Archived Voice Articles

Confounding the media

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

The reporter was intrigued. “Isn’t it unusual,” he asked me, “that a Christian college would become involved in biotechnology? Usually it seems, Christians try to avoid such issues.” Two weeks later, a statewide media columnist cornered me at a gathering in Des Moines with a similar comment. Because he was a little more familiar with Dordt College, his only remarks were, “This is a national story that you really need to get out and publicize. That a small Christian college links up with a cutting- edge biotechnology initiative is truly unique. You need to push this because you’re the only ones doing it.”

What both of these journalists were reacting to was the announcement that Dordt College had developed a cooperative agreement with Trans Ova Genetics to work together in developing our emerging biotechnology emphasis as well as to broaden the options available in our already existing agriculture program. (See details of this agreement elsewhere in this issue of the Voice.) What confounded these media analysts was that Christians were actually engaging key issues of cultural development rather than running from them. They could hardly believe it.

Now I must admit to being somewhat amused—or perhaps bemused—by this attention. As a Reformed Christian academic institution, a decision by Dordt College to explore the field of biotechnology, as included in our recently adopted strategic plan, almost seems like a no-brainer. After all, this area of life, just as much as engineering, business, computer science and literature, needs to be reformed by the Word of God. This area of life, just as much as art, theater, music, and historical studies, needs to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ who claims all of human existence as his.

Still, my encounter with these reporters is another reminder of how unusual a comprehensive biblical approach to scholarship and education really is. Sometimes those of us who work from a Reformed perspective become so familiar with it that we start to assume that everyone else must think this way as well. By contrast, the incidents mentioned above make clear that the media fails to perceive Christians as being eager to apply their efforts in these new, emerging, and ethically difficult areas of life.

Maybe that’s because too many Christians give the impression that the way to be truly Christian in our approach to technology is simply to fight against it all. Perhaps Christian colleges and universities have failed to take the lead in ensuring that the Lord’s Word is heard in today’s challenging discussions about animal cloning and genetically modified organisms, as well as transgenic crops and livestock. Maybe it’s not just the media’s perception. Maybe Christians have been far too content to respond to such cultural developments simply by being against them.

Gratefully, Dordt College now has a fifty-year history of not simply being “against it” when it comes to cultural development. We ask instead, is this new development in culture or technology being shaped to serve the coming of God’s kingdom in keeping with his law or is it being developed in rebellion against him and his ways? After all, that’s why we have had an agriculture department and an engineering department for the last twenty-five years. And that’s why we have just added health science, computer science, and criminal justice programs: so that Christian graduates can enter these fields equipped to shape and (re)form them in keeping with God’s created order and its redemption in Jesus Christ.

If we’re faithful in doing that sort of obedient scholarship, then perhaps we shouldn’t mind when people are confused because our college seems different from what they had expected. In fact, if simply serving the kingdom of God in every area of life does make us unusual, then we should include in our Jubilee celebrations a prayer that God will allow us to keep confounding the media for the next half century and for years beyond.