At any Christian university you’ll hear a lot about the “integration of faith and learning” (and if you don’t, transfer elsewhere as quickly as possible), but unfortunately there may not be much said about what that actually looks like. Because I’m a graduate of two Christian universities, have taught at one since 2008, and have met scores of Christian academics at various conferences over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to both talk about integration and see the various ways people practice it. In my experience, it seems that many people are operating with a deficient view of integration. What they’re doing is good and right, but it’s not all they could be doing.
Personal vs. Conceptual Integration
When a Pharisee wanted Jesus to tell him which was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied that it was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Academics rarely have a difficult time seeing the value of the life of the mind. This is often what leads one to excel as an undergraduate, pursue graduate studies, and eventually to seek employment within academia. However, what is sometimes overlooked is that in this exchange with the Pharisees Jesus is teaching us that to keep the greatest commandment we must use our mind for a particular purpose—to love God. We cannot simply use our minds to increase our knowledge of philosophy, history, science, etc. It is not enough to excel within the academy and to do so with honesty, humility, etc., one must also actively use the mind in pursuit of God himself. There is a difference between being, for example, a Christian philosopher and being a philosopher who merely happens to be a Christian. Jesus seems to be more concerned with the former than the latter. (On this distinction, I highly recommend my colleague Richard Davis’s contribution to the EPS’s Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project.)
Now, of course, Jesus does not just say to love God with your mind. He also speaks of loving God with your heart and soul as well. In bringing together all three ways of loving God, Jesus is teaching us about the importance of one form of integration: what Francis Beckwith and J. P. Moreland have called “personal integration.” The aim of personal integration is to “live a unified life.”1 This not only means that we are to seek after God with every aspect of our nature, but also that we are to live a life “in which we are the same in public as we are in private, a life in which the various aspects of our personality are consistent with each other and conducive to a life of human flourishing as a disciple of Jesus.”2 Any committed follower of Jesus must take seriously this kind of integration and it is unlikely that the Christian academic will struggle with recognizing its importance. (We may struggle with actually fulfilling it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t see its value.) However, there is a second kind of integration that Scripture also calls us to, and unfortunately in my experience this second kind is often overlooked by Christian academics.
It seems that in specifically instructing us to love God with our minds, Jesus is also stating that we should be committed to “conceptual integration.” In explaining how conceptual integration relates to academics, both students and professors, Beckwith and Moreland state that conceptual integration will seek to ensure that “our theological beliefs, especially those derived from careful study of the Bible, are blended and unified with important, reasonable ideas from our profession or college major into a coherent, intellectually satisfying Christian worldview.”3 In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church we see this sort of concern for conceptual integration at work. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes that he has “delivered to [the Corinthians] as of first importance what [he] also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:3–4). This message was not only delivered, but it was also “received” and “believed” by them (15:2, 11). Those in the Corinthian church apparently had no problem believing in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is strange, then, to see that some in the church were also saying that there is no resurrection of the dead (15:12). Apparently some in the church believed both that Christ was resurrected and that there was no resurrection of the dead. But these beliefs are clearly incompatible and Paul employs a simple modus tollens argument to demonstrate this. He writes,
(1) “If the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised” (15:16).
(2) “But in fact Christ has been raised form the dead” (15:20).
(3) Therefore, the dead are raised (unstated conclusion).4
One way of thinking about the problem Paul has identified is that some in the Corinthian church had not fully integrated their beliefs about Christ with their beliefs about the raising of the dead in general. In failing to conceptually integrate they ended up believing something that actually undermines the central claim of the Christian worldview—that Christ is risen.
Conceptual Integration and Examining Entailments
This brings out another important aspect of conceptual integration. A genuine commitment to integration will go much further than simply affirming various biblical or theological ideas. It will also include a careful examination of what those ideas entail and what is entailed by one’s non-biblical or non-theological beliefs. So, for example, as a faculty member at Tyndale University College I accept that the institution’s Statement of Faith is an accurate reflection of what Scripture teaches on various subjects. In endorsing it I ought to be doing more than simply saying, “Yes, I assent to what is written in the statement itself.” I’m also saying I accept that which is entailed by the items in the statement and I reject beliefs whose entailments would contradict the statement. Perhaps an example will help see this point more clearly.
Consider the following tenet of Tyndale’s Statement of Faith:
 on a day that has been appointed, Jesus Christ will appear again as judge to raise the righteous unto eternal blessing and the unrighteous unto eternal separation from God. He will consummate His kingdom of peace, and His redeemed will enjoy everlasting life, reigning with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth.
One who affirms this, and is serious about not only personal integration but also conceptual integration, will want to consider what follows from this claim about the final judgment. Though it may not be immediately obvious, from this statement a case can be made that certain views about the eternal fate of the unredeemed are false. Take, for example, the annihilationist who states that instead of consigning the unredeemed to an eternity in hell, God simply annihilates them from existence. This person will have a hard time affirming that God will raise “the unrighteous unto eternal separation from God” because the notion of eternal separation is incompatible with annihilation. That is, its truth entails that annihilationism is false. How so?
The main worry stems from the fact that ‘separation’ is a two-termed relation. That is, to use ‘separation’ correctly it will always take the form of x is separated from y. On annihilationism it is incorrect to say the unredeemed are “separated” from God because after death (or after some finite time of punishment) the unredeemed do not even exist. Non-existent persons are not separated from anything at all because they do not exist at all. The first term in the separated relation is empty, so it’s false that the unredeemed are separated from God. Furthermore, because this separation is said to be “eternal” it will not suffice for one to respond by saying that the unredeemed were separate from God prior to their judgment and annihilation. The eternal aspect of the separation indicates that it is never ending, but God’s annihilating the unredeemed would bring an end to that eternal separation. That which no longer exists cannot continue in the ‘separated from’ relation.
To be clear, this is not an argument against annihilationism in general, but only against those who would affirm something like that which is expressed in Tyndale’s Statement of Faith. If the concept of annihilation entails that “it is false that the unrighteous will be eternally separated from God”, then one could not consistently affirm both annihilationism and Tyndale’s Statement of Faith any more than the Corinthians could affirm Christ’s resurrection while denying resurrections in general.
The Difficult, but Good, Task Ahead
The example above is of course just that, an example. Whether or not you think the argument against annihilationism is any good it should serve to show just how important conceptual integration is. Personal integration is important, of course, but Chrisitan universities that fail to encourage its faculty and students to also take seriously conceptual integration put themselves at great peril. Avoiding this important task makes it far too easy for us to engage our academic studies with only the tools provided to us in graduate school—places rarely infused with Christian ideas. Being intentional about conceptual integration will help us root out those problematic methods and assumptions that inevitably find their way into our noetic structure.
This integrative task is not an easy one for we must be willing to check all our beliefs against that which is taught in the Bible. The Christian psychologist being taught in graduate school that we are just our bodies must be willing to push back against her professors if she believes the Bible teaches that we are not just our bodies. The Christian historian whose colleagues think we cannot know things about the past, history always being subject to revision, must be willing to affirm that at least some historical events can be known—the resurrection of Christ being the most important example. The Christian philosopher must be willing to ensure that his starting point in doing epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics are consistent with a thoroughly Christian worldview. None of this will be easy, but few things worthwhile are.
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1. Francis Beckwith and J. P. Moreland, “Series Preface: A Call to Integration and the Christian Worldview Series,” in Doing Philosophy as a Christian, by Garrett DeWeese (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011), 10.↩
3. Beckwith and Moreland, 9.↩
4. In verse 29 he gives a similar argument, asking “What do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people being baptized on their behalf?” It is interesting that he doesn’t chastise them for baptizing on behalf of the dead (!), but for engaging in a practice that is incompatible with other beliefs they take to be true.↩