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Humanity and Technology
Informed by Faith

The pursuit of education through Christian polytechnic education

by Grant Bridgman in collaboration with Jonathan Lett, Ph.D.

As LeTourneau University continues to embody the academic ministry of the Christian Polytechnic University, the integration of faith, science, and technology is core to how we carry out our mission. While this has evolved over the years, recent intentional initiatives have paved the way to participate even more in the national conversation about Christian polytechnic education, societal contributions, and human flourishing, through the lens of eternal impact.


What makes us human? Is it our intellect, our emotion? Is our humanity contingent upon our creativity, or maybe our productivity? Or perhaps what makes us human is deep in our soul, with meaning or purpose that is intrinsically tied to our creator. How are we meant to know the nature of our existence and how do we know what makes us uniquely human? Today, these questions are asked in a world inundated by digital information and deeply invested in technologies that promise to make human life better. Despite the vast information we have at our fingertips and the major advances we’ve made in technology, are we any closer to answering the perennial questions: what is a human? And what makes for a good life?

We are surrounded with nearly an infinite amount of information and an array of technologies which are all aimed at helping humanity to navigate some of these most basic questions about our existence. The marriage of education and technology is meant to build bridges between gaps in the pathway toward a “good” life, but is this path one which solely pursues power over parts of our world, and what defines the “good” life?

Speaking on the nature of technology in the world today as it relates to our daily lives, Dr. Jonathan Lett, Director of the Faith, Science, and Technology Initiative at LeTourneau University, states:

Technology is inseparable from being human. It accompanies our waking and our sleeping, our work and our worship, our recreation and rest, our being born and our dying. Devices and machines do not simply exist out there somewhere and then enter our previously established life. Technological devices are there from the very beginning: from the advanced technology of the hospital’s labor and delivery floor to the car seat that brings us safely home. It is this lifelong intimacy with technology that allows it to escape our close examination of it… We are so intimately close to technology that this familiarity makes it difficult to appreciate how much influence it exerts in every sphere of human life."

The books that we read, clothing that we wear, even the way in which certain types of food is prepared, are all scientific knowledge applied in technology with the aim of making life better. If that definition applies to technology in a broad sense, a similar or parallel definition of higher education might be: learning the principles and applications of a ‘better’ philosophy of life. Given that tech shapes our fundamental experiences of being human—work, worship, recreation, rest, birth and death--perhaps higher ed ought to reflect on the question of being human in tandem with probing questions about the nature of technology. As Christians we are called to more than basic principles and applications of philosophy. We are called to pursue a Christ-like wisdom with eternal implications.

Wisdom denotes not merely theoretical knowledge but the know-how to respond to Christ’s call to love, according to the ways in which the world has been created. Christian wisdom requires a clear picture of how human nature corresponds to God’s purpose and the skills necessary to conform our lives to this picture amidst the complexities and particularities of a broken world.

In the realm of education, this brokenness is seen in a rising tide of concern about the effectiveness of four-year universities pursuing the goal of developing knowledge and skills. Whether as a contributing factor or innocent benefactor, technology itself seems to be at the center of this dialogue. While the institution of higher education has been devoted of old to humanity’s deep questions, it has not adequately recognized the technological dimension to the questions. Many universities are not preparing their students for this dialogue, nor are they producing students with the wisdom required for this technological age. Is it even possible to focus on wisdom at a time when most higher ed institutions are primarily focused on return on investment (ROI)?


Many critics of higher education are voicing concerns over the widening gap between a college graduate’s training and their actual industry knowledge and applied experience. An excerpt from a November 2022 Forbes article by Adam Wray, entitled Moving Beyond the Dependence on College Degrees, reads: “A recent study commissioned by nonprofits American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future found that 72% of companies believe college degrees are unreliable signifiers of a person’s job-related skills and abilities, and that 68% want to hire people who don’t have college degrees. Generation Z—young Americans born after 1996—agrees with them. Nearly 60% said companies should hire high school graduates who have followed non-degree pathways. Meanwhile, most industries almost always hire for specific technical abilities rather than harder-to-measure soft skills and knowledge, like communication and problem-solving. Yet, many of the most successful executives in the technology industry have humanities backgrounds.”

Are colleges and universities too far removed from the ‘golden age’ of higher education, when the sole purpose of pursuing a four-year degree was to answer the question, “how do I develop a good (or better) philosophy of life?” In his book, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money, Professor Bryan Caplan of George Mason University writes:

Education’s contrarian detractors and mainstream defenders have one illusion in common: Both think they can kill two birds with one stone. The detractors find little effect of education on job skills, so they ignore the evidence that education mightily enhances worldly success. The defenders find a large effect of education on worldly success, so they ignore the evidence that education barely enhances job skills. Both sides make strong cases as long as they stick to the evidence they know. The wise approach is to take all the evidence seriously. To understand education, we have to look at skill and success, learning and earning. Irrelevant education really is financially rewarding. Human capital purism can respond only with denial and dismay.”

Taking this reasoning at face value would make for a pragmatic valuation of both education and the technological means through which education is achieved. But what does Caplan think about the more basic questions connected to the purposes of humanity, and in this context, humanity’s attempts at betterment—attempts at teaching individuals how to be both competent employees and good people?

To plausibly qualify as a merit good (judged on the basis of benefit to society), [education] needs three ingredients. The first ingredient: worthy content—great ideas and glorious culture, which uplifts the soul. The second ingredient: skillful pedagogy—learning from enthusiastic teachers/masters of their subjects, which uplifts the soul. The third ingredient: eager students. Sharing great ideas and glorious culture with students who find them fascinating uplifts their souls.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. Or perhaps, getting some-thing. Caplan’s assessment of an educational environment which benefits society seems to be the first breath of a conversation that is developed more fully by Mercer and Ponticell in their publication of Polytechnic Education. Their publication is “a response to higher ed institutions being influenced by state and local governments to demonstrate “value for money” as well as producing educational, technological and scientific accomplishments associated with innovation and economic prosperity.” An approach to an impactful education built out in a polytechnic institution is defined as one that is “designed to blend theory and practice to solve real world problems for the benefit of society” (Mercer and Ponticell, p.47). We will come back to this shortly, but first let’s pause to explore a practical outpouring of this definition.


Such an approach to education may be meaningful, but without the practical evidence for how such an institution might approach technology in relation to human flourishing, even a polytechnic university runs the risk of perceived irrelevance. In a recent interview with LeTourneau University President Dr. Steven D. Mason, author and former editor/producer at Christianity Today Andy Crouch (The Life We’re Looking for: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World) offers an approach to technology in the context of a Christian polytechnic university.

There is  this ancient story in the western world that could be called the quest for magic. The quest to find some way to leverage the natural world to get the “spiritual” results that we want. This was seen in the ancient world in the study of alchemy. I believe that while alchemy may be viewed as simply a part of the past, the dream of alchemy is still alive and often drives the way that we deploy technology. . . This delight of ‘impersonal power,’ of not needing other people to get something done, just needing a clue as to how the world works—I believe that this is actually the heart of magic. When we think about what it means as Christians to approach magic, or one could say, how we approach technology, I think there is a way to use technology in a personal way. I believe we were meant to have incredibly, beautifully directed power in the world. It is meant to always be deeply relational; it should always involve growth and love.”

This growth that Crouch speaks of should be the core aim of all institutions of higher education. The utilization of technology as a form of “beautifully directed power,” not from a desire to rule our world — but rather; as a force for its reconciliation. This may sound too aspirational to be achievable. But how do we go about the practice of both knowledge and application, both intellectual growth and deeply relational love? Crouch goes on to make this distinction.

Technology is at the heart of the best things that human beings can do in the world, because it is the application of what we have learned about the way that the natural world functions. As Christians, we believe this world is ‘very good,’ and as human beings we need to pay attention to it, explore, discover, and then apply what we have learned. This is why a Christian Polytechnic University is such an important thing to have in the world. This is a crucial way that we advance the common good: applying what we know about the nature of creation for the benefit of human beings. Technology is the dominant story of the modern world. While this is a very good thing, something is clearly not going quite right. While we are more powerful than any generation in human history, we do not seem to be more happy, more healthy, more flourishing than any other generation. In fact, in some parts of the world where technology is the most advanced, we are noticing a decline in physical health. As we apply more and more of what we know about the good of the world, why is life not becoming better and better? Something seems to be missing.”

The ‘something missing’ is clearly more than simply the three ingredients that Caplan described in creating education that is “beneficial” to society. The quest for ‘magic’ that Crouch points to is one that seems to force a choice down two paths going opposite directions: one fueled by scientific methods and technological innovations, and one marked by philosophy, doctrine, or even faith itself. This juxtaposition of technological power and redemptive love creates an incredible tension. A tension that is found at the center of all dialogue related to topics of faith, science, and technology. A tension not unlike that of a finely tuned gearbox.

In a recent lecture at LeTourneau University, Dr. Derek Schuurman of Calvin University (author, A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers) stated, “A helpful analogy is to think about a Christian worldview as being like a gearbox. So you've got the area of application like engineering and technology that's like the tires, right? And you've got the engine of scripture, which is where we get our power from. But you don't normally connect the tires directly to the engine. What you do is you run them through a kind of gearbox. And the Christian worldview provides a way of using the power of scripture and applying them to the area of application like technology and human progress.”

To some, this may begin to sound like the sort of ‘unhelpful’ theoretical analysis that has become so closely attached to the ‘ivory tower’ persona of many who engage with the scholarly pursuits of higher education, yet what if there were helpful examples of such theories? Schuurman continues on:

So how do we act as agents of reconciliation in our work and learning? Thinking more in terms of ‘design norms’ that we can see through biblical principles, rather than [labeling] certain technology as either good or bad. Firstly, we know that everything is touched by the fall. There is a difference between structure and direction. Not thinking that God's good creation persists in spite of sin, but that sin is rather like a virus that attaches itself to God's good creation and causes it to be misdirected and perverted in so many different ways. Sin doesn't create anything. Sin can only attach itself to God's good creation. So, some of the implications of that are that we don't reject anything in creation out of hand. The question ‘is technology good or bad?,’ is sort of a false dichotomy.

Secondly, we approach problems with these ‘design norms,’ which come out of biblical theology and Christian philosophy. The notion of justice, making sure that when we design products, that we think about promoting justice and giving each their due stewardship. You know, the notion of looking after the environment, financial and human resources, tending and keeping things properly. Caring has to do with loving our neighbor with cultural appropriateness, making sure that our designs fit the culture into which they're introduced, and alleviating burdens while preserving what is good. As Christians, we believe there's much more to being human than the electrochemical reactions that are going on in our brain; that are we're living beings, but we also have a spirit.”


“Alleviating burdens, preserving what is good”. It would seem here that Schuurman is implying the possibility of a third path. A path, which spans the philosophical and the practical, brings together the secular and the sacred. The ‘quest for magic’ Andy Crouch referred to is humanity’s search for the power of the supernatural. The quest of educators is the search for the next generation of innovators to solve societal problems, while also attuning their hearts to their neighbors. A ‘third path,’ which leads down a difficult road—even a ‘narrow road’—as it is written in Matthew 7:14. A road involving much faith, wisdom and discernment. As Dr. Lett writes:

The challenge of moral discernment arises not because our technological presuppositions are so far apart from a Christian perspective, but because they're so close. If we wish to discern the morality of technology in our current contexts, then we find ourselves in a difficult position of disentangling the evils from the goods we so keenly seek: the relief of suffering, the expansion of choice, protection from disease, and the increase of wealth and opportunity. Therefore, if we are to identify unfaithful forms of technology in the midst of genuinely good pursuits, we need a fuller picture of our current context. And to see our current context truly, we need a theological perspective. We need to appreciate that the real and true context for the pursuit of technological development is the Christian vocation of bearing the image of God to cultivate the flourishing of God’s creation.

Equipping students for industry impact and societal healing all for God’s glory is a core function of Christian polytechnic education. As LeTourneau University President, Dr. Steven D. Mason writes in his publication LeTourneau University as The Christian Polytechnic University: Embracing the Saga of Our Unique Organizational Calling:

“We believe that while modern science and society pose complex questions and problems, Scripture outlines for us not simplistic answers but rather a clear vision for what human and societal flourishing looks like, what it means to be fully human, who created the world, how God is renewing all things, and to whom we will one day give an account. . . Without a coherent and true account of life’s deepest and most pervasive questions, it is at best uncertain how students are being formed, including their version of flourishing. Education is inherently formation. An educational program with loose ends prides itself on so-called neutrality and doubt as virtues of inquiry. In contrast, Christian educators work from and towards a particular version of human flourishing.”

If this version of human flourishing is our aim, the formation of our students—of ourselves—is not wholly dependent upon technical or even philosophical mastery, but rather on wisdom. Dr. Jonathan Lett, on this particular pursuit:

“Wisdom says that life is about conforming the soul to the reality of nature, to the limits of time, body, and place. Technology offers not wisdom, but a technique—a way to bend the reality of the world to conform to the order of the human will. This technique is a substitute for wisdom, a shortcut to virtue. Wisdom is cultivated by the study of the Bible in a Christian community that helps students think critically and analytically about their discipline from a theological perspective. Wisdom requires that students integrate their field of study with Christian reflection on the nature and order of the world and on the reality of the human person as created, that is, as being designed for fellowship with God and neighbor.”

The perennial questions about life and flourishing have been debated throughout history, and will continue to be so for the rest of time. While a focused conversation—even one of educational merit—may not provide answers to all the nuanced side trails, the clarity of a primary path may emerge within the context of Christian polytechnic education. A path guided not by technological power, but divine wisdom. Individually seeking not just theoretical knowledge, but the ‘knowhow’ to respond to Christ’s call to love. Institutionally committing to the calling of Christian polytechnic education to be devoted to working out the pressing questions facing the world and the church today. Whereas most, if not all, Christian universities approach these major technological questions within a liberal arts setting, a Christian polytechnic university addresses these challenges from within their native polytechnic habitat. Answers to these questions will only arise from robust theological and biblical engagement with scientific and technological fields of study. As we journey on this narrow road, may we seek to foster continued conversation between the distinct academic fields of theology, ethics, engineering, and science to cultivate Christian wisdom in a technological age.

 derek-schuurman.jpegDerek Schuurman, Ph.D.

Currently a Professor of Computer Science at Calvin University, Dr. Schuurman is the author of the book Shaping a Digital World and co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers. Prof. Schuurman is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation, part of the leadership team for the West Michigan ASA chapter, an associate fellow of the The Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology in Cambridge, and was made a senior member of the IEEE. He is a member of the ACM, CES, ACMS, a book review editor for Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, a regular contributor to the Christian Scholars Review blog, and a regular columnist for Christian Courier. Research interests include robotics and computer vision, embedded systems and IoT, CS pedagogy, and faith and technology issues.


andy-crouch.jpgAndy Crouch, Author & Praxis Partner

Andy Crouch is partner for theology and culture at Praxis, an organization that works as a creative engine for redemptive entrepreneurship. He studied classics at Cornell University and received an M.Div. summa cum laude from Boston University School of Theology. For more than ten years he was an editor and producer at Christianity Today, including serving as executive editor from 2012 to 2016. He served the John Templeton
Foundation in 2017 as senior strategist for communication. His work and writing have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and several editions of Best Christian Writing and Best Spiritual Writing. His writing explores faith, culture, and the image of God in the domains of technology, power, leadership, and the arts. He is the author of five books (plus another with his daughter, Amy Crouch): The Life We're Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, and Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.

jonathan-lett-3.jpg Jonathan Lett, Ph.D.

Dr. Jonathan Lett is the Director of the Faith, Science, and Technology Initiative at LeTourneau
University and an Associate Professor of Theology. He works in the areas of systematic theology,
theological ethics, and bioethics. His current research examines theological and biological concepts
of human nature and their implications for biotechnological enhancement. He earned an M.Div. from
Duke University and a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of St Andrews. His work has appeared
in Modern Theology, Journal of Biblical Literature, Syndicate, The Blackwell Companion to Karl Barth,
and in several other edited volumes. Before coming to LeTourneau, Dr. Lett worked as a campus
minister, a hospital chaplain, and served in several pastoral ministry settings. As a theologian and a
teacher, he pursues his calling to help others understand how their lives, and their work in particular,
can bear witness to God’s redemption of the world in Christ.

About the FST Initiative

The Faith, Science, and Technology Initiative offers a pronounced commitment of LeTourneau to be the kind of community of learning, discourse, and moral discernment that can form the next generation of Christians capable of bearing the task of stewarding our technological culture as they participate in God’s mission to reconcile and redeem all things in Jesus Christ. One way we work toward this goal is by fostering conversation between the distinct academic fields of theology, ethics, engineering, science, and the humanities.