On Engineering and Faith: A Q&A with Professor Matt WilliamsBy Allison Todd on December 13, 2017
Matt Williams, assistant professor of engineering, recently joined the Cornerstone University community as a faculty member in the Kinesiology, Science & Mathematics Division. With degrees in both engineering and theology, he is passionate about preparing college students to excel as virtuous engineering professionals and committed disciples of Christ.
During a recent conversation, Professor Williams shared his take on the integration of faith and engineering.
Why did you choose engineering?
"I graduated high school thinking that I was going to study engineering; however, that term is so specific and broad at the same time. When I enrolled at MIT, there were about 20 different strands of engineering. And you can like some and not others.
"During my freshman year, I took an introductory engineering course. Long story short, I decided I really liked civil engineering, which focuses on designing bridges, roads, infrastructure and buildings."
What was your plan after college?
Williams: "During college, I studied engineering, but I also did ROTC. So, for me I knew what was coming next because I was going to be committed to the Navy.
"The Navy saw that I had an engineering background and spent the next 18 months training me even more. Because of their partnerships with universities, I ended up getting my master's degree from Penn State and Old Dominion. And, I designed ships, helping build a massive aircraft carrier called the U.S.S. Gerald R Ford. It fit me pretty well."
Why did you decide to get your Master of Divinity degree?
Williams: "After serving in the Navy for about seven years, I got to the point where my project was coming to the end, and I knew my time in the military was coming to an end. I decided to get out, and I felt like God was leading me more into vocational teaching ministry.
"I enrolled in classes at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and ended up getting a phone call from a teacher starting up a new school called Libertas Classical Christian School. They were looking for someone with a background like mine who would come in and design some high school curriculum.
"I was able to teach Bible, math and physics courses. That was the time I realized I loved teaching, and from there I realized I actually wanted to teach college."
How does your background as an engineer influence your reading of Scripture?
Williams: "In Genesis 1, we see that God creates, and the pinnacle of His creation is mankind. He said that we are created in His image. And in Genesis 1:28, He begins to say to be fruitful and multiply, but He also says rule over and steward His creation. If you just look around the room and pause for a minute, you realize that someone designed these things. Some human with a God-given ability was able to look at the ground and was able to fashion a whiteboard, a phone and your shoe.
"God's the creator, and He called us to create. We get to go off and create things to bless others and glorify God. But the story doesn't end there.
"We get to Genesis 3 with the Fall and because of that mankind, instead of pointing toward God, points everything toward self. We still have the God-given ability to create, but we now have a tendency to create in order to exploit others. With Genesis 3, we realize we live in a fallen world, but in 2 Corinthians 5, through Jesus who redeems us, God calls us to be reconcilers with one another.
"We can be engineers and think 'How will I use this technology? Am I going to use it to exploit or bless?' We get to choose how we do that. What's cool about being at a Christ-centered university is we get to talk about that kind of stuff with our students. We don't have to just say, 'Here's how you design things,' but 'what's the why behind it?' and 'what's the ethic behind it?' For us, we get to bring it back to Scripture and root it firmly within our worldview."
Why study engineering from a Christian perspective?
Williams: "I feel called to be in education, equipping students who are going to have careers outside of traditional vocational ministry settings. We are all called to be ministers in our own ways, and, for me, I see the connection of faith and work.
"My vision is that we would educate students into becoming virtuous engineers—people who recognize their God-given skill set, but realize they are also called to be virtuous. Students will know 'I'm doing this because of who I am, and God saved me to live a life of reconciliation.'
"Our whole life should be integration. Instead of a to-do list, I like to think of it as spokes on a tire. If God is central, all of your parts are integrated, and you can't ever get past God. He's always at the center, and that's why you do what you do. The idea of integration is what I was missing during my years of engineering training, and that's what I hope to impart with the students who go through our engineering program."