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.
Dr. Walter Bradley, a co-founder of Christian Leadership Ministries, has been an active Christian professor during his entire career. In addition to his ground-breaking work in mechanical engineering, Dr. Bradley has co-written a book on origins, speaks regularly around the country on "Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God," and is a leader of the Christian faculty fellowship at Texas A&M University. He has personally developed several ministry methods which are used by faculty throughout the country.
RI: Looking back on 28 years of ministry, what keeps you going?
Bradley: The only thing that gives real staying power in ministry is that which is rooted in a love for Christ. 2 Cor. 5:14 says, "For the love of Christ constrains me." I would say that is what keeps me going.
RI: Is there a point you can look back on as the time you realized your calling as a Christian professor?
Bradley: When I was finishing graduate school at the University of Texas, I had several different semesters when I was teaching students, and I decided to do a little experimenting by sharing a brief testimony at the end of one of my classes. I had gone through UT and had taken 210 credit hours, but had never had a profes sor openly and clearly identify himself or herself to the class as a Christian, although I did have those who were not Christians who took great pleasure in ridiculing Christianity.
So I began to try to be identified as a Christian with my students, and to observe the response I received, and see what sort of opportunities came from it. I was very encouraged by the kinds of opportunities that came by identifying myself as a Christian. At the time I was in graduate school I wasn't intending to be a profes sor; I was actually intending to go work in industry. However, my experiences as a teaching assistant in graduate school caused me to reconsider my direction and look into the possibility of long-term university teaching.
RI: How have you dealt with adversity?
Bradley: There's a verse in 2 Timothy [3:12] that says, "For all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." In 2 Peter 2 there's a passage which says that if you suffer, not to suffer for doing things that are wrong or foolish, but to suffer for the sake of righteousness. If a person is going to be openly identified as a Christian on the college campus, that person has to do it with the understanding that, at least from time to time, there will be ridicule, there will be criticism, and, in some cases, there will be direct challenges to the right to legally or professionally to take such a stand.
I think if a person recognizes that "persecution" is a fairly normal part of living the Christian life in any context, not just in the university environment, and that if they manage to sneak through the Christian life without ever having any persecution, that is probably a bad sign. So I need to simply do what I think is right, and do what God is calling me to do, then let the chips fall where they will.
I particularly like the statement that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 4: 1-4 in which he's being tried for being a disruptive influence in the city where he was preaching the gospel. Paul begins the defense of himself by saying, "I consider it a small thing to be tried by you or any human court." The only person who ultimately judges me, or any person, is God.
If I have to choose between pleasing men and pleasing God, then it becomes an easy choiceif I remember there is that choice. If God's direction for me is at odds with what men would prefer I do, then I simply have to choose what God desires. And if I maintain that mind-set, then I can expect some persecution as a normal consequence, and I don't become overly concerned about it.
RI: You have a reputation of integrating your professional experience and knowledge with your faith. How do you do that, and how does any professor go about doing that?
Bradley: I think people need to take a careful look at where their professional work either directly interfaces with a Christian worldview, or where their professional background at least provides the opportunity to work in an area that has some significant import to the Christian worldview perspective.
My work is concentrated in material science and engineering, and though, compared to some, it's not, philosophically speaking, a subject loaded with spiritual possibilities, it did give me a good background for delving into some interesting questions dealing with Christianity and science. In particular, I work in polymer science engineering and a lot of the very interesting origins of life questions have to do with polymer ization of monomers into the biopolymers necessary for simple living systems to function. So, although questions of origins were not my primary area of activity, professionally speaking, my background was quite suited for doing some extra work in writing, and ultimately speaking, in that subject area.
Another one that falls rather naturally into my normal work is the subject of engineering ethics. There has been a lot of concern in various professional schools, including engineering, business and medicine, with regard to ethical issues and the unethical practices becoming commonplace today. At our university we developed a course on engineering ethics in which I'm invited to speak every semester, even when I'm not the teacher, to summarize ethical systems that would be developed from a point of view of revelation, as opposed to the reason-plus-experience approach that's explicit in utilitarianism or Kantian ethics.
So ethics is a natural area where the need today for courses on engineering ethics also provides an opportu nity to be sure those courses are comprehensive; it includes not only what I think of as "secular approaches" to developing an ethical system, but ones that are based in revelation and religious belief.
RI: Should Christian professors who recognize their calling on campus be seeking for ways to bring their faith and discipline together?
Bradley: Yes, and I think also there are a variety of issues that come up on campus that call for action on the part of Christian faculty. From what I consider to be the more disingenuous forms of multiculturalism, to issues having to do with homosexual rights, and other issues which are not specific to anyone's discipline, there are situations in which Christian faculty need to be making clear, firm stances for what they know is right. So there are discipline-specific opportunities and what I think of as community-service types of opportunities as well to be a light in what can be a sort of dark, slimy corner of our country, spiritually speaking.
RI: Should Christian professors be involved, then, in university politics?
Bradley: It becomes a stewardship of time issue and each person should consider, given the circumstances on their campus, what their alternative opportunities arewhat's the best way to spend one's time. It may be that being on the faculty senate makes a lot of sense for a certain person on a particular campus, given their alternative opportunities; however, it may not be the best way for every faculty member to spend their time.
I served for two terms on the faculty senate at Texas A&M when it was first started, but then elected not to be on it again for the past eight or ten years. More recently the faculty senate has been promoting core curriculum changes having to do with multiculturalism and sex education which I feel are wrong-headed. Therefore I am interested in running again for the faculty senate and encouraging some other Christian friends to do the same thing. So I suppose it is a matter of time and place, as Ecclesiastes chapter three talks about.
RI: Briefly, what about the legal ramifications of exercising your faith on campus?
Bradley: There are obviously some legal boundaries, but even before speaking about the legal boundaries, I think there are some boundaries of propriety that Christians need to consider. For example, I think there are things that might even be legal, but are not appropriate for me to do. But as Christians I think we too often get so focused on the things we can't do (that we think we should be able to do) that we spend too little time doing the things that really are permissible.
I believe Christians need to be doing to the limit whatever is clearly legal and permissible before they spend any time worrying about the things they can't do. Some of the people who I know are the biggest whiners about what they can't do aren't even doing the things that they could be doing. So the complaints about the separation of church and state issues become more of a smoke-screen excuse for not doing anything, when, in fact, those using such excuses certainly could do something if they chose to.
RI: What about faculty who say they just don't have enough time for ministry on campus?
Bradley: From a personal experience perspective I would say that probably many faculty, maybe even most faculty, feel that tension. I would say that in many cases they probably do have too much on their plate. I think such a condition strongly suggests they be continually reexamining exactly what they're involved in they need to be trying to determine whether the activities they selected either deliberately, or defacto by environmental pressure, are the ones that God would have them do.
I think there are two ways in which faculty commonly err in this regard. One is to be over-investing in research to the extent that it takes up too much of what I consider to be their discretionary time. In my own case I make it my practice to work at least a good hard disciplined 45 hours every week for Texas A&M University; some weeks are more than that as I occasionally have need to. But my goal is to keep it to 45 hours and to do a quality job. I can't afford to be working 60 to 70 hours a week and maintaining the other important priorities in my life: my family, my ministry, even my health.
Because research is a very open-ended activity, the university puts a high premium and a lot of pressure on faculty to work. Faculty need to be careful that they set some strict and deliberate limits on the amount of time they are going to invest in research because it is so open-ended, and a person can invest however much they choose to, or however much they allow their environment to pressure them into.
I think a second problem for faculty ministering on campus is, in many cases, they have gotten very commit ted, maybe over-committed, and as a result they rightly believe they don't have time to be involved on campus. My suggestion in those cases is for faculty to prayerfully evaluate what they are able to contribute in the ministries they have in their church relative to the contributions they might make were they more involved on campus.
I think for many faculty, their most strategic opportunities are on campus, but they are opportunities with the greatest risk. As a result it's often much more comfortable to simply spend all of one's ministry time doing things in the safe confines of a church, and then use that, consciously or unconsciously, as an excuse for having little or no involvement on campus. It is on campus where the opportunities are probably much greater, but the risks are also much more frightening for the average professor.
RI: What have you done personally to manage your time better?
Bradley: I've probably spent the last ten years trying to make improvements in that area. I think it begins with sitting down at the beginning of each year, preferably with a spouse if one is married, and carefully identifying the priorities for the year in each of the different areas of one's life. A person can then begin to carefully organize one's weekly time schedule around the achievement of those priorities.
I think most people have goals in their head and they have good intentions, but they don't have any proactive implant for how any of these will come to pass. So their dreams really become nothing but dreams, and they never come true. If faculty members don't take the time to prayerfully and deliberately reflect on what God would have them do, and then make time each week to spend 30 minutes or more planning around those priorities, then they are not likely to make progress in doing what is important for the long-term.
Most people tend to select the short-term emergencies that their environment brings to them, and which consumes all of their time, and the long-term things that are far more important, and which don't have deadlines, get continually postponed. That kind of procrastination can have unfortunate consequences both for our children and spouse, and certainly the ministry that God would have for us in His service. The things that are usually most important in my life are the things that aren't usually urgent and therefore can be postponed, unless I'm disciplined enough to not let that happen on an ongoing basis.
So I would say having some very carefully thought-through goals, and then a disciplined schedule of time -planning for at least 30 minutes a week and five minutes a day for updates, would be what I have found to be helpful.
RI: What are some ways you suggest a Christian faculty member minister to students and colleagues?
Bradley: The most important first step would be to openly and clearly identify yourself as a Christian to your students. This can be done and maybe is best done at the beginning of class when you, as a professor, are giving other biographical information about yourself. Talking about your family and your other nonpro fessional interests is a good way of building rapport with the class. Also, a Christian identification can certainly be done with the kind of declarations and so forth that you put in your office. As a student, that would have been a tremendous encouragement to me if even one professor had bothered to do that. I actu ally went through a period in my junior and senior year when I wondered if there was something incompat ible between education at the level of a Ph.D. and the Christianity that I had grown up with.
Beyond that, I think there are a variety of other kinds of opportunities that one can have which depend a bit on the subject matter. I know of faculty who teach in the liberal arts who are able to directly address ideas from a Christian worldview perspective, as well as secular perspectives. Being in the area that I'm in, I didn't have that kind of in-class opportunity. At the end of the semester I often have an optional class in which I invite students to let me share with them some scientific evidence for the existence of God. I'll sometimes invite students to come to a free pizza dinner that I would host at an off-campus pizza parlor to let me share with them how and why I became a Christian.
More recently we've been having Friday-night open house occasionally where we show movies and have dessert refreshments. We choose the movies carefully to be ones that stimulate discussion regarding issues relating to God and life. We've also, for graduate students and faculty colleagues, had discussion-dessert series of the type that Search Ministry has pioneered. So we've done a whole variety of thingsprobably more outside the classroom than inside the classroom. I would say that probably, depending on which event and which semester, anywhere from ten to 50 percent of students in my class would come to some of the things that I've mentioned.
With professors and colleagues, and I should add students as well, having lunch-time Bible studies is an other possibility. There's one book in particular I like to use called How to be a Christian Without Being Religious. When I invite one of my non-Christian friends to a lunch-time Bible study and they say, "Well, I'm really not very religious," then I respond with, "Great, because we're going to be studying the book How to be a Christian Without Being Religious." It's a great conversation-starter.
We have done Search Ministry dessert-discussion type programs with faculty in our department and in our neighborhood probably eight or ten times over the last eight or nine years. We have generally found such discussions to be a very fruitful way to engage colleagues in meaningful dialogue with regard to meaning of life and faith.
I've also done some extensive traveling and speaking to student groups and faculty groups around the country.
RI: What is one of your favorite ideas for ministry?
Bradley: From a practical point of view I think doing our "Friday night at the movies" has been a really fun way to get to know students in a context which also offers a good potential for spiritual content, if you choose your movies carefully. Also, I've developed a time-management and study-strategy seminar program which is an expanded version of what Campus Crusade for Christ speaker Steve Douglas did earlier in a "How to Make Better Grades and Have More Fun" seminar. And doing either the shorter "Better Grades" seminar or the longer time management and studies strategy has provided a lot of opportunities to work with the local Campus Crusade staff in trying to reach students.