Seeing beauty – education’s goal.

Humanities’ instruction depends on the origin of humanity.

Caldecott’s thesis can be easily summarized: To be educated means we must constantly return to origins in order to pursue any ends. For the Christian educator, education must begin with, end on, and be motivated through Heaven. Against the fragmentation of god-less instruction, believers in Jesus – “who holds all things together” (Colossians 1.17) – commit to a coherent understanding of the unity of knowledge.

Stratford Caldecott, author of Beauty in The Word, brings the reader back to basics, to order, the classic-classical educational vision: one must know disciplinary information (grammar), learn how to reason about the subject (logic), and clearly, with familiarity, articulate the overview of ideas (rhetoric). But Caldecott’s Catholic tradition is not simply a pedantic educational framework, chisel against stone; it is the adoration of beauty.

Educational foundations are born of origins and ends, a commitment to God’s love which gave birth to His world and the educator’s love which births commitment to beauty, goodness, and truth. The order of words is imperative. Caldecott yearns for lecterns to be turned into easels of artwork.

Educators should not be technocrats. “We have been educating ourselves for doing rather than for being (11, emphasis his). One cannot help but remember Neil Postman’s prescient concern that modern education is troubled with “marketable skills” over humanness (Technopoly, Knopf, 1992, 186). So chapter one is given to the foundational necessity of helping to develop wisdom within students. Chapter two is the baseline need to remember, that “grammatical” development is about remembering from whence one came. Chapter three commits to the “logical,” the desired process of learning how to think with the truth given. Persuasion is the “rhetorical,”committing the yearning of the heart to receiving truth, then giving it away to others. But liberal arts study is more than the process but a focus on the end, the ultimate desire to obtain wisdom, the focus of chapter five. Formative years, years spent with parents, is the heartbeat of chapter six, what Caldecott calls “education of the heart” (123).

No matter the Christian tradition, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Reformed, or Catholic can agree that the center of education is getting to the center of the learner in matters of the heart, the mission control of humanity. Famed educators are brought along the way to show patterns already sewn into educational fabric. Giussani (103), Guroian (121), Mason (125), Holt (128), and John Paul II (137) enlarge the reader’s vision and in so doing, enlarge the heart of education. No matter the theological persuasion in Christ’s body, the endnotes (139) give evidence of truth claims all can abide: the importance of conscience (141), being people of the Book (144), a commitment to coherence (145, 149), importance of “the whole person” (147), explanation of truth-goodness-beauty (154-56), all reflecting the glory of God (158).

Pearls of God’s glory are strewn throughout the chapters. Expansive footnotes throughout the volume give voice to other Christian philosophers who wrote about teaching-learning imperatives: Sayers, Pieper, Weil, and Lewis, to name a few. “Learning how to name” (41, his emphasis) is considered the inception of education. Not only do humans identify but they interpret. Words do more than simply codify. Words give meaning. Words incarnationally connect us. Words are not simply to be known, rehearsed, used, or even loved; words remind us who and Whose we are.

Moreover, what is embedded in memory will impact how one lives The Story (50-51). The individual things must never be separated from transcendent universals (72). Caldecott’s belief in thankfulness as praising the highest truth (82) must be celebrated. Christ, not law, motivates Christian action (90). Worship is inseparable from all of life including education (96).

But it is the chapter on wisdom which expresses a seminal Christian view of curricula. There is no segregation between learning to be human and living as a human. One need not divide pupils into educational classes but seek to reach all with a focus toward Trinitarian grammar, logic, and rhetoric (107). The visual arts promote the necessity of imagination for learning (108). The common ground of synthesis unites concepts as well as educational constituencies (110-11). Central to Caldecott’s concerns are a focus on helping young people to see the beautiful through storytelling, music, exploration, drawing, dance, drama, and sport(114-16).

Certain insights could have benefited Caldecott’s imperatives. Emphasis on “naming” (40-41) should be situated immediately within Hebraic origins. The Creator who grants names and Whose creation gives names is derived from the practice of giving and receiving authority (Genesis 1-2). The question of authority is seriously problematic when Caldecott intones “It is not the Bible that is central, but the liturgy. The Bible is read through the lens of the liturgy” (102). A section on evolution (78-80) seems out of place, whether one commits to that form of earthly development or not; the pages seem inserted rather than forming a flow of argument. Unpacking decidedly Catholic terms will cause some skittishness until they are defined (110). Specific disagreements will be a distraction but will not overcome universal Christian truth throughout.

Education is never finished by humans in this life. Collective efforts to remember, think, and speak are ongoing efforts. So it is with great pleasure the reader learns that Caldecott’s venture is not simply a book but an “ongoing project” (2). The author’s efforts are not simply the completion of pages but the continuation of lives.

One must hear Esolen’s foreword, exposition of the problem educators’ face: the need for understanding begins not with how to teach but who is being taught. If one does not know the origin of humanity she will never teach the humanities. The conclusion is the introduction: the need for education is the need for the origin of knowledge. Knowing where humans come from and where they are going helps a teacher know what and how to teach now. To be a Christian educator takes into account the foundation of education which begins in the created order, changes one’s internal order, and helps students, then, to order their world.

Mark’s review Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education will be published in the spring 2018 edition of Christian Education JournalDr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Comenius is one of over 30 Christian study centers around the U.S., a part of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers (website). 

Picture credits: and


I really blew it.

He was doodling. I was angry.

The high school student sat right in front of me while I was teaching.

Doodles poured from his pen. I thought he might take some notes from time to time, but no.

At some point, I had had it. I needed to rein in this disrespectful student.

So I called him out. “Ben! Tell me what I just said!”

Without looking up from his paper, Ben quietly repeated—word for word—what I had just said.

I was embarrassed, and for good reason. My lack of understanding about learning differences was exposed.

A student taught me an important lesson that day: attention is not always based on eye contact nor to notes written on a page.

Everyone learns in their own way. There is such a thing as learning differences.

Now don’t get me wrong. Teachers know when there is NO learning going on!

But my thinking about education had taken an abrupt turn that day.

I had too much stressed human corruption in education and not enough about human creation in education. I had grown up with the idea that eye-contact and note taking was evidence of learning. But I soon began to realize that someone may be looking at me but they were really a million miles away.

Now I let students pace in the back of the room if need be.

My sister Jan introduced me to coloring books for adults. Ever since I have encouraged students who need a constant, physical engagement in my classroom to use them.

My wife Robin, a second grade teacher, uses “bounce cords” attached to the front of desks to allow students physical release, bouncing their feet, while in their seats.

Learning differences are real.

Professor Liz Meyer translates learning differences into teaching that’s different. Liz is one of the great undergraduate teachers I have had the privilege to see in action. Here is the first paragraph of a teaching recommendation I wrote for Liz:

They had never had a professor like her. She seemed to become unglued when she taught.  Her methods were anything but conventional. But then she went too far. She expected students to become extroverts in front of others. She made undergraduates capture attention, speak to an audience, persuade doubters, and move people to action. The class will never forget speech class, nor will they ever forget how to speak.

Liz translates “learning differences” into teaching that’s different.

I suggest five principles of learning differences which can encourage different teaching:

  1. Acceptability: meeting people where they are – instead of we expect them to be – focuses on others

  2. Generosity: willing to see others as they are, is an act of grace; reaching out, not reaching down

  3. Accessibility: bridging knowledge with understanding is an act of equality for educational opportunity

  4. Flexibility: teacher content knowledge makes varied communication methods possible

  5. Responsibility: learning is an obligation for students – a lifelong lesson – taught by how a teacher teaches to differences.

Note to self: it might be that a student doodling in class is actually learning.


Mark has been teaching junior high through PhD students for 35 years. He teaches a workshop entitled “Never Let ‘Em See You Comin’” focused on teaching differently for learning differences. Dr. Mark Eckel is content provider for Curriculum Trak (here), writing, speaking, and teaching on a Christian view of life and things. 

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit:


“You don’t understand.”

I have been gladly married to the same woman for 38 years. We celebrate our anniversary on August 4th. One would think that after 38 years there would be no more surprises, no more to discover, no more need to ask “How do you feel about that?” After 38 years she still surprises me and I better care about how she is feeling! I still don’t always understand the conclusions she comes to nor do I understand how she got there!

It happened again last night. I was cooking, Robin was telling me about her day. We’re both lifelong educators so I was tracking with her second grade classroom exploits 100%. Or so I thought. I usually ask questions in our chats. This time I made a comment. I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it. Her first words were, “You don’t understand…”

Now imagine talking with folks whom you have just met, who begin using vocabulary you’ve never heard, points of view foreign from your own, and a very different way of understanding the world. University settings include foreign languages all their own. Higher education includes a multiplicity of schools, departments, programs, majors, and professors. Classes study a diversity of approaches to research. Liberal arts programs are very different from pre-med, the chemistry department, or accounting. Were we to begin a dialogue across disciplines we might often hear the phrase, “You don’t understand…”

This was my experience in a conference on transdisciplinarity which means teaching-learning across disciplines. I was amazed at the assembled cast.

An archaeologist sat across the table from me. He does digs through Israel with specific attention toward the antiquity of Israelite history. Another scholar is a brilliant philosopher, an author of many books, who teaches in New York City at the prestigious, cutting-edge King’s College. Still another scholar shared her erudition through epistemology, the study of knowledge. Her book Loving to Know is beginning to redefine major concepts in her field. There was a psychologist, a research writer, a college president, an apologist, a theologian, a political scientist, a university provost, and a chemical engineer: every one, a teaching professor.

The assembled group all claimed a Christian worldview. But our frames of reference were quite different even within our religious agreement. Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Free-Will Baptists, among many others, were present. Our work toward a book project centered on the question, “What relevance does the Bible have for Christian scholarship and higher education?”

Now one would think that for a group of Christian thinkers this would be obvious. But it is not. In order to do scholarship we must work in our fields with the methods, tools, foundations, writings, and foci of our disciplines. For instance, can the assumptions of a sacred book drive the pursuit and practice of so-called “secular” history? If a chemical engineer and a philosopher are talking, how do they understand each other? Which brings us back to transdisciplinarity: teaching-learning across disciplines. Is this project even possible?

Getting professors to talk across their discipline to other disciplines is very difficult. A good number of PhD’s dig a deep disciplinary hole, climb in, and are never seen again. Higher education in general has built “silos.” These tall, singular monoliths, often made of concrete, do not play well with others. Departments do not often speak with each other. Turf wars result in custody battles over curricular direction. Reading is dedicated only to one’s area of expertise. Jealousies, rivalries, and personal attacks sometimes mire the university setting through internecine conflicts.

So what is the use? Why try to get doctors to read literature? Why encourage English majors to talk with physicists? What does Silicon Valley have to do with The Moth Radio Hour? How do storytellers relate with architects? If we only talk with others in our disciplines we remain in an echo chamber.

Translators. Bridge-builders. Tour guides. Ambassadors. Connectors. Pick a metaphor. Disciplinary experts need people who will “cross-over,” doing the hard work of investigating other disciplinary cultures to see linkage between our respective research and course-specific commitments.

So our group committed to some basic ground rules. Our agreement is elementary but necessary. We agreed to these basic pillars of belief,

(1) the distinctiveness of our Christian worldview, (2) multiple sources of knowledge, (3) open collaboration, (4) vitality in learning, (5) respect for others’ callings, (6) universal principles, (7) the cultural-contextual differences we engage, (8) incarnational investment in hearing others, (9) a proper posture of humility in learning, and (10) pure joy of discovery.

The most important focus of our work is our students. For whom do we do our work? Is our energy given toward our next accomplishment or the next generation? Is our legacy what we leave behind or who we leave behind? Are we mentoring students to eventually take our place? Do we encourage student writing in the next “call for papers”? Are our students the first thing we think of when we think of “doing our work”?

So in our transdisciplinary group, I offered what I referred to as “disciplinary threads” which might be woven through our book project much less our curricula. My threads include the need in every course of study to practice

(1) apologetics—an explanation of and defense for our discipline;

(2) hermeneutics—a reason for and an accounting of how we interpret our discipline within the world;

(3) transformations—the changes that could take place in a student who studies our discipline; and

(4) benefits—a demonstration of how our discipline assists humanity.

Robin and I recently enjoyed a nice discussion of our day, good food, and a couple of Downton Abbey episodes. After 38 years of marriage we understand a great deal about each other. But there is more to know and some things we will never fully understand. Transdisciplinarity is much like marriage: we cross over into another life or another discipline to learn from each other, create benefits for others through collaboration, and appreciate the discovery of learning together.

This is a reflection Mark wrote after the February, 2017 Houston transdisciplinary conference. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (site) (1 min video) and loves crossing disciplinary boundaries with faculty and students.


The Marks of a Christian Mentor: A Vocational Description (Part Three)

“By guiding attention we take in our hands the key to the formation and the development of personality and character.” Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky[2]

“Teacher,” Part One (here), “Scholar,” Part Two (here)

My first stint as an educator was chosen by a four letter word: time.

My training was in pastoral studies.  But I was being offered a position as a high school teacher in a Christian school. Should I become a teacher, something for which I was not trained?  I made my decision based on time.

I asked myself how much influence could I have within a certain amount of time?  Teaching five times a week for 45 minutes a day over 180 days a year equals 135 hours per year.

But mentoring was the key to my decision.  I added to the amount of class time going to student concerts, games, plays, and graduations.  On top of watching student performances, I became involved in taking stats for basketball teams, weight-lifting with athletes, personal counseling, and parties at my home. Being with people was crucial in making my decision to teach.[3]  Mentoring is allowing people to be with us in our teaching, in our lives.  Discipleship is allowing time for imitation.[4]

Albert Bandura, following the behaviorists, introduced “new” ideas of cognitive repetition with his “bobo doll studies.”  Bandura had children watch a video of other children repeatedly knocking down a rubber bounce-back doll.  The result of observation was imitation which moved to changed behavior. The children immediately went into the next room to do what they had just seen.  Bandura’s observations (attention, retention, reproduction, motivation) emphasized that imitation causes people to demonstrate what they have learned, not to cause learning in and of itself.[5]  Bandura concluded, as a good humanist should, that the focus is on self. Response to imitation should be self-regulation, self-determination, self-control, even contractual obligations begun with oneself.

The biblical model, however, forces us to acknowledge that what our students emulate us because of The One we follow (1 Co 11:1 “be imitators of me as I am of Christ”). 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9 takes us yet another step. Paul commands (“must”) that the church follow his leadership. Essentially, no teaching can ever be effective outside of the personal lifestyle pattern of the teacher.

Imitating positive role models has ancient roots with philosophers, rabbis, and teachers. But Scripture points to more: Timothy the modeler becomes the model for others (1 Co 4:17). Paul was not asking the Corinthians to practice anything different from what was done elsewhere “everywhere in every church” (cf. 1 Co 7:17; 11:16; 14:33, 36). The Corinthians were to become what the Thessalonians had become already—the developmental model which was now the model for others: imitation.

The imitators were imitated, leaving an “example” for others to follow (1 Th 1:6). The Greek for “example” is “type.” Originally the word meant a mark that left a blow or a design stamped on a coin, leaving a pattern—something to be copied and followed (cf. Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:3). The word order emphasizes “a result reached.”[6]

No where else does Paul mark a church as an example to follow as he does with Thessalonica (1 Th 1:8). Paul puts developmental theory on notice that in order to model we must “give ourselves” to others (1 Th 2:8). Scripture is clear about sanctification—it is more difficult to “take affect” unless a discipleship lifestyle accompanies the teaching (cf. Gal 4:12; Phil 3:17).


There are other words which further elucidate the model of modeling. “Walk the line” (Rom 4:12; Acts 21:24; Gal 5:25), “follow in his footsteps or tracks” (2 Co 12:18; 1 Pet 2:21), and “devotion” (1 Tim 5:10, 24) are metaphors which authenticate (cf. Mark 16:20) the talk with the walk. It is possible to follow the wrong behavior (2 Peter 2:2, 15) which is the reason why Bandura’s “operational learning” must submit to The Personal Eternal Triune Creator.

The mentor has a role to play. It behooves us as professors to know Whose disciples we are.  The developmentalists can theorize about the process of imitated behavior but have no basis for its authority.  We live our lives as mentor-disciplers because people “read” us (2 Cor 3:2). 

May our students know Whom we imitate.

My our students find us worthy of imitation.

May our students experience our discipleship inside and outside the classroom.

May our students mimic the traits they find in us because these traits are found in Scripture.

And most of all, may our students know that we always have time to spend with them.

Dr. Eckel has served the Christian educational community for over 30 years; teaching junior high through graduate school.  Mark now spends time with students at The Comenius Institute (website). Find our 1 minute video here. This article was first published for The Emerging Scholars Network (site). Photos: Snappy Goat and Wikipedia Commons.

[2] Vygotsky, L.S. 1997. Educational psychology. Reprint, Boca Raton, FL: St. Lucie Press, 133.

[3] Mark Eckel, “Time,” 11 June 2013,

[4] The connection between developmental psychology and Scriptural precedent is found in Paul’s words, “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Co 4:16, see 4:14-21 for the whole context). Every time the noun form of “mimic” is used in the New Testament (we get our English word directly from the Greek; cf. 1 Co 11:1; Eph 5:1; 1 Th 1:6; 2:14, etc.) the verb ginomai gives the action–“to become.” The present imperative drives the imitator to develop character based on the given model. In short, the biblical framework informs every developmentalist’s model.

[5] Anthony, Michael J. 2001. Albert Bandura. In Evangelical dictionary of Christian education. Edited by Michael J. Anthony, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 63-64.

[6] Morris, Leon. 1979. The first and second epistles to the Thessalonians. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans (page references are to the reprint edition), 59-60. We have an expectation for results but know that results are left up to God so our ministries are not “results-oriented.”


The Intellectual Life

Want to be a Christian intellectual?


Read The Intellectual Life.

“Let us not be like those people who always seem to be pallbearers at the funeral of the past.                           Let us utilize, by living, the qualities of the dead” (15).

philosopherA man who writes such lines must be read! A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life is a necessary agent toward molding Christian thinkers. His opening chapter marks the initial salvo in the battle for “The Intellectual Vocation.” These pages are choice, conditioning Christian minds to consider the importance of study, pursuit of scholarship, and the practicality of everyday living as an intellectual.

cathedralSertillanges was a French scholar of the Dominican Order(1863-1948). The Intellectual Life was first published in 1921 and has been used in a multiplicity of contexts from seminaries to military academies. James V. Schall, whose foreword opens the volume, encourages every serious thinker to adopt Sertillanges’ intellectual practices. “Practice” is indeed the central premise of the book. Many tomes have been written on the pursuit of knowledge but only this one has been given to the practical outworking of how to practice the craft of being a public intellectual.

woman-profThe opening chapter references work of the mind as a “vocation,” a “calling,” a serious, important pursuit.“Virtue” marks the second chapter, demanding that the scholar recognize The Spirit’s demands on her life. “Organization” and “time” follow in succession safeguarding the necessity of life-space to cultivate, create, and continue the life of the mind. One must know their place in fields of study acknowledging the preeminence of Truth as well as Mystery. “Preparation” is the lengthiest chapter focused on reading, memory, and note-taking. The imperative, arduous nature of writing demands the full attention of the scholar who must communicate her craft to the world. Ultimately, the joyous fruit of one’s labor gives cause to pause, reflecting on the good life of the person who has been gifted to use his intellect for beneficence, toward the betterment of all.

profEach page contains phrases and paragraphs worthy of memorization. The scholar will be prompted toward both “self-examination” and “pleasure” (4-5). The intellectual vocation is a gift from God requiring “continuity and methodical effort” (3). Discipline and dedication must augment the inherent desires of one called to “this way of life” which must be initiated with “long self-examination” (4). Once The Spirit’s prompting is understood the Christian intellectual is warned “Do not prove faithless to God, to your brethren and to yourself by rejecting a sacred call (5). True intellectual vocation requires “training and tenacity” (4).

riceCentral to Sertillanges’ concern is that the Christian intellectual realize the responsibility of her life. The author asks one long question at the bottom of page eleven direction to the cloistered in their studies. Humility is essential as “the wisdom of the ages” is shared with others (11). Forming “rules of the mind in our present time” directs “men’s hearts toward supreme ends.” Opportunities to allow “the gospel speak out of our lives” (13) providing “life-giving maxims” (15) create a continuous hunger for God-centered knowledge.

lightBut what good is knowledge without discipline? Organization of one’s life is the core of Sertillanges’ writing. Care for the whole person is of first importance (36). Fresh air, exercise, rest, diet, sleep, and self-control are all predominate concerns (37-40). Wives and children are seen as refreshment (41-46), solitude as essential (46-53), and associations (54) as encouragements. Solitude, however, above all else, is essential (55-68). Knowing oneself, the best time of day to think, provides the template for chapter four. Sertillanges reminds this is anything but a selfish pursuit, instead, a necessary, jealous guarding of a thinker’s time “when he really uses it, is in reality charity to all” (99-100).

libraryBroadminded study includes the interests of all: “everything is in everything” (102) and “intellectuality admits no compartments” (241). “Synthesis,” “comparison,” “kindred disciplines,” “connections,” and “coherence” suggest the continual need toward interdisciplinarity, the emphasis of chapter five. Focused on one’s specialty alone leaves one alone in his discipline, without light “for its own paths” (102). Better, Sertillanges’ metaphor claims, crops be rotated so as to “not ruin the soil” (104). Yet one discipline must guide all others: theology (109ff). “The unity of faith gives to intellectual work the stamp of a vast cooperation . . . united in God” (110).
carsonSertillanges also allows no division between content and communication, between study and practice. “Reading and study should be spirit and life” (141). Scholars use resources but must not be used by them (154-56). A “banquet of the sages” (158) mandate each intellectual acknowledge how much she owes to others’ past work. Guarding ones’ memory through recollection and reflection is a mandate (181-86). “The expression of thought in words is an act of life” (202). Christian thinkers work “in a spirit of eternity” in the service of Truth (210). Intellectuals are intellectuals “all the time” (216) delighting in the activity of study (220).

“Try to discern in every occurrence the effort that befits you, the discipline you are capable of, the sacrifice you can make, the subject you can deal with, the thesis you can write, the book that you can read with profit, the public you can serve. Take the measure of all these things humility and confidence. . . . Then throw yourself with your whole heart into your task” (232).

grad-studentsThose who have been given opportunity and privilege of higher education now bear the responsibility of the intellectual vocation. The Christian shows her love for others by using her skills for others’ benefit. Developing intellectual abilities from a decidedly biblical point of view serves others. The Christian intellectual protects his neighbor from unbiblical ideas through identification, analysis, evaluation, and refutation as well as provides his neighbor with biblical ideas for their general wellbeing as a human being. Through all “purity of thought requires purity of soul” (22) mandating that the Christian intellectual benefits his community by committing herself to care of the soul. The practice of intellectual work must have an end toward practice so that the eternal nature of scholarship have immediate, practical application.

september-2016Review by Mark D. Eckel, President, The Comenius Institute, Indianapolis, IN and Professor of Leadership, Education and Discipleship, Capital Seminary and Graduate School, Washington, D.C. Sertillanges, A.G. The intellectual life: Its spirit, conditions, methods. Translated from the French by Mary Ryan.  Foreword by James V. Schall. Reprint, Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 1998. 266 pp. $22.95. paper. The review will appear in the 2017 spring issue of the Christian Education Journal.


“Humor plays close to the white hot fire of truth.” E. B. White

bill watterson wiki

“Our laughter contains the hope of redemption.” F.H. Buckley, The Morality of Laughter

Laughter. We began each class hour the same way.

DarwinawardWhen I was teaching in high school I would show the latest “Darwin Awards,” weekly “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strips, or “Weird News” items on an overhead at the beginning of classes. [Yes, I know overheads and acetate are tools of the past!]

bill larson far sideStudents coming into my high school classroom or office at Moody Bible Institute saw my door and adjacent walls plastered full of collected “funnies” cut from local newspapers.

Posters around the walls of my room included “Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk!” from none other than Curly of Three Stooges fame.

3 stoogesSelf-deprecating humor (making fun of ourselves)helped young people know that while I took very seriously what we studied, myself, not so much.

I believe:

Laughter finds a way for us to connect emotionally.

Laughter allows adversaries to consider friendship.

Laughter breaks down tensions, barriers to learning.

Laughter invites us to join in a shared experience.

Laughter binds propositional teaching to life.

But I also believe that laughter opens us to biblical truth.

frank and ernestComics like The Wizard of Id, Calvin and Hobbes, and Frank and Ernest did a good job of explaining human nature.  Of all the comics I have saved over the years those that communicate best are honest about our human nature.

Wiley Miller produced a Non Sequitur comic titled “The Essence of Human Nature.”  A man and a woman are standing by a sign that says, “Absolutely NO Machete Juggling.”  The man comments, “Suddenly I have an urge to juggle machetes.” [I have a signed copy of this comic from Mr. Miller]

machete juggling
hagar browneChris Browne’s Hagar the Horrible makes the case another way.  Hagar’s wife sees her husband leaving the house loaded down with weapons.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

“I’m meeting with Attila the Hun to discuss the possibility of a peace treaty.”

Frowning, her second question is, “Why do you need all those weapons?”

Hagar matter-of-factly explains, “It might not be possible.”

hagarIn discussions with his boy, Hagar insists, “Never turn your back on an enemy, my son!”  Reasoning with his father the child responds, “You should be more trusting Dad!  He’s not an enemy—he’s a ‘human being,’ just like you.”  Making his point Hagar rejoins, “THAT’S why you should never turn your back on him!”

bill watterson wikiPlaying close to the white hot fire of truth means we are honest about our human nature. We know that our laughter points toward our hope of redemption.

Yes, laughter lightens our mood but it also brings light to our way.

I still have the 3-inch binder full of overheads I used to jolt classes into jocularity.

Overheads are a thing of the past but laughter is ever present anytime I teach.

Mark August 2016 (2)Mark loves to laugh and make others laugh! This essay is being written toward Dr. Eckel’s upcoming book Up Against the Lockers: Teaching-Learning as Christian Practice.

Picture credits: Wikipedia


The Marks of a Christian Teacher: A Vocational Description [1]

The true function of the teacher is to create the most favorable conditions for self-learning. True teaching is not that which gives knowledge, but that which stimulates pupils to gain it. One might say that he teaches best who teaches least.[2] 

“I do not want you to believe anything I tell you.”  My mantra was repeated daily.

I want you to be Bereans.  The Bereans did not take at face value what Paul said but searched Scripture for themselves to see if he was correct.”[3]

“This is not Eckelology.”  The comment always brought smiles.  More serious expressions when I said, “We study God’s Word for the sake of God’s world.”

My responsibility as a teacher is to make sure you become lifelong learners.  If you only learn to follow an authority’s words without thought, you will allow anyone with the loudest voice or the most letters behind her name to sway your thinking.”

“You need to own what you believe.  The one word definition of education is ownership.”


Since the 1980’s my students have read things like Humanist Manifestos I & II, held discussions with atheists invited to the classroom, compared the Enuma Elish with Genesis, debated rock DJ’s over sexuality in music, held dialogues with impaneled doctors about in vitro fertilization, interviewed college students on their campuses, critiqued full length feature films, exegeted Scripture, written decidedly biblical points of view without chapter & verse, and practiced in real-time settings, how to clearly communicate Christian truths with respectful conviction.



Students came to own their beliefs.  I made no apologies for having students write papers.  Writing made a pupil own their ideas.  Students hated it when I answered their questions with questions.  But the answers they discovered, they owned.  Projects were created for innovative learning.  Lessons were sewn deep in the soil of student ownership.  Students were taught the books and tools necessary to study the Bible for themselves.  Ownership became personal and practical.


Ownership suggests we should hyphenate teaching-learning.  I believe that the process goes both ways.  A student learns when she teaches and is able to teach when she learns.  One Hebrew word, lamad,[4] can be translated either “teaching” or “learning” depending on the context.  We should be less concerned with the delivery of material and more concerned with how we deliver the student to the material.  Becoming skilled at how to craft questions, create projects, and construct discussions brings learning to the learner.

Biblical instruction is content-centered, teacher-directed, student-discovered, life-related, service-enacted learning for the next generation (Ps 71:14-18; 78:1-8).[5]


  1. Content-centered. Capital “T” Truth does exist and can be known; therefore people are responsible to the laws of God’s Word and His world (Deut 4:5-9; 30:11-16).  Curriculum is based on the principle that all Truth originates from God (Is 28:23-29), all truth is inclusive within His Truth (heaven and earth are His, Josh 2:11; 2 Kings 19:15; 2 Chr 2:12), and all truth is God’s Truth (Ps 119:152, 160).
  2. Teacher-directed. The teacher is God’s authority in the school’s sphere of influence (Prov 23:12; Eph 4:11-12; 1 Thess 5:12, 13; Heb 13:17).  Professors bear the responsibility of clear commitment to and communication of “true Truth” (2 Tim 2:14-4:5; Titus 1:9).
  3. Student-discovered. Students are accountable for the privilege of teaching-learning (Prov 13:13, 16, 18; 20:15; etc.; Gal 6:6). If this is God’s world, He made it, and it is important to Him, it should be important to us (1 Chr 29:11; Neh 9:6; Ps 33:6-11; 50:9-12; 89:11). As creatures responsible to The Creator, students have been given responsibilities to rule the creation, including one’s studies (Gen 1:28; 2:5, 15, 19-20; Ps 8:5-8).
  4. Life-related. God’s common grace creates common truth for the common good for common lives of all people (Gen 39:5; Ps 145:9, 15-16; Matt 5:44-45; Lk 6:35-36; Jn 1:9; Acts 14:16-17). God’s law addresses all of life for everyone (Deut 30:11-15; 1 Tim 1:8-11). We are responsible to develop biblical, wisdom thinking skills (Prov 2:1-6; Col 2:8; Heb 5:11-14).  Wisdom is how we better understand the world (Proverbs 8:12-36).
  5. Service-enacted. There is a standard of goodness (Titus 1:8), to be modeled (2:7), and practiced (2:14; 3:1, 8, 14)—something of praiseworthy quality or measured with excellent results. Teaching must link sound doctrine to doing what is good (2:1, 3).


Ownership within the teaching-learning process connects truth to life, theory to practice, person to vocation.   John W. Peterson’s hymn “A Student’s Prayer” sings of ownership:

May the things we learn, so meager, never lift our hearts in pride

Till in foolish self-reliance we would wander from Thy side.

Let them only bind us closer, Lord, to Thee, in whom we find

Very fountainhead of Wisdom, Light and life of all mankind.


[1] Find Part One here. This series was first published at Emerging Scholars Network. Dr. Eckel has served the Christian educational community for over 30 years; teaching junior high through graduate school.  Mark and Robin Eckel live in Indianapolis, IN, sharing their gifts in their local church, Crossroads Community (PCA), Fishers, IN. Mark is President of The Comenius Institute. [See our one minute video here.] Dr. Eckel practices teaching-learning at his church, with The Masters Study, Capital Seminary & Graduate School, and anyone who wants to learn.

[2] John Milton Gregory. 1884, 1917, 2007. The Seven Laws of Teaching.  Filiquarian Publishing, pp. 77-78.

[3] Acts 17:11.

[4] Kaiser, Walter. 1980. lamad. In The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, 1:480. Chicago, IL: Moody.

[5] Find my educational philosophy at


Marks of a Christian Scholar: A Vocational Description [1]

“The Christian scholar-teacher must be a person who believes in Christian higher education, who is committed to the mission of his or her institution.  It is not enough to hire faculty who happen to be Christians, even if they are fine scholars.  We must find and keep faculty who are committed to the project.”[2]


“RBB,” he said. My response registered a facial question mark. “Really Big Brains,” he smiled. “That’s what you professors have: really big brains.”

“RBH,” I said. He returned the questioning look. “Really Big Heads,” I smiled. “That’s what can happen to professors: we can get really big heads.”

Humility is the essence of knowledge.  I have lost count of how many times I have intoned such a statement in classes.  The first mark of Christian scholars is that we should know we do not know how much we don’t know (Luke 14:7-11; Rom 12:3; Phil 2:3-4).  We should begin every thought where the gospel begins: we are dependent upon God.  Knowing how much we do not know measures the creature by The Creator (Isa 55:8-9).  Aseity[3] identifies our dependency (Acts 17:24-28).

Scholarship depends on dependency.  Scholars do literature reviews.  We read the latest research in our field.  Counter-arguments are heard and evaluated.  Words such as “could,” “perhaps,” and “may” dot our writing, rightfully acknowledging the sage wisdom we could be wrong.  The possibility of finding ourselves in error, however, does not diminish our responsibility to seek true Truth.[4]

Knowledge of the Creator and His creation is within sight of thinking people (cf. Pss. 64:9; 65:8; 66:1-5; 67).  Culture and context may condition how we view knowledge, but the common nature of reality is true for all people in all places at all times in all cultures (cf. Pss. 107, 117).  Our knowledge may be comparative but our “knowing is constrained . . . true to creature, creation, and Creator.”[5]  We live in a fallen world (Rom 8:19-22) which accentuates our finite, fallen, fragile limitations (Job 11:7-9).  Christian scholars know that if our knowledge is incomplete, we look forward to the day when restoration of what once was, will be again; the completion of creation (Acts 3:21; Rev 21:1-5).[6] 





Incompletion, however, does not equal stagnation.  Christian scholars continue to take responsibility for the gifts given us.[7]  We also acknowledge our assumptions in the scholarly enterprise.[8]   A Christian view of scholarship may contain the following commitments:

  1.           No dichotomy exists between secular and sacred—the whole world and all of life belong to The Creator (1 Chr 29:10-16; Psalm 24:1; 50:9-12; 89:11);
  2. Common grace—truth to be found within creation—can be accessed because The Personal Eternal Triune Creator was pleased to leave it there, intending delight and wonder for the discoverer (Job 26; 28:1-11; Prov 25:2);

  3. Ways of knowing premised upon “the fear of The Lord” (Prov 1:7; 9:10), are given to human image bearers (Gen 1:26; Ps 8);

  4. The Christian Scriptures are the central organizing core (2 Tim 1:14; 2:15; 3:14-17) which both begin the process of evaluation, interpreting theories and data, while giving purpose to the process of education; and

  5. The Christian scholar (2 Chr 17:7-9; Prov 2:1-6; 2 Cor 10:3-5) bears the responsibility to develop a Christian theological-philosophical grid, a Christian thought process in the pursuit of true Truth.[9]


Nicholas Wolterstorff summarizes succinctly, “Faithful scholarship as a whole will be distinctive scholarship . . . But difference is to be a consequence, not an aim.”[10]

My 5-fold commitment to distinctive Christian scholarship leads to the 5-fold responsibility of my task, my craft, as a Christian scholar:[11]

  1. I submit to the Lordship of Christ in all things (integrity, scholarship, administrative shepherding, etc.).
  2. I articulate in written and verbal form the theological-philosophical assumptions that form the premise for my work as a Christian scholar.
  3. I practice faith-learning integration within my discipline, believing the wedding of belief with academic excellence to be inseparable. I master my area of content specialization while seeking collaborative interdisciplinary approaches, demonstrating the coherence of God’s world.
  4. I continue to mature in Christ through personal Bible study, prayer, fellowship with a local church family, read in and out of my content areas, participate in opportunities to grow within my vocation, and enjoy the life given me by God.
  5. I live my beliefs through loving service to those inside and outside of The Faith with robust research, rigorous rhetoric, generous spirit, relational grace, bold conviction, and personal care. 


So as to keep us from getting “big heads” because God has given us “big brains,” we live in humility before our Lord and our neighbor.  And so we pray

Dear Lord, we purpose

  • Gratefulness for our opportunities, Appreciation for our giftedness;
  • Precision in our reading, Accuracy in our writing;
  • Understanding in our discussions, Humility in our knowledge;
  • Thoughtfulness in our answers; Sanctification in our learning;
  • Investment in our assignments; Godliness in our workmanship;
  • Discipleship in our relationships; Commitment to our mission;
  • Scholarship in our schoolwork; cohesiveness in our worldview;
  • Increase for Jesus, Decrease for ourselves, Glory for our Lord.

May You make it so in us. Amen.[12]



[1]               Part One of Four. This series was first published at Emerging Scholars Network. Dr. Eckel has served the Christian educational community for over 30 years; teaching junior high through graduate school.  Mark and Robin Eckel live in Indianapolis, IN, sharing their gifts in their local church, Crossroads Community (PCA), Fishers, IN. Mark is President of The Comenius Institute. [See our one minute video here.] Dr. Eckel practices scholarship with others in the M.A. and Ph.D. programs at Capital Seminary & Graduate School, Lancaster, PA.

[2]           C. Stephen Evans, 2003. “The Calling of the Christian Scholar-Teacher. In Faithful learning and the Christian Scholarly Vocation. (Eerdmans): 28.

[3]               “Aseity” is a theological term meaning God is independent and self-sufficient meaning humans are dependent and insufficient (of themselves).

[4]               “True Truth” was the phrase used by Francis Schaeffer to suggest that many people claim any number of multiple “truths” but the Christian “Truth” claimed exclusivity (John 14:6). See my essay on “exclusivity” here.

[5]           Hodges, Bert H. 1987. Perception is relative and veridical: Ecological and Biblical perspectives on knowing and doing the truth. In The reality of Christian learning, ed. Harold Heie and David L. Wolfe, 103-139. St. Paul, MN: Christian College Consortium, 133-34, emphasis his.

[6]              As a Christian professor, I acknowledge my total dependence in restoration from a state of separation from God because of sin through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; His gift of grace through faith saving alone.

[7]               See my doctrinal essay on Spirit-gifting

[8]              Arthur F. Holmes preached, “Yet ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’…Christianity (and other worldviews) affect our thinking at other levels than explicit biblical understandings.  There is no presuppositionless science . . . Holmes, Arthur F. 1994. “Is a Christian university possible?” Faculty Dialogue 21 (Summer), 28-29, emphasis his.

[9]              On these five points see my PhD dissertation, “A Comparison of Faith-Learning Integration Between Graduates from Christian and Secular Universities in the Christian School Classroom,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009, 21-22.

[10]                     Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 2004. Educating for shalom: Essays on Christian higher education. Edited by Clarence W. Joldersma and Gloria Goris Stronks. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 78, emphasis his.

[11]             This is the first in a series of four articles.  The second article will focus on my responsibility as a Christian teacher in higher education.

[12]             Mark Eckel, “The Christian Schoolman’s Prayer,” unpublished, 2006.


My one word definition of education: Ownership.

This past week one of my classes and I were reviewing the year. I wanted to know their comments about the learning process. It was a great discussion lasting an hour and a half.

“As much as it pains me to admit it,” one young man began his comment, “You were right.”

He smiled. I smiled. The class smiled.

“You made us go through this incremental process of building knowledge,” others began to nod their heads. “I did not like it. I just wanted to get the final paper out of the way. But you kept pacing us, slowing us down. You wanted us to reflect on what we were learning. And I was surprised how helpful the progression was for me.”

Another student reflected on what her mom told her.


“My mom has Masters and PhD degrees,” the young woman was obviously proud. “She told me when we were going over my final paper that the work we were doing in this class was work she was taught to do at the graduate level. She was so pleased that I was learning the process of researching and writing in preparation for college.”

Family connections continued.


“Yes, my sister is a senior in college studying English,” my young charge smiled, knowing I had her sister in my class years before. “She told me that how I was learning to write papers was such good preparation for university studies. In fact, she also said, I would be far ahead of other students in my college classes.”




During the week I had also begun reading Turn the Ship Around! Retired Navy captain of a U.S. nuclear submarine L. David Marquet tells the true story of changing the culture of leadership. He proposes a leader-leader model where everyone is empowered with authority over knowledge.

It struck me that Marquet and I share the same philosophy. We want our people to own authority, knowledge, and responsibility. Similar to the captain’s philosophy I have taught students


Tools of learning they would use throughout life (essay here)

Principles of life they could employ throughout any vocation (essay here)

Outcomes depend on what is done with opportunities (essay here)

Assumptions frame the application of their knowledge (essay here)

Objectives are met only with intentional practice (essay here)


“I won’t be around when you have questions in the future,” I began to close the class discussion. “How I am teaching you now—the mindset, ways of thought—you can employ for the rest of your days wherever you are, whatever you do.”

One of my former students, a philosopher with a PhD” I was remembering an email I had received earlier in the week, “Put it this way,”

“Your high school classes were good, time well spent. I was not aware that the ‘bricks’ gathered in the class would become incorporated into the ‘walls’ which now support the ‘upper stories’ of my life. Looking back now, I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

One young man, nodding his head, said, “This year I have learned to own my education.”

Ownership. The definition stands. The process continues.



Mark’s view of “ownership” is because he stands on the shoulders of giants such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Calvin, Luther, Comenius, Edwards, and so many more. This essay is being written toward Mark’s forthcoming book “Up Against the Lockers: Teaching-Learning as Christian Practice.” Dr. Mark Eckel teaches high school classes as well as PhD classes and is President of The Comenius Institute (one minute video here).


They never saw it coming.


I was teaching my first class at Moody Bible Institute.

I handed out the syllabus. Faces around the room fell, jaws dropped as they read.

I had created a horrendous curriculum. The requirements were beyond the reach of normal undergraduate students. The expectations of time would allow little sleep. The assignments could have tested professors.


trashI then brought the garbage can from the corner of the room, placed it on the front desk, told the students to wad up their syllabi, and toss their papers into the round file.

Tears turned to smiles. Delighted, students dumped the classroom horror into the waste basket.

I could have taught them anything after that.

And I did.


surprise1I believe in “surprise.”

I do not believe in “same-ol’-same-ol’.”

I believe in never let ‘em see you comin’.


Here are a few of the suprises I have used over the years to create student interest and enjoin student discovery:

hortonReading Children’s Books such as Horton Hears a Who when discussing “a person’s a person, no matter how small”

Jolting the class with a statement “Over the weekend I have come to the conclusion that there is no basis for historic Christianity,” then taking startled students through the process of listening for the assumptions of others’ beliefs.


extremeShowing movie clips of 3-5 minutes such as the scene in Extreme Measures where a doctor says “If you could cure cancer by killing homeless men, wouldn’t you have to do that?”

Creating a crossword puzzle for teaching the ascension of Christ, encouraging students to dig for the knowledge on their own.


crosswordTaking field trips to an art museum where the students would take us to the painting or sculpture they had researched, giving an oral report on the worldview of the artist.

The way students learn is just as important as what they learn.

Method without content is empty. But content without method is dead.

Approach to a subject adds to the appreciation of a subject. If students are enlivened by a hook into the curriculum it will be easier to read the book, take a look, and see what they took away from the learning experience. [See my essay on “Didactics” here.]


classroomA senior high school class was writing their final thesis. Each person was responsible to create five 100-word annotations for a bibliography each week for the first three weeks of class.

They complained. They called the assignments busy work.

On the fourth week, the students were required to hand in the first three pages of the assignment.

They stopped complaining.

didn't see that comin'One young person spoke for the rest, “We didn’t realize what we thought was ‘busy work’ was actually helping us to write the paper. We didn’t see that coming.

Music, case studies, poetry, guest speakers, panel discussions, Q&A, agree-disagree statements, compare-contrast assignments, project-based assignments, current events, visuals, cartoons, stories, or making the classroom floor the geography of the Old Testament created surprise for my students.



grad-studentsAttraction to learning is just as much my responsibility as the content I want students to learn.

The surprised students in my first undergrad class still recount their response to that first syllabus.

I am not surprised.



September 2016Mark is ever thankful for the opportunity to have taught junior high through PhD students over 30 plus years. This essay is written toward Dr. Eckel’s anticipated book Up Against the Lockers: Teaching-Learning as Christian Practice due out at the end of the year. Dr. Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute. [See our 1 minute video here.]

Picture credits: wikipedia