Friday, March 21, 2014

Beyond Integration? Inter/Disciplinary Possibilities for the Future of Christian Higher Education

Beyond Integration? Inter/Disciplinary Possibilities for the Future of Christian Higher Education edited by Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and David L. Riggs. Abilene Christian University Press, 2012. 208 pages. ISBN 978-0-89112-317-0

What is the future of Christian Higher Education? The dominant view has been the Neo-Calvinist Reformed view of the integration of faith and learning. Is it now time to move beyond this view? Douglas Jacobson and Rhonda Jacobson in 2004 sought to broaden the relationship between Christian Faith and Learning by focusing on other views besides the reformed view in their edited book, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation. I was expecting Beyond Integration to be doing the same thing. However, this book seems more focused on thinking of other ways to relate Faith and learning than just integration. You might say they are looking at strategies for a more holistic way of looking at faith and learning. In the introduction the editors state, "The purpose of this volume is to draw together a number of prominent voices who are beginning to reflect upon the nature of Christian scholarship as it may exist beyond the influence of the integration model." This volume is a mixed bag. The authors do not necessarily agree with each other. For example, James A. K. Smith and Timothy Larsen seem to be stating opposing views. This seems true for the essays by Edward Davis and John W. Wright also.

Beyond Integration is divided into eight chapters. The disciplines discussed are philosophy, political science, sociology, English, history, psychology, science, biblical studies and theology. Some of the authors are James K. A. Smith, David Lyle Jeffrey, Timothy Larsen, and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. I enjoyed some of the essays more than others. Some of my favorite essays was "Beyond Integration: Re-Narrating Christian Scholarship in Postmodernity" by James K. A. Smith, "Healing Democracy's Discontent: The Christian Contribution to Contemporary Politics" by Jeanne Heffernan Schindler, "Evangelicals, the Academy, and the Discipline of History" by Timothy Larsen, and "Five Uneasy Questions: Or, Will Success Spoil Christian Psychologists?" by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen and Jade Avellis. I liked the others, but these were my favorite.

James K. A. Smith in his essay argues for a "beyond integration and after worldview" perspective. He critiques worldview thinking and the problems with it. He thinks Christian education has been wrong to see Christian education as mainly the "dissemination and communication of ideas rather than the formation of a peculiar people." He thinks this implies a dualistic type of thinking. He stresses that "scholars are affective animals, too." In other words, we are more than minds. He thinks we need to build education on the philosophical anthropology of the complete person. In addition, he thinks we are formed by Christian practices, especially the liturgy. He wants to tie in Christian worship with Christian learning.

Jeanne Heffernan Schindler argues that Christian learning must be "informed by faith." In addition, she argues for the unity of truth: "Anything true, by no matter whom it is said, is from the Holy Spirit." She thinks "The unity of truth lends dignity to the investigation of the whole of reality, sacred and mundane, as each bears the stamp of God's creative love." She quotes from Cardinal Newman: "All that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful, all that is beneficient, be it great or small, be it perfect or fragmentary, natural as well as supernatural, moral as well as material, comes from Him." This quote provides a foundation from which Christian education can be built. The creation is good. WE are doing His work by studying and rejoicing in it.

Timothy Larsen discusses different types of scholarship followed by evangelical historians. He argues that those who see providence in history and those who do not marks a divide. He states that those who believe that God is providentially at work in history, but see that lies outside the realm of historical  scholarship are accused of selling out to the academy. He identifies himself as one who writes "academic history using methodological naturalism." He charges that this is not "pandering to the academy." He thinks there is a difference in being a prophet and a historian. On the other hand, secular historians accuse people like himself of having distorted history by bring their faith perspective into it. He thinks that though "these charges are unfair, they likely do reflect the fact that these critics are sensing that integration is really happening--that the faith of the evangelical historians does inform their work." Larsen thinks that evangelical historians can be faithful Christians in their scholarship and produce excellent scholarship. He does not think this integration is a fixed point. He notes, "it should be recognized that the integration of faith and learning is an aspiration rather than a fixed template that can be inherited."

Beyond Integration should provide some stimulating ideas on how to relate Christian faith and scholarship. These ideas should advance the conversation of Christian faith and learning. I think the relationship between Christian faith and learning will continue to be a hot topic in the academy. Both students and professors should find useful information on how to integrate their faith with their scholarship.

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