Education,  Philosophy of Education

Faith Learning Integration: Christian Traditions

In my last post I summarized various philosophies of education. I promised to say something about Christian education. The main question for Christian education is: How do Christians integrate faith and learning? This question is about the integral relationships between the content of one’s faith and human knowledge found in particular disciplines. There are various schools of thought roughly related to distinctive doctrines held by various denominations. Richard Hughes explains how each relates faith to learning:

The Reformed Model stresses the sovereignty of God. Since God is sovereign over every part of human experience God is related to every part of human experience by virtue of his authority over it. Learning, then, is a process of submission to God in his interpretation of his world. The scripture is seen as the authoritative interpretation of reality, giving a coherent foundation and story line to knowledge and learning. Lanney Mayer calls this model of integration a “totalizing” model in that it seeks to unite all learning in one theological catch all.

The Lutheran Model, on the other hand, emphasizes the paradoxical relationship between irreconcilable ideas found in faith and learning. The spheres of “nature” and “grace” are often in tension; integration is found in recognizing the limits of human ability and learning to live in tension. This is both good for humility in faith and in human knowledge.

The Mennonite Model finds an alternative route by redefining education in terms of practice rather than cognition. Their model is really a rejection of the need for cognitive integration. Integration is found in practical service and not in reconciling truth claims. Rather than principle dictating practice, the Mennonite tradition focuses on practice prior to principle, practical obedience before theoretical reconciliation.

The Roman Catholic Model offers an alternative through sacrementalism. The sphere of human knowledge is the means by which grace is mediated to human beings. Integration is found, therefore, in seeing the world in sacramental terms. The continuity between God and creation is stressed by demonstrating the analogous nature of creation to Creator.

The Semitic Model, like the Mennonite Model, focuses on the relationship between faith and learning in terms of experience. Jesus told analogies from daily experience that explained heavenly reality. According to this model, the same is true of faith and learning. As we learn through experience we encounter God. Learning relates to faith as we learn to recognize God in learning.

I dare say Hughes is making generalizations in his characterization of various denominations, but the distinctions are helpful in seeing the general direction of various Christian attempts to integrate faith and learning. The question is important because without an attempt to answer it students, and teachers, are left with two spheres–faith and learning–that bear no relation to one another. In practice this leads to disjointed lives where a Christian might know the Bible and a bacteria backwards but have no idea how knowledge of both relate or how what she knows about each relates to one another.

Failure to seek an integration of faith and learning can lead to a failure to see life, human knowledge and truth in any kind of unity. And if God is sovereign over all creation then why would we want to bracket off areas of creation from relationship with God? Moreover, as the church we want to see work as part of our Christian life, to see our endeavors in sport, science, art, literature, building, serving, business etc as integral to our faith. School is no less a part of life, a very fundamental part of life. To integrate faith with learning is to attempt to see the relatedness of all of life to God.

Richard Hughes, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.