On the Integration of Faith and Scholarship

UnknownChristian scholars, we are told, belong to two distinct communities: the community of scholars and the community of faith. An immediate question that arises is how ought a Christian scholar relate these two communities? Possible answers include: separate, overlap, and integrate.

The attempt to separate one’s scholarship from one’s faith is unrealistic. Such a posture either presupposes that faith claims are not knowledge claims or that when scholars enter the pristine halls of the academy, they do so as generic human beings (stripped, that is, of their everyday beliefs, values, and judgments). I reject both of these assumptions. It is not possible to completely separate one’s scholarship from one’s faith.

Perhaps then, Christian scholars should look for meaningful overlap between their faith and scholarship. One idea here is that the Christian’s living, teaching, and relating ought to be done in a Christian-like way. Surely, this is correct, and as a model, it is an improvement. But, if this is the only overlap, an important part—the cognitive content of faith—has been left out. Even so, perhaps there are helpful models of overlap between scholarship and the epistemic deliverances of faith. The idea here is that if you teach Engineering, perhaps you can add a section on the ethics of engineering; or if you teach Physics, perhaps you can spend a week looking at cosmological models of the universe and touch on God as a likely explanation; or if you teach Economics, you could consider what Jesus or the early Christians had to say about money and possessions. And so on. I think we can do better.

As Christian scholars, we ought to integrate all of our scholarly lives with our faith. This does not entail an add Jesus and stir approach. That would be too simple, and too simplistic. Rather, as fully integrated people, we are to look for meaningful connections between our chosen academic discipline and our Christian faith. This will include the cognitive content of the faith as well as the moral imperatives to be a certain kind of person and to act toward others in sacrificial love.

To aid in illuminating the integration model, I propose that we think of the anatomy of academic discipline in terms of a four-layered triangle.

integration 1

At the bottom are the “guiding principles,” beliefs held by scholars that operate as constraints on theory acceptance and signposts for theory discovery. Next, there are “guiding methodologies,” which are the methodologies scholars employ, informed by the guiding principles, when approaching the “data set.” Finally there is the “guiding narrative” which includes the history of the western mindset as well as the specific history of the discipline; it includes the various theories held at various times (historical and contemporary) and individual scholars (historical and contemporary) who develop, analyze, and defend them.

Within each of these levels, there are multiply areas of meaningful Christian engagement and integration. In my forthcoming article with Christian Higher Education, “An Essay on Academic Disciplines, Faithfulness, and the Christian Scholar,” I map out some of those integrational aspects to each layer of the triangle.

As a teaser, here are four guiding principles that I suggest Christian scholars ought to embrace in their scholarly lives:

integration 2

These four principles, grounded in the character and actions of the Triune God, can serve as guides for the Christian scholar:

Unity Thesis (UT): all truth is connected and unified.

Objectivity Thesis (OT): there is a mind independent reality that we can discover.

Scripture Thesis (ST): Scripture makes knowledge claims about the nature of God, the world and the self.

 Gospel Thesis (GT): Humanity’s greatest need is the gospel.

The good news is that as Christians, we do not need to separate head and heart. And as Christian scholars, in pursuing the truths within our various disciplines, we are plumbing the mind of God and exploring His handiwork.

A few books I’d recommend include:

Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind

George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom

And of course, the riveting, ground-breaking, run-away best seller:

Paul Gould & William Lane Craig: The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar: Redeeming the Soul, Redeeming the Mind

Here is an excellent talk given by my friend Greg Ganssle at Biola on “The Gospel and the Mission of the Christian Intellectual:”


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