Advice for Integrating the Essentials of Christian Thought with Learning
Doctrine. Politics. Church government. Moral issues. Christians disagree on just about everything under the sun. Yet a unity remains, centered around a core view of God and the world. This unity is rooted in the Christian vision for ultimate reality—a vision challenged by culture and often shunned by Christians.
Which is why Roger Olson’s new book The Essentials of Christian Thought is so important.
This book contains an archeology of the implicit philosophy of the Bible—the Bible’s assumed view of reality…this philosophy is foundational to everything the Bible teaches, and orthodox, thinking Christians of all denominations throughout the centuries have believed it. (10)
He wrote it not only to help Christians distinguish between the Bible’s vision of reality and competing ones from culture. He also wrote it for people who consider “faith-learning integration” part of their vocation—whether as university faculty, high school teacher, or other ministry leadership.
Below are a few pieces of advice, drawn from the first chapter in his book, for people passionate about integrating the essentials of Christian thought with learning.
Understand the Bible’s Implicit Philosophy
Integrating faith and learning presupposes there’s something to integrate in the first place. Which is why Olson spends time at the outset explaining that “the Bible does contain an implicit metaphysical vision of ultimate reality—the reality that is most important, final, highest, and behind everyday appearances” (12).
He wants Christians generally and Christian teachers specifically to realize the Bible does cradle a message about the nature of reality. He labels this metaphysical vision “‘Biblical relational theism’…the Bible’s implicit vision of ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is relational” (13).
Olson notes that among especially Protestant scholars there tends to be a bias against such a vision. Instead he assumes, and calls on teachers to assume, “that the Bible contains and implies a metaphysical perspective on [ultimate] reality, and that belief in the truth of the Bible points one toward having a certain perspective on the really real” (20).
Realize There’s a Problem
Though the Bible contains a vision of ultimate reality, the problem is that many Christians are unbelievers in it and confused about its nature.
They may know their church’s catechism forward and backward and yet have absorbed and embraced a vision of ultimate reality that is totally alien to the Bible and to Christian tradition. (14)
Olson offers three reasons why many Christians miss the Bible’s philosophy:
- “Even the most astute Christian philosophers and theologians have struggled to discern [the Bible’s] implied vision of ultimate reality in all its detail” (14)
- “Many churches never touch on even the basics of the biblical-Christian vision of reality” (14)
- “Cultural pluralism and a cultural emphasis on tolerance that often implies relativism seduces many Christians to create their own syncretic blends of life and world philosophies” (15)
Given these problems, Christians need teachers to guide them back to a basic biblical-Christian view of ultimate reality.
Avoid Wrong Conclusions About Faith and Learning
When it comes to faith-learning integration, Olson insists teachers and students alike often jump to the wrong conclusions, for a few reasons:
- There’s an assumption research will be put “into a kind of dogmatic straightjacket, limiting what questions can be asked and conclusions drawn from solid research” (17)
- There’s a belief that only “Christian [name-your-subject]” can be taught, such as “‘Christian mathematics’—whatever that would be!—or ‘Christian sociology’ or ‘Christian art’” (17)
- There’s a misuse of the concept of faith-learning integration, which leads to bad conclusions
Olson’s book aims to correct these conclusions by exploring how learning and life integrate with the essentials of Christian thought embodied in the biblical worldview.
Connect Learning with Ultimate Reality: An Example
“Christian institutions of higher learning are dedicated to the truth of the biblical narrative and the worldview it implies” (17), especially as it relates to the various disciplines within the academy. Here’s an example from the essentials of Christian thought:
Ultimate reality is personal, not impersonal, and humans reflect that ultimate reality in their created constitution—what they are. (17)
Olson calls this “Christian humanism,” which contrasts sharply with “secular humanism”—and “in fact, from a biblical-Christian perspective, it is true humanism!” (17). Yet many Christians follow Kant’s “categorical imperative” lead when it comes to views on human dignity. Instead, the church needs teachers—in universities, high schools, and churches—to connect Christian humanism with sociology and sociobiology, creative writing and cognitive psychology.
We need teachers committed to the truth of Christian thought and its fresh application within the world through integrated learning.
“Faith-learning integration is not about using a highly systematic theology, a dogmatic system, as a straightjacket to hinder academic freedom. It is about developing discernment about what theories about reality are compatible with the Bible and what theories are not…” (18)
If you teach others regularly, especially students, let Olson’s guide help you integrate the essentials of Christian thought into your pedagogical method.