Monthly Archives: March 2009

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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Do you believe? A review of the movie: Henry Poole is Here

Here is an interesting movie for you to watch over your upcoming spring break! Our family watched it and enjoyed it – it has the potential to lead to some very good discussion around faith, hope, miracles, and belief. Below is the trailer:

(Review contributed by Mark Eckel, educational consultant and director of the Mahseh Center.  Thanks, Mark for sharing!)

Hope does not always come in forms we expect or can explain.  Sometimes the face of Jesus must appear in a stain on a stucco house.  Other times, the house literally has to fall on a person to wake them up.  It is no mistake that words for hope, trust, and faith are so closely aligned with each other in religious frameworks: each is dependent on a world beyond our own.  It is this outside world that we cannot see, that we cannot explain, that invades inside our world.

Hope can come in many forms, but always from outside ourselves.  Luke Wilson stars in a movie to ponder just such an idea: Henry Poole Is Here.  The inexplicable occurs to give hope to the hopeless.  Full of Christian imagery and truly caring believers, Henry is altered when he is forced to confront that which he cannot explain.  Coke-bottle glasses worn by the grocery store check out girl are unnecessary after touching the stained house wall.  Mute no more, a child next door speaks; a result of the same.  Church-goers line up around the house because they believe what they cannot describe may transform what they cannot change.  Henry himself has been diagnosed with an undivulged illness.  Believing his own death to be imminent, “It doesn’t matter” and “I won’t be here very long” are phrases Henry uses to deflect attention away from commitments, away from people, away from life.

Characters enliven the tale.  The won’t-take-no-for-an-answer next door neighbor (Adriana Barraza), the Catholic priest (George Lopez), Millie whose eyes mesmerize (Morgan Lilly), Dawn (Rahda Mitchell) the romantic seeing inside Henry’s shell, and the cashier (Rachel Seiferth) all add flavor to a sweet story.henry_poole_is_here_movie_poster1

Albert Torres wrote the original screenplay for Henry Poole.  After failed attempts at penning scripts in Hollywood, Torres quit trying.  He changed course.  Two years later he realized his “undefined sadness” was because he was not writing.  “Rather than write a movie I thought I could sell or one I thought others would like, I wrote a movie I wanted to see. I emerged from a desperate time, looking for a little hope and Henry Poole was born” (source).  After suffering the devastating death of his wife, Mark Pellington created a film to reflect upon the realities of life lived after loss (source).  Henry Poole Lives Here is an example of reflection leading to hope.

Both Pellington and Torres maintain that the movie is not “pushy” about faith.  References to Jesus’ face, miracles, and Catholicism are simply to move the story along.  Henry Poole indeed succeeds without preaching.  But there is no mistaking a movie which depends on its most prominent character, who is invisible, other-worldly, unexplained but always there.

Rated PG for a few uses of profane language and adult situations.

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My top ten list for hiring new teachers

job-interviewWhen it comes to hiring a new faculty member for next year, what qualities are you seeking? Allow me to encourage you to consider some recent research done by Dr. Laurie Matthias, assistant professor of education at Trinity International University. She wondered what themes and qualities would emerge from studying professors considered exemplary by their peers in the integration of faith and learning at Wheaton College. She discovered a common core virtue of integrity/wholeness in these individuals. This sense of integrity and wholeness resulted from these characteristics: genuine faith, an attitude of humility, passion for their academic discipline, and openness to change.

I certainly agree with her assessment and submit this attempt as a “Top Ten” list of qualities needed in a Christian teacher:

  1. Passion for God, kids, subject – in that order
  2. Desire for, and skill in, nurturing faith in kids
  3. Integrity – wholeness as a person (see above!)
  4. Strong emotional intelligence (what we sense about others and what we do with that awareness)
  5. Curiosity/creativity
  6. Team player – working well with others
  7. Commitment to personal learning and flexibility with change
  8. Strong understanding of biblical perspective and skill in revealing God’s truth in the curriculum
  9. Desire to build community within classroom and school
  10. Sense of humor

What would you add or subtract?

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Student reflections on biblical perspective

puzzle-piecesThanks to Kim Essenburg, English 10 teacher at Christian Academy in Japan, for sharing student reflections related to seeing God’s truth in the material they studied.

Here are sample student answers to the final question on my English 10 short story test: What else did you learn in this unit that you did not have a chance to show on the test?

  • I think understanding that everyone has a perspective and that it’s important to connect literature and the Bible.
  • All of the authors, it seems, either were born or ended up in situations where they didn’t really belong, or they were missing something, or something went wrong. It’s interesting to note the different responses each author had in their situation. Tolstoy had a primarily Christian perspective, Kafka was nihilist, and Camus was existentialist—each one giving their own reasons for why things were the way they were.
  • I learned from Leo Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” that if we are selfish and greedy, it might seem like you’re “living the life” at the moment, but in the end you’ll lose everything (the important things) you have.
  • Both Christianity and existentialism believe that people have the desire to find meaning. In Christianity, we find the true meaning in God and find joy, but in existentialism, people find their own meaning and find joy in that process. I thought it was sad that not all the people have hope and that not all people can feel true joy.
  • I learned a lot about decision-making and finding my place here. We all get left out and feel like an outsider, but I know that I still belong to God.
  • Every piece of literature has a worldview. It may be difficult to find, but if the author has any voice at all, you should be able to find it.
  • I learned that just like “The Guest” we all have to make decisions between two things. I learned that I have to pray to God before choosing the decision by myself because without God’s power, we are all weak and cannot make a decision we won’t regret.
  • From reading “The Bucket Rider” I learned how people who feel like they don’t belong anywhere are suffering because of emotional needs that may be as extreme as the Bucket Rider…. I want to be able to choose to act with empathy towards these people, unlike the coal dealer’s wife who ignored the Bucket Rider.

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