Beyond Integration?

Beyond Integration Book Cover | Mark ExckelArthur Holmes would have been proud. Holmes, who shepherded Wheaton College through 40 years of biblically integrative practices, established many baselines from which all other present writers contribute to the conversation of integration. Beyond Integration? not only stands on the shoulders of Holmes but points to still more vistas ahead. Each essay—including history, psychology, history of science, sociology, politics, and literature—provides a map for future study across the disciplines. Authors survey historical overviews of their respective disciplines, a major benefit of this volume. Development of thinking in those disciplines is then engaged, raising problems for the Christian thinker in such contexts. Often quality questions for discussion are included along with suggestions for interdisciplinary possibilities. Discussion should give way to application. So it was with pleasure to see Davis’s dialogical assignment, for example, produced at the end of his chapter (158-60). Overall, a key concern is the necessity of integrative-affective impact for professor-pupil development.

James K. A. Smith opening essay acts as a broadside across the whole integrative discussion. Indeed, Smith would rather replace the term “integration” with Charles Taylor’s “social imaginary.” Smith also wishes the suspension of Christian ‘thinking’ or ‘worldview’ as primary components for the Christian academe. Smith commends the affective-biblical interaction, instead, suggesting for example “before we think, we pray” (23). Smith says current emphasis on the ‘thinking’ as a Christian usurps ‘being’ as a Christian: the mind replacing the heart, creating a kind of syncretism. He points out various problems in Christian scholarship as it currently stands, calling for “unapologetic Christian scholarship,” meaning that Christian scholars should not attempt to weave their foundational commitments with those antithetic to The Faith (31). Smith stresses a renewed emphasis on ecclesiastical scholarship, interweaving liturgy with learning, understanding with “habits of seeing,” imagining with living. However one responds personally to Smith’s re-formation of integration, a reflective spirit will benefit the reader.

Timothy Larson’s well written essay deserves special attention. He addresses the intersection of thinking as do the others. But Larson explains to the Christian historian how to write their work better. He admonishes academic writers to choose subjects whose Christian lives speak for themselves. The task of the Christian historian is not to pronounce declarative interpretations of historical events but simply to expose the historical events to show how Christians involve themselves in life. Above all it is “the historian who tells the most compelling narrative [who] wins” (117). Interdisciplinary methods are obviously linked with other disciplines. Larsen rightly holds the tension of interdisciplinary studies while encouraging change.

John W. Wright’s pastoral voice introduces the reader to a seemingly obscure writing of Immanuel Kant: The Conflict of the Faculties. Kant’s evaluation is that of state controlled education. Governmental authorities demand compliance to national standards. In so doing, local authorities lose control. The parochial nature of some schools is not always due to ingrown stagnation. More often than not, federal constraints create educational lockstep becoming “the university’s Alpha and Omega, its beginning and end” (169). The question left for the academe to answer is “Who are the educational theologians?” So Wright brings to bear the concept of habitus on his discussion: internal dispositions enacted externally (171). Social structures inhabit universities and thus can inhibit educational change. Ingrained within the fabric of educational thought, students are fashioned by the weaving of academe structures. Theology is co-opted by state revelation, compartmentalized into ineffectual, unproductive experiential-individual, separated from any real educational impact. Wright cries out for The Church’s reengagement for the future of Christian higher education through the integration of faith and learning.

But this is the problem with the connective “and.” Wherever Christian thinkers utilize the phrase “faith and learning” one begins an unnecessary bifurcation. So to discuss any of the subjects in the present volume from the perspective of addition introduces duality from the start. Hyphenation (i.e., faith-learning) announces oneness; the unity of The Christian Faith allows the process of interdisciplinary study. Further, complaints about “correlation” or “addition” of Scriptural citation to academic quests go both ways. Herein is the problem for the Christian university operating in compliance with state standards: the state accepts institutions into their guild when said institutions submit to the regulations which arise out of political, economic, and business paradigms which are antithetic to Yahweh’s Revelation.

Jerry Pattengale’s conclusion could have expanded comments centered on faculty hiring to maintain a commitment to biblical Truth. College presidents and provosts must act as gate keepers. There is a need to hire faculty not with a focus on credentialing but rather on teaching philosophy. Academic freedom must come with institutional responsibility. Preservation of mission for Christian higher education is dependant upon a commitment to Scripture’s reliability, authenticity, and authority. Mission is the spearhead of vision. As it relates to faculty commitment to biblical authority and Christian teaching, why not ‘grow’ the next generation of professors for schools based on a planned trajectory over 5-10 years? In the short term, exacting standards for faculty appointment must transcend where one did their schooling to incorporate how one teaches.

Beyond Integration? is an appropriate first step down the path of Christian higher education interdisciplinary processes. Appropriate humility within the craft of integration, however, must not give way to vacillation. One would wish for a manifesto or confession entitled Beyond Questions? where variant voices would all agree to some salient signposts, even doctrinal commitments. For instance, could all Christian academics declare allegiance to Transcendent justice as the only basis for immanent peace? Could Bible-believing academics commend “interdisciplinary” over “intra-disciplinary” academic pursuits? Could Jesus following academics accept a definition of “worship” as the total response of the total person to the Lord Jesus? Educational foundations are shifting under the collective feet of the educational world. Entrepreneurial endeavors are necessary now. Decision is decided by direction. There is an immediate need to process how we will begin. Beyond Integration? could be given to professors for summer reading, pursuant to dialogical engagement before classes begin.

Ultimately, there is a need for a comprehensive, cohesive, consistent plan to create faculty-curricula which compels classroom conversation—the front lines of restructured thinking for students. References to monastic practices suggest smaller educational environments (177). Is there a true wholeness to the whole of student life? Are we willing to adopt a type of monastic focus, such as is practiced at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin? Of course all the reformation of students depends on university ethos, faculty compliance, and administration leadership. One wonders if an initial class or chapel—suggestions made throughout the volume—will go very far in reordering the thinking of students immersed in a culture antithetic to Jesus. Wright’s clarion call need be rung on the bell of every Christian campus: “Without theology, its founding discourse and the life of the church to sustain it, it is not apparent that the university can sustain a coherent life and continue its drift into irrelevancy” (183). Davis is right: doctrine forms the bedrock of a Christian college—all disciplines are subservient to it (153).

Each essay deserves a singular response. Perhaps such a volume could be useful in the future as a point-counterpoint perspective. On a personal note, some of my own interdisciplinary thinking was augmented and enlivened by my years of teaching in Christian high schools. My compatriots and I were constantly interacting with each others’ disciplines. Team-teaching was ongoing. Collaboration was taken for granted. After a few years I altered the title of “Bible” for my classes replacing it with the moniker “Christian Life and World Studies” (CLAWS). As colleagues were engaging biblical texts in their classrooms, I was bringing math, science, history, literature, and fine arts to intersect with Scripture. So thoroughly did the interdisciplinary process unfold, that end of the year projects were often one paper for two classes. K-12 as well as undergraduate and graduate schools should be heard within the discussion of interdisciplinary synthesis. Sometimes discussions amongst the professorate can be ethereal and esoteric. True praxis is often found within the seven hour a day process of K-12 teaching where students actually ask the question “Why should I listen to you today?!” Academicians everywhere at every level bear the responsibility to succinctly, specifically weave theory with practice, everyday life with a biblical mind grid, and their own discipline with those of others.

Beyond integration? Inter/Disciplinary possibilities for the future of Christian higher education. Edited by Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and David L. Riggs. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press. 2012. 208 p. $19.99. paper.

Review by Mark Eckel, Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies Director, Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN. To appear in the Fall, 2012 edition of CEJ, Christian Education Journal.


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