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The Integration of Faith and Learning

Robert Harris
Version Date: December 14, 2009 (tweak) 

Original Date: July 1, 2000


A key focus of a Christian university is the integration of faith with learning and living in its teaching and scholarship. Faith, heart, soul, and intellect must function synergistically to empower students fully. The Christian university derives this focus from the most important principle given to the Church:

Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. --Matt. 22:37-38

Why is the Focus on Integration Important?

1. Students must drive out fear of their minds before they will allow full development of them. Before they come to the university, many students have been warned by well-meaning friends, "Do not get so much education that you lose your faith." There is sometimes an assumed tension or even conflict between learning and faith. And it is not only some members of the Christian subculture who suffer from such a perceived split. Many academics on secular campuses appear to believe that faith and learning are incompatible also, to such a degree that they take it upon themselves to attempt to "liberate" entering students from their faith. Faith is often represented by these people as an obstacle to the modern world of "facts" (by which they often mean secularized interpretations of facts).

If we want our students to love truth and pursue it freely, we must liberate them from this fear of learning by showing them that learning can strengthen and extend their faith. They must come to understand that not only does truth belong to God, meaning that there is no need to fear it, but that the spiritual battle for the modern world is taking place in a sophisticated intellectual and philosophical marketplace that requires well trained and well informed minds to engage the combat.

We are told to do no less than ready our minds: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." --1 Peter 3:15b

2. When students become aware that the mind (just as with heart and soul) can be an ally of faith—that they can strengthen their faith by strengthening their minds—they will see the importance and priority of mind training and take their academic work more seriously. As evidence of this, about 50 or 60 Vanguard students read J. P. Moreland's Love Your God with All Your Mind for a critical thinking class during the 1998-1999 academic year. This book promotes the use of reason and intellect in building Christian faith and as a tool in the philosophical battles of the modern world. In their written evaluations of the book, virtually all students reported being profoundly influenced by the realization that their minds were valuable instruments and that a well developed intellect was necessary for the best service to God. Many students reported forming resolutions to work harder in their studies.

Faith is built by understanding, by studying the world God has made:

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." --Romans 1:20

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, one of the deeply influential figures of the Renaissance, argued that education was a necessary precursor to a deep spiritual life, and that, in fact, we should "prepare for ourselves, while we may, by means of philosophy, a road to future heavenly glory." --Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486)

And as Brother Lawrence says, the more we learn, the more we understand about the Creator:

"And, as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and wider our knowledge, the greater will be our love." --The Practice of the Presence of God, (1693) Letter 16


The more solidly rational and educated is the support for the faith, the stronger the faith will be and the more powerful the witness will be to an increasingly educated, skeptical, seeking, needy world.


3. Christian faith in relation to learning must be understood not as just an "added bonus" or appended item to standard scholarship from a secular worldview, but instead as a more comprehensive and more rational epistemology than, say naturalism or materialism. Christianity, as a knowledge structure, is a standard of truth, providing an objectively critical approach for making corrective assessments in scholarship and intellectual work. In other words, Christianity should be an anchor and a touchstone for the analysis of culture and political structures rather than merely a point of view or another source of commentary on morals and manners.

James T. Burtchael in The Dying of the Light (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) argues that Christianity can provide "graced master insights" to approach the truth (844) and that "learning itself can be an act of piety" (842). Burtchael says that Christians should provide a "thoughtful critique of the world and its cultures" (836) from a faith that serves as a "critic and corrective in the very business of scholarship" (774).

Christianity is central to the shared enterprise of community learning at a Christian university. The uiversity must emphasize that at the heart of Christianity are indeed relationship with Christ, guidance for life values, fulfillment of the heart's yearnings—and also truth: the faith is both an experience and an objective account of the world as it is. What does Jesus say?

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." --John 17:17

He doesn't say, "Your word is some useful guidelines."

The more solidly rational and educated is the support for the faith, the stronger the faith will be and the more powerful the witness will be to an increasingly educated, skeptical, seeking, needy world. Christianity must therefore be seen not as a private emotion, not as a co-existing idea with little connection to reality, not as an "added plus" to an otherwise secular existence, not a balance in opposition to reason, but as a integrating truth that provides the world with meaning and coherence.



What does Integration Involve?

Integration itself is embodied in such thinking and processes as

"I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind." --1 Cor. 14:15

"As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. 'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,' he said." --Acts 17:2-3 (and see Acts 17:17, 18:4, 18:19 and 1 Cor. 13:11)

A well performed process of integration will have an impact on

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. . . ." Phil. 1:9-10

"Therefore, prepare your minds for action. --1 Peter 1:13a

Implications of an Integrated Mind

As scholars, we recognize that many fact claims are actually interpretations imposed on filtered information, and that reigning paradigms are as much the products of philosophical structures as they are of objective truth or purely empirical evidence. We also understand that many textbooks and journals contain claims which come from a perspective that includes various metaphysical assumptions and philosophical interpretations in conflict with Christian truth. For example, some of the claims of naturalism and postmodernist thought are clearly at odds with what we believe to be more rational explanations.

With integration, the student can recognize that certain aspects of secular learning are processed through such knowledge filters and interpretive spins, and that new information must often pass metaphysical litmus tests before being granted truth status. A highly educated Christian can expose these practices and challenge such claims by providing superior alternatives, based on better evidence, more reasonable interpretations, and revealed truth.

With integration, the believer can more readily endure times of spiritual dryness that might threaten the emotion-based Christian. The Christian supported by thought and knowledge will be less "prone to wander" (as the writer of "Come Thou Fount" says).


A faithfully integrated heart and mind can discern the difference between a cultural step forward and a mere click of the ratchet of excess.


What Happens without Integration?

If students do not learn to integrate faith and learning during their undergraduate years, then it may not occur. In graduate school and professional life, students may adopt the current paradigms of the field without realizing that those paradigms include a set of metaphysical assumptions, often naturalistic and humanistic, that conflict with Christian truth—not because there is a conflict between faith and fact but because there is a conflict of worldviews, producing a conflict of interpretations and assumptions. Not knowing this, the student may incur a split between faith and mind, with faith weakening as the mind grows more and more into the subject. Without integration, Christianity tends to become an emotional commitment and response, relying exclusively on feelings which can change more easily than an intellectually grounded and reinforced belief. Personal feelings are more subject to doubt than intellectual commitment.

Without integration, the students will risk compartmentalizing their faith, putting it in a box separate from their intellectual and working life. At the worst, the faith will become merely an emotional outlet, with God becoming a vending machine: put in a prayer and get out a blessing. It will become intellectually irrelevant and emotionally useful only as long as the blessings keep coming. Once God "lets them down," with an unanswered prayer, their faith will be at risk.

Without integration, students will tend to exhibit a passive acceptance of current cultural values, lacking an active engagement and response to them, unable to separate entertainment values from moral and artistic values. Cultures with unfixed standards of reference move inevitably toward extremes, "pushing the envelope" without taste or decency. A faithfully integrated heart and mind can discern the difference between a cultural step forward and a mere click of the ratchet of excess. Such a one can recognize that many of the productions of modern culture are not contributing to a more humane, compassionate world where beauty and truth are celebrated, and that some entertainment products are harmful to such a vision. By realizing that, as Marcus Aurelius says, "The soul takes on the color of its ideas," the integrated person can choose cultural inputs more wisely and therefore be influenced more positively.

Lifelong Integration

Integration is a process, that must take place every day, because we are presented with new claims, new facts, new interpretations every day. This integration, this "faithful intellect," will guide and guard our students not just while at the university but throughout their journey through the postmodern sea, where they will face a lifelong barrage of demands for belief, indulgence, and consumption. Our role as faculty is to give them the tools they can hone and use both now and in the future.

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My Own Book

Robert Harris, The Integration of Faith and Learning: A Worldview Approach. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2004Amazon.com has it.

The Integration of Faith and LearningI wrote this principally for Christian college students, so that they could gain a context for their learning at the college or university they attend. However, it is appropriate for anyone interested in the issue of integrating faith with the knowledge (and knowledge claims) of the contemporary environment. 

Chapters include 

About 300 pages. Includes an extensive bibliography and a list of useful Web sites.


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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com