In an evangelical world in which “secular” knowledge is sometimes not valued, it’s important to remember that the Bible itself, at least in a couple of instances, supports the learning and use of what’s sometimes termed “secular” knowledge. Of course, there is no such thing as “secular” knowledge, really. There is simply knowledge, and God has all of the knowledge it’s possible to have, including the “secular” and “sacred” kind. So, we really shouldn’t have to defend the use of “secular” knowledge. Nevertheless, the following places in Scripture are useful:
In Acts 7, Stephen gives a speech in defense of his faith before the Sanhedrin prior to his martyrdom. In his speech, he briefly recounts the history of Israel, and he discusses, as part of that history, Moses’ leadership. In verse 22, Stephen declares, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” Notice that it is Moses’ education among the Egyptians, not the Israelites here, that prepared him to become the leader that God used. Clearly, God allowed Moses to grow up in Egypt to receive such training.
And in Daniel chapter one, Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are captured from Jerusalem and taken to Babylon. They are Israelite royalty, and they are captured and brought to the king’s palace in order to be trained leaders in Babylon. Near the end of chapter one in verse 17, we find this interesting comment: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” We know from verse 4 they were to learn “the language and literature of the Babylonians.” What would this entail? According to John Goldingay’s Word Biblical Commentary on Daniel,
Babylonian sages were guardians of traditional Mesopotamian lore, including natural history, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, myth and chronicle and also pagan forms of divination and magic.
It is clear from the Biblical text that Daniel and his friends would have learned all of these subjects and more, and that in verse 17 God gave them this knowledge. When they took King Nebuchadnezzar’s oral exam at the end of the chapter, they tested higher than anyone else, and were given significant leadership roles in Babylon. Apparently it was God’s sovereign plan to bring them to Babylon, give them the Babylonian education they received, and make them leaders in that kingdom. We know from the remainder of Daniel that they were wise leaders, and they didn’t compromise their faith in the God of Israel, even in the face of death.
What these passages suggest is that God sovereignly uses “secular” training to place people in important positions of leadership. He uses all the knowledge and training that we can receive to make us into the leaders he desires us to be. May God use us in great ways, in the positions he has granted us, to bring him glory.
How do you think Daniel and his friends would have reacted when they were first captured? What do you think may have given them hope while they were captives in Babylon? What gives you hope in learning situations that initially seem difficult?
After Moses had fled Egypt and become a shepherd, it’s likely that he thought he would never use his Egyptian training again. How might God have given him hope while he was in the desert? In what ways did God make his presence known to him while he was leading the Israelites? Are there moments of your own academic life where God has used previous training in ways you hadn’t expected?
As you reflect on your own leadership, in what ways do you depend on God’s presence to lead? Are there instances in your work in which you feel God’s presence is superfluous? Why or why not?
O Sovereign Lord, make us leaders who glorify you every day. Use our backgrounds, our training, and our education to follow you and be a light for you on our campuses. God, may students and colleagues see you as we work with them every day. Amen.
John E. Goldingay, Daniel (Word Biblical Commentary, vol 30). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.
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About the author:
Mark is on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Manhattan, Kansas, where he ministers to Faculty at Kansas State University and surrounding campuses. He has been in campus ministry 25 years, 14 of those years in faculty ministry. He has a Master's degree in philosophy and theology from Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA, and is passionate about Jesus Christ and the life of the mind. Mark, his wife and three daughters make their home in Manhattan.