Rethinking “integration of faith and learning”

crayon_wheelLanguage matters. For years I have used the language of “integrating faith and learning” to describe what happens in Christian schools and colleges within subject area discipline curriculum development.  I have come to the conclusion recently that it is inaccurate to continue to use this term and that it gives the hearer the wrong impression. By using such language, we may have fallen prey to Greek thinking – dividing ourselves and our world into soul and body, science and spirituality, and left-brain and right-brain, instead of seeing ourselves as unified and whole beings. If I think about day to day living I think about making decisions that reflect my Christian worldview based on my understanding of truth and obedience to God rather than thinking: “Well now how do I integrate my faith and my living?” It is not as if I need to constantly bring things together that are apart – I respond from my faith perspective – my view of how the world works.

If we believe that God rules over all things and that all creation coheres in Christ (Colossians 1:15-20) then all that is true in creation belongs already to God. “All truth is God’s truth” (Gabelein in The Pattern of God’s Truth, 1968) and Jesus is the truth of God (“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6). Therefore as we think about working with students, our task is to help them uncover God’s truth that already exists in creation. It is not a matter of marrying or bringing together our faith with what is true in the world – it is already united through Christ. What is true cannot exist apart from the sovereignty of God – it is his truth. As we uncover truth with students, we help them to see that God is the source of this truth and that all truth is brought together through Christ, who redeems and plans to restore all creation. We help students to understand the Master Story, the Big Story of God’s I Love You Plan, delivered through his son Jesus Christ, and how we are to understand truth in creation. We pray and work toward our student’s growth in faith through the learning process.

I have taken to using the words “truth revealing learning” instead of faith-integrated learning.  I think it is a much better descriptor. I encourage us to develop minds that ask: “Where is God’s truth revealed in this aspect of learning? What does this teach me about him? What has happened from a human standpoint to obscure the truth? How has man subverted the truth? What must be done to restore truth from a Biblical perspective to this situation?”

If I am going to be an effective “truth-revealing” teacher, it is critical that I am deeply acquainted with God’s revealed truth, his Word, the Bible. Unless I am able to understand and apply God’s revealed truth to the truth in creation, I will not be able to teach a Biblical perspective to students.  The teacher’s Biblical worldview is critical, as noted by Gabelein:

The fact is inescapable: the worldview of the teacher, insofar as he is effective, gradually conditions the worldview of the pupil.  No man teaches out of a philosophical vacuum.  In one way or another, every teacher expresses the convictions he lives by, whether they be spiritually positive or negative (The Pattern of God’s Truth, 1968).

It is also important that teachers work to understand deeply what biblical truth is revealed through particular disciplines, and what questions may be raised to provoke critical thinking by students around a biblical perspective on the topic at hand. This is intellectually challenging work, but very rewarding to help students develop toward wisdom.

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13 Comments

Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, distinctively Christian

13 responses to “Rethinking “integration of faith and learning”

  1. Johanna Campbell

    Dear Friends,
    I heartily agree with the posting on ‘The Integration of Faith and Learning.’ I have come to that conclusion too. Our faith in Christ will bring out the truths already in God’s Word, in His Creation and in the Incarnation of Christ who is the Truth: this happens by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives which is then transferred into the classroom. This dynamite power (Col. 1:9-14) enables us to have great endurance and patience, all the while joyfully giving thanks to the Father for everything He sends us. In fact, God the Holy Spirit gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:1-11) so that our eyes are opened to see God’s wondrous Truth in all areas of life. As we walk with God in our classrooms, the eyes of our understanding will be opened and our students will see with us the wondrous acts of God. Of course we want that amazing power in our schools!

  2. I would agree that “truth revealing learning” instead of “faith-integrated learning” is a much better descriptor. It assumes that truth is inherent in what is revealed in the learning at hand and it follows that we would then ask, “how has man subverted the truth?” Because the Kingdom of God seems upside-down to the world we should reclaim truth rather than impose what we believe to be the truth. The former descriptor seems less forcibly deliberate and more of a given.

  3. I can understand the growing hesitancy about integration language, and the appeal of a more holistic phrase, but I still wonder if the argument is a bit too quick. It seems to me that integration talk can be read as trying to overcome at least three different kinds of “dis-integration”. One might be called ‘ontological’ – ‘faith’ and ‘learning’ are different things and have to be brought together. This does indeed have all the problems you rightly point out. A second might be called ‘historical’ – the theories and knowledge predominant in a particular discipline at a particular moment in history might have been developed in a way that is in tension with Christian faith specifically, and it might take conscious counter-scholarship to recover a more faith-compatible perspective. (When after racial segregation we talked about “integrating” schools, it would not have been a valid argument to say “but that falsely suggests that we are not all human” – the integration was needed for historical reasons, not ontological ones. Maybe the same has applied to faith and learning). A third might be called psychological – the knowledge and theories in my head have come from various sources and contain tensions and contradictions – I suggest none of us inhabit a seamless, fully coherent mental world. So if I want to think more consistently Christianly I might have to give conscious effort to bringing together different parts of what I think I know and looking at their interconnections. It seems to me empirically the case that for many (all?) of us biits of our faith and bits of our learning inhabit different parts of our minds and have yet to be fully introduced to one another.
    While the first version of “dis-integration” is open to your charge of dualism, I don’t think the other two are in the same way. And my question about the more holistic language that is becoming more popular is: is it too naive about the supposed seamlessness of our experience of knowledge and of the world, seeing us as beings able to appropriate the truth whole, as it were, without fractures and tensions that have to be worked on? Does it boast two much about the ease with which our thinking and our perception spring forth from our supposedly fully formed and fully integral Christian faith? Are we that good? I agree that integration language has not always worked well, and I’m not writing this to defend it per se, but I am still not finding the counter-arguments fully persuasive.

    • Thanks David Smith for your input in the dialogue of integrating faith and learning. The three layers or are they perspectives of integration make sense. I agree with the comment that it is too soon to replace integration with ‘truth revealing learning and living’. For a Christian scholar who is seeking to be ‘rooted ‘ and built up’ in Christ, yet has to continually minimise dissonance between the cognition within him, the challenging postmodern relativism, what term best describes that?

  4. Thanks for this post. It reminded me of why it is so important to be a part of a Christian school. It reminded me of Parker Palmer’s To Know as We Are Known, simply the best book on teaching I have ever read. It reminded me that if we give up the heart of what we are doing we will become irrelevant and fail.

  5. Julius (Jules) de Jager

    Thank-you, Dan Beerens!

    I have been uncomfortable with the “integrating faith and learning” ever since Dan Vander Ark popularized it in the late 1990′s. I see Christian perpective in education as more intergral than a series of intersections. The wonder of Christian education comes from an ever deepening appreciation of the wholeness of God’s creational structures and the interplay of human responses (God glorifying or not).

    It is interesting that you are thinking about Truth as a new formulation. Perhaps we need to think about another “threesome” – Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Consider Truth as capturing our striving for reason, Goodness as our striving for holiness and Beauty as our expression of imagination.

    Truth, Goodness and Beauty considered in an idealistic as well as realistic manner captures the curriculum in my elementary school. I can see all of the various subject areas plugged into the disctinciveness as well as the interplay of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

    I hope to expand on this idea to see if it will be the formulation that bridges between my curriculum and the Gospel call for Christian education. Perhaps someone has a neat way of expressing this out there.

    Thanks again for letting go of the “intersection” terminology.

    • Hi Jules,
      The integration language is much older than the 1990′s it comes out of the Kuyperian approach of the late 1800′s. You see it in Kuyper’s Stone Lectures and it is really an attempt to build a bridge between a wholistic faith response to knowledge and the modernist segmented or fractured approach to knowledge.
      Integration language is at its heart wholistic seeking a “whole personed” responsiveness to God as a counter point to the “fractured” response that was/is the norm in a modernist approach to knowledge. Given the post-modern critique of the nature of knowing, our old “integration” language seems stilted to us now.
      As Christians working on the front lines of the philosophy of knowledge [i.e. Christian education in Christian schools] it is okay, maybe even essential, for us to enter the academic/public debate on how we know things with our own set of criteria for knowing that is different from the mainstream.
      Whole personed responsiveness to God is what is required of us by scripture, i.e. heart soul mind. What that looks like is very difficult to describe in a world where knowledge and the approach to knowing is fractured by the very structure of academic endeavours. Individual departments, individual subjects, individual teachers each with individual areas of specialization all via of dominance in any educational institution, whether elementary secondary or post secondary.
      I think that our difficulty with defining this topic stems from the fact that all of us are trained in a system that is fractured in its approach to knowledge. This is a reflection of our fallen world, but we still struggle, seek, learn and think about ways to articulate what it means to have a whole personed response to God in all of the segments of our lives.

  6. Donald Oppewal

    I am happy to see that Christian teachers are looking for more meaningful language to describe how we put our faith to work in shaping school policy or curriculum style. However it seems to me that attributing dualism to those who use integration to characterize that effort are making hasty assumptions about those who use it as one of many tools to guide our thinking. David Smith is one with whom I agree when he urges care in perpetrating suspicion of those who use the integration language. Since context of the use of any phrase helps shape the meaning, any phrase by itself is capable of many connotations and nuances and has no one inherent meaning.
    The day may come, but I doubt it , that the Christian pedagogical community finds one and only one way to show to others the underpinning of our convictions about schooling. May the search continue!!!

  7. john kitur

    i am doing research on the implications of education in christian perspective on holistic social transformation in africa and would be extremely happy to receive your updates. thanks for the good work!

  8. Cindy Hanlon

    I am just entering the field of teaching at a Christian University and I would appreciate some specific examples of how to integrate faith into course curriculum. Mathematic is the area I will be teaching. Please provide specific examples if possible. Thanks.

    • Hi Cindy,
      Congratulations on your new job!
      Here is a link to an editorial I wrote last year for Christian School Teacher that links to other resources, speeches, and journal articles. Here are also a couple of book suggestions: “Mathematics: Is God Silent?” by James Nickel and “Arithmetic for Parents” by Ron Aharoni (Sumizdat. 2007) This book about beauty and coherence may also apply: http://nurturingfaith.wordpress.com/2009/10/24/timeless-truth-different-delivery-3-%E2%80%93-what/
      It is critical that a person in your position be able to articulate the coherence of Christ in the area of math – may God bless your desire and work to understand the connections more deeply! I hope this has been helpful!

  9. Pingback: Integrating Faith in the Virtual Classroom | The E-Learning Pioneer

  10. Pingback: Bringing shalom to our teaching |

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