By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
Dr. Martin Erdmann, Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies with Patrick Henry College
“I wanted teaching to be a ministry,” says Erdmann. “Teaching theology really is my passion. If it wasn’t, I could be working any number of jobs.”
This German native first applied to teach in PHC’s DL program in 2003, immediately after being laid off– along with the rest of the faculty— from the small Swiss seminary where he had been teaching. Having spent months developing a New Testament overview course for PHC, he was disappointed that only two students signed up that first year. In short order, however, Dr. Erdmann’s classroom attendance improved as he began to teach three of the program’s more popular courses, and today he estimates that he has had from 400-500 PHC DL student sign-ups.
“[Dr. Erdmann] is a hard worker, and much appreciated by our students who have taken his courses,” stated PHC Director of Distance Learning Dr. Robert Spinney as he introduced Erdmann to the campus community one recent morning at chapel.
Erdmann’s family might view that as a gross understatement, as his teaching load at PHC and at the German seminary are barely the top of the iceberg. Forced by circumstances to live in ultra-expensive Switzerland, the highly-qualified Dr. Erdmann today works five different jobs simply to make ends meet. Until recently, he served as Senior Scientist at the University Hospital in Basel, where he researched the ethical implications of nanotechnology, the science of subatomic engineering. He has a book contract for a sequel to a book he published on evangelical history. And he is Director of the Verax Institute in Basel, Switzerland, an organization that conducts Christian apologetics. He squeezes his volunteer work at the German seminary and his DL instruction for PHC into the waning hours of his busy days.
While some of the schedule can be attributed to Erdmann’s unflagging work ethic, the bulk was born of sheer necessity. When his family moved to Switzerland in order to homeschool their children, Erdmann says their “living expenses doubled.” But he and his wife knew they had no choice.
“Estelle’s first year in [German] school, we saw she wasn’t learning anything,” Erdmann says of his oldest daughter. Where they lived in the "Black Forest" area of Germany, he added, the Reformation of the 16th century never touched. The practice of pagan witchcraft is widespread, and students in the public schools are inevitably exposed to, if not drawn into, its dark rituals.
Dr. Erdmann and his family
“I asked what risk he meant,” shares Erdmann. “He told me that [the first principal] didn’t register our kids with the state.”
Homeschoolers in Germany have often faced opposition and persecution from the state-run school system. In the Erdmanns’ case, the principal told them that they had two alternatives if they wished to homeschool—move to France, or move to Switzerland. They chose Switzerland, where Dr. Erdmann says they are “totally isolated.”
“Only one Canton (state) in Switzerland allows homeschooling,” explains Dr. Erdmann, “and we are the only homeschoolers in this Canton we have found.”
The family drives nearly an hour to attend church on Sundays and frequently crosses back over the border into Germany for visits. They stay in contact with grandparents and friends in the States through Skype, an audiovisual Internet technology.
Looking to the future, Dr. Erdmann wryly explains that he is “still on the way to becoming a missionary.” It was a calling he first felt called to in high school, and he has since followed a winding path that led him to Columbia, SC for his Master of Divinity degree in Cross-Cultural Ministries and New Testament Studies, and then to Switzerland, Scotland, England, and back to Switzerland for a series of post-graduate degrees in Theology, Church History, and more. With his diverse talents and areas of involvement, one can only imagine that Dr. Erdmann’s future entrée into missionary work will likewise take on an unusual form.
As for his time teaching DL for PHC, Dr. Erdmann has only good things to say. The best part, he says, is the students.
“They are wonderful!” he enthuses. “They ask good questions, and are engaged and very highly motivated. I often compare them to my [post-grad] seminary students.”
And for any DL or Campus at Home students who feel they have a difficult workload and find themselves tempted to complain to their professor—just remember who you are talking to.