One of the most elusive goals of educations is the integration of Christian worldview with a given subject. Most Christians agree that integration should be our goal. But not too many people know what it means, or is able to explain it even if they knew, and even less number of people know how to teach integration.
What does that integration look like? Typically, we understand integration as a biblical perspective on a given subject. But what does that mean? For example, if I was gazing at a star as part of science, what does gazing at a star from a biblical perspective mean? Am I looking for some aspect of God? Am I looking for some truth that the stars may symbolize? Or am I waiting for some mysterious experience while I am gazing at the stars?
Or let’s take an example from a humanities class—philosophy. If I am studying a philosopher like Plato, what is the relationship between Plato’s perspective and biblical perspective? Do we use Plato to understand the Bible better, or use the Bible to understand Plato better? If it is both, in what ways are they both? Is some parts of Plato helpful for some parts of my life, and Bible helpful for other parts of my life?
The difficulty lies in pinpointing the value of a subject for us on the one hand and the role it plays in reflecting God, on the other. Let’s take stargazing again. If we are gazing at stars, normally we are filled with awe of its beauty, and the grandeur of the universe. This is beneficial to the student, so it is good. Let’s say the student went on to become an astronomer and found new stars—this is all good. But what if the student starts to make some conclusions from observing the stars, like there is no God, or that life is ultimately meaningless, or that the bodies of the heavens are moving by pure chance. This conclusion is not only invalid, because the conclusions lack hard evidence, but it assumes the autonomy of man. Man is alone without God and is left to himself to control his own life. This is a bad education. Many intelligent people who studied all their lives have concluded that there is no God and therefore there is no standard by which we evaluate our lives. So, in the end, education is used to justify the autonomy of man. This is a bad education.
A proper integration is captured in Ps 8:3,9: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?… O, Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Here, the Psalmist’s stargazing leads him to reflect on God’s goodness, love, and care for us. Here is an example of an excellent education, an education that leads a student to delight in God’s great works, as a result of his study: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Ps 111:2). The implication of this last verse is that the purpose of education is for us to know God and grow in our relationship with God. This is the way great educators in the past (e.g., Augustine, Cassidorus, Hugh of St. Victor, Milton) have defined the purpose of education.
You may ask, “Is this kind of integration between a study and God’s goodness biased, and not objective?” My answer to that is yes and no. There is ultimately no “objective study.” It begins and ends with either the conclusion that I am on my own, or I am a child of God. I believe the former conclusion is more biased, and the latter conclusion is more evidential.
An evidence that our students at Veritas is getting some of the most excellent education in the world is the Senior Rhetoric Banquet two Fridays ago. At the end of all the presentations, I shared how it would be difficult to find a similar caliber of students even among all the classical schools in the country, students who can read so deeply, think so clearly, and speak so persuasively. But so far, that’s a good education, not an excellent education.
Did our students grow in their faith and delight in the Lord? My heart felt yes. It is not just because some used Bible verses in the presentation. I felt it in their brutal honesty, as they used philosophers and other authors to reflect on their shortcomings. I felt it in their sense of humility and repentance. Teenagers usually cannot speak honestly about their failures to another person, let alone a room full of all their parents, teachers, and peers. I felt it in their putting trust in God and delighting in God, some more directly than others. Most of them used quotes from Christian philosophers like Augustine, Pascal, Bonhoeffer, or Kierkegaard to do this. Some used Bible verses. Most amazingly, I felt no sense that these students were either trying to impress us or to gain approval. I sensed that they were standing in the presence of God, with humility and awe. That is the quality of an excellent education.