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[9] Can Scholarship and Christian Conviction Mix? Another Look at the Integration of Faith and Learning

Part I: The Modern Academy Pre-1968

 by Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus, Yale University

The central assumption of this essay is that the topic of Faith and Learning is not some eternal problem that enters history at the time of its “discovery” and whose relation to history thereafter is only the history of successive answers to the “problem.” Learning, I shall argue, is through and through a historical phenomenon — an ever-­changing historical phenomenon. Christians who wish to be faithful in their scholarship — faithful to their Lord, faithful to their fellow believers, faithful to their fellow human beings, faithful to the earth — never have any other choice than to engage in learning in the particular form in which they find it in their particular time and place. Always trying to alter it, but still always engaging it. I begin then with reflections on learning as we find it today — not with reflections on the nature of learning, on the essence of science, on the nature of theoretical reason, but on learning as we find it. Enormous alterations have taken place in learning, and in our understanding thereof, over the past quarter century. That makes it more imperative that we begin by trying to understand its present form; otherwise we are likely to presuppose some antiquated understanding. For once again: learning is not some timeless essence.

It has been a long time now since my days as a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard; but I remember well the basic thrust of the philosophy of science course I took and of the various public lectures on philosophy of science that I listened to. Teachers and speakers were all engaged in trying to uncover the logic of science — or in case the teacher or speaker was one of those who thought that the logic of the social sciences is different from that of the natural sciences, engaged in trying to uncover the logics of science. The thought was that there is some entity called “science” with which we were all acquainted, that this entity has a logic or logics, that that logic for some reason or other was concealed from us, and that it was the business of the philosopher to uncover that logic — to reveal the hidden. Sometimes it was assumed that science has an apparent logic in addition to a real logic, and that its apparent logic conceals from us its real logic. We talked in my day about how terribly difficult it was to accomplish this uncovering; philosophy of science is extremely hard work. There was the infamous “problem of the counter­factual” over which we all furrowed our brows. Scientists use counterfactuals all the time; but the logic of the counterfactual is terribly difficult to uncover.

My teachers were assuming, of course, a certain understanding of the relation between philosophy and science — a roughly Kantian understanding. Kant was the first to formulate explicitly the great anxiety of the philosopher in the modern world: Given the growth of the “special sciences,” what is left for philosophy to do? Kant’s answer was that it remains for the philosopher to explore certain issues of modality — certain issues of possibility and necessity. The assumption of my teachers, that it is the province of philosophers to deal with the logic of science, was a descendant of that Kantian view. But beyond operating with a certain understanding of the relation between philosophy and the “special sciences,” they were making certain assumptions about the nature of science and its place in the academy and modern culture. It is my judgment that those assumptions have never been better articulated than they were by Max Weber, who set them in the context of his theory of modernization. Let us take a few moments to glance at Weber’s theory.

WEBER’S THEORY–Differentiated Spheres

Weber was convinced that the essence of modernization is to be located in two related phenomena. First, in the emergence of differentiated spheres; specifically, in the emergence of the differentiated social spheres of economy and state, along with household, and in the emergence of the differentiated cultural spheres of science, art, law, and ethics. And second, in the ever more pervasive practice of rationalized thought and action within these spheres. The fundamental dynamic of action within our modern, capitalist economies is rationalization, Weber thought, just as the fundamental dynamic of action within our modern, bureaucratic states is rationalization; so too, the fundamental dynamic of thought within modern science is rationalization, oriented as that science is toward prediction, grounded as it is in sensory experience, intertwined as it is with technology.

Not only does the dynamic of rationalization account for what takes place within these differentiated social and cultural spheres; it accounts as well, Weber thought, for the emergence of these differentiated spheres of rationalized thought and action. Weber’s argument at this point came in three parts.

Disenchantment of the World

First, Weber regarded it as characteristic of “primitive” religions for the participants in those religions to think of the world as filled with magical and sacred powers — to think of the world as enchanted. A condition of the emergence of the differentiated spheres of rationalized thought and action is the disappearance of such a view; modernity presupposes the disenchantment, the Entzäuberung (literally, de-­magicalizing) of the world. The world for a modern person is an inherently meaningless, indifferent terrain for thought and action.

The displacement of “primitive” religions by the world religions was the first large step along the road to disenchantment. That step, by now far back in the mists of human history, already represented the dynamic of rationalization at work. Religions are attempts to find meaning in human existence; but the meanings proposed by the “primitive” religions always found themselves without a satisfyingly “rational” account of suffering and injustice. The emergence of the world religions was the beginning, though only the beginning, of the process of disenchantment; the process has continued to work itself out within these religions, the dynamic still being rationalization in response to questions of theodicy.

Though Weber apparently believed that the dynamic of rationalization, operating within each world religion as a sort of “internal logic,” would eventually lead each of them to adopt a fully disenchanted view of the world, he clearly regarded the dynamic as operating most powerfully in religions exhibiting that particular configuration of attitudes and convictions that one finds in Judaism, Christianity, and (presumably) Islam.

World religions can be distinguished along three dimensions. Some, the theocentric, sharply separate the divine from the world; others, the cosmocentric, locate the divine within the world. Some, the world-­affirming, see the world as basically good; others, the world-­rejecting, see the world as basically bad. And some proclaim the active “ascetic” life as the road to salvation, whereas others proclaim the contemplative “mystical” life as that. Weber speculated that the pressures of rationalization toward a disenchanted view of the world would be felt most powerfully in religions that are theocentric, world-­rejecting, and ascetic; he interpreted Judaism and Christianity as exactly such religions. In Judaism and Christianity there was, he thought, a powerful critique of actions performed simply out of habit or affect, and a powerful pressure toward the formation of a generalized ethic of principle — the corollary of which, he thought, is that the world itself is viewed as devoid of meaning, spread out before the agent simply as the objective terrain in and on which action obedient to God is to be performed. Weber regarded the lifestyle of the monks as the finest example in medieval times of this religious type; they were the virtuosi of the day. Their lifestyle was the most methodical, that is, the most rationalized.

Development of Capitalism

A disenchanted view of the world is not, however, sufficient to account for the emergence of our differentiated spheres of rationalized thought and action; necessary, but not sufficient. Additional changes had to take place, especially in religion, for the emergence to come about. Though he did not entirely neglect the other spheres of culture and society, Weber focused most of his attention at this point on the emergence of our capitalist economy. How, he asked, could our capitalist economy, with its inherently “unbrotherly” modes of operation, have emerged from the cradle of a religion whose ethic, though indeed coupled with an increasingly disenchanted view of the world, was nonetheless an ethic of brotherliness? What convictions were available for legitimating capitalist entrepreneurialism? We all know Weber’s answer: it was the English Puritans in particular, and the Calvinists in general, who first exhibited the fully methodical, fully rationalized character-­formation of “inner-­worldly asceticism” requisite for capitalist entrepreneurship; and they legitimated their actions by replacing the ethic of brotherliness in the economic sphere with “the Protestant ethic,” as Weber called it, according to which the believer’s entrepreneurship is legitimated by its being the calling (vocatio) given him or her by God, success therein being a sign of one’s belonging to the company of God’s elect.

Emergence of Autonomous Internal Logics

And what, thirdly, accounts for the emergence of these differentiated spheres themselves? The rationalization characteristic of thought and action within these spheres presupposes that one view the world as disenchanted, and presupposes further, in the economic sphere, at least, that one reject the relevance of an ethic of brotherliness. But what accounts for the emergence of these spheres as such? What I take to be Weber’s answer is undeveloped, but interesting. Consider what he says in the following passage from his famous and brilliant essay entitled “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions”:

An especially important fraction of all cases of prophetic and redemp­tory religions have lived not only in an acute but in a permanent state of tension in relation to the world and its borders. The more the religions have been true religions of salvation, the greater has this tension been. The tension has also been the greater, the more rational in principle the ethic has been, and the more it has been oriented to inward sacred values as a means of salvation. Indeed, the further the rationalization and sublimation of the external and internal possession of — in the widest sense — “things worldly,” has progressed, the stronger has the tension on the part of religion become. For the rationalization and the conscious sublimation of man’s relations to the various spheres of values, external and internal, as well as religious and secular, have then pressed towards making conscious the internal and lawful autonomy of the individual spheres; thereby letting them drift into those tensions which remain hidden to the originally naive relation with the external world.[1]

The picture that comes to the surface here is the neo-­Kantian picture according to which those “individual spheres,” each with its own “internal and lawful autonomy,” reside in the very nature of things. What Weber has added to the neo-­Kantian picture is the claim that rationalization is the dynamic that brings those spheres to light and sets thought and action within them free from external domination, so that life within each can develop according to the “internal logic” of that sphere.

Academic Learning’s Self-­Image

Weber is here giving expression to a way of thinking that is deep in our modern mentality. Previously art was intertwined with other cultural phenomena; now in the modern world it has been differentiated, and more or less liberated from external demands, so that it can begin to follow its own internal dynamics and come into its own. Previously the economy was intertwined with other social and cultural phenomena; now in the modern world it has been differentiated, and more or less liberated from external demands, so that it too can follow its own internal dynamics and come into its own. And so too science. Previously science was intertwined with other social and cultural phenomena; in the seventeenth century it was finally differentiated, revealed to view, and liberated from external demands, so that it can now follow its own internal “logic.” Few if any of my professors would have been able, or indeed willing, to articulate their assumptions with anything like the grand sweep of Weber; nonetheless, I think it was along these lines that they were thinking.

I want to submit to you for your consideration a very different way of thinking of science in particular, and of academic learning in general. But I want to lead up to that by taking note of the fact that my professors were not only working with a picture of science as something that finally, after millennia of fitful preparation, has gained its own differentiated sphere in modern society where, freed from extraneous demands, it has come into its own by following out its own “logic.” They were working as well with some prior notion of what that “logic” was. And not only has that been true for philosophers.

Characteristic of the modern academy in general has been a certain self-­image, a certain understanding, of what it is that the academy is supposed to do. The past quarter century has witnessed the shattering of that regnant self-­image, with the consequence that academia today is very different from what it was twenty-­five years ago.

[1] Weber, “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited and translated by H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 328.

Dr. Wolterstorff is widely regarded as among the most renowned of Christian scholars.  This article is published with permission of Wm. B. Eerdmans, and is adapted from Educating for Shalom, by Nicholas Wolterstorff, Eerdmans, 2004. 

[8] Can Scholarship and Christian Conviction Mix? Another Look at the Integration of Faith and Learning

Part II: The Changing Self-Image of the Academy

 by Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus, Yale University

The notion of the academy was once accompanied by a regnant self-image, on that has undergone profound change in subsequent decades. Perhaps the deepest component in the once-­regnant self-­image is that reputable learning is a generically human enterprise. To put the point pictorially: Before entering the halls of learning we are to strip off all our particularities, particularities of gender, of race, of nationality, of religion, of social class, of age, and enter purely as human beings. Thus, on the once-­regnant understanding of learning, black history, feminist sociology, Muslim political theory, and liberation theology are bad history, bad sociology, bad political theory, bad theology. In the practice of learning we are to make use only of such belief-­forming dispositions as are shared among all human beings, and we are to accept only the deliverances of such shared human dispositions.

To this general characterization a few qualifications must be added. In the first place, if we bring infants into the picture along with those adults whose belief-­forming capacities are in one way or another malformed — the color blind, the schizophrenic, and so on — then it is not clear that we will find much at all by way of belief-­forming dispositions truly common to all human beings. The response of those who held to the regnant self-­image of learning is clear: Only adults are to be allowed into the halls of learning, and, within the halls, malformed adults are to concern themselves exclusively with those parts of learning in which their particular malformation plays no role. Do not let the color blind develop theories of color vision!

But second, we human beings are not autonomic information-­processing mechanisms. We always put our belief-­forming dispositions to use in certain ways. And we learn those ways. In part we are taught them by others; in part we learn them from our own experience. A fundamental determinant of such learning is what are judged to be more reliable and less reliable ways of using one’s indigenous dispositions. For example, each of us learned that in general one can get more reliable beliefs about the size and shape of objects by looking at them from a distance appropriate to their size — close up if they are small, farther off if they are big. Here then is the question: Which learned uses of indigenous capacities are allowable within the halls of learning? Obviously not any learned use whatsoever; not the learned use that consists of reading tea leaves to predict fortunes. On the other hand, obviously more is allowed than those learned uses of indigenous capacities which are engaged in by all normal adults; we allow our scientists to engage in all sorts of sophisticated uses of their indigenous capacities of which non-­scientists know nothing. So how do we pick and choose? The fundamental idea is to allow those learned uses whose reliability can be defended by reference solely to the indigenous capacities of normal adults.

In short: fundamental in what has been the regnant self-­image of academic learning is the conviction that one is to practice academic learning just qua normal adult human being — not qua American, not qua black, not qua Christian, not qua female, not qua proletarian, not qua any particularity whatsoever. We can expect that the results of learning so practiced will eventually gain consensus among all normal adult human beings knowledgeable in the discipline. When academic learning is rightly conducted, pluralism in the academy is an accidental and temporary phenomenon. Particularist learning — learning practiced not qua human being but qua some particular kind of human being — is misbegotten learning.

Classically Foundationalist

Another fundamental component in the once-­regnant self-­image of the modern academy is a certain hierarchy of the academic disciplines. The paradigmatic disciplines are the physical sciences and mathematics, with everything else ranged down from there. At the bottom, of course, is theology, though the humanities in general are not much better; the social sciences occupy a position somewhere in between the physical sciences and the humanities. What underlies this hierarchy is a certain notion of true science that has its origins in the medieval notion of scientia but was then significantly revised by John Locke and his cohorts in the Royal Academy. The thought is that mathematics and the natural sciences have attained the status of true sciences, whereas the other academic disciplines have not yet done so. When their Newtons appear and their revolutions take place, they too will become true sciences. Accordingly, in speaking of the logic of the sciences we are not speaking of something unique in principle to the natural sciences and mathematics; we are speaking of the logic that any academic discipline will exhibit once it attains the status of a true science. As it so happens, that logic is now exhibited only in mathematics and the natural sciences. But that is happenstance; we hope for the day when all the disciplines will have become true sciences exhibiting the “logic” of science. In the meanwhile, we can compose a hierarchy of the disciplines in terms of how far they appear to be from meeting that ideal — call it, the science ideal.

On the issue of the “logic of science” there has been somewhat less consensus than on the two matters already mentioned; nonetheless the dominant view has been that true science is foundational in structure — more specifically, classically foundationalist. Let me explain. In the first place, we should not think in terms of foundationalism but rather in terms of foundationalisms. Foundationalist theories constitute a certain species of theory as to the conditions under which one or another truth-­relevant merit is present in our beliefs — as to when our beliefs are properly scientific, or when they constitute knowledge. Every foundationalist theory begins with a distinction between beliefs that we hold on the basis of other beliefs, and beliefs that we do not hold on the basis of other beliefs. Call these, respectively, mediate beliefs and immediate beliefs. Every foundational­ist then goes on to distinguish the conditions under which a mediate belief possesses the merit in question. All foundationalists hold that a mediate belief possesses the merit in question just in case it is held on the basis of immediate beliefs that properly support it and which themselves possess the merit in question.

As to the conditions under which immediate beliefs possess the merit in question, foundationalists differ among each other. But prominent in the Western tradition has been the habit of singling out at this point those immediate beliefs which are certain. What makes a foundationalist theory a classically foundationalist theory is just the insistence that an immediate belief has the merit in question if and only if it is certain for the person in question. As one would expect, this thesis has given rise to a new set of disputes, viz., disputes over which beliefs are certain for a given person. However, in modern philosophy there has been something of a convergence among classical foundationalists toward the view that a belief is certain for a person just in case the proposition believed is either an incorrigible report of a state of consciousness of that person, or a necessary truth which is self-­evident to that person.

One more component of the once-­regnant self-­image of the modern academy. It has been widely held that it is the business of philosophers to offer a general account of things, with the other disciplines then filling in the specifics, that it is the business of philosophers to construct or display foundations for all the disciplines, and that it is the business of philosophers to uncover the necessary conditions, in human nature, of scientific activity; philosophers are to do all this in a way that is itself generically human, truly scientific, and classically foundationalist in structure.

One might ask how, on this once-­regnant self-­image, a person’s religion is related to his or her practice of learning. Obviously it will not be regarded as an allowable particularity. Some have thought of Christianity and other religions as providing motivation for engaging in learning while yet not entering into the practice itself; that is one option. Others have held that it has nothing at all to do with learning but belongs to some other sphere of human life, possibly to its own unique sphere; Weber himself seems to have thought of it as a remnant of the irrational rather than as a differentiated value-­sphere of its own. But also, down from the middle ages through the Enlightenment and on into the modern world, there have been those who have held out the hope of constructing a scientific theism, even, a scientific Christianity: One starts with evidence for God’s existence, then reasons to the nature of God, then turns to history for evidence as to the divinity of Christ and the divine origin of Scripture, then concludes that Scripture is infallible, then reasons to the right way of interpreting Scripture, and then believes all that Scripture says, thus interpreted.

Shattering the Self-­Image

First to go was the conviction that the “logic” of true science is classical foundationalism. It is now clear, looking back, that the most influential epistemology during the first half of our century was resolutely foundationalist in character — classically foundationalist. It is true that the pragmatists in America, and Heidegger in Europe, were not foundationalists; but their protests at the time had relatively little impact. More influential than the pragmatists were the positivists; more influential on this point than Heidegger was Husserl. The courses that I took in epistemology as a graduate student were, to my mind, stupefyingly boring. At the time I did not understand why that was; now I do: Classical foundationalism was simply taken for granted, so much so that it was not even identified as such; we just worried over one and another problem within the system. But then something happened to make philosophers stand back and survey the general options for the structuring of epistemological theories. Classical foundationalism came to be isolated as one of the options, the option we had all been taking for granted. And when it was held up to view, it seemed to most of us profoundly implausible.

Discrepancies with the Practice of Natural Science

A different development was more decisive. A group of people who were trained as scientists, philosophers, and historians began to study episodes from the history of modern Western natural science to compare the regnant self-­image of science to the actual practice of science. What they bumped up against was reputable, even admirable, episodes from the history of modern Western natural science that simply did not fit the self-­image of science as a classically foundationalist enterprise. Thomas Kuhn became the best known of these. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he argued that revolutions in science do not occur because the new theory is discerned to be more probable than is the old theory. Instead, something like a conversion takes place. Kuhn himself used religious language at this point.


Three things are worth noting about this development. In the first place, the fact of such discrepancy between self-­image and actual practice tells us something important about the workings of natural science. Often the picture presented is that there is something called “the scientific method,” that scientists learn this method, and that in their work they apply this method. But if that were how things go, there would be no discrepancies between self-­image and actual practice, other than failed attempts to apply the method. The new historians did not invite us to look at the fumbles of modern natural science but at its great celebrated achievements; these were the episodes that did not fit the regnant self-­image, these were the episodes that were not implementations of the method.

Secondly, to interpret the historical evidence as showing that much good natural science has not in fact followed what everybody had supposed to be classical foundationalism, required a fascinating alteration of mentality. My teachers never denied that actual natural science does not appear to be classically foundationalist in structure. But from these appearances they did not conclude that it does not have that structure; instead they concluded that we philosophers have to work hard to show that it really does, and that appearances are deceiving. We know a priori, by philosophical reflection, that true science must have that structure. The new historians were saying that the appearance is the reality; nothing is hidden. Many admirable episodes of science do not appear to be foundationalist in structure; and they are not.

Why this alteration in interpretation? It was above all the wealth of historical detail provided by the new historians that produced the alteration. Before the new historians came along, history of science, in courses on the philosophy of science, served basically as a source of examples for illustrating points arrived at a priori. The new historians drew their conclusions about the logic of science from their detailed study of its actual practice. They didn’t think; they looked!

Trusting the Practice of Science

Perhaps the most important thing to observe about this development, though, is that [when] there really is discrepancy between self-­image and actual practice, one can say either “So much the worse for the practice” or “So much the worse for the self-­image.” For centuries, whenever discrepancy was acknowledged between regnant self-­image and actual practice with respect to some segment of academic learning outside the natural sciences, the response had been: “So much the worse for the practice.” Now the response was different. No one said: “So much the worse for modern natural science.” Everyone said: “So much the worse for the received self-­image.” That shows, of course, the enormous prestige of natural science in our culture, its position at the top of the hierarchy of the academic disciplines. That very prestige was crucial to the shattering of the self-­image. When the paradigmatic disciplines proved not to be sciences, judged by the regnant self-­image of science, then something deep had to go. The prestige of the natural sciences was indispensable to bringing it about that it was the self-­image that went.

Strictly speaking, all that Kuhn and his cohorts showed was that natural science in the modern world does not have the classically foundationalist structure that it was traditionally assumed to have. They were not discontent with the actual practice of natural science, nor did they question other parts of the regnant self-­image of the academy. Nonetheless, their conclusions had the consequence of making many things come unstuck. For suppose that one has had some a priori notion of the logic of true science, suppose that one has interpreted the “success” of the modern natural sciences and the relatively high degree of consensus within them as an indication that those disciplines are true sciences exhibiting that logic, and suppose that one has located the other disciplines (in their present form) somewhere lower in the hierarchy for the reason that they do not exhibit that logic. Now suppose that one is forced to surrender that a priori notion of the logic of true science because the disciplines that one admires most do not exhibit that logic, and suppose that no alternative suggestion as to “the logic” of true science becomes widely accepted. This is our situation. Then the old hierarchy of the disciplines, present already in the medieval distinction between scientia and dialectic, has lost even the appearance of any rationale. The conviction that the humanities, the interpretative disciplines, are inferior to the natural sciences is without ground.

I think it is exactly these dynamics that are being played out in the academy today. The passion for hermeneutics is no accident. Literary critics, instead of waiting for the coming of their Newton to revolutionize their discipline into a true science, are declaring their discipline acceptable as it is. The science ideal is losing its grip. And what else could it do but lose its grip when we no longer have any idea as to what is that logic of true science?

Perspectival Learning

But something more important even than the repudiation of the science ideal has been taking place: the conviction that reputable academic learning must be generically human is being repudiated and avowedly perspectival learning is flowering. Traditionally the academy in the West has been populated in overwhelming proportions by white Eurocentric bourgeois males. Slowly, as the result of various liberation movements and tendencies in society generally, that has changed, so that now significant numbers of the disenfranchised have been empowered within the academy. About a decade ago their numbers reached a critical mass sufficient to embolden them to say what they had long felt if not thought, or thought if not said; namely, that it is sheer pretense to present the learning of the academy as generically human in character — pretense in the service of power. The learning of the modern Western academy reflects the particularities of those who have peopled it. The reason for its dominance is not that it so successfully renders the truth of the matter as any impartial human being would see it; its dominance has been secured by power.

Here too, as with the point of discrepancy discussed earlier, various options are available to the person who acknowledges discrepancy between image and practice. One can insist on the importance of the image and urge that we do all in our power to make the learning of the academy live up to its self-­image of being generically human. It is my impression that that was the lesson most people initially drew from Carol Gilligan’s charge against Lawrence Kohlberg to the effect that his account of moral development was heavily male-­oriented: Gilligan had pointed out where Kohlberg’s work was not generically human; now she and he ought to work together to make it so by eliminating the bias. But it is also possible to embrace the other alternative and repudiate the image. Having done that, one could in principle go on to argue for the perpetuation of white Eurocentric bourgeois male learning in the academy; alternatively, one could argue for the right of other particularities to engage in learning from their own perspective. I know of no one who has openly chosen the former of these.

The debate is among those who embrace the ideal of generically human learning and refuse to concede that the academy reflects the particularities of white Eurocentric bourgeois males and those who reject that ideal and argue that justice requires that perspectival learning of many forms be allowed to flourish in the academy. More and more members of the academy are embracing this last option–partly out of self-­defense. Were feminists to accept the offer of their male colleagues to work with them, each pointing out the biases of the other, together struggling toward the ideal of generically human learning, they would not only run the clear risk of having their voices muffled but would forego the opportunity to work out their own perspective with depth and scope. And partly because the conviction is now widespread that there can be no such thing as generically human learning; the ideal of such learning is and always has been illusory. The learning of the academy is unavoidably perspectival. So what we are witnessing is something more than the empowerment within the academy of the disenfranchised. We are witnessing such empowerment taking the specific form of an embrace of perspectivalism. The pluralization of the academy is the ineluctable consequence.

Note the following feature of the structure of these developments: Kuhn and his cohorts, after arguing that the actual practice of natural science does not fit the self-­image of good science as classically foundationalist in structure, did not go on from there to urge any change in the practice of science. They urged only that we change our image. By contrast: most of those who argued that the actual practice of learning does not fit the self-­image of reputable learning as generically human in character, went on to urge that we both discard that part of our self-­image of academic learning and that we change that learning itself. Thus it is that this second revolution is vastly more important than the first. The first helped to prepare the way for the second. But the disturbance caused by giving up certain illusions about the logic of natural science was minor compared to the disturbances caused by conceding that learning in general never has been, and cannot be, generically human, and going on from there to embrace particularized perspectival learning and the pluralizing of the academy that flows from that. The past decade has seen the flowering of perspectival scholarship to a truly astonishing degree. Liberation theology, feminist psychology, black history, on and on — where once the very phrases would have grated on our ears, now, however we evaluate the substance, the phrases and the reality have become familiar.

The shattering of the regnant self-­image of academic learning, and the profound change in the actual practice of learning that has accompanied this shattering, obviously also require a new understanding of the role of philosophy in the academy. That old worry, which Kant enabled philosophers to suppress for a couple of centuries, has returned: What if anything is left for philosophy to do? I will forego commenting on that and instead submit for your consideration a quite different way of thinking of the very phenomenon of science and academic learning from that which has shaped our thought in the modern West.

On the neo-­Kantian view, academic learning, with modern natural science as its paradigmatic form, is a value sphere that in the very nature of things is distinct from art, from religion, from ethics. Science had a long pre-­history, consisting of anticipations among the ancient Greeks, among the medieval Arabs, and so forth, until finally in the early modern world learning was differentiated from other value spheres, liberated from servitude to extraneous demands, and set loose to follow the logic of science.

Parenthetically, it might be asked how, on this view, we are to understand the recent flowering of particularism in the academy. Is this to be seen as regression, the result, perhaps, of political co-­optation? Or is science still following its own logic? Or are we, upon noticing that there is little by way of particularism in the natural sciences and mathematics, to conclude that all this flurry of particularism has nothing to do with science but is just one more example of the chaos which periodically erupts in disciplines that have not yet had their Newton?

Academic Learning as Social Practice

I propose that instead of thinking of learning as a value sphere with its own distinct logic that finally gets manifested in the modern world, we think of learning in general and science in particular as a long-­enduring social practice. The medieval intellectuals were not John the Baptists preparing the way for the coming of science; they were themselves engaging in the practice of science, and in that of learning generally. Let me explain and follow, rather closely, Alasdair MacIntyre’s explication of the idea of a social practice in his After Virtue.

MacIntyre’s Idea of a Social Practice

A social practice is an activity of a certain sort — characteristically, an activity that involves the manipulation of material of one sort or another in one way or another. More specifically, a social practice is an activity that requires learned skills and knowledge. Some things we are born able to do; others, we naturally acquire the ability for doing in the process of maturation. Not so with the skills enabling practices. They must be learned, most of them, anyway. And to a large extent the skills and knowledge requisite are not just picked up on our own but taught us by others, sometimes by modeling, sometimes by explicit verbal instructions. In that way, among others, practices are inherently social.

Furthermore, in the case of a practice the new learner confronts a situation in which the requisite skills and knowledge are in good measure already being exercised by practitioners of the practice. Thus a practice is an ongoing activity into which new members are inducted. Practices have histories; they have traditions. As MacIntyre remarks,

To enter into a practice is to enter into a relationship not only with its contemporary practitioners, but also with those who have preceded us in the practice, particularly those whose achievements extended the reach of the practice to its present point. It is thus the achievement, and a fortiori the authority, of a tradition which I then confront and from which I have to learn.[1]

In that last sentence, MacIntyre alludes to the fact that when an activity is a practice, those who engage in the activity, along with those who teach the activity, will regard some performances of the activity as better than others. There will be standards of excellence operative within the activity whereby some people are judged to farm better than others, whereby some people are judged to figure-­skate better than others, and so on. As MacIntyre puts it,

A practice involves standards of excellence and obedience to rules. . . . To enter into a practice is to accept the authority of those standards and the inadequacy of my own performance as judged by them. It is to subject my own attitudes, choices, preferences and tastes to the standards which currently and partially define the practice. . . . If, on starting to listen to music, I do not accept my own incapacity to judge correctly, I will never learn to hear, let alone to appreciate Bartok’s last quartets.[2]

The learning of the standards of excellence operative within a practice does not usually occur by way of learning formulated criteria of evaluation; the formulation of criteria is a difficult and sophisticated task. The learning in question usually occurs by way of modeling and casual hints.

Internal and External Goods of Social Practices

In thinking of the standards of evaluation it is of prime importance not to think of those standards as an unshakable monolith. Often there will be critics of the current standards. Often different practitioners will operate with somewhat different standards. And in most practices the standards will have changed over the course of history — sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. Such changes will often call forth new knowledge and new skills; and these in turn will often suggest new standards again. Innovations in knowledge, in standards and in skills, nourish each other; among these three there is a circular process of discovery and innovation. Practices alter and expand our human modes and degrees of achieving excellence.

The way we evaluate what goes on in practices is directly connected to what we find desirable in those practices. Here it is important to distinguish between goods internal to activities and goods external; and correlatively, between engaging in an activity for external goods, that is, goods that are only contingently attached to that activity and that can in principle be attached to a wide variety of significantly different activities (goods such as fame, profit, and self-­satisfaction), and engaging in an activity for internal goods, that is, goods that can only be achieved by engaging in this activity or ones closely similar. The internal goods in question may be either products of the activity or experiences that come our way in the course of engaging in the activity — in the case of farming, for example, they may be either foodstuffs or the pleasurable experience of working the soil.

It is clear that deep alterations in the social practice of science and in the understanding thereof, and more generally, in the social practice of learning and the understanding thereof, took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; until recently, we have been living in the wake of those alterations. Medieval learning was understood by the high medievals as coming in two main divisions: dialectics, the art of extracting from the received texts the rich and highly articulate body of wisdom that they were supposed to contain, and scientia, that nobler art of deducing conclusions from propositions evident to some rational being or other. (A full picture of the medieval situation would also have to bring into the picture such “lower sciences” as alchemy.) By the seventeenth century, the idea that the received texts of the West contained a rich, highly articulate, unified body of wisdom, extractable by dialectics, had collapsed; in its place there emerged the hostility to tradition characteristic of the Enlightenment and of the modern academy, and the view that learning in general should be generically human, reflecting neither tradition nor any other particularity. In addition, truly deep alterations took place in the seventeenth century within the natural sciences themselves. Here, for the first time in history, prediction, technological utility, explanation, and high epistemic status were joined together into one body of learning. And alongside this there emerged our modern conviction that natural science and mathematics are the paradigmatic disciplines; they have reached the status of true sciences.

Current Dynamics of Learning as Social Practice

I suggest that we are living through alterations in the social practice of learning that may well prove as fundamental as those that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The collapse, which I have traced, of the once-­regnant self-­image of the modern academy, and the emergence of avowedly particularist perspectival learning in diverse forms, make the academy today profoundly different from what it has been for some three hundred years.

Many find these changes alarming. And there are indeed dangers in the situation. It is my own conviction that those who self-­consciously engage in particularist perspectival learning must always face in two directions. On the one hand, it is legitimate and even important for them to engage in reflection with the members of their own communities, sharing insights, expanding perspectives, deepening thought. But it is also important that they engage in conversation with those who represent other perspectives, so as both to share insight and submit to correction. The goal is thereby to arrive at a richer, a broader, a more accurate perspective. This is what should replace that old but impossible ideal of generically human learning.

It is proving to be the case that there are a good many who are interested only in facing in the first of these two directions; and who reject facing in the second — reject trans-­particularist, cross-­perspectival, conversation. Sometimes what motivates that rejection is long-­suppressed resentment against the hegemony of Eurocentric bourgeois white males. Sometimes what motivates it is the claim that the perspective of one’s group on reality is interwoven with their suffering, that that suffering is like unto no other, and that those who have not experienced that suffering can never understand it. And of course, there is truth in these latter claims.

Either way, the determination now widespread in the academy is being played out in such a way as to raise the anxious question whether the academy as a cooperative enterprise can endure. Or is hegemony necessary? Whereas for a long time now it has been the calling of the Christian scholar to emphasize that Christianity offers a distinctive perspective on reality, the time may be coming when it will be at least as important to emphasize our shared humanity and the importance of mutual listening. If what emerges from the overthrow of the hegemony of Eurocentric bourgeois white males is not speaking and listening in dialogue but hard-­of-­hearing multiple power constellations, then nothing has been gained.

So indeed, some of the developments are worrisome. Nevertheless, I think we should celebrate the shedding of illusions. There never was any sound basis for taking modern natural science as the paradigmatic form of learning; the learning of the academy never was a generically human enterprise; it never was right to grant hegemony to one particularity; natural science never was classically foundationalist in its “logic”; philosophers never did do what the regnant image said they were doing. Does not the recognition of these facts represent an important gain? Or do we need illusion?

[1] MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p. 181.

[2] MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 177.

[7] Who’s Going to Teach Religion?

 by James C. Schaap

I’m embarrassed to admit it, embarrassed because it took graduate school to teach me something it’s hard to imagine I didn’t learn much earlier. I don’t want to blame my teachers. I don’t think of them as nincompoops. If I didn’t learn what I should, I probably wasn’t listening.

But I’ll never forget working on some graduate school research paper—probably something about John Milton—and stumbling on history so elementary I was embarrassed I didn’t know it. I was, after all, thought to be quite exotic in some grad school seminars because I’d been the recipient of an actual Calvinist education, a Christian education from first grade to college, with a four-year sojourn outside, at a public high school filled to the brim with kids from the Dutch Calvinist tradition. With such a strange background, I was like a resource in early American literature. I should have known.

What I learned was this simple: the Reformation was not just a religious movement, it was also political.

I was sitting in the Arizona State University library when I figured that out. Had anyone noticed, I would have been blushing.

When Luther stood his ground at the Diet of Worms (how could anyone forget the Diet of Worms?), that moment was, for him and all of us Christians, a grand testimony for the ages: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” Awesome. We didn’t believe in saints in the Reformed tradition. Except Calvin. And maybe Luther.

That’s how the story went, and to my knowledge that’s where it stopped. The Reformation was all about the faith of our fathers (maybe a little sexist too).

What I learned was that some of those men behind Luther in this drawing were German land barons who couldn’t give a crap about the efficacy of grace or works or some strange priest’s picayune reading of the Gospels. What they knew was what that this guy Luther was threatening the power of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, which meant at the time, of the entire kingdom. That’s action they wanted a part of. “Grace alone?” Sure, why not. They were interested in power, specifically their own.

In an recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Linda Wertheimer remembers a moment in a small-town school in Ohio when some woman with a flannel board came in to her classroom and talked about Jesus, then led the students in singing “Jesus Loves Me.” Wertheimer was and is Jewish. When she told her parents what happened, they complained, she says.

But what she argues in that Washington Post article is evident in the lengthy title: “Public Schools shouldn’t preach. But they should teach kids about religion.”

I spent several years of my life teaching in public high schools in Wisconsin and Arizona, and I know, by my own experience, that talking about religion can be really testy. You start trying to be, well, objective about things even adults can’t be objective about, and you’re trying to stand up on a really slippery slope.

But Wertheimer is right. It’s work that has to be done. Imagine trying to talk about American politics right now and not talking about faith. Imagine talking about world affairs or almost any news story on the face of the globe without referring to religion—it can’t be done.

But how do we teach religion? Good question, and by my experience it’s a question no easier to answer in a public than a Christian school.

Wertheimer wonders whether her own seven-year-old son shouldn’t be learning about Islam, about Buddhism, about Christianity, even if what he learns is really only rudimentary stuff, like varying definitions given by Jews and Christians to the word sabbath. “No, we can’t expect kids to grasp all the nuances of the major world religions and the controversies surrounding them,” she says, “but if we’re preparing kids to be thoughtful citizens of the world, they should know something about people in their community who may be different from themselves.”

Wertheimer’s little boy attends a private and religious school. No matter, she says.

My son has been attending religious school since kindergarten. He knows the major figures in Judaism as well as the holidays. But ask him what Easter is about—other than bunnies and colorful eggs—and he really has no idea. I’m happy that he knows his own religious heritage, but I also want him to know more about his peers’ different traditions.

Don’t kid yourself. It’s not an easy job. But I think she’s right. Somebody’s got to do it.

James Calvin Schaap is emeritus professor of English at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. He blogs at Stuff in the Basement, from which this is reprinted with his permission.

[6] Selling the Christian College: A Christian Response to the Consumer Education Model

 by Mark Eckel, Capital Bible Seminary, Washington, D.C.

“What are you producing?”  This question is often asked by about Christian education—even at the Christian college level–that are often managed by business people.

Do we “love people and use things” or “love things and use people”?  At times, even in Christian institutions, people can be corrupted by prevalent cultural viewpoints.  The Bible teaches, children are made in God’s image, to be treated as Spirit-gifted individuals, prompted to change according to biblical truth, as responsible agents deciding between truth and falsehood.  Viewing education from the vantage point of a consumer directly contradicts the proper foundation for a Christian college.

A caveat to begin: fundraising is not the issue.  Even Jesus had financial support from those who could afford to give (cf. Luke 8:1-3).  The apostles were also interested in raising funds for those who were hit by famine (cf. 2 Corinthians 8, 9).  There are copious references to “handling money” in Scripture that set fiscal parameters for proper conduct of God’s people, not the least of which is having a proper reputation before both God and men (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:21).  Money in the context of ministry is essential.  But God will always raise up those who will directly contribute knowing the need (cf. Philippians 4:14-18).

Worldview Confusion–There is a difference between funding the school and seeing the students as a market.  Belief systems have contributed to the belief that Christian education is a commodity to be purchased, teachers are resources to be compensated, and students are consumers to be satisfied.  Various worldviews have contributed to the unbiblical notion that people are the market.  They include:

Individualism—“choice” is an assumed right in Western culture.  While people do make school decisions, Christian education should be understood as distinctive, not merely an alternative among options.

Utilitarianism—if it cannot be “used” then it must not be useful.  While instruction must be applied, Christian education is premised upon the personhood, not the production of, an individual.

Materialism—“matter is all that matters” to some people.  While finances are necessary to pay teachers, Christian education stresses that students matter more than money.

Pragmatism—“immediate results” are commensurate with goodness.  While goal-oriented training does take place, Christian education teaches the truth that seeds are planted and may take years to grow.

Monetary Phrases Wall Street parlance is transferred from the trading floor to the school board room.  Notice the transfer and equality of meaning from the sphere of the stock market to the schoolhouse in the following examples:

“Getting what you pay for” is a phrase suggesting that quality of product is equal to financial outlay.  If a product is considered cheap and little is spent for it, one should not be surprised.

“User friendly” indicates a desire for both access and success.  People are happy if time and effort are reduced in procuring any given item.

“Not the only game in town” represents the view that options exist.  If a business fails to meet needs, needs will be met elsewhere.

“I want to get my money’s worth” is a variation on the first theme.  In this case, the person desires every possible profit based on some perceived cost-benefit ratio.

If Christians are concerned about a materialistic approach to life, those in Christian education should begin to dispel any perceived equivalence between money and people.

Deserving Questions The mentality of “I’m paying for a product” misinterprets education as factory production. Studentsbecome commodities.  Teachers become salesmen.  Parents buy and sell.  Colleges are in competition.  Consider the following inquiries in response to a customer or client-based assumption.

What is the biblical basis for the consumer model?  If the model comes from outside the biblical paradigm shouldn’t it deserve strong critique?

Does this model force us to biblical change or cultural accommodation?

A consumer model is based on a business view of life.  If this is true, can what a Christian college does be called “ministry”?

Compare the amount of money spent per child in government schools versus Christian schools.  Shouldn’t we expect more from the government university in the consumer model since more money is spent for each student?

If “getting what one pays for” is taken to its obvious conclusion, shouldn’t we expect less from instructors who are paid poorly?

If Christians lived in another country would this model be used?  Would poverty force us to accommodate to resources?  Are we allowing environmental factors (i.e., wealth) to drive our theology and philosophy?

The questions are rhetorically designed.  Obvious answers should press everyone involved in Christian school education to reevaluate their mindset and approach.

Potential Contradictions The teaching-learning process is unlike any other vocation.  The consumer model fails to address elementary truths concerning education.  Since the first statement after each number below is inherently biblical the only question left to answer is how can the Christian community accept the consumer model?

Everyone is different.  Not only do they have variant learning modalities but each individual is affected by multitudinous environmental influences.  According to the consumer model, no machine could be made to manufacture a bulk product that would accommodate the differences.

The process of learning changes constantly to fit the needs of the classroom situation.  According to the consumer model, no designs could be replicated consistently to meet the buyer’s demand.

Results in teaching are not seen immediately: sometimes, not for years.  According to the consumer model, the business would go under within days when production lines failed to meet inventory quotas.

Both teacher and student are responsible for education to take place.  Transferring and receiving knowledge leading to change is necessary.  According to the consumer model, the producer and purchaser would be responsible to provide a product—a self-defeating process.

Christian educators are interested in producing transformational agents in society.  Business people must make a profit in order to be successful.  The two are not equivalent.

Possible Solutions “Paying for a product” slant to education reduces the enterprise to a physical, visible, financial “bottom line.”  Approaches that might offer achievable clarification could include:

Researching a biblical view of education from Scripture.

Requiring former Christian educators to be on Christian college boards.

Redefining marketing and mission in the Christian college with biblical principles.

Reeducating parents, students, and staff through multiple communication links that the Christian college is not controlled by a consumer mentality.

Christian college education—all subjects taught under the authority of Christ—rejects such a naturalistic explanation of a process to be governed by supernatural standards.  The Word of God permeating every discipline through the power of The Holy Spirit and biblically integrative instructors has the goal of internal, eternal transformation of the individual student.

Dr. Eckel is a primary movie reviewer on Faithandlearningforum.com.

[5] Faith and Learning: An Educational Philosophy

 by Mark Eckel

This is a brief essay on educational philosophy from the perspective of a faith and learning integration.

Student Outcomes

Students should be able to:

(1) assimilate truth, explaining intentional doctrinal instruction (Psalm 119:160);

(2) discover truth, demonstrating ownership through self-study of Scripture (Acts 17:11);

(3) discern truth from untruth, exposing non-Christian beliefs (1 John 4:1-6);

(4) speak truth in love, practicing persuasion over confrontation (Colossians 4:5-6);

(5) apply truth in life, synthesizing biblical principles with all things (Romans 15:4)[1].

Christian Worldview Competencies

A preliminary five-point outline addresses this competency from a Christian worldview perspective: (1) identification of erroneous powers, premises, and practices; (2) interpretation of pagan belief from a Christian perspective; (3) inductive study of Scripture as a basis for assessment; (4) interaction with current issues and icons, and (5) investment in the tools necessary for students to make cultural apologetics a lifelong practice.

Students should study both Scripture and culture in order to develop discerning Christian young people.  Film clips, musical selections, TV news, advertisements, video games and internet sites would be engaged preparing Christian students to become cultural apologists.[2] Non-Christian professors, articles, and groups should also be examined based through a Scriptural lens.

Teaching Philosophy

In the biblical view of instruction, curriculum is content-centered, teacher-directed, student-discovered(Psalm 71:14-18; 78:1-8).  Truth does exist and can be known; therefore people are responsible to the laws of God’s Word and His world (cf. Deuteronomy 4:5-9).  Curriculum is based on the principle that all truth is God’s Truth (Psalm 119:152, 160).  The teacher is God’s authority in the school’s sphere of influence (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13).  Professors bear the responsibility of clear commitment to and communication of “true Truth” (Titus 1:9).  Students are accountable for the privilege of learning and to the providers of that learning (Proverbs 23:12).  Respect for God, His Word, and His leaders in the classroom is expected (1 Peter 2:17).

[1] Taken from Mark Eckel, “And the Two Shall Become One: The Wedding of Faith and Learning in the Christian Academy,” http://www.biblicalintegration.com/ezine/may2005/0505_2.php

[2] Taken from Mark Eckel, “Practicing the Craft of Cultural Apologist,” http://www.biblicalintegration.com/ezine/sept2005/0905_2.php

Dr. Mark Eckel is Professor of Leadership, Education, and Discipleship at Capital Seminary and Graduate School, Washington, D.C.

[4] Faith and Learning in Retrospect

 by Mark Eckel

When I asked some of my former students them about what they learned in Christian education—the wedding of Christian faith with learning, one hesitated and said, “It’s hard for me to say. The Christian worldview approach to life is so ingrained in my thinking I would have to say it’s not just one thing, it’s everything.”

It is everything. “The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours, the world and all that is in it” proclaims the Psalmist (89.11). Math and Bible are studied for a shared purpose. Playing lacrosse and chapel services have the same ends. Harmonious melodies in choir find their way into foreign language learning. The aim of building maintenance is no different than reading a book. In the Christian academy everyone participates in a daily “wedding.” Board, parents, administration, faculty, staff, and students all commit themselves to the inseparable nature of faith with learning. Each school day should begin by symbolically throwing rice over the “newlyweds” uniting God’s Word with God’sworks.

“Why does God have to be brought into everything?!” is more of a statement than a question heard for years. “He is already there.” From subatomic particles to expansive galaxies, God created it all. From Hammurabi’s law code to the American Constitution, God’s influence affects the minds of all people.

30 years ago I began to teach in Christian schools.

When I asked students and colleagues how the marriage of biblical integration had influenced their lives, four themes emerged.

Biblical integration teaching understands everything is theological, biblical, whole, and enjoyable.

1.  Everything is theological:

All heaven and earth belongs to God (1 Chronicles 29.11). To ask, “Is your education more focused on academics or faith?” is like asking which wing of the airplane you want to fly without.  Academics are not complete without the Christian faith.

In a session on Gothic horror literature, a Christian critique of the horror genre has led to great classroom discussions about our culture’s changing attitudes toward sin and our tendency to remove the capital ‘E’ from Evil.”

As one student, stated, “The glory of God’s Story is that it forms our beliefs, decisions, and actions about everything—parenting, finance, race, sex, entertainment—the list is endless.”

A now teacher said, “Since ‘all truth is God’s Truth’ I learned not just how to ‘connect the dots’ but to Whom all the dots belong.”  Everything is theological.

2.  Everything is biblical:

All things are upheld by The Word of His power (Hebrews 1.3). The unity of life is only possible because Scripture interprets everything.  A former student, now a construction company owner, states, “Learning to dissect Scripture continues to provide structure and process for me as I raise my family.”

Scripture is the foundation to Christian education. How can we be effective as educators if we do not start with the foundation of all truth, the Bible, and establish it as the start of truth as we know it?

Another Christian school teacher explained, “My transformed perspective of teaching came immediately from my study of God’s Word. Faith-learning integration philosophy changed me and continues to instruct my perspective as an instructor.”

The marriage of God’s world with God’s Word unites all true Truth: everything is biblical. 

3.  Everything is whole:

“in Christ all things are held together” (Colossians 1.17).

The unity of truth is biblical synthesis, wholeness, the permeation of God’s Word through all studies. A Christian apologist, reminds his audiences “every area of study is fragmented, shattered by the effects of sin; the integration of God’s Truth with all life restores completion.”

An architectural designer, maintains that, “The creative process requires heart investment, intention, planning, regular maintenance, and extreme attention to detail. Architects are the designers of our places of living, working, and playing as God is The Designer of all creation.

Those creational standards in her teaching of Advanced Placement English. “Order, symmetry, variety, and purpose set the standard for writing persuasive essays,” says a colleague, adding, “I found integrating biblical truth with academia fuels my passion for teaching and learning.”

An architect, explained how the Hebraic model of learning changed his life.  He pointed out, “Jewish understanding of life is all inclusive. All things connect in one way or another. The Hebraic mindset changed my vantage point forever. Movies, billboards, political rhetoric, my toddler’s bedtime books, architecture, aging parents; I now see all of life through a theological lens. This ever-expanding perspective can be overwhelming.  I see more of my sovereign God than ever before.

Another colleague in Christian education, says “the integration of faith in learning is an irreplaceable element of the Christian academy; from it we invest in the whole truth as a way of instructing.”

4. Everything is enjoyable:

 “all people who study God’s works delight in them” (Psalm 111.2).

God has given us everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6.17), satisfying the marriage of academics with a Christian lifeview.  A worship pastor, says learning to think as a Christian made “college classes a playground of ideas, a jungle gym upon which to develop my mental muscles. God’s Word provides the depth of genius for the brilliance of Michelangelo or the soaring strains of Paganini.” A former Christian school teacher, declares “God does not fit into our world but rather we are in His world; we discover worlds within worlds, reflecting the wonder and wisdom of God.”

Another Christian school teacher and musician, is trained to see wonder.  “My biblical education has given me a great window through which I can see the world. I can safely hold up anything to the light of God’s Word. I can properly respond to those things that I am told are beautiful or true because I have been given tools by which I can truly distinguish whether or not those things are beautiful or true.”

Joy in life for an editor is being able to answer the question “So What?” She takes delight in the arrangement of words. A colleague finds pleasure in being able to biblically answer the question “Why do I have to learn this?”

A public school teacher of the arts, both visual and literary. Her focus is on students  “Paying attention to sehnsucht—the joyful longing we feel when we encounter the very beautiful. Poetry and visual art were and are places to experience Joy, to see God’s presence, and we long for them because they show us pieces of who He is. I think that it was my experience in Christian education that made me want to be a teacher myself.”

A science teacher colleague, loves to look down “into a microscope and see the detail of a cell or study the patterns within the periodic table, then move my gaze up to the One who is sovereignly holding all things together.” Another Christian school coworker, loves to help her first graders see the transformation of the caterpillar to butterfly: God’s way of change. Teachers and students agree. A biblically integrative view of life means everything is enjoyable. 

Indeed the original remark here is confirmed by many: a Christian view of thinking is not about one thing, it’s about everything.

Wedding bells ring daily in Christian education for the marriage of faith with learning.  All truth is united under the Lordship of Jesus.  Whether we study ABC’s, grammar rules, the Greek empire, or laws of science we do so in gratitude to The Creator of the universe Who has given us His Word to understand His works.

A former student and businessman, summarizes the wedding of academics with biblical understanding.  “My knowledge of covalent bonds or unraveling a lengthy algebraic equation may have lapsed. However, I will always remember the importance of looking at every decision through the lens of Scripture. Every classroom session and every homework assignment was geared towards enabling students to integrate Biblical principles, applying those universal truths for a lifetime.”

My students and colleagues concur with Paul, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether . . . the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3: 21-23).

Dr. Eckel is a prolific writer, engaging speaker, and his WarpandWoof.org website is immensely popular.

[3] Integration of Faith and Learning in the Classroom:

Posing Integrative Questions

 by Harold Heie, Center for Christian Studies, Gordon College

My overarching hope for every Christian teaching scholar to start the process of formulating one good question for one course that you teach.

But, it isn’t any old question that I want you to formulate. It is what I will call an integrative question. That takes a bit of explanation.

The word “integration” is prominent in the stated missions of many Christian colleges; the operative phrase often being “integration of faith and learning.” There are two words in this phrase that beg for careful definitions, the word “faith” and the word “integration.”

First, I am using the word “faith” in its broadest sense as a set of beliefs about the nature of reality and my place in that reality (what some call a “worldview”) and the practices that flow from those beliefs. In that broad sense, each of us has a “faith.” Mine is a “Christian faith”. Others may have a faith that is committed to other religious traditions. Others my have some version of a “secular faith.” But, none of us is “faithless.”

Second, let me address the sense in which I am using the word “integration.” If you ask 10 different faculty members randomly chosen from Christian institutions what the word “integration” means in the phrase “integration of faith and learning,” you are likely to get 10 different answers, at a minimum. And that is not all bad, since the meaning of that phrase is multi-dimensional.

I am using the “integration” word with two interrelated components, what I call “personal integration,” and what I call the “integration of knowledge.”

The first component, “personal integration,” involves helping your students, and yourselves, to be “whole persons”, not disembodied intellects (not what Peter Gomes at Harvard has called “a brain on a stick”). In brief, it involves us becoming persons who think deeply, feel deeply, and live out what we say we believe. To use more lofty terms, it is the wedding of the cognitive, affective, and volitional dimensions of being a person. Or, in more colloquial language, a wedding of the head, the heart and the hands.

The best way for me to approach what I mean by the words “integration of knowledge,” (which will then lead into what I mean by an “integrative question”) is to share briefly a portion of my story.

I came out of graduate school as an entrenched intellectual dualist. I grew up intellectually with two worlds of knowledge that never intersected; an impenetrable wall between them. As a teenager in my home church in Brooklyn (near 33rd Street and 3rd Avenue), I came under the influence of a godly Sunday School teacher whose personal Christian living had an enormous impact on me, inspiring me to immerse myself in Scriptures. I devoured the pages of my Bible as I sought to better understand myself and my confusing world of adolescence. I thereby came to love my first world of knowledge; my world of biblical understanding. As I grew intellectually, this world expanded into my world of biblical and theological understanding (my Christian faith perspective).

During these same years of formation, a second world of knowledge was developing. As I studied first in the natural sciences, and, then later, more informally, in the humanities and the social sciences, I grew to love a second world of knowledge, the knowledge revealed in the academic disciplines.

But, my two worlds of knowledge never met. The excellent secular universities I attended seemed to care little about my Christian faith understanding. And my church was afraid of my academic world of knowledge, possibly fearing that it would contaminate my Christian faith understanding. As a result, my knowledge was hopelessly fragmented, like that of most Christians I knew then, and most Christians I now know, even highly educated Christians and some Christians teaching in college and university settings.

But, I knew that such fragmentation of knowledge was inadequate, although I didn’t have any notion at the time as to how to overcome this fragmentation. It was then like a breath of fresh air to discover that Christian liberal arts colleges were committed, at least on the first few pages of their catalogs, to the distinctive vision of “integrating” my two worlds of knowledge. That was when I knew I would devote my life to Christian liberal arts education, which was the beginning of forty years of service at four Christian colleges.

But, what exactly do I mean when I talk about integrating my two worlds of knowledge? That is a much-disputed question, and I cannot deal here with all the nuances of that debate. But, for my present purposes, let me first give you an example of what I do not mean by the “integration of knowledge”, an example of what my good friend, David Wolfe, has called “pseudo-integration”.

David discovered an article in a denominational periodical that used the following example to explain how teaching mathematics in a Christian day school differs from teaching in a public school: “two plus two is always four…and God is always the same.” That is not an example of the integration of knowledge. Both of these statements may be true (assuming you are counting in base 10, and, possibly, assuming you are not a process theologian). But, to place two truths side-by-side is not integration of knowledge. Coexistence is not integration. I emphasize this because much of what passes for integration at Christian liberal arts colleges is only coexistence, at best. Genuine integration of knowledge takes place when you can demonstrate the integral relationship between two or more truths.

Integration of my two worlds of knowledge means that I “uncover connections” between my two worlds; points at which the insights from each world complement, illuminate and enrich the insights from the other world. But, there is much debate about the nature of this “uncovering”, which I cannot dwell on here. Suffice it to say for my purposes that it is inadequate to think of these two worlds as self-contained. They are actually two sides of the same coin (at least for God if not for my college teachers). So, the “uncovering” I speak of is more like drawing out connections that are already there. Arthur Holmes talks about this as a “reintegration” of a union broken apart in the course of history.

This understanding of the meaning of integration of knowledge is the basis for my definition of an “integrative question” as a question that cannot be addressed adequately without drawing from both one’s faith perspective, and knowledge in the academic disciplines. I have found from my own teaching experience that the pedagogical strategy of posing integrative questions to students, and helping them to address such questions has been an effective way to initiate students into their own quest for the integration of knowledge. Let me illustrate the nature of an integrative question by giving some examples from various academic disciplines.

BIOLOGY:To what extent should genetic engineering be used to enhance human well being?

Consider both poles of this question. At one pole, you need extensive knowledge about matters pertaining to genetic engineering, drawing on academic insights from the disciplines of genetics, bioengineering, and medicine, at a minimum. But, the other pole of the question refers to “human well-being”. Where do we gain out beliefs about what constitutes human well-being? For the Christian scholar, such beliefs are drawn from biblical and theological understanding. For scholars committed to other faiths, religious or secular, their particular “worldviews” will shape their beliefs of what constitutes the well-being of humans. Therefore, a scholar can address this question adequately only by drawing deeply from knowledge in multiple academic disciplines as well as from her particular faith perspective.

SOCIOLOGY/SOCIAL WORK:To what extent are social problems caused by inadequacies in societal structures or by individual or group irresponsibility, or some of both?

Once again, consideration of the nature of societal structures takes one into the academic areas of sociology, social work, politics, economics, and psychology, at a minimum, as does the very meaning of a “social problem”. But, one’s beliefs about what constitutes a social problem is also informed by one’s faith perspective, as is the distinction between behavior that is “responsible” and “irresponsible”. Again, to deal adequately with this question, the scholar, whatever her faith perspective, will have to draw deeply from those beliefs as well as from multiple academic disciplines.

Let me continue by posing a few more integrative questions from a sample of other academic disciplines, without any elaboration.

ENGLISH: What are the similarities and differences in interpreting the biblical text  and interpreting other literature  texts.

POLITICAL SCIENCE: What is the role of forgiveness in international relations?

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: To what extent should the penal system be retributive, or restorative, or both?

FINE ARTS: What are the limits, if any, on the freedom for human creative expression?

HISTORY: How does the doctrine of God’s sovereignty inform, if at all, the writing  of history?

COMPUTER SCIENCE: What are the ethical implications of the use of the internet?

ECONOMICS: What is the relationship between the quest for profitability and the Christian call for compassion and justice?

EDUCATION: What is the relationship between subject-centered  and student-centered teaching pedagogies in light of a Christian perspective on personhood?

PHYSICS: What is the status of models in scientific inquiry, and what are the similarities and differences between the use of models in scientific inquiry and the use of models in theological inquiry? [Ian Barbour, Myths, Models ,and Paradigms]

SPORTS MEDICINE: What are the limits, if any, on allowable means for enhancing athletic performance

COMMUNICATIONS: What is the potential for finding common ground through dialogue when the conversationalists are embedded in different traditions?

RELIGION: What is the relationship between the Creation account given in Genesis 1&2 and scientific findings in geology, astronomy, and biology? [Integration is a 2-way street]

PHILOSOPHY: What is meant by “revelation from God,” and is this an adequate way of knowing?” How is revelation as way of knowing related, or not, to other ways of knowing?

PSYCHOLOGY: Why do “ordinary” people sometimes do  extraordinary evil (e.g., genocide and mass killings)?

ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY Should Christians embrace the  “technological imperative” (if something “can” be done, that is sufficient reason to do it)?

ENGINEERING AND ALL OTHER CHOICES OF VOCATION: Will the “product” or “services” of the vocation I am preparing for foster God’s redemptive purposes for Creation?

I claim that to address adequately any of these “integrative questions” it is necessary for me to uncover integral connections between my two worlds of knowledge: between my Christian faith understanding and knowledge in the academic disciplines.

But a huge question remains: Who cares? Do students really care about these integrative questions? Or, do they only care about the knowledge and skills needed to land that first good job? And, if they don’t care about such integrative questions, how does a good teacher tease them into caring? This is a critical question: What kind of pedagogical strategies can best help students to uncover connections between their faith perspective and knowledge in the academic disciplines?

My pedagogical; suggestion is simple (i. e., simple to state, much harder to do): Wherever possible, start with something students do care about (e.g. a question they might have), and building on that interest, tease them, cajole them, inspire them into caring about questions that are central to the objectives of the course you are teaching, such as the pursuit of important integrative questions.

Let me illustrate this strategy by sharing with you how in my former life as a math professor, I tried to get students seriously to  consider a few integrative questions in Math 101: The Nature of Mathematics, a general education requirement for students not majoring in math or science, a number of whom had trouble adding fractions.

MATHEMATICS:Can the deductive nature of mathematics be used to do Christian apologetics (defend the Christian faith)?

Allow me to elaborate on some of what typically transpired in our collective class consideration of this integrative question, to give you a sense of the kind of dynamics that can take place when considering integrative questions, and to illustrate my pedagogical suggestion of trying to start with something in which the students are interested.

Because I knew that many of these first year students didn’t care a great deal about the nature of mathematics, I sought for a “connection” I could make with something I knew most of them cared about a lot, presenting arguments for the “truth” of Christianity. Therefore, I started the course with a section on symbolic logic, in which students gained competence in testing deductive arguments for validity (arguments that start with initial premises, what mathematicians call axioms, and demonstrate that certain conclusions, called theorems by mathematicians, necessarily follow from the premises). I then posed my integrative question, assigning the reading of an essay by C. R. Verno, titled “Mathematical Thinking and Christian Theology” (Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, June 1968). Verno proposes a presuppositional approach to doing Christian apologetics, in which tenets of Christian theology emerge from certain fundamental assumptions in a manner analogous to the way a mathematician’s theorems are deduced from her axioms. Students were attracted to this presuppositional approach; it seemed to yield such conclusive results.

But I then create some cognitive dissonance in the next class by raising possible objections to this presuppostional approach. By now, the students have learned that the “truth” of a theorem resulting from a valid deductive argument is guaranteed only if all the axioms are true. In that light, how does one demonstrate the truth of the fundamental Christian assumptions? If they are the results of prior deductive arguments, then we have an infinite regress. Are these Christians assumptions self-evidently true? To illustrate a potential problem with that line of thought, I then introduce my own version of a valid deductive cosmological argument for the existence of God, in which the conclusion is “God exists.” Students are impressed (Dr. Heie has just proven that God exists). But, I then ask them to examine the premises in my argument. Are they all true? The students seem to think so. But, I then raise some eyebrows by suggesting that the reason they find the premises to be self-evidently true is because they already believe the conclusion to be true. I then demonstrate how a person not already committed to the Christian belief in the existence of God can reasonably reject as “false” a number of the premises in my argument.  I conclude that a major problem with presuppositional apologetics is that it insulates one’s fundamental Christian assumptions from the possibility of criticism, and also does not take into account the role of experience in making judgments as to the adequacy of any system of thought about the world. Is not such an approach neglecting crucial empirical questions as to whether Christian beliefs do indeed make sense of experience (as I believe they do)?

I have gained the attention of the initially disinterested student. In the process of learning something about the method of the mathematician, students have been initiated into exploring possible connections with their biblical and theological understanding. To generalize from this good teaching experience, I repeat my pedagogical suggestion for initiating students into the exploration of integrative questions in the classroom: Wherever possible, start with questions the students may care about deeply, and building on that initial interest, tease them, cajole them, inspire them into caring about an integrative question that is related to their interests.

Although most of my teaching has involved Christian students, I believe that the pedagogical strategy I propose can be very interesting, and effective, when teaching a class of students who are committed to different faiths, Christian and otherwise. Each student will hold to a set of faith beliefs about the nature of the world and her place in it. Therefore, in dealing with any integrative question, each student should be encouraged to uncover connections between the world of knowledge in the relevant academic disciplines and her particular faith beliefs. The ensuing conversation could be particularly lively when students in the same class bring differing faith beliefs to the table, possibly even leading to fruitful conversation about the differences in these fundamental faith beliefs. This could even provide an opportunity for the Christian teacher or student to talk about the way in which her faith beliefs makes sense of her experience relative to the integrative question being discussed, giving other students a “welcoming space” to do likewise from their particular faith beliefs.

MATHEMATICS:Why should a Christian, or anyone else, do mathematics?

I have posed this question both to first year students who were prospective math majors at Christian colleges, and to senior math majors at these colleges. I still recall one senior math major telling me that he wished he had struggled with this question three years earlier (I sensed that he had second thoughts about his choice of major). I cannot get into the details of our collective struggles with this important integrative question. Suffice it to say that it is a variation of a question that every student should be asking: Is doing mathematics (biology, economics, engineering, music, whatever) important in light of my faith perspective as to what is ultimately important? A related integrative question is: Will the product or services of the vocation I am preparing for foster my faith perspective on what is ultimately important?

Let me conclude by encouraging you to commit yourself to initiating Christian students into the search for connections between the academic disciplines and their faith perspective by posing “integrative questions” and assisting them in their attempts to answer such questions.

Dr. Harold Heie is a Senior Fellow and Founding Director at the Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College and a Senior Fellow at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.  This article is based on a speech given at Tabor University in 2008.


[2] A Standard for Faith-Learning Integration in the Academy

 by Mark Eckel, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Crossroads Bible College

 Abstract: While a plethora of articles and books have been written concerning faith-learning integration, less attention has been paid to the process of how the methodology should take place.  Beyond that, an evaluation of a professor’s integrationist propensities has few works from which to draw.  Beginning with seminal theory in theology, etymology, and pedagogy by faith-learning leaders in the Christian academy, a tentative list of evaluative assessment categories may be deduced.


The bifurcation of claiming a Christian heritage while teaching subjects without Christian authority claims has been widely reported.1 Teachers entering the field of Christian education kindergarten through higher education have had little and certainly incongruent instruction in faith-learning integration.2 Contention over the paucity of faith-learning integration in Christian education as a whole might be understandable if all instructors were being trained solely in pagan institutions.  But Christian higher education struggles with its own lack of coherent, thoroughly Christian thinking in education programs.3 Student teacher programs lack developmental processes to empower new teachers just coming into the classroom (Sumsion).  The necessity of philosophical remediation for the Christian school teacher upon entering the classroom, then, is a necessity (Hagan 39, 48).  If Christian schools truly are to remain Christian institutions, faith-learning integration is to be the alpha and omega distinctive (Beck, Chiareli, Dockery, Holmes Building, Litfin, Poe).

But even if institutions document a clear Christian philosophical groundwork and hire teachers who can practice biblical integration4 in the classroom few evaluative tools exist to establish criteria for the appraisal of faculty competency in faith-learning practice (Hardin).5  Leaders in the faith-learning field have given direction for thoughtful engagement.6  Current literature will suggest baseline theories toward creating a specific, measurable assessment tool for classroom biblical integration in the following overview: (1) theological parameters for creating a foundation of Christian thought; (2) from the theological bedrock definitions of faith-learning integration are suggested; (3) meaning helps toward thoughtful reflection as to how faith informs learning in various disciplines; (4) intentional Christian thought can then possibly influence course construction in rationale, description, syllabi, objectives, synopsis, and ultimately day-to-day instruction; and (5) the process of evaluative criteria for Christian thinking and teaching in the classroom can then be deduced.

Foundation: Theological Parameters

“Integration of any kind can never arise from theological ignorance…Schools often hire faculty with little or no formal training in biblical and theological studies…” (Gangel 76).  Why is it that Christian institutions fall prey to a non-critical, Christian analysis of their disciplines?  Poe suggests “We tend to ignore the philosophy, or the worldview, out of which we operate, largely because we have grown so accustomed to it” (22).  Fragmentation of the academy (131) has caused the need for reminder that not any one discipline can adequately answer life’s questions (29).

Litfin notes the importance of the Christian antithesis by mapping the contrasts in the Corinthian epistles between diametrically opposed statements such as “of God” and “of the world” (184-188).  He suggests Paul’s teaching strategy was not one of dualism but of viewpoint (184).  The Second Corinthians 4:16-18 passage sets the delineations simply: what is seen and what is unseen (182).  Litfin recommits his reader to the other worldly revelatory Truth of God.  Any discussion of faith-learning integration for Litfin begins with a reliance upon revelation; for “faith requires revelation” [emphasis his] (188). As Litfin says later, “Our point here is that biblical faith inherently requires some sort of word from God, the presence of revelation of some sort.  If there is no revelation from God, there can be no faith, no taking God at his word” (194).  He concludes, “The language of faith and learning is simply another way of speaking of what the Apostle calls the worlds of the unseen and the seen” (195).

Following Augustine’s thinking in Soliloquies where he asked, “What do you want to know?” Holmes offers salient theological criteria for Christian epistemology including the eternal, origins, order, authority, reason, language, abstract thinking, and concrete thinking (Building) In addition, Holmes lists three distinguishing presuppositions for Christian higher education: (1) the objectivity of values, (2) the theocentric unity of truth, and (3) the nature of persons (Closing 113).  Epistemological questions are crucial.  Among those Holmes asks are: What are the assumptions currently operative in the various disciplines?  Are they consonant with a Christian view of things?  What is their logical basis?  What are their implications?  “Worldview analysis” belongs in every discipline at the Christian university level (116-117).

Definition: Understanding the Concept of Faith-Learning Integration

Holmes first delineated the strata for contemplating faith and learning in his book The Idea of a Christian College.  Four approaches Holmes suggested were (1) attitudinal, (2) ethical, (3) foundational, and (4) worldviewish (45-60).  Otto (35-37) updates and interprets Holmes’ outline of the four basic approaches to integrating faith and learning (Idea 34-37).

Peterson characterizes the happenstance of integration as knowledge inherently imbued in a Christian worldview.  That knowledge then permeates the presuppositions, perceptions, convictions, refinement, and service of the Christian (103).  The language of integration is said to have been unfortunate, however.  The term suggests forcing together two disparate things rather than seeing the unity of all truth together.  The original design of the word was to encourage a “reintegration” of what had been put asunder (Litfin 128-129).  So, Gangel defines “integration” as “the forming or blending into a whole of everything that is a part of a Christian student’s life and learning” [emphasis his] (viii).  Chadwick declares “Integration is the bringing together the parts into the whole” [emphasis his] (128).  For Beversluis integration is simply “wholeness” (21-22).

Korniejczuk defines integration as “the process of combining separate components into a unified whole.  Faith involves “(a) the truth, (b) a willingness and commitment to obey God, and (c) feelings and emotions in experiencing God.”  Learning helps “students acquire/modify knowledge, attitudes, skills, and other forms of intellectual functioning.”  Integration of faith and learninginfuses “the formal, informal, non-formal curriculum with a God-centered, Christian worldview” (14).

Ream, Beaty, and Lion defined “faith” as “religiously motivated and grounded beliefs and practices of the founding or sponsoring religious community” (351) whereas “learning” meant “the standard academic practices that now constitute the modern university.”  The study focused on “religious influences on the academic mission” (352).

To Holmes “faith” is a response to God whereby the whole person sets out to explore the world’s unity (73).  Nelson makes sure “faith” becomes a verb (319).  Mannoia agrees with the need for active faith: integration must address “real world” problems—a consistent theme in his book (103-104).

After acknowledging few studies have explored faculty views of the faith-learning process, Ream, Beaty, and Lion (353) conclude “faith and learning shared a tenuous relationship in the minds of faculty members at selected religious research universities” (369). While the results spanned the extremes (e.g., complete separation to complete integration), the authors summarize that Christian thinking has some observable influence on campuses (367).

Nonetheless, Wolterstorff decries even the separation of faith and learning, instead vying for “faithful learning”; that is, teaching what is as it is in creation (76-80).  He says, “Faithful scholarship as a whole will be distinctive scholarship…But difference is to be a consequence, not an aim”[emphasis his] (p. 78).  True to the calls for community and pluralism to come, Downing uses the postmodern “imbrication”—overlapping vocabularies shingled around the core of Christian truth—acknowledging various traditions and disciplines in overlapping discourse (41).

Many have taken to remind the academy that limitations exist in faith-learning integration much less in its definition (Schulten).  Agee (9) suggests that discipline specialization and faculty compartmentalization of life inhibits conversations to begin even on campus: fragmentation and lack of collaboration are to blame.

Reflection: How Faith Informs Learning

Given the emphasis on unity of truth, one might rightly ask, “How can any homogenous approach to faith-learning integration be acceptable to disparate disciplines which have their own categories of constraints?”  Poe outlines seven reflective questions, elaborating on each, that every discipline must ask within a Christian context.  The interdisciplinary instrument7 understands that faith is the foundation of all human knowledge, exposing the core concerns of any discipline.  Poe’s questions are as follows: “(1) with what is your disciplines concerned?; (2) what characterizes the methodology of your discipline?; (3) on what other disciplines does your discipline build?; (4) on what values is your discipline based?; (5) over what values within your discipline do members of your discipline disagree?; (6) what is the philosophical basis for your discipline?; (7) when did your discipline come to be taught as a separate discipline within the academy?” (138-154).

Concluding the discussion, Poe makes this insight:

Why take so much time and space in a book that supposedly deals with faith?  Because these are the points at which the issues of faith arise in the pursuit of knowledge.  Faith does not stand opposed to knowledge and scholarship.  It may, however, stand in conflict with some philosophical interpretations of the nature of knowledge and reality” (153).

Robert A. Harris suggests contemplative questions about knowledge that should be asked: (1) Is knowledge discovered or constructed?; (2) Is knowledge limited to what is empirically verifiable?; (3) What is the role of reason in connection with knowledge?; (4) Does truth really matter in the creation of knowledge? (42-43).  Harris’ taxonomy of worldview integration gives the reader the ability to contextualize the knowledge claims, identify the foundations underlying the claim, and seek alternate approaches, interpretations, and claims (250).  Key to Harris’ work is his concern that students identify pre-theoretical assumptions behind any research or theory (258).

Christian teaching should be distinctive, according to Zylstra because “testing the spirits” (e.g. comparing worldview frameworks) is a constant enterprise (98).  Ramm agrees noting the Christian institution “must be expert in diagnosing the unchristian elements in pagan learning” (21).  Hood and Simpson maintain that creating integrative questions helps new teachers to think Christianly.  Broadened horizons include cross-cultural studies (Gill 107-108), extending student perspectives.

The criteria implicit in any worldview show application to life according to Holmes (Truth 121): rational coherence, empirical adequacy, and human relevance.  Succinctly, Van Brummelen says Christian teachers “teach with commitment since they want to teach for commitment” (Steppingstones 10).  Mentoring is a crucial component to faith-affirming education so that faith-based thinking creates lifelong learning agents (Van Brummelen Pursuing).  Van Dyk suggests that teaching Christianly consists of guiding, unfolding, and enabling, focused on a multi-dimensional approach within each person toward faith-learning integration (Curriculum).

As discussed in their Christian Perspectives on Learning, Calvin College has committed itself for years to an interdisciplinary approach to faith-learning integration with a course entitled “Christian Perspectives on Learning.”  Embedded in its explanation of why the course is necessary is the statement “to prepare the student to live the life of faith in contemporary society” (i).  Readings from pagans and Christians, theology and sociology, economy and ethnicity are the basis for reflective thought from a Christian point of view in Calvin’s course.  One of many examples, some Christian colleges are presenting a clear commitment to faith-learning integration with faculty and students on their websites.8

Construction: Course Description, Syllabi, and Instruction

The National Union of Christian Schools, predecessor to Christian Schools International, devised a Course of Study for Christian Schools in 1947 which established first the Christian philosophy of all courses to specific objectives to be accomplished throughout the year.  Since that time, there is no organization or publication that lays out a complete Christian school curriculum plan, though others have advocated the need (Van Til; North; Chadwick) while still more leaders realize curricular change will come through individual teachers (Graham).

Chadwick constructs detailed models of biblical integration beginning with revealed, then discovered truth, to all of life (128-132).  Chadwick maintains that the structure of the discipline (i.e., the principles, concepts, or framework) does not change from Christian to non-Christian instructors (129).

Van Brummelen lays out a full understanding of curriculum development from a decidedly Christian point of reference: everything from orientation, knowledge, learning, planning, to subjects taught.  Accordingly, he asserts, “all of life is religious in nature” (Steppingstones 63) since every aspect of knowledge and life “depends on God’s faithfulness in creating and sustaining the universe” (Steppingstones 37).  Van Brummelen establishes a fourfold approach to curriculum making sure to link thinking and living.  With very specific examples he suggests that teachers, principals, and the whole school community must commit to curriculum which is intentionally Christian.

Holmes proposes the broad range of thinking necessary to teach Christianly:

Integration applies to the presuppositions on which Christian higher education rests, to our institutional and departmental objectives, and to the objectives of my courses as a teacher.  It applies to curricular development and content, and therefore to faculty development, expectations, and programs.  If science is not presuppositionless and learning is not value-free, then integration affects the methodology of the teacher as well as his/her manner with students.  In student development work, Christianity must be integrated with developmental psychology.  The management theories and styles that administrators adopt should be deeply affected by Christian concepts of stewardly service, of equal justice for all, and of love.  All this is but the opening of the Christian mind to what is rightly expected of Christian higher education (112).  Perhaps Wolterstorff’s title speaks for the ultimate goal of course construction: Educating for Responsible Action.

Evaluation: Faith-Learning Criteria for Faculty Development

Faculty course creation in faith-learning integration is dependent upon professional development.  Nwosu composes the rationale, components, and design of such a program toward helping teachers practice faith-learning integration in the classroom.  “But much more than this I see professional development programs as a channel for perpetuating integration of faith and learning in our schools just as the gospel was perpetuated during the days of the apostles” (22).  Mannoia stresses faculty must be allowed to cull their disciplines in continued study (165-188).  The Idea of a Christian College directly requires faculty be enjoined with community purposes, committed values, and common tasks (Holmes 80).  Hodges concedes The Fall inhibits human abilities to know, yet says this is the very reason for peer review in community (135-136).

Mathisen (239) maintains pluralism is an essential component to the process of faith-learning integration within a faculty or inter-university collegiality throughout the disciplines.  Coe offers a model for faculty interface within the university setting.  Collaboration through recruitment, mentoring, and role recognition in the process is key (239).  Masterson agrees citing David Aiken’s work on pluralism at Gordon College relying on a network of religious traditions and gifted individuals (190).  Wuelfing says “living and learning require that we not limit” scholarship to one frame of reference group or source.  Instead, she calls for a “conversational character of dialogue” (39) allowing students to think with rather than acquiesce to uninvolved learning.

Agee directly states, “The best context for a serious faith and disciplines/faith and learning emphasis is within a comprehensive, systematic, and institutionally supported professional development program” (9).  Agee suggests various methods for interdisciplinary engagement including large group presentations by leading thinkers, development of a professional growth contract, faculty developed activities and conversations (10-11).  Fowler encourages a “communal interdependence” where the principal has oversight over the teaching-learning process, encouraging the faith-learning process (117).

“The ultimate test of the human capacity to integrate faith and learning relates to the degree to which people are able to allow the principles and the truths they have internalized to inform their daily practice” (Matthews and Gabriel 33).  Authentic praxis includes students’ ability to apply theories and principles toward solving community problems.  Further, students discover faith-consistent lives through teachers who model faith-learning in their person (34).  Students’ views of the restorative process given to humans by God are benefited when teachers show the cohesiveness of all things (36).  Alumni assessment could be a marker toward measuring the effectiveness of faith-learning integration.  While many limitations may inhibit precision responses from graduates, a continuum of Christian thinking and living may be perceived from such studies (Presnell).

Lawrence, Burton, and Nwosu studied student responses to integration of faith and learning discovering that while students recognized Christian principles in the teaching, the transfer to student learning did not necessarily take place (43).  In addition to Holmes’ four approaches, Burton and Nwosu contend that a fifth—pedagogical—be advanced as a crucial component in faith-learning evaluation (107).  Student attribution of Christian principles in the classroom greatly depends upon class atmosphere and learning methodologies which engage student interaction (Lawrence, Burton, and Nwosu 47).  Responses to the questionnaire used in the study begin to create evaluation markers: faith used as a foundation for learning; incorporating Christian views into the teaching; comparison of spiritual things in a subject area; teacher treatment of students reflects a faith commitment in teaching; seeing connections to instruction and future vocation; and exercises linking the academic discipline with Christian behavior (27-43).

While it has been suggested that faculty cross-disciplinary groups meet to discuss connection of studies to Scriptural analysis, having students write papers utilizing integration activities would be a profound pedagogy to engage young minds (Gustafson, Karns, and Surdyk 14)

Knowlton concurs that students owning ideas through discovery learning better understand connections between faith and learning (40-41).  Further, Knowlton’s narrative gives corroboration to Burton and Nwosu’s contention that a pedagogical grid must be seminal to the approach any integrationist professor uses.  Utilizing a constructivist learning theory, Knowlton concludes that both peer and self evaluations are necessary for students to accrue faith-learning understanding (52).  Holmes declares that the biblical word for knowledge is “to know for oneself, to interiorize what is learned” [emphasis his] (Truth 36).  Thinking and valuing affect a person’s projects (117).  Teachers must teach students how to practice integration (Gangel xi).

Chiareli contends that the principle outcome of Christian integrative social science teaching “is active and reflective, and thus valuably praxis based” (260-261).  The formation of future leaders via a Christian vocational perspective should be the future result (261).  And so it is that transformational learning has been acknowledged as the Christian educational model to pursue (Wilhoit; Fogarty, Perkins, and Barell; Richards and Bredfeldt).

Using the foundations, definitions, and reflections noted by faith-learning leaders from the academy noted above, a cursory, elementary listing of important assessment areas may be deduced:

1. Content of theological foundations should be in evidence including assumptions (Wolterstorff; Holmes Building) and knowledge (Holmes Closing).

2. Communication of the content through the professor should be in evidence including worldview comparison (Harris), pedagogy (Nwosu and Burton), discovery learning (Knowlton), and faith-learning writing assignments (Gustafson, Karns, and Surdyk).

3. Conduct of the professor in the classroom should be in evidence including professorial behavior (Matthews and Gabriel), safe classroom environment for discussion (Wuelfing), and student evaluation (Burton and Nwosu).

4. Continuance of teaching to learning should be in evidence including self evaluation (Poe), peer cooperation (Hodges; Ream, Beaty, and Lion), mentoring (Van Dyk; Van Brummelen Steppingstones), study groups (Nwosu 24-26), alumni surveys (Pressnell), and lifelong student learning (Van Brummelen Pursuing).

5. Collaboration with colleagues should be in evidence including administration expectation (Van Brummelen The Curriculum), and learning communities (Willimon and Naylor).

A Practical Application for the Classroom

Transition from curriculum to classroom, from professor to student, from analysis to synthesis, from memorization to ownership is the key to putting faith-learning scholarship into practice.  There is a need to encourage Christian faculty thoughtfulness through process and practice which can in turn prompt biblically integrative thinking in their students becoming markers of professorial evaluation.  Below are preliminary ideas in gaining traction for appraisal of faith-learning integration in the classroom.

A five-fold outline could direct faith-learning integration competencies from a Christian perspective: (1) identification of Scripturally erroneous powers, premises, and practices in the contemporary culture; (2) interpretation of pagan belief from a Christian perspective; (3) inductive study of Scripture as a basis for assessment of others’ faith systems; (4) interaction with current issues and icons in written as well as oral formats; and (5) investment in the tools necessary for students to make faith-learning integration in whatever their vocation, a lifelong practice.  Because we live in an age bombarded by media, a class could study both Scripture and culture in order to develop discerning Christian young people.  Film clips, musical selections, TV news, advertisements, video games and internet sites would be engaged preparing Christian students to become cultural apologists.9  Non-Christian professors, articles, and groups should also be examined based through a Scriptural lens.

A cursory rubric follows, enabling professors to be more specific in their quest for valid assessment based on numbers one and two in the outline above.  In this way, student work in faith-learning integration might be more objectively directed while demonstrating an instructor’s own faith-learning integration prowess for evaluative purposes in the academy.

Elucidation of Truth

What biographical information exists about the thinker, author, or creator of the example being studied giving background to their worldview development?

Are there pieces of true Truth to be found in the unbeliever’s writing?

What creational norms are used which depend upon a transcendent source of truth to make the person’s argument?

Is the nature or definition of the subject unconsciously built on a Christian perspective?

Exposure of Error

What assumptions conflict with Christian truth?

What systems of thought or worldview teaching affected the approach?

What objectives contribute to anti-Christian understanding?

What epistemological constructs create meaning for the approach?

Does the writing suggest an ethical neutrality in research?  Explain.

Elaboration of Experts

Is there an outside analysis of the subject from a different viewpoint?

What is the worldview of the experts?

Has the educational establishment reviewed the material?

Are the experiments, evaluations, or applications designed objectively?

Evaluation of the Presentation

Is there bias in (1) selection (e.g., word choice, purpose, omission) or (2) interpretation (e.g., tone, experience, personal/political agenda, statistical manipulation, conflict of interest) of the data.

What methods have been selected for discovery of information?  Is there a philosophy that drives the person choosing the methods?  Is one methodology used more than another?  If so, why?

What are the credentials of the author(s)?  Are they experts in their field?  Are they addressing the field in which they work?  What institutions have influenced their thinking?

What is the scope of the appraisal?  Should more sources have been consulted?  How is the investigation limited in any way?  How might the study then skew results?

How does the writing, creation, study, etc. correlate with the Christian view of reality in the following components?

Philosophy: foundation and purpose

Data: information or knowledge discovered

Outcomes: results or production

Scope/Sequence: the order or absence of any material

Objectives: presuppositions in the study

Myriad other questions can be offered to prompt the process moving students and professors alike toward faith-learning integration.  Perhaps this brief list will initiate Christian contemplation in dialogue, collaboration, and creation of documents for Christian higher education evaluation.


Trueblood’s early call for Christian scholarship (79) has been echoed through the summons of multiple volumes since.  If Schwehn’s critique of the modern research university is correct, academy ethos must be reordered from self-fulfillment toward student character creation (88).  Truly integrated Christian persons will then offer hope to a world as their vocations impact culture for the good based upon foundations found in The Gospel story (Newbigin 232).

William C. Spohn encourages Christian university professors to “look to the affections, the deep dispositions of the heart” to change their character by “active engagement with God and the world” (249).  It seems the life-long evaluation of faith-learning integration begins within the Christian faculty member, conditioned by The Holy Spirit (Van Dyk Craft 109), who then, in turn, participates in weaving the internal fabric of the students (Garber)


1 “Faculty are not automatically equipped to teach in an integrated manner because they have graduated from a Christian college or seminary.  Unfortunately, there are very few Christian graduate schools that teach the concept of integration…” (Johnson xvi-xxi).

2 Benne (28-33) argues that both Enlightenment and postmodern paradigms in higher education have created curriculum and ethos that mitigate against the Christian mindset, thus ensuring graduates from these programs will be inundated by pagan philosophies and methodologies.  While celebrating the benefits of some institutions such as Wheaton in their intentional faith-learning faculty training, most schools are “hit-and-miss” when it comes to consistency in developing faculty mindset (i.e., Valparaiso, 138-139).  Harvey and Dowson concur that new teachers in K-12 Christian schools are, for the most part,unsure of how to integrate “their faith with their teaching practice” coming out of their universities.  Nwosu says the same integrative principles apply in both K-12 and university levels (23).

3 Patterson reports that the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) has retreated from faith and learning integration as a key distinctive.  A recent revision of the CCCU mission statement now contains the phrase “faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth” (54).

4 The phrase “faith-learning integration” is generally used in contexts of Christian higher education.  “Biblical integration” is the nomenclature most recognized in Christian K-12 settings.  Since the essence of definition remains synonymous the phrases will be used interchangeably in this paper.

5 For the question in the survey, “Do you have a formal mechanism or process for insuring that faith is integrated into your teacher education program?” two out of thirteen responded in the affirmative.  For the question, “Do you have a process in place for evaluating the impact of faith-based teacher education preparation for your graduates?” one out of thirteen said ‘yes.’  The Nehemiah Institute has been using a test for worldview competency for a decade.  Critics charge, however, that the instrument is biased toward a politically conservative, American way of thinking.

6 Leaders who have set the baseline of thought for faith-learning integration include Larry D. Burton, David Dockery, Frank Gaebelein, Kenneth O. Gangel, William Hasker, Arthur Holmes, Constance C. Nwosu, et al.

7 Poe cautions that these questions have not been used in serious research and offer qualitative rather than quantitative analysis (138).

8 Various institutions of Christian higher learning provide links for faith and learning integration on their sites.  Examples include Baylor University (www.baylor.edu/ifl), Gordon College (www.gordon.edu/), Palm Beach Atlantic University (www.pba.edu/), and Missouri Baptist University (www.mobap.edu/).

9 Taken from Mark Eckel, “Practicing the Craft of Cultural Apologist,” http://www.biblicalintegration.com/ezine/sept2005/0905_2.php

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Evangelical colleges and universities: An alumni assessment model.  Ed. D. Dissertation, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, 1994.

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Spohn, William C.  “Finding God in all things: Jonathan Edwards and Ignatius Loyola.”  Finding God in all things: Essays in honor of Michael J. Buckly. S. J. Eds. Michael J. Himes and Stephen J. Pope.  New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996.

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Van Brummelen, Harro.  “The Curriculum: Developing a Christian View of Life.” Christian Schooling: Education for Freedom. Ed. Stuart Fowler.  Potchefstroom, South Africa: Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, 1990. 169-190.

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Dr. Mark Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College.  This article was reprinted with permission from Intégrité: A Journal of Faith and Learning 6:2 (Fall 2007): 15-28.

[1] Beyond Constructivism: Exploring Grand Narratives and Story Constructively

by E. Christina Belcher, Associate Professor of Education, Redeemer University College

Preface: The influence of constructivism

Constructivist principles are embedded in the educational theory of John Dewey and social behaviorism (as found in the work of Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner), social learning theory (as noted in the work of Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Jean-Jacques Rousseau), and action research (which finds its voice in the philosophical work of Kenneth Gergen, Karl Marx (critical theory) and, although lesser known in the Canadian context, Pierre Bourdieu). Currently, educators are moving beyond viewing constructivism as ‘a process or methodology of teaching’ to recognizing it as inherent in varied disciplines of postmodern phenomenology. This includes research in the areas of discourse (MacLure, 2003), Bourdieuian methodology (Mills & Gale, 2007), and the problematizing of knowledge (Moore, 2007).

As a professor working in Christian Higher Education, I have observed differences in students educated from different educational ‘fields’ – public or private – and have identified patterns based on what students believe education is for. Many of these patterns mirror the constructivist teaching they had experienced prior to university. Since the majority of students coming into the education program have been ‘schooled’ publicly, they may be Christians in faith yet be thoroughly unprepared to discuss educational perspectives, public or private, in Christian Higher Education. Even the title of this paper, ‘Beyond Constructivism: Exploring Grand Narratives and Story Constructively,’may suggest different understandings to the reader. Does the word constructively refer to constructivism, the pedagogical act of constructing ways of imparting content information in a particular discipline, such as language arts?  Or does the word constructively refer to exploring story and language in ways that are constructive to different perspectives and over-arching narratives? For the purposes of what you are now reading, the answer is not either/or, but both.

Constructivism in education is becoming a preferred pedagogical process and an emerging instructional meta-narrative, assisted by the language and terms that define it. Thus, my definition of constructivism will differ from definitions seen in educational textbooks. I define constructivism for the purpose of this chapter as follows:

Constructivism is an interdisciplinary and religious view of teaching and learning that uses language and story as a means to promote and deliver critique in a specific way and for a specific end, resulting in an overarching educational meta-narrative.

I shall expand on this definition as I discuss the two themes that have emerged from my own professional practice as an educator over the last couple of decades.

–The first theme ‘constructivism, knowledge and wisdom’ considers the impact of defining language in relation to philosophical and pedagogical foundations within a liberal arts education and explores ‘disequilibrium’ in philosophy and faith.

–The second theme ‘constructivism creates a new way of interpreting story, and a new way of being or not being a child’ considers the use of modern and postmodern story and the intentionality of teaching from a biblical worldview.

The pearly gates of constructivism

The first theme ‘constructivism, knowledge and wisdom’ considers the impact of defining language in relation to pedagogy within a liberal arts education and explores philosophy and faith perspectives.  Education is driven not only by language, but also by intent. This realization can be noted in this quote from Neil Postman’s book, The End of Education.

What makes public schools public is not so much that the schools have commo goals, but that the students have common gods. The reason for this is that public education does not serve a public.  It creates a public. And in creating the right kind of public, the schools contribute toward strengthening the spiritual basis of the American Creed. This is how Jefferson understood it, how Horace Mann understood it, how John Dewey understood it. And, in fact, there is no other way to understand it. The question is not Does or doesn’t public schooling create a public? The question is What kind of public does it create?(Postman, 1995, pp. 17, 18; [italics in original])

Postman notes that ‘isms’ or cultural narratives (which he terms gods with a small g), rely on ‘cultural language’ that incorporates broad, culturally accepted principles. As these principles become popular, they become accepted and revised (often uncritically) as grand narratives, or large communal stories which eventually emerge within pedagogy. From a revised pedagogical story, educational instruction in any discipline can be delivered. Postman’s book presents narratives as an avenue which could lead the public into new ways of thinking, educating and being human.

In one sense, this idea of narratives constructing and reconstructing reality is at the heart of constructivism. To accept constructivism without thought would assume that it has no intent behind the theory, which is not true. Because of this, the first thing one must consider about constructivism is the assumptions that underpin it.

Constructivist preferences and Christian preferences are not the same. Different language embodies different perspectives. Different educational fields produce different ‘stories’ or grand narratives about education which are not always taken seriously.   N. T. Wright (1996) reminds us of this when he says:

In our modern culture, we sometimes imagine that stories are kids’ stuff: little illustrations, while abstract ideas are the real thing.  So Jesus’ stories, people say, were just “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning”, but that’s rubbish!  Stories are far more powerful than that.  Stories create worlds.  Tell the story differently and you change the world.  And that’s what Jesus aimed to do… People in Jesus’ world knew that stories meant business; that stories were a way of getting to grips with reality. (p. 36)

Differences between a constructivist and a Christian perspective can be explored in regard to what Kieran Egan ((2002); Egan & Judson (2008)) describe as ‘binary opposites’. Binary opposites can be understood as theoretical systems of meaning that fundamentally organize philosophy, language and culture to reveal paradox or polarity. The binary opposites explored in this chapter are between Western humanist philosophy and other theoretical views.

In the subsequent paragraphs I explore binary opposites arising from definitions and understandings that have been compiled from student responses and conversations. In the first interactive session of one core course which I teach annually, I question students about their definitions and understanding of key words essential to the task of teaching and learning from cultural and Christian perspectives, and we then chart the responses. The key words used in this exercise are knowledge, experience, constructive learning, assessment, student, teacher and story. I chose these key words because they are prolific in course text books in teacher education. The chart used here includes the most common answers provided from my personal teaching experience over twelve years to form the content of figure 1. From this, the themes for this paper have emerge.

In the first column of the chart, definitions flow from cultural experience and formerly ‘schooled’ understandings of these terms prior to this course. In the second column of the chart, the definitions flow from a Biblical understanding of these same concepts. The results are then compared and discussed in light of educational perspectives that may be otherwise left unconsidered.

The following pages explore student understanding of key terms related to a Constructivist and a Christian perspective. Granted, there are many perspectives, but I have selected the broadest binary opposites for this paper. These observations will then be discussed in the context of grand narratives. Grand narratives are sometimes referred to in current public educational texts as ‘worldviews’, which are seen as common cultural preferences or lenses from which knowledge is viewed [1]. (Naested, Potvin, & Waldron, 2004). Christian institutions also use the word ‘worldview’ to explain what Postman (1995) has called grand narratives and their perspectives. David Naugle notes:

[The concept of] worldview offers … a fresh perspective on the holistic nature, cosmic dimensions, and universal applications of faith. Plus, the explanatory power, intellectual coherence, and pragmatic effectiveness of the Christian worldview make it exceedingly relevant for believers personally, but also establish a solid foundation for vigorous cultural and academic engagement.  (2002, pp. 4, 5)

For the purposes of this paper, the term grand narratives will be used rather than the term worldview. It is helpful to remember that the boundaries between public and Christian grand narratives are not ‘pure.’ What I mean by pure is that it would be rare to find anyone who only expresses the definitions of one side of the chart. There are variances. It is also prudent to remember that perceptions for figure 1were founded in the youthful responses of early university students entering an Education program at a private liberal arts institution, and were in many ways representative of an non-critiqued or unexplored educational imprint – regardless of whether this educational imprint was public, Catholic, private, home, or Christian.

Theories do not teach; people do. It is in relational activity and spirited discussion that students explored and became aware of educational narratives and their perspectives.  In the following figure 1, the words in italics are the student definitions. The normal font explains what the students think is the consequence, or long term perspective, of this definition. The chart was compiled in the first third of a course that introduced topics of teaching, learning and philosophy which followed a course on introduction to the teaching profession.

Figure 1.1: Language, definition and binary opposites within fields of educational teaching and learning

Educational Term

Common cultural definitions

Common Scriptural definitions

Knowledgeand teaching Knowledge comes from experience, personal interest and from knowing the political and vocational expectations for teaching. To teach is to partake in a vocation. Knowledge involves skill that results in individual success or employment within a global society as outlined in educational ministry documents.  Knowledge comes from knowing God, knowing oneself and being known by God. To teach is to fulfill a call to serve God and man truthfully in whatever vocation you are in by deed and word. Knowledge is folly without wisdom. Wisdom unites truth, understanding and knowledge to ‘further what is good and repress what is evil’ within community for God’s glory and for the benefit of the next generation.
Experience and learning  Experience is part of an individual journey of learning from mistakes.Personal life experiences form the basis for skill acquisition and further learning. Experience is how life equips someone to learn to become mature in order to become more like the character of Jesus.Life experience assists wise decision making when considering consequences to the individual and to community.
Constructive learning Constructive learning builds upon individual learning. Constructive learning moves from the known to the unknown in cognitive, social and behaviorist domains from educational psychology and philosophy taught in teacher education programs. Constructive learning equips a person in character development so he/she may use learning wisely to serve others. To be a constructive member of society requires learning from experience mentally, physically and spiritually in ways that result in becoming a wise and mature servant leader.
Assessment In assessment individuals are evaluated and ranked for future advancement in a profession. Assessment considers the ways in which cognitive knowledge has been understood in graded classroom contexts in accordance with assessment rubrics, evaluations or models. Assessment is only of value if coupled with integrity, humility, and justice in our walk with God and others. Assessment involves the way in which learned skills are embodied over time based on what is done with what has been learned, and the outcomes and consequences of such application.
Educational Term Common cultural definitions Common Scriptural definitions
Student A student is a member of society enrolled in an educational institution. A student is facilitated by a teacher and gains the required learning outcomes valued in current society. A student ‘studies’ in order to become wiser. A student is mentored by a teacher in order to be a wise steward in living life within community before and in relationship with God.
Teacher A teacher is someone who teaches something. A teacher designs pedagogy and facilitates curricular knowledge that is valued by culture and society as outlined in educational textbooks and other media. A teacher is a ‘professor’ of belief who leads from behind, and develops a love of wisdom and learning in others.A teacher is a mentor, who desires to reconcile God and man in scholarly knowledge and lifestyle.
Story and educational example  A story is a myth or tale to be individually explored and enjoyed. A cultural representation of experience written in story form for the interpretation of the reader. Story is mostly about the interpretation of the recipient or revision of it by the teacher (Johnson, 1999). A story describes a way of sharing language as ‘living history’ that gets to grips with reality.Story is a relational dance (Palmer, 1998) between teller, who has a reason for the story, and recipient, who engages with the life of the teller.

A grand narrative with the individual being central to knowledge undergirds column 1. This is juxtaposed with a Christian grand narrative in column 2.

If each column in the above chart is read in a linear manner, it is evident that each column suggests a different context foundational to future pedagogy. The implementation of such pedagogy may result in a different kind of teacher or student. In the current cultural public grand narrative, the knowledge that is valued in constructivism is content based. It is largely pragmatic, subjective, and relativistic in scope. Because of its pragmatic, subjective and relativistic nature this type of knowledge is the kind that one can ‘assent’ to without needing to believe it.

However, from a Christian grand narrative, Parker Palmer (1993) notes that the truth must be done to be known; to educate requires creating a space to explore what truth is and how one can live in obedience to it. This expectation is linked to the wisdom literature of the Bible, which is not the same as knowledge from a Constructivist perspective. A Christian is called to not only ‘assent’ to knowledge, but to embody that knowledge in wise ways coherent with Biblical faithfulness and precepts that mirror the character of Christ. Because the second column focuses on ‘intent,’ while the first column focuses on ‘content,’ it leads to a more embodied than intellectual view. Addressing this view of ‘embodied’ knowledge, Eisner (2002) identifies that learning is to be more than cognitive:

Teachers have what some call lived experience (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988). The body is now considered a source of understanding: Some things you can understand only through your ability to feel. Knowledge, at least a species of knowledge, has become embodied. It is intimate (p. 381).

Bev Norsworthy (2008) adds to this understanding in her doctoral thesis, in reference to the belief that theory , epistemology and practice can never be separated. Bullough (2008) supports this view when he states:

However, viewed from a Biblical epistemological perspective, theory and practice can never be separated. Theory must be done, that is, practiced to be known. The known and the knower are inextricably intertwined and related. The knowledge and actions within teaching are both expressions of self (p. 52)

Both sides of figure 1 contain ‘truths’ about education which flow from different starting points. Adherents value some more than others in accordance with their larger grand narrative which underpins the definitions. Educational theory is delivered not only rationally, but also relationally, and any teacher, based on his/her personal worldview and spiritual life decisions, may implement any perspective of the chart above. 

Exploring disequilibrium

Nicholas Wolterstorff (2002) urges Christians to be ‘lovingly dissatisfied’ with life in ways that create disequilibrium in the world. The Christian mind and the thinking of society generally are not in step in many areas. It is not hard to see in Figure 1 that Christian definitions and perspectives in a postmodern context could create such a concept of disequilibrium; but the opposite is also true. It must be remembered that people habitually fail to live fully in either perspective. Just as there are binary opposites, there are also similarities and places for common ground. There are aspects of Constructivism that Christians condone.

Harro Van Brummelen (2009), a Christian theorist, would agree with constructivists’ argument that children are unique and come with various gifts and talents that should be nurtured. A teacher’s attention to recognizing and encouraging the gifts in every child is important, and should be included in the direction given in the classroom. Disequilibrium arises when the desired ‘knowledge’ or cognitive acquisition that the student will achieve is assumed to flow from individual experiential activity, be it facilitated or directed.

This direction is not to be confused with teacher knowledge being imposed upon the active learner, but rather with teacher design for learning. Since in constructivism, the individual student is the centre of learning, it is possible that what the student knows or experiences could, in practice, be valued above what the teacher knows or more significantly, what the student needs to know. Nurturing and developing gifts is a triadic relational activity for the Christian (person, God and community of faith) not a solo enterprise. The teacher is key here; for from teacher intentionality, instruction flows.

Both Christians and Constructivists would be in agreement that students should enjoy, be creative, and be active in learning – wonderful motivation for any learner in the classroom.  Disequilibrium may arise if a focus on process, (the means), is viewed as being more important than learning (the end). Just because students appear to be engaged does not mean that learning is occurring. Seasoned educators can attest that happy activity does not ensure learning, no matter how ‘progressive’ the activity may be. In looking at the process and not the person, people become ‘thing-ified’, that is they are seen as ‘grades’ (national testing) rather than humans who are hopefully learning over time to become better human beings from their learning experiences. If the end is intellectual knowledge and information, students may identify their worth by ‘the grade’ they acquire. The temptation to cut and paste information or ‘purchase’ papers is evidence of ‘thing-ifying’ knowledge.

Practice and problem solving (also often termed ‘critical thinking’) are valued processes in Constructivist and Christian practice. In Constructivism, the old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ may come into play – but in my experience, practice does not make ‘perfect’. Practice makes ‘permanent’. Practice reinforces patterns, attitudes and dispositional preferences (including grand narratives) for learning, but does not ensure that the learning or ‘knowledge’ acquired will be meaningful or long lasting. It is possible that the opposite could be true. Problem solving/critical thinking is incorporated within the process of constructive learning, but certain kinds of thinking are valued over others: especially when these concepts relate to science, math, technology and multiculturalism or current issues in culture. From a Christian perspective, problem solving only for the purpose of critique is not really good problem solving. Christians are to discern every thought:

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

In conclusion, the first theme ‘constructivism, knowledge and wisdom’ considers the impact of defining language in relation to pedagogy within a liberal arts education and explores ‘disequilibrium’ in the binary opposites of philosophy and faith. In implementing binary opposites as a lens for understanding constructivism’s view of knowledge and the biblical concept of wisdom, one can implement the positive aspects of each view constructively. This is needed in order to embrace a fully human educational model for practice where wisdom and humanity, head and heart, become part of learning and teaching.

From Grand Narrative to Meta – Narrative

All teaching is religious, since God is either excluded or included ‘religiously’. A grand narrative for approaching teaching and learning emerges from that decision. Emerging grand narratives, over time, can become adopted as meta-narratives for educational practice. In so doing, these meta-narratives may drive pedagogical decision making

Meta-narratives are the large, overarching stories that guide us morally, ethically, intellectually and relationally in life, and are spiritual in nature. A meta-narrative emerges when philosophical perspectives become intentionally verbalized and brought to active engagement as a directive in the act of teaching and learning. This act of teaching and learning is then considered via what post-structural sociologist Pierre Bourdieu termed as epistemic reflexivity[2].

Christians are urged to move away from childish thinking and to think maturely, in alliance with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 13:11; Romans 12:1, 2). Part of maturity is the ability to consider concepts such as hope, consequences and resolution to future problem solving, while also considering a past, present and future reality (Belcher, 2005). Such considerations also apply to understanding the current use of story in the classroom.

Constructivism: The emergence of change in the art of story

The second theme ‘constructivism creates a new way of interpreting story, and a new way of being or not being a child’ considers the use of modern and postmodern story and the intentionality of teaching from a biblical worldview.

The link between constructivism and postmodern philosophy has greatly influenced the use and interpretation of story in the classroom over the last decade[3]. This movement is not confined to North America. The works of those who further constructivism in designing teaching curriculum, educational text books and research often use a story format to expose their findings. This can be seen in the work on multiple readings of a picture book (Johnson, 1999); the development of multiple meanings within narrative (Rosen, 1985); and the work on narrative as social consciousness (Owens & Nowell, 2001). Such research is based on the idea of constructed or revisionist knowledge. Consideration of story and philosophy engages us in the next theme for this chapter.

Of all of the changes that have occurred since the rise of Constructivism as a pedagogical methodology, none, in my thinking, is more apparent than that of the approach to and use of story. It is in this area, the area of language arts, that new methods often have profound effects. I suggest that one key tool for opening constructivism to conversation beyond its perspective is the use of the picture book as an instructional device. Much has been written on the use of children’s picture books in literature, but I will broadly examine picture books as they relate to ‘story’ in general

When I was a child, the modern story was the norm. Modern story could be (and still can be) identified by certain patterns or practices. The modern story has a beginning, middle and end. It flows logically and has a resolution to any key problem. It focuses on character and consequences. It moves from left to right across the page, and the pictures usually reinforce or add confirmation to the story. The reader knows that there is a message, and that the author intends to tell the story so that the message can be understood. Examples of popular modern story would be The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1992) or The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. (1957). Modern picture books are traditional in that they tell stories that the ‘common citizen’ can understand. They present a story around which to unite community. Modern story provides hope in difficulty. For the modern story, story matters. It shapes citizens because authors know that stories mean business and that readers are touched and shaped by what they read.

Postmodern story brings another view to young readers[4]. This type of story is not linear, and does not necessarily flow from beginning, middle to end – nor does it need to end at all. Where modern story has a familial and communal context, postmodern story is usually about an individual or ethnic or social group and it can simultaneously pose a multitude of problems (and it becomes acceptable to do so even if in a rude, aggressive or degenerate manner) which do not need to be solved at all.  No moral or ethical voice is present. Each individual reader interprets the story out of the context of past or current personal experience or interest. Political or social interests are often included to drive the cause of the day home to young readers.

Postmodern picture books also feature themes of despair in a broken world; themes that used to be found in adult reading. There is a disappearance of childhood as it was formerly known in pre-modern and modern story books. Postmodern narratives can be dark and not very comforting as bedtime stories. The reader is presented with more visuals and less print; more fear and less innocence; more chaos and confusion and less joy. Examples of popular postmodern picture books are Black and White by David Macaulay (1990) or The Red Tree by Sean Tan (2003).

In my educational experience with postmodern literature, I suggest that most benefit emerges when discussion in community occurs. Regrettably, I have noted that this does not often happen in the reality of the public schoolroom. Postmodern visuals can be complex and disturbing, and children often read independently for periods of time and are thus left to construct their own meaning without any mention of morality, truth, or character formation. Beyond grade 4, I have noted in practicum visits to classrooms that less time is given to reading orally to a class and discussing that reading unless it is part of a novel study which then incorporates student led literature circles for discourse or activity.

A postmodern, constructivist educator may not like to suggest a view or personal opinion on an emerging mind, in a relative world where being ‘politically correct’ is valued. Cultural issues or themes of the day in postmodern story are often grasped by adults but can be either missed or misconstrued by children. Text and visual often do not tell the same story. Teachers in the classroom may like to ‘teach’ using these stories, but may not have had time to think about how this could be done. Many are too busy coping with the daily tyranny of the urgent.

Has Pandora’s Box opened us to a different kind of story, or to the formation of a different kind of child – or the removal of childhood altogether? Some critics believe all of the above, and state in internet chat rooms that the influence of graphic novels and internet blogs will soon triumph over the comfort of the storybook.  So what is a teacher to do? Does any of this actually matter? Is there any good in the constructivist view that could be used to unwrap postmodern children’s literature – and if so, what is it?

There are many positive aspects to implementing the common ground and strengths of constructivist theory within the use of modern and postmodern picture books. Examining stories for their presentation of culture, worldview and character development as this relates to issues of life for students is enriching. The themes of postmodern literature also involve ‘dark’ areas which are best discussed within a community of care, especially as these relate to areas of social justice. The open-ended endings of postmodern literature also help readers to decide what they value, and where they prefer endings to be happy and hopeful – and why. Postmodern books give readers an opportunity to think and develop a voice as they navigate texts written in the context of the cultural experience of the picture book’s author. In so doing, a community of learners could be able to consider the consequences of story to real life over time, which is valuable. Attention could be paid to the language that the story includes or excludes, and the feelings that the story evokes.

In community, a teacher and students could engage in discussion about things that may be troubling or feared. This could lead to considering the things that may trouble others. Story can be explored beyond the individual to the communal stage without leaving the individual to construct meaning independently. Discussion in the form of a grand conversation with others, which is advised, can include a ‘teacher perspective’ to help students consider how and why to respect different points of view, to understand different cultures and to discern propaganda from reality. Such discussion may even be opened to exploring worldviews. In doing so, it is possible to learn that people are not to be known only for how they differ, but for how they are the same.

There are cautions regarding postmodern literature. Certain texts may induce fear, chaos or diminish the purpose and hope of life. The writing may also evidence mediocrity in skill and communication, as evidenced in graphic novels, although engaging comparative texts of the same story from different decades is useful in such cases. Students (or the teacher) may fear speaking about anything moral or ethical due to legal or politically correct consequences. However, it has been my experience that students actually expect and prefer teachers to have an opinion on something, or else, what is a teacher for? How does one learn to have an opinion if it is never modeled or discussed?


Constructivism is an interdisciplinary and religious view of teaching and learning that uses language and story as a means to promote and deliver critique in a specific way and for a specific end, resulting in an overarching educational meta-narrative.

In the final theme of this paper, ‘constructivism creates a new way of interpreting story, and a new way of being or not being a child’, opportunity is provided to engage the philosophy and perspective of the stories one tells within context and across time. As N. T. Wright’s quote reminded the reader: Tell the story differently and you change the world. In some postmodern stories, we do have a new type of reader – not the child of innocence, but the child of doubt and critique. But not all stories portray such a child.  Engagement about constructivism from a Christian grand narrative in the training of future educators for teaching is both transformative and engaging when educators intentionally discuss definitions and presuppositions about constructivism and story in ways that promote discourse and communal understanding.

Picture books are worldview tools for opening up binary opposites over decades, and creating communal discourse in the act of teaching and learning. Talking about or giving assent to linking theory and practice is wasted unless it is actually implemented in community and the reasons for doing so are expressed. There is a way of de/re-constructing pedagogy and postmodern story to see its grand narratives perspectives and values. There is a way of looking at story over time to consider the consequences of actions, not just to the individual, but to society as a whole. There is a way to consider the philosophic contours and meta-narratives that undergird wise and foolish decision making for pedagogical practice. Engaging these ideas with picture books will allow educators to open up communal conversations necessary to discerning life and living in current culture. More research is needed here.

God does not fear or become disillusioned by ‘isms’- humanism, constructivism, postmodernism – or culture. All ‘isms’ eventually become ‘wasims’ as they are replaced by other educational theories and philosophies. Christians who are called to teach have an opportunity to ‘constructively’ stand in the gap by fostering exciting and engaging discourse. Seize the day.


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[1] Mary Poplin, who became a Christian while within the public university system, notes in her book Finding Calcutta (2009), that from a Christian one can understand any other worldview; but no other worldview will help to understand the Christian one.

[2] This term is further explained in Maton (2003) in light of Pierre Bourdieu’s epistemic conditions and in Moss (2005) in understanding epistemic reflexivity as it applies to education. Epistemic reflexivity can be understood as similar to what educational texts and research define as reflective practice but with the additional consideration of the importance of the structuring effects of educational fields on beliefs. From within action research, narratives are now being critiqued and viewed in terms of how constructivism frames the purpose of story in ethnographic research (Smith, 2006), and in the act of narrative discourse (MacLure, 2003).

[3] One search in the internet search engine Google confirms a plethora of information on the use of constructivism as a teaching pedagogy, especially as this relates to areas of science, math, medicine and technology – and more currently in the humanities in disciplines of culture studies and language arts.

[4] For an example of a study of the change in literature from modern to postmodern era across a theme, see Belcher (2008)

Christina Belcher is Associate Professor of Education at Redeemer University College, Ontario, Canada.  This post is from Chapter 9 in Faith-Based Education that Constructs, HeeKap Lee, editor (2010).   Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers www.wipfandstock.com.  The site for this book is


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