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A Standard for Faith-Learning Integration in the Academy

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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.

Introduction

 

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 learning infuses “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? 
    1. Philosophy: foundation and purpose
    2. Data: information or knowledge discovered
    3. Outcomes: results or production
    4. Scope/Sequence: the order or absence of any material
    5. Objectives: presuppositions in the study

A myriad of 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.

 

Conclusion

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).

“Setting a Standard for Measuring Faith-Learning Evaluation in the Academy: Criteria Established by Christian Education Leaders for Faculty Development” was originally written for a doctoral course in 2007 and has since been published by the same title in Intégrité: A Journal of Faith and Learning 6:2 (Fall 2007): 15-28.  Dr. Mark Eckel is VP of Academic Affairs at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis.

Notes

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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  1. Mark, why did you write this? I’m curious.

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