DC Engineering Society – 2015 Defender Days Dinner Summary

In October, the Dordt College Engineering Society met for a Defender Days Dinner. We had a great turnout with over 60 attendees, including Dordt engineering faculty, senior engineering students, and close to 40 Dordt engineering alums currently serving in industry.

The meeting focused on leadership in engineering, and we heard from three Dordt engineering alums currently serving in leadership roles. Below the picture we have collected bios, a video, and summary material from meeting.

2015 DCES Dinner 01

Mike Vander Wel (’89)

Mike serves as Chief Engineer for Equipment & Tool Engineering at The Boeing Company. In this role, Mike is responsible for providing functional leadership and re-establishing agile capability and capacity for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Between 2001 and 2008, Mike held development and integration roles on the 787 program. He and his wife Kerry reside in the Seattle area with their four children.

This video conversation with Mike was presented at the Society meeting:

Conversation with Mike Vander Well on Leadership in Engineering

Doug Post (’92)

Doug serves as President of The Interstates Companies’ engineering business unit. Based in Sioux Center, Interstates is a 700-person electrical engineering, construction, and controls system company serving industrial clients in the value-added agriculture sector. Doug and his wife Julie live in Sioux Center with their four children.

Handouts summarizing Doug’s presentation at the Society meeting:



Paul Ross (’99)

Paul serves as Engineering Manager at Groschopp, Inc. in Sioux Center. Groschopp is a fractional horsepower motor and gearmotor manufacturer. They design and manufacture permanent magnet DC, AC induction, brushless DC and universal motors as well as parallel shaft, planetary, right angle worm and right angle bevel gear reducers. Paul and his wife Amy live in Sioux Center with their two children.

Summary of Paul’s leadership presentation at the Dinner:

Paul talked about dealing with imperfect situations within a broken world and how we can respond in faith.  As leaders we need to be learners as we seek discernment in life’s sticky situations.  He gave three practical steps that have helped him become a better learner and as a result, hopefully a better leader.

1)  Be slow to speak.  Listen intentionally when conversing with colleagues, co-workers, other Dordt alumni, etc.

2)  Ask questions to force learning.  Be careful to phrase questions that do not point fingers at others but rather points the finger at ourselves… “How can I help… what can I do to assist…”

3)  Be quick to take action.  When we listen, and ask questions we are soliciting feedback.  Nothing invalidates a leader more than not taking quick action on that feedback.


Key Takeaways

Following the three speakers, we discussed two follow-up questions. The questions and key takeaways are listed below.

How could these leadership ideas/principles/programs be used where you work?

  • Develop and live by a personal mission statement
  • Lead where you are at … we all have unique strengths
  • Strike a work-life balance right now … it can’t wait
  • Serve in your community … this service helps you continue to grow
  • Recommended resources: Question Behind the Question, Strengths Finder, DISC Assessment, TED talks

What could the Dordt engineering program do to foster leadership?

  • Encourage students to take hold of their leadership potential
  • Co-curricular activities develop and refine leadership skills
  • Students: You ARE learning leadership. Faculty: Be more explicit about identifying leadership aspects in curricular/co-curricular work.
  • List 12 topics … figure out how we could integrate them into courses (rather than separate course)
    • For example, on projects … first thing is to organize team, set up roles
  • More alum-student interaction


We hope these resources are valuable to you as you strive to serve Christ in your engineering work! If you have any additional follow-ups, questions, or ideas, feel free to contact us.


Here are a few more photos from the event:

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Serving the Lord in New Mexico with Next Step Ministries

Guest Author: Nathan Reichert, Class of 2016 Engineering Student

Editors’ Note: This post was written following an informal discussion about internship experiences. Thanks to the student for agreeing to let us post his reflections.

The past two summers I have had the opportunity to work with Next Step Ministries (Twitter, Facebook, Website) on the Navajo Nation Reservation in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Next Step is a non-profit organization that leads short term mission trips for students in middle school to college. There are 16 different locations in which Next Step leads these mission trips. Groups (youth groups mainly) come in for one of the nine weeks of the summer. Days are spent working on homes of members in the community or on the newly placed community center and nights are spent in Praise and Worship.

My role the past two years in New Mexico has been Construction Team Member. Under the supervision of a Construction Manager, I worked to lead all of the different work projects happening each week. This was not an easy task! We coordinated groups from as small as ten students to as large as 110 students. As a result, there were times when there were ten different projects going on in ten different places. Regardless of how busy the day was, it was my job was to ensure that the work stayed on schedule and was high-quality.

When I started with Next Step, there was a steep learning curve. Sure, I had engineering knowledge, but I needed to learn how to quickly use my best judgment and available resources to resolve problems that came up in a timely manner. One of these resources was even FaceTime, which came in handy when getting advice on how to install a door. As I grew into my position, the engineering knowledge and problem solving I learned at Dordt became one of the best resources I utilized. I now realize behind construction’s general practices are engineering principles and calculations. There is a reason for the number of nails required for sheathing, for the double beam at the mid-span of a deck, and for the quarter inch per foot pitch of a sewer line.

My work with Next Step has also helped me recognize how I can use engineering to serve the Lord. Coming into college, engineering was interesting to me and also was a field that I saw as having a high socioeconomic status. Now I view my career path as the path I am taking to play my part in Christ’s Kingdom. Instead of working to serve myself, I want to work to serve my God. As a Christian engineer, there are many opportunities to serve the Kingdom. This summer, I look forward to returning to New Mexico to work with Next Step. I have fallen in love with the community of Crownpoint and trust that as I serve this community by building homes and a community center, Christ will be working to advance his Kingdom. Working with Next Step provides me with the opportunity to utilize my construction and engineering skills to praise God. At the end of the summer, I find fulfillment knowing I spent the summer praising God while serving the least among us (Matt 25). While I don’t have plans for after college, I hope I am able to stay Kingdom focused in anything and everything that I do.

The Holy Grail

by Kayt Frisch, engineering professor at Dordt College

The Holy Grail for early 21st century physics is “a grand unified theory of everything.” Far from being a pipe-dream, in the last 50 years physicists have made remarkable strides in uniting our understanding of how matter interacts at both macroscopic and microscopic scales. Indeed, it turns out that the model that best describes our current understanding of how the universe works has only four forces (unless the temperature is very high, in which case there are only three) and twelve fundamental particles (the most recently discovered one being the Higgs Boson). According to the model these 12 particles and 4 forces make up everything we call matter and govern all known interactions between types of matter. To add to the level of simplicity and elegance, the relationship between most of these sixteen quantities can be related by a (relatively) simple equation, the “master equation” for the Standard Model (of particle physics, which is short enough to be written on the back of an envelope. However, this equation does not mean that physics has arrived achieved its Quest, because the present form of the equation does not describe one of the known interactions of matter: gravity.

If you stop to think about it for a moment, the relationship described by this equation, even in the sans-gravity state, is astounding. In their book “Why does E=m*c2?” physicists Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw guide the reader through a discussion of modern physics, explaining both Einstein’s famous equation and the components of the “master equation.” Over and over they remind the reader that the equations that physicists use are really descriptions of our understanding of how nature works, and it is clear that they are in awe of the elegant simplicity of nature. “One of the true joys of physics,” they observe, “[is] that laws discovered in tabletop experiments in a darkened laboratory on earth pertain throughout the universe” (167). At the same time, they recognize that “there is absolutely no reason why nature should work according to our common sense rules” (191). The inexplicably simple description for seemingly complex nature clearly astonishes these two particle physicists, and their quest for deeper understanding leads them to a deeper sense of wonder.

As I read the chapter discussing particle physics I was struck again by how the sustaining grace of God is evident at all scales of his creation. As Cox and Forshaw observe this beautiful simplicity they note that  the natural world could be far more complex (185). This is true. Nature could be far more complex, and (as Cox and Forshaw also observe) these elegant models may someday be replaced by less elegant ones, but I am awed by the observation that the more we understand about nature, the more it seems to follow predictable patterns. While these evidences of faithfulness in Creation cannot prove God, they do suggest brushstrokes, signs in the book of general revelation that point to a faithful God who created and sustains the universe He created. Observing and remembering these things leads me to join the psalmist in praise of our Creator:

When I consider the heavens / the moon and the stars which you have put in place / what is man that you are mindful of him? / The son of man that you visit him / you made him a little lower than the angels / and put all things under his feet

And to consider what he might have written if he had known a little bit about particle physics:

When I consider the sub-atomic particles / the quarks and the leptons which you have put in place / what is mankind that you are mindful of them? / The children of men that you visit them? / You made them a little lower than the angels / and gave them a structured universe to discover.

Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8)

Quotes are from the hardcover edition of “Why does E=m*c2?” by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw (ISBN 0306817586)

Guilty, and Not Guilty

by Justin Vander Werff, engineering professor at Dordt College

This summer, I had the opportunity to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community and discuss itwith colleagues and students by way of weekly lunch gatherings. A quote early in this book captures Bonhoeffer’s wonderful insight into what truly Christ-centered life looks like:

“[T]he Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him guilty, even when he does not feel his guilt, and God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him not guilty and righteous, even when he does not feel that he is righteous at all.”

Bonhoeffer fleshes out this idea as it relates to our interactions in the Christian community, but I think his insight can be helpful in our interactions with technology as well.

Here at Dordt, we put a lot of thought into what it means to develop technological solutions that are faithful and responsible in light of God’s Word. This task of developing technology responsibly is daunting, yet vitally important given our understanding that all of life falls under Christ’s kingship. At times this task can feel downright burdensome, because the works of our hands are inevitably affected by our finiteness and creaturelyness. It seems that our solutions never fail to have short comings, to break down, or to produce unintended consequences. It can be easy to throw up our hands and say, “What’s the use with this craziness of trying to think obediently and reformationally about technology anyway?” When faced with these shortcomings, it’s important to remember the last part of Bonhoeffer’s quote. We strive to do engineering faithfully and normatively, not by our own merit, but on the basis of Christ’s redemptive work. We are called to develop technology obediently because of Christ’s work in us, and we are called to be His hands and feet in our grateful response. However, we will not be the saviors of people or of technology. Paul’s words in the Areopagus in Athens recorded in Acts 17:24-25 are applicable here:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

When our human inventions fail, we should humbly seek to understand God’s creation more. We should strive to be more responsible and to do a better job of loving our neighbor with our technological solutions. Yet even in our inadequacies we need not despair, because we have the assurance that God is accomplishing his purposes, in spite of our weakness.

How the flip side of Bonhoeffer’s quote applies to engineering is also worth reflection. We very well may be blessed with the experience of completing a successful design that fulfills its purpose wonderfully, improves circumstances for something or someone, and does not producing any unforeseen difficulties. When we do so, it is easy to fall prey to our own selfish pride, as King Nebuchadnezzar did. Nebuchadnezzar’s words are recorded in Daniel 4:30: “Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” The passage goes on to show how, in dramatic fashion, God humbled Nebuchadnezzar for arrogantly taking credit for the grandeur of the technology and development around him in Babylon. How easy it is for an accomplishment of ours to become a “Babylon” for us! Reflecting on Bonhoeffer’s insight helps us to avoid this pitfall. No matter what apparent successes we experience, we are reminded that “God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces [us] guilty.” Yet, Bonhoeffer’s quote doesn’t end there, and neither do we. Being reminded of our guilt amidst our apparent achievements doesn’t lead us to wallow in our misery. Rather, it leads us to marvel at Christ’s grace and that “God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces [us] not guilty and righteous.” It is a truly joyful experience to humbly praise Christ for his accomplishments through us, not for our glory but for his glory alone. Soli Deo gloria!

Technocracy Monstrosity

Guest Author: Calvin Leader, Class of 2014 Computer Science Graduate

Editors Note: This post was written for an assignment in Engineering 390 “Technology and Society” at Dordt College during the 2014 spring semester. Thanks to the student for agreeing to let us post his reflections.

In D. Livid Vander Krowd’s Exercising Our World View, he writes short essays dealing with issues that can come about with our use and development of technology. Coming from a very Christian perspective on these issues, “DLVK” has some very good insights on what certain forms of technology can do to our society and also what we can do to improve specific technologies. One concept that runs through a couple of his essays is called technocracy. Simply put, this mindset is best described as creating technology for technology’s sake. This type of technology usually comes in the form of fulfilling a need in our world that doesn’t really exist. A simple example that comes to mind is the smartphone. Millions of individuals around the world own a smartphone and would most likely find themselves lost if they were not able to use it daily. People who don’t own such a device may feel a need to get one, but this need isn’t really warranted. A decade ago, simple cell phones were just fine for communicating with others without the need for mobile web browsers and apps. We like to think that this form of technology somehow makes our lives easier, but it most likely just makes us more distracted and therefore can take away from other parts of our lives. To leave the struggle of a technocratic society as only dealing with simple devices in the palm of our hands would be serving a great injustice to the actual controversy at hand. A more serious approach to this topic would better show the need to combat such a technocratic society. Militaristic technology has been around for quite some time and there is no better example than the atomic bomb. The Day After Trinity is a 1980 documentary that dives into the development of the bomb in the United States. After watching the film myself I was quite convinced that this technology really did not need to be developed. World War II was basically over before the development of the bomb was completed and therefore probably did not have to be introduced to the world. The mindset of the scientists that were working on this technology was that they had to finish what they started. They did not necessarily need to use it to end the war, they just wanted to develop this technology for their own sake. This type of thinking can be dangerous, especially as we develop more complex and sometimes more hazardous technologies. As a student involved in the technological field of Computer Science, it can become easy to get wrapped up in today’s technological advancements and not question the uses that can come with it. However, as a Christian’s working in these types of technological fields we should be able to distinguish what technologies are appropriate and fill real needs in our world, and which ones only exist for their own sake. Even if we aren’t the individuals that are creating the new technologies there should be a level of discernment that we should be teaching others to see. All forms of technology can be used for both good and bad purposed, but the reasons behind developing that technology is probably the most telling in how it will be used. It is fairly obvious that technocracy can become a slippery slope. If we are to choose that path, it could be a long climb back out of the technological machine. Whether it is in the form of a smartphone or a weapon of mass destruction, technocracy is prevalent in our everyday lives and the discernment to recognize this is the first step in combatting such a society.

Are You a “Banana Person”?

A couple protesting air pollution on their wedding day.

In “suburban language,” a “banana person” is a person who wants to “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.”

I bring up the matter of building things in view of some controversial projects in my neighborhood. In order to bring wind power to markets where electricity is really badly needed the Rock Island Clean Line electric power transmission line is proposed. Activists are protesting it. Also, in order to bring crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and ultimately to oil refineries as far away as Texas the Bakken oil pipeline is proposed. Activists are protesting that too. A wind power project is proposed for Lincoln county in South Dakota. Activists oppose it. The Hyperion oil refinery proposed to be built near Sioux Falls, South Dakota will not be built. Activists were victorious. (Hence the opportunity to build the Bakken oil pipeline!)

When you pull your car up to a gas pump and fill the tank you create demand for oil pipelines and oil refineries. When you switch on the air conditioning at home you create peak demand for electric power which usually comes from burning natural gas–delivered by pipeline. Then the electricity is sent over transmission lines nobody wants to see to your location. If you depend on reliable electric power for hospitals, flood control, and other vital needs then you create demand for baseline electric power from sources such as coal, hydro (dams) and nuclear energy from refined uranium. When the Uranium is depleted of its energy then it goes. . . well, “temporarily” into a pool of water at the generator site (think Fukushima) since nobody can agree on where to store that waste or how to safely ship it anywhere.

Some people abhor all the negative consequences of using energy, yet blithely fill their gasoline tanks, crank their air conditioners, and expect world-class healthcare, etc. Obviously, I have a problem with that. Sure, I too regret and dislike ugly transmission lines, leaky oil pipelines (with consequent fire risk and pollution of aquifers), etc. But I also recognize the tremendous benefits these also bring.

To help put this in context I’d like to explore the numbers related to the consumption of gasoline in the United States. In the paragraphs below I show that the gasoline we use (just gasoline–not counting diesel, propane, natural gas, electricity, etc.) gives us a tremendous amount of energy that we are dependent on for the food we eat and much more.

In 2013 the U.S. consumed 134.51 billion gallons of gasoline. The population of the U.S. was about 300 million. That works out to about 450 gallons of gasoline per person per year, or about one car’s gas tank filled-up per week per person in the population. But that also means that 369 million gallons of gasoline need to be refined, transported to gas stations, and sold in the U.S. every single day. It takes a little over two gallons of crude oil to make one gallon of gasoline. Let’s just say two gallons. That means 737 million gallons of crude oil have to be shipped, piped or otherwise delivered to oil refineries every single day. A single rail tanker car holds about 30000 gallons. That means, if all oil travels by rail, 24567 tanker cars per day. A train might have 100 cars. That is about 250 trainloads of crude oil per day. I’m sure we would prefer that most of this goes through pipelines instead–if it must be transported at all.

What crude oil does not get made into gasoline gets made into diesel, aviation fuel, asphalt, etc.and shipped out to the population. All this happens quite invisibly, yet our daily lives depend on this flow of crude oil, gasoline, and diesel etc. (e.g. keeping the grocery store stocked) Sobering isn’t it? Even if we cut our driving, flying, purchasing in half in order to cut crude oil consumption in half, the numbers are still staggering.

Gasoline contains about 35 kWH of energy per gallon. (it varies a bit depending on processing and additives. The 35 kWH/gallon figure might be a bit optimistic, but 32 kWH would be about as low as it might go.) Putting this in terms of horsepower, that’s the work of 50 horses for one hour. (OK, actual horses vary in their ability to do work, but those are the numbers and they are ballpark reasonable. Most horses actually cannot produce a full “horsepower” for a meaningful amount of time, so the numbers are optimistic.) So our national annual gasoline consumption works out the the equivalent of 768 million horses working 24 hours per day. But real horses only work 8 hours per day, so we need 2.3 billion horses just to replace our gasoline consumption. That’s about 7.7 horses for every living person in the country. Let’s just say 8 horses per person–and that only replaces gasoline. We would still need to replace diesel, aviation fuel, electricity, natural gas, propane, etc.

Cleaning up after 8 horses per person makes pipelines and rail tanker cars look pretty good I’d say! Not to mention trying to feed and stable all those horses!

The Bible mentions that the Earth has been placed under the dominion of people–all people, not just Christians. (Genesis 1:28) and that it “groans” under the effects of sin (Romans 8:22). As much as I would like the earth to be in some way perfect (would that be “100% natural,” or “pristine?” That’s a debate in itself.) I realize perfection is impossible. We as humans will contribute to the groaning of the Earth. Sometimes we are reduced to choosing the lessor evil, such as pipelines, rail tankers, or gasoline shortages.

If you are inclined to protest the building of new oil refineries, pipelines, electric transmission lines, and more, please be sure you are prepared to live with the consequences. It is not fair for you to drive or fly to a rally in Washington DC to protest an oil pipeline for example. Get on with life without using the products produced by the infrastructure you are protesting. All that said, there is a place for protest. The couple who choose to protest extreme air pollution by wearing gas masks on their wedding day may be heroes. Protest raises awareness of issues that are getting out of control. The protection of the environment in the United States (at least) has much to do with the effectiveness of protests of pollution. It is unprincipled protest that I’m protesting here. It is protesting before any damage has been done (or can reasonably be predicted) that I’m protesting. It is a nostalgic vision of a “100% natural” unblemished-by-sin world that I’m protesting. Minimizing the effect of sin is what I’m advocating.

As for me, the risks of oil pipelines are what I’d prefer compared to rail transportation of oil. The reduction of gasoline consumption is something I’d like too, but like most of us, I consume my fair share of gasoline and can’t seem to figure out how to significantly reduce that, even though I drive an electric car most days. I’m not one to have protested the oil refinery proposed for South Dakota, the Rock Island Clean Line project or the Bakken oil pipeline. I do however support pollution controls and maybe more of them. I support wind power realizing that this will kill some birds and that windmill blades make an annoying noise for several miles around them. (So do freeways!) If windmills eventually cause serious problems for birds, I’ll reconsider.

How do you decide what you support and what you protest? I hope and expect you are not a “banana person.”

Thanks to my daughter, Naomi, for an exchange of Facebook postings that prompted this blog post, and to my daughter Kim who prompted me to add links to show my sources.

Photo credit: HAP/Quirky China News/REX.

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The Neutrality of “Things” and Technological Obedience

Guest Post: Anthony Maule, Class of 2014 Engineering Graduate

Editors Note: This post was written for an assignment in Engineering 390 “Technology and Society” at Dordt College during the 2014 spring semester. Thanks to the student for agreeing to let us post his reflections.

I came across an interesting quote as I read a chapter from Exercising Our Worldview (Chapter 10: Values and Things) by Professor Adams. The quote is from The Banner, by Rev. Mark Tidd and reads, “Nothing that God created or that those who mimic his creative power have produced by bringing form out of substance is intrinsically evil. Things are things. The thing has potential for good or evil, depending on the handler’s use or abuse of it.” I believe there is definitely something to the claim made by Rev. Tidd, but I also feel that his claim is missing a critical element.

I do agree with Rev. Tidd, things are things. No “thing” is intrinsically evil. I do agree that the issue of neutrality does not lie in the object, but rather in the user’s handling of the object. Considering this, I believe that the claim made by Rev. Tidd is lacking one very important aspect regarding the handler’s use of the object. Rev. Tidd is right to make the claim that, “the thing has potential for good or evil…” however I would contend that all “things” produced by man lend themselves towards either an obedient use or disobedient use. That is not to say that something that lends to an obedient use cannot be used in a disobedient manner, but rather to say that all “things” produced by man lend themselves to a primary use that is either obedient or disobedient. The user can choose to use any “thing” in an obedient manner, however the point that I am trying make is that some “things” are harder to use for good than others. As we consider this idea let’s consider the idea of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy in itself is neither good nor bad, but when harnessed to make a bomb it becomes very difficult to use the energy stored in a nuclear bomb for God pleasing, obedient purposes. The problem lies not in the nuclear energy stored in the bomb but rather in the fact that the bomb lends itself readily to disobedient purposes.

This idea that some objects and technologies lend themselves better to an obedient or disobedient use has serious implications for us as Christians both as designers of technology and also as consumers. Much of technological development in North America is economically fueled. That is to say, if it sells it will be produced. As consumers in the free market we are able to decide whether or not to purchase a product and also what kind of product to purchase. As we look to purchase and use technology we ought to take a normative approach to purchasing much the same as we should to design. By thinking through the various aspects of a product prior to our decision to purchase we are casting our vote. By purchasing, we as consumers are telling designers what it is that we feel is important in a product or technology. Therefore rather than solely focusing on the role of the designer in producing responsible technology, we should also analyze the role of the consumer in purchasing responsible technologies. The problem with technology is two-fold in that there are problems in design and also in consumption. As we consider that all objects can be used either obediently or disobediently and that some objects lend themselves better to obedience than others we must seek to limit the ways in which an object can be used disobediently through design and encourage designers to do this through the responsible consumption of products that seek to accomplish this. As a human activity, technological development is something that we as humans are called to engage in an obedient manner. As a result of this responsibility and call to obedience we are to seek to develop and use technologies to glorify God and not ourselves. In order to develop technologies in a way that glorifies God we must approach this problem from both fronts by engaging in technological design as Christians, and also by evaluating the need for technology as consumers.

Work, Vocation and Management

Guest Post: A Class of 2014 Engineering Graduate

Editors Note: This post was written for an assignment in Engineering 390 “Technology and Society” at Dordt College during the 2014 spring semester. Thanks to the student for agreeing to let us post his reflections.

In the past, philosophers have argued that the best way to live in this world is to live a contemplative life. A contemplative life involves considerable time to meditate and think about life, but it often does little to serve others in a valuable way. For this reason, Martin Luther could not reconcile with medieval philosophies which denounce a life spent working as being a lower calling than a life spent in contemplation. This led Luther to denounce monastic vows because they encouraged people to pull away from the world. Contrary to such vows, the cultural mandate shows that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep it. Thus, work is a calling that we as humans made in the image of God should embrace as a means to unfold creation.

A positive view of work is characteristic in the writings of Luther and Calvin as well as many publications by the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II referred to work as a “divine intent.” He went on to say, “Man tills the earth to bring forth fruit and to make it a dwelling place for mankind…in so doing he is revealing the design, which God revealed at the beginning of time, to subdue the earth and perfect the work of creation.” At this point, one could argue that the story of Mary and Martha disproves the importance of work, since Jesus rebuked Martha for working feverishly while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Calvin rejects that notion while acknowledging that it is more important to spend time growing closer to Jesus than to work. This acknowledgement that it is more important to grow closer to Christ than to work does not devalue the importance of work. Rather, it demonstrates proper perspective, showing that we must seek Christ above all else while recognizing work as a God given calling to develop His creation.

In addition to Luther, Calvin, and the Catholic Church, secular culture also has developed certain connotations of what life is like when one is without work. Numerous comic strips and television shows have depicted people who have lost their job as “letting themselves go,” no longer seeing their personal value without their work. On the one hand, this reinforces the notion that work is an important part of what makes us human and contributes to our self-worth, but on the other hand, we must be careful not to let our work define our success.

A distinction between work and vocation must also be made. While work is useful and necessary in order to provide for one’s family, vocation is defined as the thing that we are called to do. Perhaps someone will use their work as a means to make their vocation possible. An example is a man who simply transports items for a living, then spends his extra time arguing certain political beliefs that he holds to strongly. His work does not directly perform the thing that he is passionate about, but it provides him with the means he needs in order to fulfill his vocation. Ideally, our work and vocation will match closely, allowing us to use our skills to serve our neighbors and the Lord, but it is possible that work could be a means to fulfill our larger calling of vocation. Proper appreciation for the importance of our work as well as our vocation is critical as we consider current and future employment opportunities.

Having established that work and vocation are an important part of being human, let us now consider how workers ought to be treated. If the primary question that an employer considers to be of importance is “How can one, as an employer, get the most out of its workers?” then he or she will likely find little success. Since the “scientization of work” in the days of Frederick Taylor, much effort has gone into determining the best way to be productive and keep employees happy. While Taylor worked ceaselessly to plan out the entire work process into the most efficient process (literally describing the best way to shovel for example), this approach of maximizing efficiency is not the best for promoting the satisfaction of employees.

As noted earlier, much work has gone into studying how to make workers satisfied and productive. One study noted the Hawthorne effect—workers who have choices about their work environment will be more productive, regardless of the environment itself. Another study promoted by Robert Levering states that building a relationship and trust between employees and the employer is the best method to encourage employee satisfaction. However, some employers fear that trusting their employees to be responsible for their own work will cause a drop in productivity. In reality, the best companies to work for—those that trust their employees and give them the freedom to act as humans by exercising intellect in the choices they make—are roughly twice as profitable in terms of earnings per share.

Therefore, the golden rule seems to be extremely appropriate within the workplace. By promoting workers to flourish and act responsibly to reason through their own work, companies can promote employment that does not dehumanize its workers. In addition, this type of employment gives satisfaction to the worker, causing low turnover rates, low absenteeism, and high satisfaction which can lead to productivity. The question should not be how an employer can get the most out of its employees, but how an employer can best make its employees prosper. If this is the question that employers seek to answer and if employees see work as legitimate calling that is part of being human rather than a mere necessity to survive, both the employer and the employee will be in a situation to prosper.

In the Image of God

Author: Professor Kevin Timmer

When asked, “What does it mean to be created in the image of God –to bear God’s image 16(Gen 1:26, 27)?” my engineering students often identify their creativity or their ability to reason as sure signs of God’s image. These are also traits that John Dyer identifies with God’s image in his recent book on technology: “From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology.” While I agree that our rationality and creativity may be part of what it means to be made in the likeness of God, I believe that anchoring our understanding of image bearing in our abilities can lead to several problems. One such problem manifests itself in Dyer’s book resulting in a weakened understanding of our call to develop technology. By focusing on our creativity for example, we can mistakenly suggest, as Dyer does, that every creative act is a reflection of God and therefore brings honor to him. (Dyer 73)  According to this line of thinking, designing effective ways of dispersing serine gas exercises our creativity and is therefore fundamentally a God-like activity, even though the results are horrific. This is a contradiction and it can lead us to view our design of technology as an inevitably lukewarm endeavor, having some good characteristics as well as some bad.

I believe a far better understanding of what it means to bear God’s image is put forth by Douglas John Hall in his book “Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship.” Hall argues that being made in God’s image is less about describing what we are and more about helping us to understand what we should be doing. He details a biblical basis for claiming that we have been created to be God’s representatives by bearing or reflecting God’s image to the rest of the creation, including our neighbors.  In light of this, everything we do is either an obedient or a disobedient response to God’s call to reflect Him in all things. There isn’t any lukewarm or neutral ground. Our creativity and rationality are not the essence of what it means to be created in the image of God but are gifts from God that enable us to exercise dominion over creation in our role as loving stewards. We are not just called to be creative; rather, we are called to be obedient. It is through perfect obedience to God that we bear His image, revealing Christ, the perfect image bearer (Col. 1:15), in and through the things we do.

Thankfulness: A heart-shaping habit

This year, instead of giving something up for Lent, I gave thanks. I know that the practice of giving something up for Lent is not really a “reformed” thing to do, so before I share my reflection on giving thanks, let me explain why I practice Lent.

People often seem to think that the purpose of “giving up” for Lent is to create in themselves the feelings of loss that God must have felt watching His Son suffer and die. But, as Dordt’s chaplain reminded us at Good Friday chapel this spring, God is not the Passion-week character that we are supposed to relate to. With this in mind, while we can (and should) remember his suffering, it seems absurd to try to evoke His feelings in ourselves through our actions. The reason that I observe Lent is that doing so provides a physical reminder of the ever-darkening road that Jesus’ disciples (the Crucifixion-drama characters that we truly identify with) walked as their Palm Sunday dreams of a conquering Messiah were crushed by the cross of Good Friday. Observing Lent reminds me of the path we walk and of the spiritual weight of Easter morning.

Now, back to the “giving thanks” part; this year I came up with something that I was thankful for each day of Lent. The rules were simple: no duplicates during the six week period, more specific is better, and missing a day meant that I had to remember the day and come up with something specific after the fact (surprisingly difficult, actually!). To keep myself honest I kept a list and shared it with my family regularly. Early on I wondered if I would struggle to find new things during the later weeks, but it turned out to not be difficult to find things that I was thankful for…there are so many blessings – coffee, sunshine, hugs, encouraging words, swimming pools, rainy gray mornings, the list goes on and on – that we never stop to be consciously thankful for. However, the thing that most surprised me about this Lenten practice was the attitude change I saw in myself during the season. As Lent progressed I noticed that my attitude about things I didn’t like was more positive, and that it was easy to find ways to encourage and praise my students and colleagues. I wondered if this was coincidence, but after Easter I stopped disciplining myself to come up with (and write down) something I was thankful for each day, and being positive began to get harder again.

In his book “Desiring the Kingdom,” Jamie Smith observes that our habits are liturgies of practice and as such they shape our hearts’ desires. My experience with thankfulness seems to me to be an example of that shaping. As Christians (and especially as Christian engineers!) we work toward the renewal of God’s kingdom here on earth, and a central piece of that calling is to love our neighbor. In the globally-connected world we have many neighbors and loving them can mean many different things. However, at the center of the multitudinous ways to love is the recognition that all of our neighbors bear the image of God. This practice of thankfulness has helped me see that likeness a little more clearly.

My experience with this thankfulness practice also reminds me that small habits can make a big difference in the orientation of our hearts, and this leads me to ponder the question: what other habits should we be developing that will shape our hearts for Kingdom service?