Walter L. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin. Married in 1965, he lives in College Station, Texas with his wife, Ann. He taught as an Assistant and Associate Professor of Metallurgical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976. Dr. Bradley, also served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center at TAMU. He currently serves as Distinquished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University. Visit Dr. Bradley's Online Faculty Office and read his personal story, etc.
Would you be interested in reviews of books that have been "field tested" and found effective in outreach to the university community? Then this series is for you! In each review, I will describe the need that the book to be reviewed addresses and then explain how the book being reviewed meets this need. Finally, I will share personal examples of how I have used the book in ministry, including solicited comments from friends with whom I have shared the book. The first book to be reviewed in this series is Finding God at Harvard (Zondervan, 1997), edited by Kelly Monroe.
What is the problem that "Finding God at Harvard" addresses? Modern culture has come to regard the wisdom of God as folly, though this is not new (I Cor. 1: 1831). What is it about the way we live that makes the Christian message seem implausible? In the academy, the Christian worldview and message is not so much challenged as it is ignored because it is considered to be archaic, irrelevant, or just plain silly. David Wells has noted that sin is what makes worldliness seem normal and righteousness seem odd. Worldliness is not just succumbing to certain moral temptations, according to Dr. Craig Gay of Regent College, author of The Way of the (Modern) World (Eerdmans, 1998), but is fundamentally a worldview or interpretation of reality that ignores the reality of God's gracious presence in it.
The prevailing ethos of modern culture, especially at the most prestigious universities, is the assumption that even if God exists, He is largely irrelevant to the business of modern life. We so emphasize human potential and human agency and focus on the immediate, practical issues of life that we are tempted to go about our daily business without giving God much thought. Most of modern education and research strongly reinforce such a view of life, which can be seductive to Christian students as well as their nonChristian peers. In the academy, we have lost our sense of mystery and wonder--our curiosity about the big issues of life--and content ourselves with answering only questions about particulars.
How does "Finding God at Harvard" address this problem? In our postmodern culture, one of the best ways to demonstrate the error and futility of the prevalent, contemporary worldview in the academy is through personal stories--stories of outstanding students and faculty who have found a relationship with Jesus Christ to be absolutely essential to their lives. Kelly Monroe's Finding God at Harvard introduces us to fortytwo distinguished faculty members, former students, and invited orators at Harvard (e.g., Mother Teresa and Alexander Solzhenitsyn) who make just such a claim.
New York Times journalist Ari Goldman's best selling book The Search For God at Harvard (Ballantine Books, 1992) chronicled his disappointing search for someone who would speak of the "good news" of Jesus Christ in the Harvard Divinity School (HDS). At the time Goldman's book was being written, his observations were being confirmed by Kelly Monroe, who came to HDS to research and write a thesis. Fortunately for Kelly, she looked beyond the HDS and found a vibrant Christian community at Harvard through which she was catalyzed to grow in her own relationship with Jesus Christ. She was subsequently invited to serve as a chaplain to graduate students at Harvard, a position that she has held for the past ten years.
In Finding God at Harvard we meet scientists, philosophers, medical doctors, an Olympic medalist, homemakers, environmentalists, an economist, a sophomore who is battling (unsuccessfully) bone cancer, a professor grieving the death of his twentyfive year old son, and former Hindus, Moslems, and atheists. From their incredibly diverse ethnic, cultural, educational, economic, and religious/philosophical backgrounds, each has found Jesus Christ to be the necessary center to their interpretation of reality and their perception of truth. From their touching stories of God's abundant provision for the various challenges in their lives emerges a beautiful picture of an all-powerful and all-loving God who is able to meet the incredibly diverse needs that we human beings have as we journey through life.
It was easy to identify with the authors' stories of wonder, despair, love and hope, to share in their questions, some of which have no easy answers. The stereotype of Christians as a simpleminded, dogmatic, uneducated people is laid to rest by the intelligent, thoughtful, intellectually honest people whose stories we enjoy in Finding God at Harvard. Furthermore, there is no "health and wealth" distortion of the gospel in their descriptions of their experiences. In the loss of loved ones or health, the challenge of the single life for one wishing to be married, career uncertainty, and the search for meaning and purpose in their lives, the writers share their humanness, giving us a glimpse of their loving, caring heavenly Father.
The descriptions and critiques of the contributors' educational experiences at Harvard give clear insight into educational problems in the academy as well. The dogmatic exclusion of a Christian worldview perspective and the lack of wonder and intellectual curiosity about the bigger questions in life are pervasive at Harvard (and most other major universities). Many scholars that these students and faculty encounter at Harvard see truth and meaning not as something we discover and submit to, but rather whatever we choose it to be--as if we can create our own truth and reality by simply denying any external truth and reality and choosing as we like. Thus, the book provides not only a wonderful picture of why a relationship with God is essential, but also provides clear insights into why the ethos of the academy is so hostile to the Christian worldview.
How have I used this book in outreach to the university community? For your own reading pleasure, I would encourage you to read the introduction and the epilogue first, both very insightfully written by Kelly Monroe. In passing the book on to friends, you may wish to encourage them to thumb through the book and find people with whom they identify rather than just reading the book straight through. The various testimonies are grouped by common themes, which are clearly identified in the table of contents. It may be helpful for you to suggest one or two essays that you think they would particularly enjoy.
I have given out approximately 20 copies of Finding God at Harvard to various friends, most of whom would not call themselves Christians, but are open, honest seekers. I have asked some of these friends to give me specific comments about what they thought about Finding God at Harvard that I might use for this book review. The comments have been uniformly positive, with one minor exception, which you will read in the comments below. Everyone is impressed with the thoughtfulness of the writers who live up to their description on the jacket as "thinking Christians." Second, everyone has been quite impressed by the extremely diverse group of writers who are included in 42 testimonies. It would be hard to imagine any reader who would not find one or several of the writers with whom they could closely identify. Comments from my seeker friends are given below:
Finding God at Harvard is an excellent collection of stories describing life. Each section is written by a welleducated and experienced author. The main discussions center on the future of life with God as advisor and leader. --Faculty member in the College of Engineering
Finding God at Harvard testifies that one's spiritual path is very personal, be it through professional discipline, family life, cultural tradition, intellect or vision. Harvard is but a microcosm, a universal setting in which we all may know God. Like our earthly Godgiven life, Harvard offers freedom of choice, time and space for growth, guidance, and the possibility for ultimate enlightenment. Finding God at Harvard is finding God anywhere during our life's journey. The paths are legion; the destination where we converge is one. --Faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts
With all the "brain power" at Harvard, faculty and students still experience emptiness and loneliness due to an absence of faith. However, these trends have been giving way to soul searching and spiritual awakening. It can be said with assurance that the essayists in Finding God at Harvard have found God to be relevant to their everyday existence and have been spiritually enriched. The book discusses this in a beautiful way and is reassuring and enjoyable to read. --Faculty member in the College of Engineering.
I found the stories interesting but did not identify with most of them because the writers seem to come to faith out of some personal crisis. Right now everything is going well for me and I don't feel a need. --Faculty member in the College of Engineering
I offered copies of this book to a group of faculty colleagues after completing a tenweek study of Peter Kreeft's book The Journey (Intervarsity Press, 1997) and just before starting with the same group a study of The Gospel of John. We spent a couple of weeks just visiting about the various essays and sharing our impressions. It is excellent reading but would not be suitable for a weekly study in my opinion, except possibly as a springboard for discussion. I have also offered it to various other faculty members with whom I have had the opportunity to dialogue on spiritual matters. I think it does an excellent job of helping them to see why it is essential that they give careful consideration to the possibility of a personal relationship with God.
I have also received comments from the few Christian friends to whom we have given the book as a birthday, anniversary, or graduation gift. Generally, the comments have been much more specific in personally identifying with the writers, as one might expect. It is amazing how much our perceptions are influenced by our worldview. I forget how hard it is for the average nonChristian to appreciate things that seem so self-evident to me; it is like trying to get a blind person to see a rainbow. I should add that I see the same pattern recognition with my sophomore-level materials science students, for whom the course introduces many new paradigms.
This is not a book that a person would read and consequently come immediately to faith as one might in reading Mere Christianity (MacMillan, 1952) by C.S. Lewis. Rather it is the kind of book that encourages the reader to become a seeker and begin their spiritual pilgrimage, or to continue if they have already begun that journey. Finding God is also a book that gives guidance on the essential elements of survival in the spiritual wasteland of higher education as well as helping to build the Christian community to be a positive countercultural influence.
Finding God at Harvard is available in paperback as well as hardback, which makes the price suitable for it to be a giveaway piece. I highly recommend it for personal edification as well as to encourage others in their spiritual journey.
From the forward by Kelly Monroe:
"Harvard, like many modern institutions, seeks to excite in its students a passion for truth while tending to ignore the possibility of any transcendent truth worth pursuing.
This creates an environment wherein students feel safer as doubters than as believers, and as perpetual seekers rather than eventual finders (even though finders who are humble remain tenacious seekers). . . .
It is rare to find two Harvard people who agree on much of anything, yet here the young and old, the famous and the less known, meet from diverse cultures and professions. They write not as Protestants, Orthodox, Anglican, or Catholics but as mere Christians. They speak not as professors and professionals but as humans, imperfect like the rest of us, being saved by grace."