by Michael Lawson
“An integrated life
should be taught through an integrated curriculum
in order to reflect the integrated nature of truth
found ultimately in God himself.”
The Christian community has not stuttered in her declaration about the unity of truth. Jesus’ words stamped an indelible and continuing impression on Christian thinkers from the beginning. They understood at once that he was the glue needed to put the pieces together as well as the model for what they look like when together. All the lofty discussions about truth suddenly had a much-needed sorting device. The impact of a unified system of truth was not lost on our forefathers. They staked out a claim on truth that extended well beyond the pages of Scripture to each and every piece of life, drawing it irresistibly back to its proper place. Listen to these leaders as they speak for themselves: Justin Martyr: “Whatever has been uttered aright by any man in any place belongs to us Christians; for, next to God, we worship and love the Logos which is from the unbegotten and ineffable God.”
Augustine: “Every good and true Christian should understand that wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord’s.”
Rabbanus Maurus: “The seven liberal arts of the philosophers, which Christians should learn for their utility and advantage, we have, as I think sufficiently discussed. We have this yet to add. When those who are called philosophers, have in their expositions or in their writings, uttered perchance some truth, which agrees with our faith, we should not handle it timidly, but rather take it as from its unlawful possessors and apply it to our own use.”
Desiderius Erasmus: “All studies, philosophy, rhetoric are followed for this one object, that we may know Christ and honor him. This is the end of all learning and eloquence.”1
In fact this section should need little discussion except so many Christians have no exposure to these voices. They grew up without having them emphasized in their Christian education or entered the Christian faith without an awareness of their legacies. Few Protestant churches give even modest attention to historical matters. Even in seminary, I have bright students question the need for Christian history in their education. Some of my students have been so deeply influenced by the bifurcation of truth that they categorically deny any such unity exists. Nor was I successful in persuading them in spite of all Christian tradition and thinking to the contrary. The dominant explanation plus a compartmentalized educational curriculum created an insurmountable mental barrier for them.
If Christianity offers a unified perspective on truth, then whatever is taught ought to be anchored to, informed by, and integrated with that truth. The way students progress through the curriculum ought to help them move toward a unified perspective on truth. Students ought to know how each piece contributes to each other piece and the whole. If they enter theological education, they need to understand how theology wraps its arms around their so-called general education and embraces everything. Students often feel like the little metal ball in the pinball game, bouncing from one course to another for no apparent reason.
Throughout this section, I have been trying to show the necessity of educational integration. If, as we affirm, God is one, then truth as a reflection of God must also be a unified whole. Truth remains stable even as God remains stable although our understanding of it and him may be imperfect. Our curriculum should guide students toward an understanding of truth and God. Although every curriculum is artificially assembled, it ought to consistently reflect truth as a unified whole, not an arbitrary selection of subject materials. The way we teach our individual subjects ought to reveal the interconnections with other subjects. If this is genuinely important, then it must be explained, modeled, emphasized, and reinforced. Otherwise, it will slip by much like it did in my own experience. This may require a level of sophistication for teachers that goes beyond technical proficiency. In reality, we have not only isolated subjects from one another but also separated general education from theological education. Consequently, truth comes to students like pieces of Humpty Dumpty. Some ultimately figure out the connections; others never do.
Truth must ultimately correspond to and explain reality. The Bible is the only book that adequately deals with the existence of evil, the paradoxical nature of humans, an ultimate resolution of injustice, and the human heart’s longing for immortality. Today, if you want answers to these issues, you must pursue a theological education by attending a seminary. Theology, once known as “the Queen of the sciences,” finds herself discreetly hidden from public view. Those who speak of theology are sequestered to “special” schools. A better approach would be to have theology woven into the very fabric of everything a student studies in Christian education. After all, God continues to explain himself through both the creation and his living Word.
Unfortunately, theological education even neglects a full exploration of both sources of revelation. Seminaries work hard at exploring aspects about God through biblical research and systematic schemas. Yet everything we have learned or can learn in general education reveals something wonderful about the Creator. Courses exploring God’s character from the contributions of natural revelation simply do not exist. Carisa Ash highlights this discrepancy in her PhD dissertation. She traces the affirmations of evangelical theology. Everyone agrees that God reveals himself in both special revelation (the Bible) and natural revelation (all those subjects normally included in general education). Both are sources of truth. Yet those who write theologies normally cite only the Bible. Few, if any, writers give equal space to both sources of truth.2 This may be because a PhD in theology does not start with, include, or conclude with any academic training in the created order. In any case, a great deal about God goes unexplored or unconnected to him by those who champion his study.
Christian education may need to reassess and reassign its resources if it is to regain its central role in education circles and the society at large. We have unlimited access to the truth bound up in a Person and reflected in everything he has said and done.
1 I am greatly indebted to D. Bruce Lockerbie who collected and published all these quotes and so much more in his volume A Passion for Learning (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 49, 79, 109, opposite the contents.
2 Carisa Ash, unpublished PhD dissertation, A Critical Examination of the Doctrine of Revelation in Evangelical Theology (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2011).
Editors’ note: This is an excerpt from Michael S. Lawson, The Professor’s Puzzle: Teaching in Christian Academics (B&H Academic, 2015). It is designed as a handbook for new and aspiring professors to help them transition from the independent research of their doctoral program to classroom teaching.