Faith Integration: Types and Approaches- Part Two
In the first part of this article, I addressed the idea of “faith and learning” within the larger notion of Faith Integration. In this section I will address the idea of academic integration which is sometimes called the integration of “Truth and Knowledge” or the “Unification of Knowledge”.
For academics and professionals, the process of academic integration is a major challenge. Academic integration is the engagement of the relationship between one’s academic major or interest and the academic discipline of theology. This may be in the natural sciences (astronomy and theology) or the behavioral sciences (psychology and theology) or any other academic discipline (music and theology or architecture and theology). Because theology functions as an academic discipline, its relationship with the other disciplines is a matter of comparison and contrasts between assumptions, epistemologies, theories and data.
One of the problems of academic integration is that many academics and professionals have a graduate level understanding of their discipline as a result of completing a Masters or Doctoral program in that discipline, but they only have a layman’s or Sunday School level of theological understanding. Conversely, many pastors and theologians have a layman’s knowledge or a popular understanding of a given academic discipline such as psychology or medicine. The result is that the integration of theology and a given academic disciplines is, at best, uneven.
An additional consideration is that within any academic discipline there are schools of thought that differ in their understanding of the scope and knowledge acceptable within that discipline. And in theology there are differences between and within Judaism and Christianity. For example, significant theological differences between Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed and Free-church theologies exist.
What is needed is a relatively equal understanding of one’s academic field and that of theology. The problem of academic integration is that it requires significant time and access to quality content. Few professors have that level of training and understanding. There are, however, some academics in each discipline that, as believers, have struggled with and worked out an understanding of the relationship between their academic discipline and the theology of their faith. This gives us a place to start.
Academic integration is more problematic in the behavioral sciences because of the enormous overlap in focus between anthropology, psychology and sociology and theology in both understanding human nature and behavior, and the application of that knowledge to human development and suffering. The foundational assumptions of the secular Behavioral Sciences and those of the Judeo-Christian theologies make for conflict in several areas of inquiry. For example what is the relationship of sin and/or mental illness in our understanding of human nature? And how does this affect the interpretation of data related to causes and nuances of human behavior? But even with these differences in worldview and theoretical variance, we can allow for fruitful discussion of the relationship between behavioral science and theological understandings of the human condition.
We must start with the assumptions of the behavioral sciences and theology. The central core of religious belief is the idea that God is, and that humans were created by God for His purpose. For the behavioral sciences, the assumption that guides them is naturalism. This means that God does not exist or is not considered in the causes and results of human behavior. This is a serious difference and must not be discounted because it has implications for how we interpret data.
Over the last several decades several approaches to integration of theology and the behavioral sciences have been posited. One is the conflict model that takes the posture that there is no compatibility between theology and behavioral science knowledge. This is largely based on the incompatibility of the assumptions of naturalism within the secular behavioral sciences and the supernaturalism assumption of theology, but it is also a conflict of epistemology, that is, the relationship between empiricism and special revelation.
Another approach is a compartmental model. This model considers theological knowledge (Truth) as valid and also accepts behavioral science knowledge as factual (truth). This big T and small t idea of truth argues that these sources of knowledge are both valid but significantly different. Therefore, they must be kept separate in scope and application. In this case mental health and sin are not able to be considered together and therefore psychotherapies and religious practice must also remain separate so as to not compromise the content of either.
A third model is functionalism. This model sees the behavioral sciences and religion as different attempts at the same goal. In some cases, an alcoholic responds positively to the help of a higher power (God) who assists in the resistance to the damaging results of the sin of drunkenness. In other cases, a person may be made worse by such an approach but seeing their problem as an illness that is not their fault opens them up to the possibility of help through medical and counseling methods. In each case, what works for one person will not work for another. The functionalist is not so much concerned with the method but with the result – sobriety.
Finally there are eclectic models that see a benefit in putting theology and behavioral science knowledge together. These models often claim that “all truth is God’s truth” and believe that accurate knowledge in the behavioral sciences and correct theology are fully compatible. There are two versions of the eclectic models. “Mining” models see some truth in the Bible and theology and some truth in the behavioral sciences and attempt to put them together for a fuller and more accurate understanding of human behavior. This view of the Bible as containing truth tends to be found in more liberal theologies of Judaism and Christianity. In most cases, behavioral science data is held as valid and theological considerations are adapted to those facts.
The other eclectic model is one that “Filters” behavioral sciences through a conservative theology that considers Truth to be revealed in scripture and accurate knowledge (truth) to be discovered by research. In these cases, behavioral science theories and data are filtered through a Biblical screen. If the content does not conflict with cardinal conservative theology, it is accepted as compatible.
Of course there are variants of these models like the one developed by myself and Dr. Nathan P. Lewis. The Systematic-Relational Models begins with an openness that a given theory and theology may be in conflict, or may be compartmental, or functionally equivalent or compatible but this requires an understanding of the assumptions, theories, specific data and application that avoids simplistic connections and maintains the integrity of theology and the behavioral sciences.
We have examined personal faith and learning and academic integration. Our final section will look at professional integration of values and ethics.
This is part two of the Faith Integration series, make sure to check out part three!