My experience in Christian education prior to being informed by the Reformed faith centered around the word integration. We’ve all heard it said: “the integration of faith and learning” or “biblical integration to science [or philosophy, psychology, history, animals, food, business, comic books, film, or name your favorite discipline here].” The intention is clear. We have a body of knowledge that we can glean from the discipline in itself first unaffected by Scripture and the body of Christian doctrine. Learn what we can from there, define the strictures of that field by the disciplined use of human reason and intellectual effort, and then later see what biblical revelation might say to that topic. As Christians, we would expect, it is taught, that the Bible will have helpful things to say, add, or supplement, to the field in question.
Now not every Christian educator who uses this term understands it in this way (in fact, I’ve sat through college courses and church seminars that use that word while later clarifying that they want to avoid this above explanation I have just given), but it is undeniable that the word has that basic connotation. My memory immediately brings to mind the philosophy courses I had taken, in which 3/4 of the semester was spent discussing philosophy in general apart from Christian-theism, and then tried to integrate Christian terms into the already well-defined strictures of philosophy (I had a particular professor who tried to redefine a doctrine of sin in terms of the empirical observation, for example, that not all people are equally bad. His conclusion was that the effects of sin are applied to various people in a random manner not attributable to God; some people just happen to be affected by the fall more than others. I particularly remember that not a single passage of Scripture was discussed during these hours of lecture.)
This unhelpful word brings about it several severely faulty assumptions. I will mention just a few.
1. That there is a body of knowledge that is neutral between the believer and the unbeliever discoverable by any human being that could be understood properly without recourse to the word of God. In this manner it is assumed that we can somehow set aside our Christian assumptions for a moment to deal with the real matters of business (or philosophy, science, etc.) before bringing in what Christianity has to say, as if our conclusions and observations of that discipline would be non-problematically merged with the content of special revelation.
2. As I’ve dealt with in previous posts, Christianity is not something supplementary to an already accessible and clear body of knowledge, nor is it merely supplementary to the secular person’s already-moral yet incomplete life. Rather, Christianity is foundational, constitutive, and paradigmatic for the proper understanding of anything. However, the supplementary of Christianity seems to be what is necessarily implied within the word ‘integration.’ The word integration, therefore, only contributes to and is emblematic of the secularization of society.
The unbeliever’s problem is not a mere lack of knowledge. Christianity does not just supply an additional list of propositions to believe about the resurrection of Christ and what we ought to do on sundays. Christianity demands the entire transformation of the unbeliever that requires nothing less than a total paradigm shift in terms of which we act every deed and speak every word.
3. As implied in the previous two, the word integration evokes the sense that theology is just one discipline among many other disciplines, rather than the discipline in terms of which all other disciplines must be seen. Theology, as grounded in God’s Word, is the light by which we must interpret the world of God. God’s word is the authoritative means by which we interpret God’s world – any other starting point would be an exercise in speculation at best or autonomy at worst. When humans seek to ‘merely describe’ the world apart from God’s world they are actually defining what they are trying to describe. The word ‘integration’ assumes that there is a body of truth that we can know apart from God’s Word, and that God’s Word only expresses truths about other facts non-discoverable by human reason. Embedded, therefore, in the word ‘integration’ is a nature/grace dualism with respect to knowledge (that some things are knowable by nature and others knowable by grace). This dichotomy rooted in the theology of Thomistic Catholicism is the very thing rejected by the Reformers.
I suggest, then, that the best way to understand the relationship between Christian theology and other disciplines is not by way of the the word ‘integration’ but by way of re-interpretation or recalibration. These words, of course, are not perfect. But they express the basic idea that the Lordship of Christ over all things is not something we bring as an ‘added extra’ to integrate with an already-established discoverable order of things, but that which informs our basic understanding of everything else. We ought to begin there and work it out from there, and any field that we come across has to be re-interpreted and recalibrated in light of it.
It is the result of sin that the explicit and inextricable link between Christ’s lordship to everything else becomes unobvious to us. The task of Christian education, therefore, is not to ‘discover’ an integrative link between Christ’s lordship to another field, but to re-acknowledge it and to remove the obstacles that sin has made which clouded our judgments in the first place. If the Christian worldview is a truly comprehensive worldview (Col. 1:15-20), then no less ought to be demanded.