Nicolas Wolterstorff:

We . . . have often used the language of “integration” to describe the project. . . . The project, we have said, is to integrate faith and learning. I have come to think that the metaphor of integration is a poor choice of metaphor. It suggests that the scholar is presented with two things, faith and learning; and that these two must somehow be tied together. The two-story metaphor has been discarded; no longer do we think in terms of placing faith on top of learning. Still, the assumption of duality remains. The idea now is that we tie them together somehow—find the right baling twine and the right place to attach it.

I submit that the project of Christian learning, rightly understood, rejects the assumption of duality that underlies the metaphor of integration. Here is an example of the point: the dominant ideology behind philosophy of art of the past two centuries is that art is an exception to the fallenness of our society; art has redemptive significance. How am I to integrate that ideology with my Christian faith? It can’t be done. I have to reject it, not integrate it; and having rejected it, I have to rethink philosophy of art and aesthetics so that it becomes faithful to my Christian conviction. What emerges, if I am successful, is not an integration of two separate things but just one thing: a philosophy of art faithful to Christian conviction. I have never found what seemed to me the absolutely right metaphor. However, better than the integration metaphor is the metaphor of seeing through the eyes of faith. When you look at something, you look at it with your eyes; you don’t look at it and then also at your eyes.

—Nicolas Wolterstorff, “Fifty Years Later,” Pro Rege 34, no. 1 (September 2005): 28.

HT: Keith Plummer

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5 thoughts on “Christian Faith and Learning: Is “Integration” the Best Metaphor?”

  1. I like to tell my students that I am both for and against the integration of faith and learning. This provocative statement is made to get several important points across. There is a sense in which there is nothing to integrate. This is because there are no tidy “religious” and “non-religious” spheres. In the words of Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and statesman,

    “There is not a single inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

    Whether it’s Scripture, sex, or science, exegesis, economics, or education, preaching, painting, or poetry, every thought must be taken captive to the obedience of Christ.

    It is precisely because I reject the false distinction between Christian faith and learning that I am fully committed to integration in another sense. The same God who formed the cosmos is the one that redeems in Jesus Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). As a result, I encourage my students to allow their Christians convictions to propel them to engage the world in which God has place them. One concrete way that I do this is by addressing current challenges to orthodox Christianity such as the value and dignity of human personhood, the design of human sexuality, the threat of moral relativism, and the Christian’s role in social activity.

    Since redemption extends “as far as the curse is found,” Christian education should address nothing less.

  2. Part of the problem is we start with the idea of a conflict between the two. This comes from the fact that we live in a culture that has approached learning from a purely secular perspective and as seen faith has something ancillary and separate. What we must do is ask the hard questions that involve the misconceptions in our learning and perhaps even the misconceptions in our faith that have produced the conflict. I do not know the right metaphor for this, but integration seems inadequate.

  3. Phil Long says:

    It’s Not A Picture

    I see things I didn’t used to see and, sometimes, it makes me feel crazy
    Like I’ve been staring at the same picture for years—before I noticed it was a window.
    And maybe it’s ’cause I’m fifty now, or maybe I’ve seen too much
    But there were times I didn’t have faith to see things I couldn’t touch.

    I only know that I stared and I squinted until this “optical illusion”
    Suddenly shifted as my focus lifted—and the picture started moving.
    And now it’s alive, with a thousand eyes, and all of ‘em seem to be looking
    For something more real than a color you feel, or a word that’s never been spoken.

    Oh, it’s easy to stand on the edge and contend, insisting it’s only an image,
    But the colors bleed, and the portrait pleads ’til your soul’s not convinced of its lineage.
    I know, doubt hangs thick, like a snake in the trees, waiting for someone to pass
    Full of hope it can choke ’til it finally stops moving, like a mem’ry you never had.

    And over the years I remember how often. I managed to write off this mystery
    That alters the lives of those who believe it and counters the course of history.
    So I cringe when I think of how you might blink, when you have a chance to choose
    Because something deep inside conflicts and, if it wins, you lose.

    But maybe, like me, you’ve noticed by now, that the only choice is choosing
    And maybe you can even see just what it is you’re losing
    If you find you can’t believe that God has come, to pay your price,
    And that Jesus is His Son—and that He can give you life.

    If this were hopeful fantasy, as many would believe,
    Then move along and brush it off—we Christians are deceived.
    But if it’s true, and can be known as well as any fact
    Then this is your best moment—this is your time to act.

    Because you’re staring at the window now—the picture flickers, slowly.
    You think it’s moving and you’ll see—or doubt—and go on boldly
    Where you’re headed now, following your sin,
    As if by choosing your own path, you get to choose where it will end.

    No, you’ve come upon your, Rubicon—there is no turning back.
    Your boats are burned behind you now and now you must attack
    This question, as though life depends upon the answer,
    Because it does—and I’m sorry—if you still think it’s a picture.

  4. Ron Hoch says:

    Justin,

    A colleague of mine by the name of David Smith (his work on Warfield was mentioned in a post earlier in the year) and I wrote a book on this very same topic entitled “Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education.” Wolterstorff’s comments above summarize quite well the basic premise of our book. If you find yourself interested in this topic and would like to read some more on it our book might be of interest to you. You probably get a lot of offers like this from others, but if you’d like a copy of it I would be more than happy to send you one (no charge to you of course).

  5. Jason says:

    Interesting. I always looked at that statement as meaning that our pursuits of learning more about any thing cannot be de-integrated from our faith, so moving in such a direction (as does public education in most of the world) is in direct conflict with what God asks of us, and what it means to be a Christian. One denies His sovereignty if one believes that one can better understood His creation without Him. More absurdly, one is simply a fool if he believes that deliberately removing the creator of anything from the discussion is useful to improving one’s understanding of what that creator created (whether that be a feat of human engineering, or the cosmos itself).

    We teach our children that these things ARE ALL INTEGRATED – they never were separate. Hence, it is a state of being (integrated) rather than an action (integrating).

    Thank you for the well-written article and comments, and for pushing me to make sure I am clear and consistent on the matter.

    Seeking peace in His strength…

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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