During professional development sessions with our faculty and staff, one of the things we include is acquiring a deeper understanding of the spiritual and philosophical foundations of education. As we came into this school year, we spent a good deal of time looking at one of our core values: “Integrated Instruction.”
So, what do we mean by Integrated Instruction? We point out in our value definition that it is offering opportunities for students to grow spiritually, intellectually, aesthetically, physically, and socially, since those components are deeply interconnected and contribute to the education of the whole child (Luke 2:52; Matthew 22:37; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Students participate in a coordinated educational experience so that they may become well–rounded and thoroughly equipped for Kingdom work.
But integrated instruction actually goes far deeper, offering a countercultural understanding of reality. We want our students to see everything they learn as an integrated whole, with God and His divine revelation at the center. A biblical worldview offers a cohesive, consistent explanation of the universe, an explanation which is jarringly at odds with the prevailing worldviews offered by our modern western culture. That culture insists that all human understanding of reality must be compartmentalized into two spheres in which faith and values function separately from the fact-based realm of life.
Sociologists call this compartmentalization the public/private split. One sociologist comments: “Modernization brings about a novel dichotomization of social life. The dichotomy is between the huge and immensely powerful institutions of the public sphere—the state, academia, large corporations, etc.-and the private sphere—the realm of family, church, and personal relationships.” Those large institutions claim to be scientific and values-free, so that values as well as all matters of faith are then relegated to the private sphere of personal choice or preferences.
Thus the divide in culture is between Values (individual choice) and Facts (binding on everyone). Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer described this worldview split as a two-story model of thought. Think of a house with two floors whose connecting stairway is non-existent, allowing little or no communication between the floors. In this model, the upper story represents ideas characterized as non-rational or non-cognitive, while the lower story contains all that is rational, verifiable, fact-based, scientific. Keep in mind that the two are kept separate in influence, with only the lower story allowed to dominate the public square.
One Christian apologist warns that a divided concept of the world will result in the “cultural captivity of the gospel.” By that he means that Christianity is trapped in the upper story of privatized values and is prevented from impacting the public culture. A major result is that Christian thought is no longer regarded as objective knowledge and is dismissed as private preference.
Unfortunately, after several generations of anemic evangelical response to this cultural force, the western church seems to be in full retreat, unable to offer a robust, thoughtful apologetic to counter this insidious dualism. One Christian professor writes, “The barred cage that forms the prison for the gospel in contemporary western culture is the church’s accommodation to the fact-value dichotomy.” Or the church withdraws from culture and takes a whimpering, victimize stance toward the world around us. Either way, our children grow up understanding life as two disjointed worlds, one for church, and the other for all the other “stuff” or real life.
Our task as Christian educators who understand this is to deliver a holistic view of total truth so that the gospel can be freed to become a redemptive force across all of life – thus our school’s value of integrated instruction. We seek to bring our students to see that Christianity, alone of the worldviews, provides an integrated approach to life. God and His Word speaks to all of life, not just to “spiritual things.” We seek to echo the words of Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
So, how is this done? What mechanism or scheme do we have as teachers to bring God’s thoughts to bear upon all of our human existence? Is there an interpretive grid for seeing reality and offering a satisfying explanation for all phenomena within a Christian context? Failure to answer this leaves us surrendering the most significant portions of temporal existence to secular thinkers who are determined to deny Christians the opportunity to bring eternal truths to bear upon contemporary issues. Those believers who do, find themselves condemned. A florist in Washington and a baker in Colorado are recent examples of believers who insisted that their businesses are under God’s sovereignty and cannot be used to celebrate what He clearly condemns. Examples like those point out the lengths to which our secular society—in this case the government—will go to push faith out of public view.
To guide our students’ thinking and provide a consistent, integral framework for understanding everything, we use a grid from Scripture: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. Since God revealed this historical grid to us as the way it really happened, we are not left to wild materialistic speculations but can effectively wrap all knowledge around it.
- Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from? How do we explain beauty, form, complexity?
- Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering? Why death?
- Redemption: What can we do about evil? How can the world be set right again? What is our mission on this earth?
- Consummation: Is there hope for the future? Can we be optimistic?
On each of those points, our secular culture holds widely divergent positions from Scripture. The secularist offers material explanations for each of them, but they are often inconsistent, contradictory, and insufficient. As Christian educators, we offer a comprehensive framework which not only answers life’s big questions but is supported by evidence.
Creation is probably the area most subject to attack by our culture, mostly pure ad hominem. However, if we truly believe the Bible’s account of creation, and it truly informs all knowledge for us, the implications are incredibly broad. With the creation account, God gives us satisfying and workable foundations for:
- The sciences and the laws within which they operate
- The nature of life and its value
- Human sexuality and marriage
- The nature of work, human enterprise, and creativity
- Respect for and the proper use of the resources of the earth
- Logic and human reasoning
There are no physical, philosophical, or spiritual truths which are not touched by the Creator.
The Fall answers the questions dealing with the dark side of human existence, for the universality of Creation is matched by the universality of the Fall. There is no part of creation which is not touched by the effects of man’s great rebellion against his Creator. Tragically, the most significant effect of the Fall was the blinding and deadening of the human mind: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18).
We recognize that God continues to shower grace upon His fallen creatures, and all mankind, believers and unbelievers alike, still bear the image of God. Humans are marvelously capable of uncovering genuine knowledge and accomplishing great things, and we can learn and gain from the discoveries and accomplishments of unregenerate mankind. After all, all truth is God’s truth, no matter who discovers it.
Yet nonbelievers build truths into false systems built upon wrong ultimate principles. This should serve as a warning to us while we are plundering the Egyptians and using truths that they have discovered.
So, how does the fall inform our integrated worldview?
- In social studies we can observe the brokenness of mankind through wars, oppression, slavery, and abject inhumanity.
- The life sciences show not only a beautiful, complex creation, but also pathological systems which create sickness, deformity, and death.
- Literature often reveals the darkness and confusion of creative minds in rebellion against their Creator.
- Economics teaches that mankind has always had a problem with selfishness and unjust distribution of resources, leading to conflict and oppression.
- Political science displays man’s lust for power and control and his feeble attempts to establish justice.
Indeed, those are all very dark themes, and without the hope that God provides in the gospel, man is left with an unbroken string of unsuccessful attempts to fix things (treaties, League of Nations, UN, education, war on poverty, etc.).
Redemption in the gospel is the only hope for mankind, the only solution that genuinely solves problems. Thankfully, the effects of redemption are just as comprehensive as the Fall. The salvation that God offers is not just for our souls but for our minds as well, which is good news for Christian educators. Redemption gives new direction to our thoughts, emotions, will, and habits. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is no hint of a divided life in those passages.
In redemption, not only are we saved from sin, but believers are saved to resume the task for which we were originally created. Here we can circle back to Creation and recall the original mandate given to mankind—the Cultural Mandate—which is still in effect. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Redeemed ones are to be involved in living redemptive lives in every way. Socially, we are to “be fruitful and multiply.” Naturally, scientifically, technologically, we are to “subdue the earth.” This mandate involves creating culture and building civilization under the auspices and sovereignty of the divine Creator. Our vocation, our work, is not some less important aspect of life to earn money and put food on the table, but it is a high calling from the earliest days of creation. Vocation is serving God and our fellow man with the creativity, talents, gifts He has given us. We bake cakes and arrange flowers because God takes delight in our work.
But this side of heaven, we still deal with the Fall even as Redeemed ones. Redemption is a rich concept; it goes much further than a one-time conversion event. It leads inexorably on to the fourth part of God’s story—Consummation, the final goal to which we are headed. Knowing that God’s story line, His historical arc, includes an eternity where all the pain and suffering of the Fall will be made permanently and completely whole gives life bed-rock purpose, something that secular materialism cannot match.
At Westlake, we realize that our students come from homes and churches which have been subtly and often profoundly influenced by the dualism so rampant in our culture. Our teachers labor mightily every day to expose its errors and dismantle the two-story house, replacing it with the true, biblical, completely integrated understanding of reality.
I am indebted to the following for the thoughts in this blog:
Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Crossway Books. 2004.
Schaeffer, Francis. How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Crossway Books. 1983.