by chance that modern governments are trying to take control over and restrain, where possible, technological development. (Think of the recent decision of several European countries, and of some US cities, to ban Uber and Lyft, for example, or to control Internet.) This war against science and technology is not a side issue to the covenantal battles of the Kingdom of God; it is one of its main battles. Technological growth is a testimony to God’s victory; His Dominion Mandate to man is being fulfilled even with mankind still burdened by sin, and only lifted by the redemption of Jesus Christ. For this technological development to happen, more and more people – whether Christians or not – have to abandon their pagan worldviews and adopt the worldview of the Bible. Whether they believe the Bible or not, they have to agree with its presuppositions in order to be able to do science. In the Dominion Covenant, even the enemies of God are forced to learn more about Him and His Kingdom. They may hate it, but they have no choice. The worldview of the Gospel – which only makes science and technology possible – will eventually permeate every area of man’s thinking.
That’s where true service is. Especially in America, where, because of the retreat of the church and the Christian families from education, we have allowed math and science instruction to deteriorate to disastrously low levels. We are a culture increasingly dependent on technology; which, in itself, is good. And yet, we are a culture that is increasingly incapable of supplying the job market with technicians and engineers trained to not simply perform tasks but to understand the very processes they are supposed to control and manage. That’s the real reason why US companies are forced to h ire more and more engineers and technicians from abroad. Donald Trump recently spoke against US companies hiring foreign engineers and technicians; thus, he vowed to cut the work visa quotas. He imagines that US companies just don’t like to hire American employees. This is nonsense. The reality is, we don’t have the trained engineers our economy needs. Very soon we will either have to abruptly repair our education, or open our borders to immigrants; else the US will lose the enormous technological advantage we have always had over the rest of the world. President Trump’s near-sighted policies will only lead to an economic disaster.
And here, Christians can make the difference. Because it is where the culture is bleeding where true service is needed. And since our culture is bleeding in the field of trained scientists and engineers, because of the low quality of math and science education, Christian homeschooling families can and must effect a change by changing their educational and career priorities. There’s a void to be filled; we must be there to fill it. That void is not in the area of high social visibility; it’s not that we don’t have enough actors or movies or music bands or social activists or politicians or lobbyist groups or even lawyers. Sure enough, we need Christians in all of these fields, and we need Christians who know what the Word of God says about all the areas of life and action. But our overall focus must be where the void is, and how to fill it. A void in the culture – especially a void which has to do with productivity and therefore with the Dominion Covenant – is God’s opportunity for the church to engage in real service. If the church doesn’t take up the challenge, someone else will.
A few years ago, Joel McDurmon delivered a lecture on the Reformation in Germany in the 16th century. To our modern sense, it sounds impossible that Luther’s Reformation actually succeeded. With Luther being held secretly in an isolated castle for his safety, and with the church and the nobility (the socially visible classes) against him, how did his ideas spread throughout Germany? The answer is: through the new technological entrepreneurs, the printers. The Gutenberg press was a new technology, and some entrepreneurs embraced it for the purpose of making money. It turned out, Germany needed it, for millions were willing to pay the lower prices for books and pamphlets. In the final account, it was Luther’s books and pamphlets that were most often printed and sold on the markets. Luther himself ever made a dime on his writings. But the men who exploited the void on the culture through the new productivity, serving their communities and making money out of it, were those who spread the Reformation. The Roman church lagged behind, and eventually lost the war. There’s a similar opportunity today. It is again a void. It is again about technology and productivity. It is about a real need, which will soon lead to greater demand, and the supply will be lower. Train your kids in mathematics, engineering, and science. In a generation, they will be shaping the culture better and more efficiently than Hollywood and DC together.
Social visibility doesn’t influence culture. Only service does. True service, under the Dominion Covenant.
The book I will assign for reading this week is Ships, Clocks, and Stars, by Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgit. Read to learn how just one small technological innovation changed the course of history. And then consider that there are millions more to be discovered, in God’;s universe. Your children may be the ones who discover some of them, and change history accordingly.
Keep Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in your prayers, and when you consider donating to worthy causes. We are working on organizing another Biblical worldview conference this summer in Bulgaria. Part of what we will be covering will be this: what service does the culture need that Christian can supply? What void is there that God has left for Christians to exploit? To support us, visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to the newsletter, and donate. God bless you all.