This is part two of a five-part series on the perils and pitfalls of integrative thinking. A previous post considered “Hermit Crab Integration,” which uncritically adopts existing social structures and cultural artifacts. A related, but slightly different problem concerns this post. We call it “Christmas Tree Integration.”
Christmas Tree Integration
Not only does the secular academy define the structure of an academic discipline, it also loads that discipline with content. When a Christian pursues higher education, that content becomes the measure of competence and its mastery is the right of passageinto the academy. To achieve competency, a course of graduate study must be followed which is deep, demanding, and detailed. When it comes time to teach this same discipline to others, the starting point will almost certainly be the content that was learned in graduate study.
But if one is teaching at a Christian institution, the stated goal is not merely that one delivers the core content of an academic discipline, but that it is “integrated” with a Christian worldview. The most common solution to this is to search the core content for points of contact with the Christian faith and attach these to specific biblical texts that address or seem to address the topic in question. The verses are often listed parenthetically in the syllabus as if it is from these texts that the content is derived. But the fact of the matter is that the content preceded biblical study, it did not follow from it. There was no systematic study of the Scripture or of Christian theology or of Christian reflection upon the subject matter. The biblical references are hung upon the content as ornaments upon a Christmas tree. The result is something that is biblical in appearance and secular in essence.
A distinctive danger of Christmas Tree integration unfolds for those who take the time to look up the parenthetical Scriptural citations. One often discovers that: 1) a relevant word is mentioned in the passage but it is used in a way that is incidental or unrelated to the topic of the academic discussion, or 2) the topic is merely mentioned but it is not subject of the biblical teaching, or 3) the topic is the subject of the biblical teaching, but the biblical teaching is distinctively different from or even contrary to the teaching offered in the syllabus. These fallacies are all by-products of biblical study done after the essential content is already determined. The pressure to force passages to fit the pre-determined content is enormous and multiplies hermeneutical errors that are common enough without the pressure of an already filled-in syllabus.