Recently, the distinctive role that Christianity plays in shaping teaching has become an important focus of conversation in Christian higher education. To help provide an empirical understanding of current practices, Nathan F. Alleman, Perry L. Glanzer, and David S. Guthrie drew upon a survey of 2,309 faculty at 48 institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Overall, they found that Christian professors integrate their particular theological tradition into their course objectives in eight different ways. In this article, they describe these eight approaches and suggest that weaving these various approaches together, and not practicing them in isolation, will create a robust and sophisticated approach to Christian teaching. Nathan F. Alleman is Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Baylor University, Perry L. Glanzer is Professor of Educational Foundations at Baylor University, and David S. Guthrie is Associate Professor of Higher Education at The Pennsylvania State University.
“[A] funny thing happened on the way to the Christian university,” claim David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith, “the central task of teaching almost completely dropped off the scholarly radar.”1 We wish to note that the Smiths do not mean that teaching has dropped off the radar, since most Christian colleges and universities are primarily teaching institutions. The problem, they point out, is the paucity of scholarship related to the practice of teaching and the faith-learning conversation. This article attempts to provide an empirical basis for that conversation. In particular, we analyze the results of a survey that sought to discover how professors working at member institutions of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) claim that their respective theological traditions influence one particular aspect of their teaching.
We discovered that professors take eight different approaches. Each one of the approaches, we suggest, has important strengths but each one also has possible weaknesses, especially if used in isolation. In light of this conclusion, we contend that this typology can provide a helpful guide for professors. They can determine the degree to which they are only relying upon one strand of a cord that requires multiple strands to maximize its strength. Indeed, our hope is that this article can help professors appreciate and develop multiple approaches to creating classroom experiences infused with a vibrant Christian faith.
The Scholarly Context
Our interest in this topic stems from a recent scholarly conversation about the integration of faith and learning in Christian higher education to which the Smiths’ quote refers. According to one controversial telling of this story by Doug and Rhonda Jacobsen in Scholarship and Christian Faith, the faith and learning conversation in the Protestant context has been largely dominated by scholars who identify or sympathize with the Reformed theological tradition.2 Their criticism of this influence does not stem from a concern that traditions should not or do not affect a faculty member’s efforts. Indeed, they claim:
There is nothing wrong with the fact that our academic work is shaped by the traditions of faith and learning that have shaped us as persons. In fact, the particularities of our traditions can be construed as scholarly assets that allow us to discover or create things that others simply cannot see or do because their traditions are less attuned to those areas.3
The Jacobsens then proceed to argue that the earlier approaches to the integration of faith and learning, found in the work of scholars such as Arthur Holmes, Nicholas Wolterstorff and George Marsden, had at least two weaknesses.
First, previous scholars did not acknowledge their debt to a specific tradition enough when talking about the integration of faith and learning. As a result, the message they communicated was that their approach to the integration of faith and learning can and should be applied generically, or simply with all Christians in mind (even though it had Reformed roots).4 Moreover, the Jacobsens argue that the model of faith-learning integration these scholars represented contained the “implicit claim that it is the only way to bring faith and learning together.”5 In contrast, they suggest that we need to appreciate and to draw upon the diversity of theological traditions when approaching the topic of the integration and faith and learning. One of the main goals of their book is “to make space for alternative models to develop.”6
Second, they claim that the previous approaches were not multi-disciplinary enough and suffered a “hyper-philosophical approach to Christian scholarship.”7 From the response of some recent Reformed scholars, it appears that they would agree with the Jacobsens’ latter claim (and perhaps the former).8 For example, James K. A. Smith, a philosophy professor at Calvin College, recently published a work that, one could argue, affirms the Jacobsens’ latter argument. His Desiring the Kingdom combines an emphasis upon affections and liturgical practices that he claims can provide the necessary supplement to what he considers to be an overly cognitive approach to faith-learning matters. He also recently co-authored a work with David I. Smith in which they claim not only that human affections and habit-forming liturgical practices have not been emphasized enough, but that the more recent conversations about the integration of faith and learning have neglected to give sufficient attention to teaching.9 In their own review of the literature they found “only a tiny percentage of the scholarly writing that emerges from Christian higher education is devoted to the development of…nuanced accounts of how teaching and learning are supposed to work in a Christian setting.”10 Smith and Smith’s work then provides a variety of helpful examples of faculty who attempt to enact the correctives that Smith and Smith preach.
Significantly, much of this conversation has taken place without any broad-based empirical studies from the very Christian faculty whose classroom practices writers either reflect on or critically appraise. There are some rich individual statements, of course.11 Indeed, the pursuit of categories by which to understand faith integration has been an ongoing enterprise that has taken various forms, at least since Ronald Nelson’s classification of compatibilist, reconstructionist, and transformationalist approaches in the late 1980s.12 For example, Ken Badley has offered a conceptual review of faith integration literature, arriving at five main “paradigms” (p. 24) or logical models of integration: fusion integration (two elements merged), incorporation integration (one element is subsumed in the other), correlation integration (showing the relationship between two elements), dialogical integration (related, but in an unknown way), and perspectival integration (the entire enterprise is viewed from a particular interpretive angle).13 Of the few approaches that have been research-based, Ream, Beaty, and Lion have found eight patterns of faculty faith integration approaches at Christian research universities. Criteria for these patterns ranged from complete separation of faith and curricula, to limited connections within particular spheres of public and private life, to complete integration.14 Christian higher education institutions have similarly sought to articulate a set of faith integration categories for themselves and their employees. Azusa Pacific University’s faith integration handbook includes discussion of 11 categories: vocational, ethical, practice-oriented, conceptual-theoretical, tradition-based, psychological, relational, pedagogical, sociological, and aesthetic.15 Efforts to encapsulate faith integration conceptualizations from various parts of the academy have thus become increasingly complex in description and number. Most recently, Steven Moroney has called forth the analogy of maps to describe and group faith-learning approaches.16 These three “locations” (p. 140) are Faith Learning Integration Approaches that examine fields and disciplines in light of a Christian commitment, Christian Worldview Approaches, or “hubs” (p. 146) of sense making that frame perspectives on all topics, including scholarly and educational ones, and Practice and Formation Approaches or questions about distinctiveness and identity at institutional and individual levels. Each approach has been aggressively critiqued and ardently defended, yet as a set, Moroney argues, “by God’s grace each can serve as a signpost that points people toward a common destination, the Kingdom of God.”
Each of these works lends valuable insights about the nature, content, and process of this contested ground we call “faith integration.” Nevertheless, the preponderance of evidence thus far emerges primarily from scholars’ reflections, informal observations, and small-scale research studies. This article attempts to supplement this recent work by drawing upon empirical research from a large group of CCCU professors. We attempt to explore responses to this central question: What do Christian professors in CCCU institutions say they actually do when it comes to incorporating their particular Christian traditions into classroom teaching? Moreover, how can answering this question help guide future practice?
The findings used in this article are part of a larger dataset generated from an online survey of instructional faculty members employed at Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) member institutions. Seventy-nine of the 110 institutions that were CCCU members at the time of the survey participated in Phase I of the study. The first phase surveyed institutions about their denominational affiliations.17 Forty-eight institutions (61%) participated in this second phase of the study directed at the faculty of these institutions.18 Participants were asked to identify their own faith perspectives, those held by the institution, and the manifestations of those faith commitments in policy and practice. Among these questions, faculty members were asked to identify the broad theological tradition with which they most closely identify. Survey respondents selected from a drop-down menu of faith tradition options which included: Anabaptist, Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Reformed, Wesleyan, or Other (see Table 1 for the results).19 Faculty respondents were then asked whether this theological tradition influenced the following areas of their teaching: 1. Course Objectives; 2. Foundations, Worldview or Narrative Guiding the Course; 3. Motivations for or Attitude toward the Class; 4. Ethical Approach; 5. Teaching Methods). The resulting faculty responses to this question, by percentage, are in Table 2.
This paper addresses the area where only close to half of faculty indicated the impact of their particular theological tradition on their teaching: course objectives. Of the 2,313 faculty members who provided a survey response to this question, 48% (n=1110) said “Yes.” Twenty-three percent (n=523) of those responding positively also completed the optional write-in answer. This set of responses forms the core of our eight thematic categories discussed in the findings section that follows. Due to the branching structure of the survey, no faculty members who answered “No” or “Don’t Know” completed the write-in response. Consequently, the findings discussed below are explanations of ways that faith tradition relates to course objectives for those faculty members who believe that it does.
The 52% of respondents who said “No” to this survey question represent a population worthy of further study. That up to half of CCCU faculty respondents might not believe that their faith tradition (which is not necessarily synonymous with Christian faith generally) is relevant to the formation of course objectives might imply that faith tradition is a concept of little value to many faculty members, or that the particulars of those traditions are not sufficiently distinctive to inform this aspect of instruction meaningfully. The survey included quantitative data about theological positions, as well as professional attitudes, values, and perceptions of their employing institution that may be mined for a future project. However, because of the branching nature of our qualitative survey data we do not have qualitative responses for faculty who responded negatively to this question. The focus of this paper, consequently, does not allow us to take up this worthwhile question further.
We used an inductive approach to analyze the short-form responses since our desire was to generate frameworks from the particulars of faculty responses, rather than to impose theory upon them. To do this we used a two-cycle coding process through which descriptive categories could emerge (first cycle) and then be combined into thematic categories (second cycle).20 The result was eight thematic categories and a summative ninth reflecting synthesis between them.
Before discussing the different types of responses that faculty provided, it is important to understand the background of the respondents. Of faculty who provided a short-form answer, 61% were male (2% unassigned), and most (58%) held a PhD as their highest degree, followed by a master’s degree (14%). Those with a doctoral degree most often received it from a public institution (45%), with almost 20% receiving a terminal degree from a religious institution of some kind (including 8% “Other Protestant,” 7% CCCU Member, and 3% Catholic, though 16% did not respond to this item). Respondents tended to be those more firmly rooted in the profession: 85% were employed full-time (with 14% part-time or other) and 39% had achieved full professor rank, followed by associate (27%), assistant (18%), and non-tenure system faculty (14%, through a combination of various titles).21
For perspective on this cohort, data for all faculty at 45 of the 48 institutions (not all institutions reported data to IPEDS) who participated in the phase two faculty survey show that the same percentage (61% to 61%) were male, fewer (61% compared to 85% of respondents) were employed full-time, and fewer (32% compared to 39% of respondents) had achieved professor status. The biggest gap was among assistant professors (33% compared to only 18% of respondents).22 This variance might be indicative of a generational difference in faith integration thinking between veteran and early career faculty members, or it may simply be a reflection of the time pressures associated with pre-tenure status.
So what difference did respondents believe their faith tradition made with regard to their course objectives? The results of our coding process described above led to the emergence of eight categories (see Table 3). Respondents indicated that their faith tradition inspired them to engage in (or to ask students to engage in) eight types of activities. Four of the activities were largely understood as undertaken by the teacher and the other four were focused upon students. As we will see later, all faith traditions engaged in these activities, although some did so to varying degrees. Furthermore, the themes express both a generic Christian sensibility and the particularities of Christian traditions in the development and delivery of course objectives. Nevertheless, the degree to which professors mentioned a particular faith tradition did vary by category, although often the language or manner of expression could still be linked to particular theological cultures. We provide explanations and examples of these eight types of activities below.
1. Introduce the Data of Scripture
The label for this category was taken from a quote given by a faculty member describing evidence taken directly from the Bible: “Former President [name] challenged us to introduce the ‘data of Scripture’ into our courses wherever it was relevant. As a philosophy teacher, this was a helpful challenge.” Professors’ responses placed in this category (n=70 responses) focused upon connecting the subject matter to related Biblical material based upon an implicit view of the authority or relevance of the Bible for the course’s subject matter. These professors provide straightforward examples:
- “I may utilize passages of Scripture to illustrate point”
- “I incorporate Biblical Scripture into writing prompts and lessons…”
- “When discussing ethical business practices I bring in the Biblical teachings of Christ.”
In some cases these introductions of Scripture may be, as sometimes happens with introductions, a little forced or awkward. For instance, this faculty member gave an example of the way he or she tied course content into a scriptural example:
I have 2 or 3 short devotionals in Kinesiology where I link Bible stories to the content. For example, when we are discussing muscle fiber, I open with a devotional about Jacob’s wrestling match with an angel; the connection here is that the angel touches Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. That leads back to our discussion about muscle and bone anatomy.
Yet, this kind of connection drawing between subject matter and the Bible may be an essential first step in considering the relevance for Christianity or a theological tradition for a discipline.
The goal of this incorporation was sometimes understood, as one professor stated, to support a “strong emphasis on the importance of Biblical literacy.” In other cases, the stated goal entailed making sure that students not only were Biblically literate but understood the relevance of Scripture. For instance, the following faculty response in which the professor begins with scriptural perspective (content) and ends with scriptural application (examples):
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8. The relevance of God’s Word must be explicitly included in course objectives.
Faculty who emphasized content and example elements operationalized Scripture and Christian practices as curricular resources for all subjects.
2. Employ Specific Interpretive Views
This category, along with the following two (Influence Curricular Choices and Form Methods Approaches) can be thought of as conjoined yet individually distinct aspects of a continuous curricular sense-making and construction process. In this, the largest of the eight categories (n=188 responses), faculty respondents discussed the foundational perspectives that lend form to their course objectives. Often, their explanations were given without reference to any impact on students:
Reformed doctrine emphasizes that the world is good, though fallen, so that very much influences my approach to all my classes. There is lots of good to be found in any area of study, but we must also seek to recognize the fallen-ness in our approach to any subject.
This response illustrates the essential elements of this category: a prior theological perspective or belief (frequently rooted in an identified tradition), a particular principle drawn from that commitment, and an implicit or explicit expectation that course objectives are yet one more area where said commitment can find expression. In another example, a respondent spoke for his or her academic unit in describing the shared conceptualization that guides their collective purpose: “We believe that God made us to be dialogic creatures with the ability to communicate; therefore, we take the approach that communication studies are important.”
Many faculty responses began with a kind of personal creed or theological testimony, and then transitioned to either the implications of that commitment or the curricular target:
I believe that we are all fallen sinners, but that we can all be redeemed. Those that come to saving faith in Christ are gifted to serve Him. All of us need to be held accountable to give a good and honest effort to tasks that are presented to us. As faculty members, we need to see the potential in each student and do all that we can to help our students grow in faith as well as in our academic discipline and in the ability to use their gifts more fully for Christ’s service.
Others emphasized a particular theological tradition and some aspect of it that directs their curricular approach or sense making: “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral understanding of religious authority influences both my beliefs and my pedagogy, which is interdisciplinary, contextual, and integrative.” Another faculty member similarly responded from his or her tradition, this time pointing to course objectives as a means to meeting tradition-informed ends:
The Anabaptist theological tradition places great emphasis on discipleship and “following Jesus.” I view my course objectives (learning to read and exegete the Scriptures faithfully) as a tangible means to assist my students in that overarching calling.
The nature of the relationship between theological commitments and course-shaping perspectives diverged for faculty along several lines. Most clearly, some respondents framed the issue as a compulsive response and natural outgrowth of their desire for consistency across all facets of professional life:
[My theological tradition] serves as the thread holding together my reason for teaching, for knowing my students, and for guiding them into the worlds beyond this university. My learning outcomes derive from my view of God and who He is in my life (my theology).
Others described it as a deliberate process:
I attempt to incorporate an evangelical worldview into the course objectives. I teach business and leadership and most definitely come from an evangelical perspective throughout while allowing for other opinions and viewpoints to share space and time.
As in this case, some respondents did not specify any particular content focus when mentioning their perspective.
3. Make Distinctive Curricular Choices
The prior category (Employ Specific Interpretive Views) is the antecedent to the third category, in which theological beliefs, values, and perspectives are translated into a course plan. Many respondents in this category (56 total responses) made this connection by highlighting a curricular aspect selected or focused on as a result of this theological tradition: “I teach economics, which means I teach about stewardship over everything entrusted to us.” The following lengthier response connects the sense making of a Reformed perspective both to the selection of course topics and to a theologically informed approach that the faculty member wished to convey:
In the Calvinist tradition there is a strong emphasis on the universal claim of God over all creation and culture making. As such all areas are legitimate areas for study and research. Rather than rejecting certain areas, such as genetic modification of organisms out of hand, therefore my course objectives emphasize how various technologies can be applied to God’s honor and glory.
In some responses faculty members emphasized how their theological tradition influenced their selection of course materials, texts, examples, and experiences. This influence was also sometimes described in indirect terms, as a source of motivation: “Church of the Brethren and Anabaptist traditions value service to others, living out your beliefs and pacifism. These are not directly course objectives but may motivate me to include certain books, examples, articles rather than others.”
And in other responses, the process of influence was less circumspect: “Since I teach Ministry courses, my own tradition cannot help but come through in the way I teach. Specifically, I tend to favor textbooks that represent an evangelical point of view.”
4. Use Unique Methodological Approaches
Some respondents extended their explication from the influence of their theological tradition to the implications for classroom practice. Though technically departing from “course objectives,” faculty respondents described classroom approaches, structures, and behaviors as the end product of course objectives informed by their theological tradition(s). Here, a faculty member’s class tactics (listening, supporting, and offering accountability) are shaped by his or her perspective on students as humans deserving of personal regard and care:
The syllabus gives broad objectives that must be met. Because I know life and walks of life can be different, I ask my students what their needs are and how I can serve them during this journey. I listen carefully, help support them and hold them accountable. We meet the course objectives, while also meeting personal objectives, which allows a living example of God in the classroom.
Similarly, the following respondent sought to translate a curricular goal (“serve students well”) into a worshipped-centered classroom approach:
As an evangelical Friend, my goal is to serve my students well; that is why I work them hard and seek to engage them in the subjects I teach. I am a servant-teacher. As a believer in the present Christ, accessible wherever two or three are gathered in his name, I have sought to design several of my courses as “the meeting for worship in which learning is welcomed”—facilitating the student’s being enrolled in the school of Christ…
Other respondents suggested that how they taught reflected a general tone or point of emphasis resulting from their faith tradition perspective: “Yes—A Reformed education tradition influences both intellectual formation and the shaping of an entire self. Thus it can be intellectually rigorous.” And another faculty member responded in kind: “Teaching Bible & Theology, I seek the transformation of each student, seek to teach rather than indoctrinate, and attempt to clarify and encourage concepts that reflect a Wesleyan/Arminian perspective.” In these examples, “rigor” and clarification over indoctrination describe not only interpretive approaches, but the roots of classroom practice as well.
5. Cultivate Personal Spiritual Faith and Practices
This category of responses (n=65) marks the turn from responses that implied a focus on faculty tasks or perspectives, to those that aimed to influence student beliefs, perspectives, or behaviors. In this category professors primarily indicated a desire for their students to further a personal commitment, understanding, or relationship with Christ. Often their objectives reflected the faith orientation of the faculty member (“As an evangelical I emphasize the importance of individuals having a ‘personal relationship’ with Christ”) or the institution (“We always ensure at least one course objective focuses on a spiritual formation objective and this will be constructed from a Wesleyan perspective”). Unlike the last quote, the variety of stated goals in this category often did not mention a particular faith tradition directly, although the language or manner of expression could still be linked to particular theological cultures. Generally, responses focused on some form of personal encounter (“Students will grow in their appreciation of Jesus”), internal change and growth (“To help students better understand the saving grace of Jesus and to grow closer to him”), or personal development resulting in associated behaviors (“Fundamentally I want students to embrace the sacrifice of Christ and have that play out in their best thinking and their daily lives in ways that bless them and draw others to Christ”).
Within this category a set of alternative perspectives emerged from respondents who included spiritual formation as a course objective and those who were committed to encouraging faith development but did not include it as a stated course purpose. Some respondents questioned whether these purposes were appropriate for course objectives even as they sought to infuse them throughout the course (“It’s not an objective I would state in the syllabus, since it’s not one that can be assessed, but I tell students in courses that my primary objective is that they encounter Jesus Christ and grow as his disciples in love of God and neighbor”). Other respondents saw faith as implicitly embedded throughout all facets of the course and thus perhaps unnecessary to state as a singular objective: “Being evangelistically missions-minded is an assumption underlying many of the goals of my classes.”
6. Understand and Critically Integrate a Christian Worldview
The use of worldview language as one way to understand the integration of faith and learning project has a long history among the Christian traditions within the CCCU.23 Not surprisingly, we found this language prominent among a subsection of responses (for example, “I use a Christian worldview as a foundation for all I teach”), but we did not place professors’ comments in this category merely for the use of that language. The characteristics of this category (n=96 responses) are summarized by one professor’s response: “Every course has an objective of relating Christian faith to the subject matter of the course (but nothing related to a particular theological tradition within Protestantism).” In other words, the actions suggested in this category by professors usually are related to helping students understand or critically apply a theological way of thinking that would be shared by all Christians (for example, “Appreciate the beauty of mathematics as an extension of the Creator”). We could not be sure if or whether professors saw these approaches as directly arising from their particular theological tradition (although if they answered the question as intended they would).
Professors generally mentioned four types of broad activities that we placed in this category, all of which are also aspects mentioned in the literature of distinctive Christian scholarship.24 In this respect, visions for Christian scholarship and Christian teaching shared much in common. First, some professors simply emphasized the spiritual dimension of a subject or made sure a subject is not reduced to its materialistic components.
- “For a nursing pediatrics course: identify psychological, spiritual, ethical, and cultural variables that impact the delivery of education and care to members of the child-rearing family. This is done with the understanding that the spiritual dimensions are a fundamental component of nursing care.”
- “I cannot teach without regarding both the spiritual nature of humanity, including the literature I teach my students and the very nature of my students and me.”
These professors apparently sought to counter the view sometimes promulgated through naturalistic reductionism that reduces humans merely to physical entities.25
A second set of responses discussed common Christian beliefs that involved emphasizing some aspect of the doctrine of creation.
- “Examples of objectives include helping students to understand the world as God’s creation, or understand their responsibility in regards to the world based on the fact that God created it and he created us as his image bearers.”
- “I believe God has given each of us purpose, gifts, and talents. Course objectives should accomplish the goals of the institution while incorporating the interests of the students.”
In other words, these responses focused upon the common doctrine of creation that Christian scholars recognize as shaping one’s approach to a subject.26
A third set of responses focused upon Biblical revelation and making sure students understood its authority or trustworthiness. These two teachers provided examples of this approach:
- “One’s worldview has a dramatic influence on how one structures and teaches. Believing the Bible is God’s Word is imperative.”
- “One of our department’s objectives is to enhance the student’s commitment to the trustworthiness of Scripture.”
These respondents were different than the “Introduce the Data of Scripture” approach in that their focus was less on including Scripture and more upon students coming to particular theological conclusions about Scripture.
A related and final set of approaches tended to emphasize the broad theological parts of the narrative included in Scripture that starts with creation but also reaches beyond it:
- “The Reformed (or broadly Augustinian) theological tradition informs our institutional mission which speaks of inspiring and equipping learners to bring renewal and reconciliation to every walk of life as followers of Jesus Christ, the Servant King. An emphasis on the goodness of God’s creation, the pervasiveness of sin and evil, the cosmic sweep of redemption and the reign of God, and on our human calling to participate in God’s redemptive work are characteristic of this tradition, and provide orientation for the entire curriculum.”
- “Understand environmental issues within creation/fall/redemption approach.”
As can be seen, those in the latter category often identified with the Reformed tradition.
7. Promote Understanding and Critical Use of Theological Traditions
The seventh category of responses involved applying a particular theological tradition to the subject matter (n=68). The responses in this category clearly identified a Christian faith tradition either explicitly or through strong theological referents. Professors would then identify a particular objective related to that tradition and the academic enterprise. It is in this category that one can see confirmed a point made by the Jacobsens that each theological tradition will bring to this task particular theological emphases that result in unique approaches to the integration of faith and teaching.27 We placed these elements on increasing levels of complexity in a way that comprises a kind of taxonomy of learning:
A. Understanding a tradition or traditions:
- “It is very important to me that my students have a broad understanding of Christian history, in particular the Anabaptist insights—as these views have been frequently eclipsed by louder more strident voices. … Therefore my objectives often read something like: Students will grasp the complex and textured historical purposes of baptism; or students will gain a broader understanding of salvation–not as simply a moment in time, but an ongoing stepping into discipleship that accompanies one’s putting on Christ.”
- “In courses in history and religion, I want to ensure the students understand the High Church traditions since almost all come from Low Church backgrounds.”
B. Seeing its benefits:
- “I teach French foreign language and culture; I hope that students will understand better after my courses that Christian community does not exclude all things Catholic.”
- “One objective is to introduce evangelical Christians to the richness of their Protestant tradition as expressed in Anglican patterns of worship and theology.”
C. Using it to guide one’s interpretive lens:
- “I want students to be able to express the issues we cover in class from an evangelical orientation.”
- “The Baptist tradition emphasizes the freedom of the conscience under God, which is necessary for the educational enterprise. My course objectives are designed to help students learn how to search for truth and evaluate truth claims independently following their own consciences.”
D. Applying it to one’s discipline:
- “In a Finance class I start out by trying to help my students see how religious orientation, creational structure, and the various ways that people have developed the creation affect what happens in business and finance. I then challenge them to think about how finance needs to be “reformed” to become what God expects of his people.”
- “Quaker approaches to ethics, servant leadership, respect for all persons, [and] openness to individuals serving in any role to which God calls them are essential frameworks for teaching Management and leadership principles.”
Although one might be critical of the fact that professors often only mentioned one part of a learning taxonomy instead of the full range of objectives that would entail understanding and applying a theological tradition in a critical manner, we should note that professors were only asked to give one example.
8. Develop Ethical Thinking or Behavior
This category (n=120 responses) included the responses from faculty that reflected a desire for students to think or act ethically. More specifically, they usually sought to help students understand or practice a particular virtue or set of virtues (for example, “Promote [the] character development of students to enhance the integrity of higher education by stressing respect, honesty, fairness and responsibility”). Indeed, professors rarely mentioned moral principles or rules (for example, “My objectives include Biblical principles, such as the Golden Rule when teaching ethics”). The dominant virtues including the following:
Service or Servant Leadership (18 responses)
- “The idea of being a servant in education.”
- “In many courses, we conduct service-learning projects serving the poor and homeless.”
Love (7 responses)
- “Love of enemy, how to relate to those who disagree.”
- “Teaching counseling and psychology courses with an emphasis on the Christian value of love in relationships is fundamental to my approach to meeting the teaching objectives of my courses.”
Social Justice (6 responses)
- “Making sure my objectives reflect my sense of community and social justice.”
- “Focusing on social justice and cultural humility in nursing care.”
Integrity (4 responses)
- “Inclusion of issues related to integrity, honesty.”
- “Punctuality, integrity, living with hope and faith, and teaching in that light.”
As can be seen from these responses, many comments did not mention a Christian doctrine and instead exhibited a generic form of moralism. As a result, it is not always clear what role a Christian theological tradition plays unless one knows the background Scripture or theology. This proved particularly true in several references to the “Golden Rule,” an ethical concept that is not exclusively Christian (for example, “The concept of the Golden Rule can be found in everything I teach including principles, scenarios, examples, etc.”). Indeed, one could argue that almost all of the virtues listed above are also emphasized in secular literature and practices pertaining to moral development in higher education.28 Only when combined with a particular Scriptural or theological referent would the Christian distinction emerge (for example, “Character Education course includes a goal on the fruit of the spirit and character”). Only in some rare cases was a whole different approach set forth (for example, “Responsiveness to the Holy Spirit rather than rely[ing] on professional society ethics code books”).
Responses by Faith Tradition
Since the focal question for this inquiry asked faculty whether and how their theological tradition and course objectives related, analyzing the intersection of claimed faith traditions and the eight thematic categories may illuminate how those from particular faith traditions tend to conceptualize how faith ought to shape course objectives. Although about one-half of all participant faculty responded “Yes” to this question, written responses varied by faith tradition. The most frequent positive responses by faith tradition were from Reformed (60%) and Evangelical (57%) participants, followed by Wesleyan (51%), Baptist (48%), Anabaptist (47%), and Pentecostal/Charismatic (40%). Faculty members with the smallest positive response rate were Lutheran (30%), Catholic (23%) and Anglican (21%), though their total participant responses were smaller as well. Nevertheless, results suggest that faculty from High Church faith traditions may make different sense of the question at hand. These percentages may indicate that as a group, faculty from High Church traditions were much less likely to attempt the integration of their faith tradition into course objectives. However, it might also be the case that they conceptualize the role of their faith tradition in the academic setting differently, or they may simply have interpreted the question differently than those from other Christian traditions.
The tally of responses by theological tradition within the eight thematic categories were as follows: Evangelical (150), Baptist (134), Reformed (105), Wesleyan (126), Anabaptist (63), Pentecostal/Charismatic (36), Other (39), and a High Church Combined (30) made up of Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox respondents.29 We acknowledge that some respondent groups, once divided by faith tradition, are small enough that findings only suggest implications for faith traditions and require further investigation to validate. However, since the data we are using is qualitative and our purpose is exploratory, individual responses as examples of faculty meaning making are of greater importance than if generalization were our sole aim.
In aggregate by category, Employ Specific Interpretive Views (28%; 188 responses) was the largest response group, followed by Develop Ethical Thinking or Behavior (18%; 120 responses), Integrate a Christian Worldview (14%; 96 responses), Introduce the Data of Scripture (10%; 70 responses), Understand and Utilize Theological Traditions (10%; 68 responses), and Cultivate Personal Spiritual Growth and Practices (10%; 65 responses), all of which were at or above 10%. The remaining categories were Make Distinctive Curricular Decisions (8%; 56 responses), and Form Unique Methods Approaches (3%; 17 responses).
Responses by faith tradition showed a similar convergence of emphasis, with a few distinguishing variations (see Table 4). Employ Specific Interpretive Views was the top category of response across all theological tradition groups (22% to 34% of responses) except the “Other” category. Evangelicals’ responses were similar in most categories, varying between 12% and 17%. Baptists’ responses were similarly distributed, with Develop Ethical Thinking or Behavior (20%), Introduce the Data of Scripture (19%), and Integrate a Christian Worldview (15%) as the next top categories. Only 5% of Baptists’ responses were in the Cultivate Personal Spiritual Growth and Practices category, a rate half of their peers. Responses from Wesleyans were the most frequent in the Employ Specific Interpretive Views category at 34%, trailed by Develop Ethical Thinking or Behavior at 19% and Understand and Utilize Theological Traditions at 15% of their responses. The Wesleyan response percentage for Integrate a Christian Worldview was dramatically lower than all other surveyed traditions at 5% of their responses. Perhaps not surprisingly given this tradition’s strong emphasis on God’s sovereignty in all parts of life,30 Reformed respondents were strong in the Integrate a Christian Worldview category (21%), followed by Understand and Utilize Theological Traditions (15%). As with Baptist respondents, interest in Cultivating Personal Spiritual Growth and Practices was quite low (3%) for Reformed respondents.
The remainder of the theological tradition groups had below 100 responses, causing us to redouble our caution against unwarranted generalizing from these findings. Nevertheless, the findings may be suggestive, if not instructive: Anabaptists showed little concern for Introducing the Data of Scripture (2%), emphasizing instead Cultivating Ethical Behavior and Practices (22%), perhaps reflective of historic focus on the practical implications of following Jesus. By contrast, Pentecostal/Charismatic responses were evenly distributed among three categories, emphasizing practical application, personal faith, and a broad-based Christian worldview (17% each). The catch-all “Other” tradition category contained many faculty members who had embraced multiple theological traditions (what might be called “theological omnivores”), perhaps reflected in the relatively high 13% response percentage in Understand and Utilize Theological Traditions. Their responses were also most often pragmatic: 28% were in Cultivate Ethical Thinking and Behavior category. Finally, the summative “High Church Combined” cluster of theological traditions showed strong interest in Forms Methods Approaches (20%) and Understand and Utilize Theological Traditions (17%). Responses suggest that many faculty members in this group, like the “Other” category, recognize that their theological tradition or combination of traditions may be less familiar to students, resulting in a special point of emphasis in their course objectives.
Evaluating and Synthesizing the Types
What can be learned from this typology to inform our practice? In looking over the responses and the tendencies of different traditions, we suggest that we should avoid the danger common with certain typologies associated with theological traditions of identifying one best approach.31 Indeed, we would argue that all of these approaches have their strengths and should be considered when thinking about how Christian theological traditions are incarnated in the classroom. Each one, to use Biblical language, is part of the body of Christian teaching. And like different parts of the body, each one is necessary.
Furthermore, each of these approaches has weaknesses when practiced in isolation. We will suggest a few. First, introducing Scripture into the subject is often a reasonable first step, but it may revert to proof-texting without attention to worldview and theological considerations. Second, being conscious of how the Christian tradition influences one’s views, curricular choices and methods proves helpful, but modeling this type of integration exhibits the weakness of all other types of “I just model” strategies. Students may not understand the motives or rationale for a professor’s actions unless the related worldview or theological rationale is articulated to them. Third, if one focuses upon students’ personal devotional growth, it is not always clear what relationship the Christian tradition has to the subject matter being taught. Fourth, exposing students to the Christian worldview proves vital for understanding foundational issues, but as critics have rightly identified it can become too heady (and tends to be favored by philosophers). Finally, the popular ethics approach, as can be seen from the examples offered, can be easily secularized when divorced from the worldview and narrative approach. The golden rule, service, and social justice are all valued at many different secular campuses and it may not be clear how Christianity can or should transform these ethical practices. Indeed, we would argue that the ethics category, although it is for some faculty members the dominant way that they claimed it influenced their course objectives, also demonstrates the most danger of being misunderstood if used alone. Although discussing ethics is perhaps an easy way to address what one envisions as Christian subject matter, it is the approach most likely to discard overt Christian references.
Thus, we would suggest that the best approaches would attempt to make sure that all types of integration are at least considered and possibly addressed, at least by type if not extent. In fact, the most noteworthy examples we noticed were often ones that combined a variety of approaches. This Reformed professor provides a helpful example:
I teach history, and coming from a Reformed perspective it influences my course objectives because I try to teach in such a way to develop empathy for our historical figures among the students. I try to help them see that our historical forbearers were image bearers just as we, and they deserve our courtesy and respect.
Although the respondent suggests that he or she is applying a distinctive theological tradition (the Reformed perspective), we would suggest that an emphasis upon the fact that “historical forbearers were image bearers” fits more with the Christian worldview category. What we find noteworthy is that an ethical objective (“teach in a way to develop empathy for our historical figures … they deserve our courtesy and respect”) is given a clear theological rationale (“our historical forbearers were image bearers [of God]”).
Not surprisingly, we often found this kind of combination with ethical objectives. In these cases, the professor usually listed a Scriptural, worldview, or theological rationale for the ethical outcome being promoted. For example, one responding professor identified the virtues of humility and servanthood exemplified in the Last Supper narrative, but applied it to a way of being and behaving as a teacher in a future professional position:
The Church of the Brethren teaches a simple life style and a life of servanthood, modeled after Christ who humbled Himself to wash the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. In the same vein, I advocate to my students through the course objectives that as public school teachers they are answering God’s calling to teach His children in our public schools. I emphasize through the course objectives the importance of differentiating instruction to meet the learning needs of every child they teach.
Similarly, in the following example a faculty member describes an outcome related to teaching a particular reasoning skill that is based upon a Scripturally-grounded Christian worldview:
In Business Ethics, the reason I insist that students need to be able to make a case for asking a non-Christian colleague in a secular business setting to do the right thing by using a secular argument rather than “Bible-thumping” is that, based upon Rom 1:18ff; 2:14, all persons have a moral awareness. Hence, secular ethics, at best, focuses on some aspect of this God-given moral awareness all persons have or had until they repressed it (Rom 1).
Another professor discussed the role that a particular theological tradition shaped his or her course objectives in ways that influenced ethical beliefs and practices:
Quakers have a narrative of living a HOLISTIC life with integrity. Quaker theology is as much seen in practice as it is spoken in theological belief statements. And I try to live and teach according to this, using practices to guide and check beliefs, and beliefs to guide and check practices. So I often have course objectives that involve “living a more holistic life” or “living a life with more integrity” or “putting into practice what I believe to be true.”
In these examples, making sure students understand the connection between theology, ethics, and classroom practice remains vitally important. Combining several strands in this way creates a stronger Christian understanding and presence in the classroom.
Although this type of synthesis often involved ethics, in some cases it involved the merging of two other types. For instance, this professor took what is often considered a matter of personal spiritual growth (the practice of witnessing to others) and combined it with academic goals and a focus on Christology that made for a unique classroom practice:
At the core of my faith is a need to live out being a Christ-follower; one of the ways we do this is through our witness to others. One objective in a biology course I teach states that students will wrestle with an area where their faith and science may seem to be in conflict (and no, this is not always evolution), and reflect on how their response to this area of dissonance may be perceived by non-Christians. They then reflect on what image of Christ they are portraying through this interaction and whether or not their interaction will compel people towards Christ or repel them away.
Connecting one’s witness to how one engages in academic intellectual struggle, we believe, would likely be a new and invigorating experience for students.
What do faculty responses reveal about the influence of faith traditions on course objectives? Several fairly straightforward lessons emerged, though with complex implications.
First of all, the eight categories that we identified suggest that there are a variety of ways that faculty members conceptualize integrating their faith tradition content, if at all. Since the typology is based on short responses, we cannot know the degree to which individual faculty members may draw upon these eight, but we would hypothesize that most individual faculty members do not think about all eight types when considering how their theological tradition may influence their teaching. We suggest that faculty development courses at Christian colleges could help faculty be conscious of these eight types and consider how to apply them all. We actually believe that such an activity would be quite freeing to faculty, some of whom may not recognize the variety of ways to think about and practice Christian teaching. Indeed, we note that sometimes faculty think they are failing in this endeavor but in reality they simply are not conscious of the ways their teaching is shaped by the Christian faith in general, their particular faith tradition, or both.
It is also clear that when parsed by faculty member’s faith tradition, these various categorical inclinations both cut across historical faith tradition distinctions and reflect their points of theological emphases (for example, Baptists favoring introducing Scripture, Evangelicals and Pentecostals favoring personal faith development, Reformed favoring integrating a Christian worldview, Anabaptists favoring ethical thinking and practice). Although we believe such differences result from the particular strengths of these traditions, we also believe those who identify with those traditions may need to consider if other categories within our typology are being unduly neglected.
Finally, we would suggest that all faculty may want to consider how they can make sure to include and synthesize all the different strands into their course objectives and their teaching as a whole so that the Christian nature of their teaching does not rest on one single strand but is instead a thick cord of several strands woven together to provide a strong and robust line of help to students seeking the wisdom of faith-shaped course objectives in the classroom.
Cite this article
- David I. Smith & James K. A. Smith, eds. Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith & Learning (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 2.
- Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Scholarship & Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (New York: Oxford, 2004), 25.
- Ibid., 78.
- Arthur Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987); George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (New York: Oxford, 1996); Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education, eds. Clarence Joldersma and Gloria Stronks (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).
- Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 24.
- Ibid., 28.
- Ibid., 24.
- It should be noted that some fellow Anabaptists disagree with the Jacobsens’ claims. See Elmer J. Thiessen, “Refining the Conversation: Some Concerns about Contemporary Trends in Thinking about Worldviews, Christian Scholarship and Higher Education,” The Evangelical Quarterly: An International Review of Bible and Theology 79 no. 2 (2007):133-152.
- Smith & Smith, eds., Teaching and Christian Practices.
- Ibid., 3.
- Chris Anderson, Teaching as Believing: Faith in the University (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004); Jean B. Elshtain, “Does, or Should, Teaching Reflect the Religious Perspective of the Teacher?” in Religion, Scholarship, and Higher Education: Perspectives, Models and Future Prospects, ed. Andrea Sterk (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2002), 193-201; various essays in Stephen R. Haynes, ed., Professing in the Postmodern Academy: Faculty and the Future of Church-Related Colleges (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2002).
- Ronald R. Nelson, “Faith-Discipline Integration: Compatibilist, Reconstructionist, and Transformationalist Strategies,” in The Reality of Christian Learning: Strategies for Faith-Discipline Integration, eds. Harold Heie and David L. Wolfe (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 317-339.
- Ken Badley, “The Faith/Learning Integration Movement in Christian Higher Education: Slogan or Substance?” Journal of Research on Christian Education 3 no. 1 (1994): 13-33.
- Todd C. Ream, Michael Beaty, & Larry Lion, “Faith and Learning: Toward a Typology of Faculty Views at Religious Research Universities,” Christian Higher Education 3.4 (2009): 349-372.
- Azusa Pacific University, “Faith Integration Faculty Guidebook, 2012-2013, The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, the Office of Faith Integration, and the Faith Integration Council. http://www.apu.edu/faithintegration/resources/guidebook/.
- Stephen Moroney, “Where Faith and Learning Intersect: Re-Mapping the Contemporary Terrain,” Christian Scholar’s Review 43 no. 2 (Winter 2014): 139-155.
- For a report based upon some findings from this survey see Perry L. Glanzer, Jesse Rine, & Phil Davignon, “Assessing the Denominational Identity of American Evangelical Colleges and Universities, Part I: Denominational Patronage and Institutional Policy,” Christian Higher Education 12 no. 3 (2013): 182-202.
- For a summary of the method for this portion of the study see Perry L. Glanzer, Jesse Rine, & Phil Davignon, “Assessing the Denominational Identity of American Evangelical Colleges and Universities, Part II: Faculty Perspectives and Practices,” Christian Higher Education 12 no. 4 (2013): 243-265. It should be noted that the results reported in the above article pertain only to the faculty respondents working with denominational institutions.
- This list of faith traditions reflects those used in other national religion surveys, such as the Baylor Religion Survey. We do not suppose that we know all that each respondent assumes about their selected tradition. Nevertheless, most traditions do include important points of convergence, each requiring more explanation than is possible here. We recommend readers interested in better understanding the implications of these faith traditions consult the following resources: Richard T. Hughes, How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001); Richard T. Hughes and William B. Adrian, Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Success in the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997); Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001); and Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Scholarship & Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (New York: Oxford, 2004).
- In the first cycle we used a holistic coding process to identify broad categories of response, initially resulting in 31 codes. In holistic coding, data is examined in sentences or even paragraphs, and a summative word or phrase (one, or more than one) that represents the meaning of that passage is identified to represent it. This approach was congruent with our short-form data type in which responses were typically varied between a short phrase and a short paragraph. Following the holistic coding process we performed a second round of coding that then pulled these disparate parts together to identify patterns and elements of greatest salience. To do this we used an axial coding approach often associated with grounded theory development. See Johnny Saldaña, The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers, 2nd ed. (London: Sage, 2013). The purpose of the axial approach is “to determine which [codes] in the research are the dominant ones and which are the less important ones… [and to] reorganize the data set: synonyms are crossed out, redundant codes are removed and the best representative codes are selected.” H. Boeije, Analysis in Qualitative Research (London: Sage, 2010), 109. In our second cycle process we re-examined the first cycle subsets within the largest meta code categories (“Discipline or Course-Specific Implications and References,” “Specific Denominational Reference,” and “Impart Biblical or Christian Principles or Perspectives”) and re-coded them into either existing codes or new sub-codes. We then identified common categories that described groups of similar codes within these sub-sets and among the large set of codes. After identifying five large initial categories through this process, the research team engaged in several rounds of inter-coder review to confirm and challenge this list. Although several of the original thematic categories remained, others were broken up or reconfigured in ways that better reflected the patterns of meaning found across the entire data set.
- By discipline, 23% were in some professional program, 21% were in philosophy, religion, or theology, 13% were in the social sciences or history, 10% were in the STEM fields, 9% were in business and related fields, 8% were in English and associated sub-fields, 6% were in communications and technology fields, 5% were in the visual and performing arts, and 3% were unassigned. Respondents’ undergraduate alma maters reflected a strong preference for religious institutions generally (60% combined) and CCCU institutions in particular (48%). Public institutions ranked second at 28%, followed by “Other Protestant” (10%) and “Secular, Private” (8%). Catholic institutions constituted 2% of undergraduate alma maters.
- National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013).
- For the origins of this use see David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
- For a summary see Todd C. Ream and Perry L. Glanzer, Christian Faith and Scholarship: An Exploration of Contemporary Developments, in the ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 47-57.
- See George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, 72-77.
- Ibid., 84-90.
- Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Scholarship & Christian Faith.
- See Anne Colby, Thomas Ehrlich, Elizabeth Beaumont, Jason Stephens, Educating Citizens: Preparing America’s Undergraduates for Lives of Moral and Civic Responsibility (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).
- Note: One respondent’s data may appear in more than one category, thus, this tally represents instances of category appearance and not the number of individual respondents (n=523 respondents; n=680 response appearances).
- Hughes, How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind.
- We are referring in particular to the controversy surrounding H. Richard Niebuhr’s famous typology in Christ and Culture (San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 2001). See for example Perry L. Glanzer, “Christ, Culture and Heavy Metal: Can Either Niebuhr, Marsden, or Yoder Make Sense of the ‘Rock n’ Roll Refuge?’” Journal of Religion and Society 5 (2003): 1-16.