“There were no blacksmiths in the land of Israel in those days. The Philistines wouldn’t allow them for fear they would make swords and spears for the Hebrews.” 1 Samuel 13:19 NLT
For Israel, both then and now as we can see in the news, weapons were central to their survival. In the days of King Saul, when the Israelites needed to sharpen their tools, even their gardening ones, they had to pay Philistine blacksmiths for the service. These Philistine blacksmiths took advantage of this situation to keep the Israelites under their control. Farming tools like picks and hoes played a crucial role in their daily lives. Maintaining their sharpness was vital to ensuring that the hard work put into farming would yield meaningful results. When these tools lost their sharpness, it became extremely challenging to clear fields, prepare the soil for planting, and harvest crops efficiently.
However, the Philistines, who were their adversaries, had significant control over the productivity and well-being of the Israelites. They had the power to decide if God’s people could earn a living or work with a sense of purpose. The Israelites found themselves depending on a people whose beliefs were distant from their own to decide whether their tools would be sharpened and how much they would be charged to make their work more productive.
I find the concept of a blacksmith to be a compelling analogy in the context of higher education. Much like the Philistines, the large public and private universities across the nation hone the abilities of a generation, equipping them for a lifetime of work. Yet, having one’s skills sharpened by an educational system that has long forsaken not only the concept of God, but also the significance of God in a college curriculum clearly highlights a choice between serving God or pursuing material gain (Mt. 6:24). Ironically, in this scenario, the Philistines didn’t increase the cost of tool sharpening; instead, they reduced it, luring even well-intentioned parents into sending their high school graduates to be “blacksmithed” by a system that often lacks spiritual values and is corporately opposed to Jesus.
Evangel University works hard to counteract these trends by producing graduates who enter into pluralistic educational spaces so that through their vocations, God’s light shines. Nonetheless, it is essential to acknowledge that even well-intentioned educators within a secular educational system cannot fully counteract the potential vulnerability experienced by young Christian students when they place their intellectual development and worldview formation in the hands of individuals who consider the Bible to be a myth.
There are only two things a blacksmith needs to shape a tool or form a weapon – a heavy hammer and a hot fire. With these two instruments, blacksmiths depicted in the bible controlled how productivity and warfare went. In my view, now approaching four decades in Christian higher education, one could easily make the case that the system of higher education functions like a blacksmith, when we think of the roles that faculty, administration, and staff play in the learner’s life.
The blacksmith would have the expertise and wisdom to craft and refine tools, enhancing their harvest effectiveness or success in war. The abundant evidence supporting the notion that a college degree greatly enhances one’s job opportunities and income potential is undeniable. Individuals with a liberal arts bachelor’s degree compared to those with only a high school diploma typically earn an additional $1.2 million throughout their lifetime.* All of higher education works at honing and molding to prepare them for their entry into the workforce. *Source: aplu.org / How does a college degree improve graduates’ employment and earnings potential?
Yet, it can’t always be about making money. Parents need to know that despite the fact that statistics are true and students will earn more, it remains a major concern that we are entrusting our most precious treasures, our children, to an educational system that says at best, compartmentalize your faith to a Sunday morning. Why not place them in an AG school that believes higher education informs and only the Holy Spirit transforms the human heart!
Let me build my case for seeing Spirit-driven higher education as crucial:
The heavy hammer is a tool of deconstruction. The hammer can be likened to the process of intellectual shaping in education from a non-biblical worldview. The secular-minded blacksmith uses a hammer to shape a student’s beliefs and understandings. A continual “hammering away” at one’s childhood faith by secular professors as delusions or defining the words of Jesus as prejudice or the need to destroy beliefs that church, parents, or youth group put in them in error creates the wrong kind of transformation.
In our specific case at Evangel University, since 1955, our founders saw that a Spirit-driven Christian education can be used to break off demonic attachments and prepare students to not live indoctrinated lives, but rather organic spiritual lives which allow for an incredible marketplace effectiveness whatever direction their vocation takes them. Jeremiah 23:29 says, “Does not my word burn like fire?” says the Lord. “Is it not like a mighty hammer that smashes a rock to pieces?” NLT
The real difference between our AG schools and other Christian schools is that we don’t deny that it’s the fire of God’s Spirit that changes students. There is a fire at Evangel University that burns hotter than hype and melancholy “Kumbaya” moments at the end of a semester.
For it is the Fire of the Spirit that acts like a blacksmith who softens the metal, making it malleable so that it can be properly shaped. The fire of God is the transforming force that softens hardened hearts and rigid minds, making people receptive to new ideas and spiritual transformation. He prepares the individual for the “hammer’s work.” The fire of God’s love and purposes for a student’s life softens the soul and is part of the process that facilitates transformation, whether that’s in understanding, faith, or character development.
My admonition to parents is stop making decisions based solely around the budget, though in our case we are just $1,900 dollars a year more than the closest state university, and get your student into a place where they have four years of spiritual formation and can develop friendships with like-minded peers who are focused on devoting their future careers to the Lord.