What is Integration?

The “integration of faith and learning” is a phrase that expresses the desires of Christian colleges and universities to have the Christian faith permeate every aspect of the curriculum. Integrating faith and learning resists a common tendency to compartmentalize religious faith. It rejects a Christian faith limited to “religious” activities such as worship or evangelism. Instead, it demands a faith which is “integrated” into the entirety of human life.

Regarding integration…

Integration brings together things which are found apart. It assumes that these things which were found apart actually belong together. Therefore, when they are brought into proper relationship with one another, they will be better understood, more likely to fulfill to their real purpose, and presumably more useful if they are artifacts or more healthy if they are living entities. Integration creates order and health out of disorder and chaos. It makes the world a better place.

Integration is often associated with racial integration. Though very different from faith and learning, racial integration actually serves as a good illustration of the meaning of integration. It is common for ethnic groups to be found separately, living in isolation from one another even if they are in the same city. Social ills like prejudice and injustice breed in such conditions. The assumption of racial integration was that different races and ethnicities really belong together as part of a common humanity. The hope was that if different ethnicities were brought together people would ultimately live better. Prejudice would fade away, injustice would diminish, and society would be one step closer to what it was meant to be.

And this example also illustrates the fact that integration does not always work as smoothly as we would like. We bring things together, but they do not always integrate very well. And sometimes the process of integration is resisted. Still other times, integration may happen, but not produce the desired result, perhaps race riots instead of racial harmony. In a fallen world, none of these outcomes are very surprising. Very few things work the way they are supposed to work, but that does not mean we discard the vision.

Regarding the integration of faith and learning…

When integrating “faith and learning”, the two things that are found apart but belong together are, obviously, faith and learning. One might question why these two things were ever split apart—is faith somehow incompatible with learning? Are they opposed to each other? Are they always found apart? These are very appropriate questions, and indeed, some have advocated the abandoning of this terminology because they feel these questions are all answered in the negative. Therefore, integration should not be required because faith and learning should not be separated in the first place.


Indeed, I believe this is largely correct. So why use this terminology?


The simplest answer is that it is entrenched and unavoidable. Not unlike the term “missionary”, which many people want to discard because all Christians are supposed to be missionaries, one may agree with the argument but find the term almost unavoidable nonetheless. We have to have some term for people who cross cultural boundaries in order to share the Gospel. The word we use for this, for better or for worse, is “missionary”.  Similarly, in the case of Christian thought on the created order, one finds it difficult to avoid the phrase “integration of faith and learning.”

There is also a more positive reason for using this terminology. The history of the discussion of the relationship between faith and learning stretches back for almost 2000 years. During that time, a wide variety of rubrics have been used. In fact, in preparing for a lecture on this topic I quickly identified over a dozen “varieties of integration”—faith and reason, reason and revelation, Athens and Jerusalem, nature and grace, science and Scripture, culture and Christianity, to name just a few. It is helpful to have some umbrella terms available when entering into a conversation which has had such a diversity of terms. At the top of the list of possible umbrella terms seems to be “faith and learning."

Properly dividing faith and learning…

For all the unity between faith and learning, there is still a proper sense in which they are divided. It is not that they do not belong together, or that one is properly part of religious faith and the other is not. Rather, it seems that they have different sources. To borrow language that was very common in the 17th and 18th centuries, there are “two books” we must study to fully understand our world: the book of nature and the book of Scripture. Both books are authored by God—God’s world and God’s Word, to put it another way. Obviously since these two books are both authored by God, they ultimately serve a single purpose. They belong together, but they are found apart. And this returns us to our original definition of integration—bringing together things that are found apart. So despite sharing the conviction that the Christian faith should not be compartmentalized, I do not feel that entails the rejection of a term like “integration.” In fact, it seems extremely appropriate given the fact that God has chosen to grant human beings knowledge from two sources, not just one.

Jesus, Lord of All

Before concluding this discussion, it is important to connect it with distinctively Christian theology by makings explicit the “common purpose” of nature and Scripture and the connection to the person of Christ. Perhaps the best passage of Scripture to draw this from is Colossians 1:15-20. The passage gives a very clearly identifies Christ as the creator of all things. It also identifies him as the purpose of all things: all things were created by him and for him. It is important to realize how distinctive this theology is. It constitutes an absolute rejection of Gnosticism, a Greek mystery religion which grew up in the immediate post-New Testament world and has been a heretical counterpoint to Christian orthodoxy ever since. Gnosticism puts a wedge between the God of creation and the God of redemption. Colossians 1 rejects this wedge not by means of an argument but by means of a person: Jesus Christ, who in his very person unites the God of creation and the God of redemption. He not only called the created order into existence, but the created order finds its purpose in Him. It is madefor Him. Jesus does not just have “spiritual” purposes, he has purposes for the physical world as well. The created order is not merely a necessary evil, or a temporary necessity, but rather it is a good creation with a divine purpose and an eternal future.

The implications of this for the integration of faith and learning should be obvious. Christ belongs in the created order. He called it into being. He entered it personally through incarnation. He is twice over at home in creation. He is also the proper owner of every inch of the created world. Furthermore, he is the proper end of the created world. It is a world that was made for him. But despite all of this, creation was followed by fall and therefore certain aspects of creation are in rebellion against their King. Creation, for all of its goodness at inception and goodness of intention, is currently a place of conflict and rebellion. Christ’s response to this rebellion is not to abandon the created order, but to redeem it. Not just to redeem human beings, but to redeem all things. The scope of redemption is co-extensive with the scope of creation. Salvation history is the story of how God restores all the things that were made by Him back into a condition of being used for Him. Human life is about joining in process of bringing all things back into submission to Christ the rightful King. It can be argued that the meaning of every individual human life is found by finding its place in this story. We have been conscripted into the War of the Prepositions: we fight that all that was made by him might once again be used for him. And so we come again to the purpose of integration. Integration is simply one way of framing great battle of the ages. The task of theological integration is the enthroning of Christ as King in every sphere of human endeavor and every aspect of the created order.