"Until I'm Old and Gray"

An Interview with Dr. Mark Eckel

Mark Eckel has been teaching and working in education for nearly four decades. He has taught at the junior-high and high-school levels, served as a college professor and grad school lecturer, and has written dozens of books, curricula, and articles on a wide variety of topics, both for popular and for scholarly journals. In 2012, he founded the Comenius Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that encourages study, discussion, research, and collaboration between students and scholars in the pursuit of theological truth with academic excellence. His goal is to help people of all ages and disciplines learn to apply theological foundations to any course of study. Comenius produces teaching materials and videos, including weekly "Truth in Two" videos that cover one cultural issue each in two minutes or less.

Mark is a senior associate faculty member in English at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at Indianapolis, and an adjunct professor for the Indianapolis Theological Seminary and Capital Seminary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He teaches undergraduate through doctoral classes and describes himself as an interdisciplinarian with an entrepreneurial spirit. "I don't care what the subject is, I love all of life." He's married to Robin, who is also a teacher, and they have two grown children and four grandchildren. They live in Fishers, Indiana.

Tell me how you became a Christian.

I was nine years old, and I was in an AWANA club meeting. I still remember the man's name who spoke that night. His name was Carlo Pietropaolo. He was from Philly. And I literally leapt across the pew in front of me to get down in front. That's how it all started.

I started preaching when I was thirteen, and I started filling pulpits when I was sixteen. I have a long history of Christian engagement despite the kind of home I grew up in. I'm very much of a Timothy. My mom's a believer, but my dad was not. He was an alcoholic, and it was a very abusive household. So I navigated all of that as a kid, but it has made a difference in how I dealt with life.

I went to a public high school. I was voted "Class Individual" along with another girl who was a pothead. They had added this category of, "Who's the person that stands out the most . . . who's unusual?" She was unusual for her addiction to weed, and I had an addiction to preaching. My nickname in high school was Padre because I was always preaching.

You've had a full career as a teacher.

Right. Thirty-eight years. I started teaching in Christian schools in 1983. And my public education experience is in undergrad, here at IUPUI [Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis]. My experience is very unique in that I've crossed all these different boundaries. I was a K–12 teacher. Then I went to undergrad at Moody Bible Institute, and now I teach undergraduates and graduate students.

So, to segue into what I do now at Comenius, the board and I decided that, because I'm an academic, I should go back to school and get another degree so I could teach here. They said I should really be in the classroom, and of course I agreed, but it took some time to get that degree. After completing eighteen hours, I could teach here, and I was invited to teach by one of the professors with whom I had taken classes.

It was a very different thing that I did. I have a Master of Theology in Old Testament and a Ph.D. in Social Science Research, and then I went back for another Masters in English. That's an unusual career step, but it is what was best, I think, for this particular ministry. I was invited to teach at IUPUI and have been teaching here since 2018.

What I do here is very different from all the other ministries on campus. Because I'm literally in the classroom, it gives me opportunities in so many different directions. With faculty. With students. Within organizational structures. All of that matters. There aren't that many people who do what I do and that can interact academically and intellectually with the issues students confront. Or faculty. Or issues that a whole culture confronts you with. How do you respond to those? That's one of the reasons for the Truth in Twos. I have to temper my voice sometimes when I'm making those [he laughs] because I'm getting really agitated by culture, you know?

That was your goal from the beginning.

That was the goal, to be inside the university. I think about that with faculty here. We've had some very straightforward discussions about "I believe this and you believe that, and I get where you're coming from." But there's also a tremendous amount of respect. I think that respect comes from the three things that professors esteem most, which are: degrees, publications, and teaching. Usually in that order. So because I may have more degrees than they have, and have published quite a bit, there's a tremendous amount of respect there. Often my colleagues are dumbfounded that I believe what I believe.

What's your greatest joy?

So, this is kind of a weird way to answer this question. In Acts 13, Paul is preaching, and he's talking about David. And Acts 13:36 says, "When David had served God's purposes in his generation, he died." I want to serve God's purposes in my generation. Comenius was founded upon Psalm 71:14–18, which says, "Until I am old and gray, I will declare God's mighty works to the next generation." So that's really what gives me great joy. And the joy comes in lots of forms. It can be personally speaking, teaching, counseling, writing, interacting with students and their written work—lots of different ways. I really do enjoy what I've been given to do.

What are your objectives for the next year, or five or ten years?

I think about death all the time. And I really look forward to it. It's like what Paul said in Philippians chapter one, "For me to live is Christ; to die is gain." So while I'm here, I'm giving it my best shot. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might." The whole point of that is, you're going to die, so whatever you're doing now, do it. Because when you die, that's it. So, I think about that constantly. And I would say, to answer your question, instead of one, five, and ten years, I just go moment by moment.

Dr. Eckel says he's going to keep doing what he's doing, moment by moment, as long as he's given strength to do it. He currently enjoys a 4.5 (out of 5) rating on RateMyProfessors.com. He smiles at being reminded of this, but what matters more to him is the deeper connections he has been able to build on campus. He finds it especially gratifying that many students have sought him out for conversations long after having been in his class.

Watch for articles by Dr. Eckel in future issues of Salvo.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #60, Spring 2022 Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo60/until-im-old-and-gray


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