INTEGRATION AND THE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE:
REFLECTION ON THE NINETEENTH PSALM
FRED VAN DYKE
ARLAN J. BIRKEY
TED D. NICKEL
For perhaps the last thirty years, "integration" has been the central concern of college education in general, and of the private liberal arts colleges in particular. Many have lamented the increasing fragmentation, perhaps better termed "disintegration," of academic disciplines in the larger universities.1 Christian colleges have (rightly) claimed that they, not their secular and pluralistic counterparts, possessed the integrating principles of knowledge, the revelation of God in Scripture. As Christian liberal arts colleges reemphasized biblical themes as the foci of integration, Bible colleges extended the same themes to integrate the new general studies courses within their traditional curriculum of biblical studies and theology.
In most evangelical, Christian colleges biblical studies have provided, and will continue to provide, the foundation of our study of God's revelation to man. However, the natural and social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities, will assume a continually increasing role. If, as Holmes2 puts it, "all truth is God's truth," we are faced with resolving the important question of how "truth" determined in the context of general education relates to the "truth" determined in biblical studies. We may state the problem in more general and more theological terms as "what is the relationship between general and
General revelation may be defined as that which can be known about God through nature, through history, and through human conscience. It is "general" in the sense that it is always and everywhere available to people (cf. Acts 14:17, 17:27, Romans 1:20). The term "special revelation" is used to denote God's own personal revelation of Himself through Scripture and, ultimately, through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).3
Psalm 19 represents a remarkable integrative statement of the relationship between general and special revelation. It is worth quoting at length.
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. (All Scripture quotations from NASB)
The first six verses concentrate on the Psalmist's joy over God's activity in creation, while the rest of the psalm rejoices in the blessings of meditating on God's word. Here, in what is both a smooth transition and a profound juxtaposition, the elements of special revelation and general revelation are explored. But what can the psalm and other sources tell us about the relationship between these two sources? Is there interaction or even integration between them? Is either more reliable than the other? If an apparent conflict arises between them, how can it legitimately be resolved?
Both general and special revelation have proven to be legitimate sources of information. However, Christians have traditionally viewed special revelation to be the more important and more reliable source of knowledge and, in any apparent conflict between the two, to be the decisive voice. We say "apparent" conflict because there can be no real conflict in truth, but apparent conflicts can arise through the imperfections of our own understanding. "Now I know in part," says Paul, "then I shall know fully." (I Corinthians 13:12)
Special revelation holds the higher authority because the ability to receive knowledge from either special or general revelation is based upon an act of faith. However, each act of faith has a different object. In special revelation, the object of faith is God Himself. God has declared that not only is His word true, but that His record of that word is also true. In general revelation, the object of our faith is the rationality of our own minds. This assumption of rationality is supported by Scripture, personal experience, and logic, but it remains true that even the most rational mind may draw false conclusions from natural revelation. These false conclusions may arise either from the mind's own limitations or through the deliberate self-deception of our sinful nature (cf. Romans 1:21). This may occur whether the revelation comes to us from outside ourselves (i.e., the physical universe) or from within ourselves (the conscious or subconscious mind). Though rationality has both its place and its use, it is an inadequate foundation upon which to build an understanding of God. Paul succinctly summarizes where all such theorizing ends up: "The world by its wisdom knew not God." (I Corinthians 1:21)
Apart from man's own mental limitations, natural revelation is itself, even if perfectly observed and interpreted, an inadequate data source for our understanding of God. As Psalm 19 indicates, the "witness" of nature to God is pervasive ("Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world."), and yet inarticulate ("There is no speech, nor are there words. Their voice is not heard."). In these brief statements we see the dilemma of general revelation. Nature can provide powerful illustrations of that which Scripture teaches as concept, but, by itself, nature can teach precisely nothing. If you want to understand the concept of "glory," you must study your Bible; but once you have learned the concept, nature can give you a picture, vivid, splendid, and real, of what "glory" might be like. By itself, however, general revelation does not afford an adequate basis for any religion in general (no religion is based solely on general revelation) or for Christianity in particular, because it can convey neither reliable nor specific information about God.
General revelation may become, then, a kind of idol which can show some characteristics of God, but omits or distorts others, and so, in fact, dishonors God. Nature can teach one about divine wrath, for the universe can be a terrible and savage place, but nature will teach nothing of mercy. Nature suggests both the omnipotent and the omniscient, for the universe is vast, intricate, and well-ordered; yet it knows of no God who would be a friend of man. Fallen nature strikes us at every turn in its rages and takes no notice of us in its raptures. We are humbled by nature in our littleness, but never exalted by it. And yet we long that nature would recognize us. In the beauty of a fading sunset, or the song of wild geese in a cold wind, we are drawn irresistibly into beauty. But in a moment it passes, and we realize that it took no notice of us at all. So we pine and are crushed with our own intelligence. We know we have no claim on these visions, yet we still yearn to be a part of the greatness which is all around us.
To the inadequacy of natural revelation, the special scriptural revelation, God Himself, speaks. Some evolutionists have asked what the next step in human evolution will be. The Christian, in all honesty, must reply that it has already occurred. It is the regenerate person, the spiritual person, the person in Christ. Paul tells plainly that "all creation waits expectantly (and longs earnestly) for the revealing of the sons of God . . . nature itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption into the glorious freedom of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:19-21). This proposition is as staggering as it is true. So when the Psalmist speaks of trees bowing down and mountains leaping and clapping their hands, he is not indulging in primitive, simple-minded musing, but sharing the glorious revelation of an actual future event when nature acknowledges both us and her sovereign, and is no longer silent. On that day all the streams of truth will run together, and God will be revealed in nature as He is now revealed only in Scripture. For that day we eagerly wait, guided to it by the authority of Scripture, leading us through a fallen universe to a perfect Creator.
With this understanding, the issue of integration comes into focus. Dictionaries of education have columns of definitions for integration--all dealing with curriculum focus upon the merging of an academic discipline with the wholeness of life. In our view, the spiritual dimension is the most important component of integrated learning. We find Gangel's definition of integration the best, "The learning of all subjects as part of the total truth of God: thereby enabling the student to see the unity of natural and special revelation."4 (Emphasis ours).
Most educators agree that real integration must occur within the student himself. If the student does not internalize the broad generalizations of God's truth to the world around him, integration has not occurred.
Given this understanding, we think that C. S. Lewis is right to point out that the older, and better, name for integration is virtue,5 and that the correct aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.6 Integration merges the world of facts with the world of values. Lack of integration creates the dichotomy of two unreconciled worlds, one of facts and one of values. The former is seen as objective and the latter as subjective, and no reconciliation is possible.7
All instructors face two extremes in integration which must be avoided. One is to avoid the whole subject because it is difficult and controversial. The other is to trivialize integration to "preachiness," to attempt to find a Scripture verse for every fact of the physical world, and to impose this upon the student. In either case learning will be superficial and integration will not occur.
Bloom8 provides some insights about learning which should enable us to avoid either extreme. He calls them "Levels of Cognitive Behavior." In this scheme, cognitive behavior follows a logical, six-step process to insure that students gain:
1) KNOWLEDGE: deriving information from authentic sources;
2) COMPREHENSION: expressing information in their own words and relating it to their own experiences;
3) APPLICATION: solving problems that relate to such previous experiences;
4) ANALYSIS: understanding the form(s) of logic used in reaching a conclusion;
5) SYNTHESIS: drawing from other disciplines (i.e., biblical studies, psychology, biology, history, etc.) that relate to the issues being considered; and
6) EVALUATION: understanding that they now have a better basis for a value judgment, but that they may need to investigate further.
If students learn the discipline of investigating and thinking through an important issue of today's world in integrative terms, drawing both from biblical revelation and the general revelation of related academic disciplines, they are more likely to internalize the total truth of God and see the unity of truth to which both general and special revelation testify.
The integration between general and special revelation must take place at four different levels: 1) in individual courses; 2) within the courses offered in a given discipline; 3) in the total college curriculum; and 4) in the total campus experience. Note here an important aspect of the integration achieved in Psalm 19. First the Psalmist assumes a posture of praise. There is no hint of any apologetic or defensive stance. He does not attempt to prove the existence of God from nature, but rather assumes God's existence and rejoices in the power and splendor which God displays in His creation. Second, the joy of the Psalmist in creation is a natural expression of his love for God. It in no way exhibits the characteristics of the forced and mechanical exercises which sometimes pass for integration on Christian college campuses. It is free, joyful, and fervent. Finally, the Psalmist magnifies the glory of God, not the contrivance of human genius. The focus of the Psalmist's attention throughout is the greatness and glory of God Himself. This stands in sharp contrast to much writing by Christian intellectuals on "integration" which seems to focus instead on the cleverness of its authors.
The secular educator Theodore Greene wrote in Liberal Education Reconsidered that:
The goal of education is to prepare each individual . . . to live well in his society and in the universe in which he finds himself; that that educational process is best which advances us most efficiently towards this goal, and that that academic community is best which best initiates and sustains this educational process.9
Perhaps, as Christian educators, we can put things more simply: the goal of a truly integrated Christian education is to bring the student to maturity in Christ. C. B. Eavey notes that the seventeenth century Protestant scholar Comenius saw this task as threefold: 1) man must know all things, including himself; 2) man must master all things, including himself; and, finally, 3) man must direct all things, including himself, toward God.10 It should not surprise us that we find this task so successfully accomplished in the nineteenth psalm. The issues of integration in Christian education, specifically focused in the relationship between general and special revelation, will continue to be with us for some time. We shall always be constrained (on this side of heaven) by a physical universe which will limit us in space and time, and by our relationships with other persons who share that universe with us. To reach our full potential as human beings, we must specifically understand both the nature of the environment itself and of the God who created it. We must come to grips with the relationship between general and special revelation, for it is the linchpin of all subsequent efforts at integration. Christian colleges have historically occupied a leadership position in defining and developing college curricula which express the nature, content, and purpose of such integration. Byrne's11 five distinctives of Christian philosophy are well remembered here:
1) the coordination of various spheres of life as a whole;
2) the systematic relation of knowledge;
3) the examination of presuppositions, methods, and basic concepts of each discipline and of groups of disciplines;
4) the search for coherence, the formulation of a world view; and
5) the consultation of data from total experience.
Christian institutions of higher learning must continue to take the initiative in these areas, and to boldly offer what their secular counterparts no longer believe possible--an integrative view of truth and life. Perhaps the answers are not so far from us as we might have thought. The simple elegance of genuine integration modeled in Psalm 19 may be the very place to start.
Notes and References
1Howard Hong, ed., Integration in the Christian Liberal Arts College (Northfield, MN: St. Olaf College Press, 1956), p.3.
2Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975), p. 25.
3Alan Richardson, ed., A Theological Word Book of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1951) p. 197.
4Kenneth O. Gangel, "Integrating Faith and Learning: Principles and Process." Pages 29-42 in P. A. Kienel, ed., The Philosophy of Christian School Education (Whittier, CA: Western Assoc. of Christian Schools, 1971), p. 30.
5C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1947), p. 46.
6Ibid., p. 10.
7Ibid., p. 13.
8S. Bloom, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain (New York, NY: David McKay Company, Inc., 1956, p. 201.
9Theodore Greene, Liberal Education Reconsidered (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954), p. 24.
10C. B. Eavey, History of Christian Education (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1964), p. 174.
11H. W. Byrne, A Christian Approach to Education (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 75.