Mr Z and the Christian View of Mathematics

My maths teacher (“math teacher” for those across the pond 🙂 ), Larry Zimmerman, passed on to glory recently.

The best teachers seem to have this wonderful ability to make you fear them and love them at the same time.  It’s a wonderful combination that elicits a strong desire to excel in their students.  One never wants to let down a teacher like that, it leaves a regret that doesn’t go away easily.  At Portland Christian High School in Portland, Oregon, I had three teachers like that, teachers to whom I am deeply indebted.

Mrs Finster taught us to write, Mr Z taught us maths, and Mrs Lampi taught us science.  I may have had some natural abilities to work with.  But if I have some writing ability, Mrs Finster helped bring it out, and if I have any skills in logical thinking, Mr Zimmerman and Mrs Lampi helped develop those strengths.  Some of the other teachers were also excellent and are well remembered (faces and names come to mind as I write), but I don’t see how any student who passed through PCHS at this time could ever forget these three especially.

Each of these teachers also had a vision spiritually for what they wanted to accomplish with their students.  I’d always been good at maths, so I was quite interested in starting Mr Z’s Algebra class as a high school freshman — and the first thing that met me was a bunch of Bible verses.

Sitting on my desk are several pieces of paper he passed out, all those years ago, detailing a “Christian Philosophy of Mathematics.”  Included in those is the dreaded brown sheets, three pages, his “Catechism for a Christian View of Mathematics.”  We had to be able to answer these questions — one was likely to appear on our exams.

I thought it wasn’t fair.  We had Bible in Bible classes.  Maths was supposed to be an easy A for me, I wasn’t supposed to have to learn Bible verses in THIS class, too.  But I was just beginning to learn that if God created everything, then we needed to understand all of creation relative to HIM.  I kept those brown sheets to learn the material.  After four years of high school, I still kept them and the other material — and still today.  Occasionally, I go through old notes and old papers, and sometimes I get rid of things, but I can’t imagine ever getting rid of these.

I’ve learned more about maths and science, through the years.  But all through those years, when I learned those things, I remembered science the way Mrs Lampi taught it, maths the way Mr Z taught it.  And as I did, I noticed, more and more, the things he’d told us — like science, mathematics reveals our God.  It is invented by a God of order, a God of design, a God who is glorious.  The more you learn of mathematics, the more you see those things, and the more you see Him in His creation.

Mr Z eventually wrote an entire book on the Christian view of mathematics.  He gave permission to Answers in Genesis to publish it online — Truth & the Transcendent, the Origin, Nature, & Purpose of Mathematics.  It is a challenging and thought-provoking read, and if you take the time to work through it, you’ll learn some of the things I learned years ago, even if you aren’t going to be tested on those brown sheets of paper.

Just a few days before I heard that Mr Z had passed away, I came across his material again.  I set it out on my desk.  And I thought to myself, “I should try to contact him and ask his permission to put that on my blog.”  But I’ve been busy, and I didn’t do it, and then I heard he had gone where he can see His Lord’s glory directly, without any need of help from mathematics.  But I’ve asked permission of a family member, and been told it is fine as long as I attribute it.  You can get Mr Z’s Christian philosophy of mathematics through his book, of course, in much more detail.  But here is some of what he gave us, those many years ago.  (Lord willing, I’ll post his catechism as well in a later post.)

I love point VII, it is quintessential Mr Zimmerman.  No exclamation points, no dramatics, matter-of-fact, but no excuses, and straight to the point.  It’s an almost mathematical approach to the problem.  If you can’t see the glory of God in mathematics, you are either unbelieving, obscuring your vision by sin, or just plain lazy.  The solution is clear, here it is, do what you need to do.  I can still hear him saying, “Get to work.”  Larry Zimmerman lives in glory now, but I guess part of him also lives in what he gave his students so many years ago.

Christian Philosophy of Mathematics

Mr Larry L Zimmerman

I. If anything exists, God created it (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Rom. 11:36).

John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
Romans 11:36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

II. Math exists (invisibility does not imply non-existence:  II Corinthians 4:18); therefore, God created it.

II Corinthians 4:18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

III. All created things clearly reveal God (Romans 1:20).

Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

IV. Math is a created thing, therefore it clearly reveals God.

A. Unity set theory, coordinate geometry
B. Exactness axioms, uniqueness properties
C. Infinity number line, number of points between any two, limits
D. Universality math history
E. Power applied mathematics, ability to solve its own problems
F. Beauty symmetry, order
G. Order number line, proof
H. Immutability math history
I. Truth proof

V. The value of beholding God’s glory in math is that we are conformed to His image in so doing (II Cor. 3:18; cf Rom. 8:29 & I John 3:2).

II Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
I John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

VI. We behold Him by faith which comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

VII. Trouble shooting.

A. Sin in the life (faces veiled); remedy — confess and forsake.

B. Lack of faith (eyes blinded); remedy — Romans 10:17 (point VI, above)

C. Incompetence in subject matter (dirty mirror); remedy — get to work.

Follow-up post:  Catechism for Christian View of Mathematics

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Daily Christianity, The Christian and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Mr Z and the Christian View of Mathematics

  1. Hi Jon! I was Cathey Gossett in high school, but really quiet, so i don’t know if you remember me. But Mr Z made the same impact on me, showing me that there is no “secular” but that EVETYTHING is because of Him. Wonderful blog post, and i would love to read that book! I discovered my love of math a bit late, as i went “back to college” when i was 50! Also, on a side note, i found i have Scottish roots as the spelling of my 1st name is from my grandmother’s maiden name, Cathey, which is supposed to have come from the “McAffee”s who are (ahem !) descended from the Selkies, the Seal People? Ha!

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Cathey. Afraid I don’t remember, old age perhaps 🙂 — what year were you?

      The book is online, just click through and start reading!

      I think there are more people in America with Scottish roots than there are in Scotland!

  2. A Bible principle relevant to math comes to mind – 1 Cor. 14:40. Let all things be done decently (correctly) and in order (in the proper sequence).

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Which goes to the unity of truth in general. God is a God of order, so it is naturally reflected in His creation (mathematics, etc), and certainly reflected in the way His churches should operate. Good thought indeed.

  3. Thanks, Jon, so much. Loved reading your memories of Dad.

  4. karen says:

    Beautiful, Jon. These truths–and the Scriptures–have stuck with me as well since PCHS and Mr. Z’s quiet, inimitably powerful demonstrations of them. He has been a good and faithful servant and must be REVELING in the glory of his God!

  5. atwin0 says:

    Good morning Jon! 🙂

    I loved reading this post. It’s just RIGHT when believers apply their faith to everything — as Mr. Z did to maths. My maths edu is way below where it should be, something I really want to correct. So I’m intending to buy your old teacher’s book and I’d love you to post his catechism too.

    Thanks for posting,


    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Tommy. Before buying, I recommend you follow the link above and read chapter one. It’s not necessarily easy reading for someone whose maths education wasn’t great. I think you’ll be fine with it, as long as you take your time, you don’t have to understand all the maths concepts to follow what he is saying. But give it a try before you spend the money! 🙂

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