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Academic Integration and the Christian Scholar

J. P. Moreland, Address at Christian Scholarship: Tensions and Contributions at The Ohio State University (1999).

Thoughtful Christians are agreed that an important component of Christian scholarship is the integration of faith and learning, as it is sometimes called. Because Christians are interested in the truth for its own sake and because they are called to proclaim and defend their views to an unbelieving world and to seek to live consistently with those views, it is important for members of the believing community to think carefully about how to integrate their carefully formed theological beliefs with prominent claims in other fields of study. As St. Augustine wisely asserted, "We must show our Scriptures not to be in conflict with whatever [our critics] can demonstrate about the nature of things from reliable sources."1 However, the task of integration is hard work and there is no widespread agreement about how it is to be done generally or about what its results should look like in specific cases. In what follows, I shall do three things to contribute to the integrative enterprise: 1) describe the relation between integration and spiritual formation; 2) discuss current integrative priorities for the Christian scholar; 3) analyze the epistemic tasks for and models employed in integration.

Integration as an Expression of and Aid to Spiritual Formation

Before we proceed, it is crucial that we reflect a bit further on what is so important about the task of integration at this particular moment in the church’s history. To begin with, there is a widespread hunger throughout our culture for genuine, life-transforming spirituality. This is as it should be. People are weary of those who claim to believe certain things when they do not see those beliefs having an impact on the lives of the heralds. Among other things, integration is a spiritual activity — we may even call it a spiritual
discipline — but not merely in the sense that often comes to mind in this context. Often, Christian scholars express the spiritual aspect of
integration in terms of doxology: The Christian integrator holds to and teaches the same beliefs about his/her subject matter that
non-Christians accept but goes on to add praise to God for the subject matter. Thus, the Christian biologist simply asserts the views widely
accepted in the discipline but makes sure that class closes with a word of praise to God for the beauty and complexity of the living world.

Now the doxological approach is good as far as it goes; unfortunately, it doesn’t go far enough in capturing the spiritual
dimension of integration. We draw closer to core of this dimension when we think about the role of beliefs in the process of spiritual
transformation. Beliefs are the rails upon which our lives run. We almost always act according to what we really believe. It doesn’t matter
much what we say we believe or what we want others to think we believe. When the rubber meets the road, we act out our actual beliefs most of
the time. That is why behavior is such a good indicator of a person’s
beliefs. The centrality of beliefs for spiritual progress is a clear
implication of Old Testament teaching on wisdom and New Testament
teaching about the role of a renewed mind in transformation. Thus,
integration has as its spiritual aim the intellectual goal of
structuring the mind so a person can see things as they really are and
strengthening the belief structure that ought to inform the individual
and corporate life of discipleship unto Jesus.

Integration can also help an unbeliever to accept certain beliefs
crucial to the Christian journey and aid a believer in maintaining and
developing convictions about those beliefs. This aspect of integration
becomes clear when we reflect on the notion of a plausibility structure.
A person will never be able to change his/her life if he/she cannot
even entertain the beliefs needed to bring about that change. By
“entertain a belief” I mean to consider the possibility that the belief might
be true. If someone is hateful and mean to a fellow employee, that
person will have to change what he believes about that co-worker before
he will treat him differently. But if a person cannot even entertain the
thought that the co-worker is a good person worthy of kindness, the
hateful person will not change.

A person’s plausibility structure is the set of ideas the person
either is or is not willing to entertain as possibly true. For example,
no one would come to a lecture defending a flat earth because this idea
is just not part of our plausibility structure. We cannot even entertain
the idea. Moreover, a person’s plausibility structure is largely
(though not exclusively) a function of the beliefs he or she already
has. Applied to accepting or maintaining Christian belief, J. Gresham
Machen got it right when he said:

“[G]od usually exerts that power in connection with certain
prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so
far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the
reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the
reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer
and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we
permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be
controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent
Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless
delusion.” 2

If a culture reaches the point where Christian claims are not even
part of its plausibility structure, fewer and fewer people will be able
to entertain the possibility that they might be true. Whatever
stragglers do come to faith in such a context would do so on the basis
of felt needs alone and the genuineness of such conversions would be
questionable to say the least. And believers will not make much progress
in the spiritual life because they will not have the depth of
conviction or the integrated noetic [knowledge] structure necessary for
such progress. This is why integration is so crucial to spirituality. It
can create a plausibility structure in a person’s mind — favorable
conditions as Machen put it — so Christian ideas can be entertained by that

Current Integrative Priorities for the Christian Scholar

But how does a Christian scholar decide on what to spend his/her
energies in the integrative task? There are so many areas of study. What
criteria are there to help one prioritize his/her efforts? Is there a
taxonomy of issues that expresses some priorities that Christian
scholars ought to adopt? I’m afraid I have a lot more thinking to do on
this before I am prepared to offer anything approximating an adequate
answer to these questions. Any taxonomy here would likely express the
interests and biases of the taxonomist and I am no exception to this
rule. Obviously, one’s own sense of personal calling, one’s own
curiosities will and should play an important role here.

But besides this, I think the following three criteria are not too
wide of the mark. First, integration should be focused on those areas of
study that seem to be intrinsically more central or foundational to the
Christian theistic enterprise. The deeply ingrained metaphysical,
epistemological, and axiological commitments that constitute mere
Christianity should be preserved. Second, integration should be focused
on areas that are currently under heavy attack. A third and, perhaps,
less important criterion is this: integration should be focused on those
areas of study in which such activity is under-represented relatively

It is the task of Christian scholars in each discipline to decide how
these criteria inform their intellectual work. However, I think points
one and two converge so as to yield an integrative mandate for
contemporary Christian scholars, especially those who work on the
interface between science and Christian faith. A very important cultural
fact that Christian scholars must face when they undertake the task of
integration is this: There simply is no established, widely recognized
body of ethical or religious knowledge now operative in the institutions
of knowledge in our culture, e.g., the universities. Indeed, ethical
and religious claims are frequently placed into what Francis Schaeffer
used to call the upper story, and they are judged to have little or no
epistemic authority, especially compared to the authority given to
science to define the limits of knowledge and reality in those same
institutions. This raises a pressing question: Is Christianity a
knowledge tradition or merely a faith tradition; a perspective which,
while true, cannot be known to be true and must be embraced on the basis
of some epistemic state weaker than knowledge?

There are at least two reasons why this may well be the
crucial question for Christian intellectuals to keep in mind as they do
their work. For one thing, Christianity claims to be a knowledge
tradition and it places knowledge at the center of proclamation and
discipleship. The Old and New Testaments, including the teachings of
Jesus, claim not merely that Christianity is true, but that a variety of
its moral and religious assertions can be known to be true.

Second, knowledge is the basis of responsible action in society.
Dentists not lawyers have the authority to place their hands in our
mouths because they have the relevant knowledge on the basis of which
they may act responsibly. Now if Christian scholars do little to deflect
the view that theological and ethical assertions are merely parts of a
tradition-way of seeinga source for adding a “theological perspective”
to an otherwise unperturbed secular topic which falls short of conveying
knowledgethen they inadvertently contribute to the marginalization of
Christianity. And they do so precisely because they fail to rebut the
contemporary tendency to rob it of the very thing that gives it the
authority necessary to prevent that marginalization, viz., its
legitimate claim to give us moral and religious knowledge. Both in and
out of the church, Jesus has been lost as an intellectual authority, and
the Christian intellectual should carry out his/her academic vocation
in light of this fact.

I agree with those who see a three-way worldview struggle in academic
and popular culture among ethical monotheism (especially Christian
theism), postmodernism, and scientific naturalism. As Christian
intellectuals seek to promote Christianity as a knowledge tradition in
their academic discipline, they should keep in mind the impact of their
work on this triumvirate. Both space considerations and my own view of
priorities forbid me to say much about postmodernism here. I recognize
it is a variegated tunic with many nuances. But to the degree that
postmodernism denies the objectivity of reality, truth, value, reason
(in its epistemic if not psychological sense), to the degree that it
rejects dichotomous thinking about real/unreal, true/false,
rational/irrational, right/wrong, to the degree that it takes
intentionality to create the objects of consciousness, to that degree it
should be resisted by Christian intellectuals, or so I believe.

Scientific naturalism also comes in many varieties but, very roughly,
a major form of it is the view that the spatio-temporal cosmos
containing physical objects studied by the hard sciences is all there
is. It also maintains that the hard sciences are either the only source
of knowledge or else vastly superior in proffering epistemically
justified beliefs compared to non-scientific fields. In connection with
scientific naturalism, some have argued that the rise of modern science
has contributed to the loss of intellectual authority in those fields
like ethics and religion that, supposedly, are not subject to the types
of testing and experimentation employed in science. Rightly or wrongly,
there are three ways that science has been perceived as a threat to the
intellectual credibility of Christianity:

1. Some scientific claims call into question certain interpretations
of Biblical texts (e.g., Genesis 1 and 2) or certain theological beliefs
(e.g., that humans have souls or are made in the image of God).

2. Some scientific claims, if correct, demote certain arguments for
the existence of God (e.g., if natural, evolutionary processes can
explain the origin or development of life, then we do not “need” to
postulate a Creator/Designer to explain these things). There may be
other reasons for believing in God, but the advances of science have
robbed Christians of a number of arguments that used to be effective.

3. The progress of science, compared to other disciplines like
philosophy or theology, justifies scientism either by the view that
science and science alone offers true, justified beliefs (strong
scientism) or that while other fields may offer true, justified beliefs,
in general, the degree of certainty in science vastly outweighs what
these other fields offer (weak scientism). As evolutionary naturalist
George Gaylord Simpson put it:

“There is neither need nor excuse for postulation of
nonmaterial intervention in the origin of life, the rise of man, or any
other part of the long history of the material cosmos. Yet the origin of
that cosmos and the causal principles of its history remain unexplained
and inaccessible to science. Here is hidden the First Cause sought by
theology and philosophy. The First Cause is not known and I suspect it
will never be known to living man. We may, if we are so inclined,
worship it in our own ways, but we certainly do not comprehend it.” 3

Now Christians must respond to these three problem areas. One
solution is the complementarity view according to which propositions,
theories, or methodologies in theology and other disciplines may involve
two different, complementary, non-interacting approaches to the same
reality. On this view, theology and science interact much like the color
and shape descriptions of an apple. Theology and science (or, for that
matter, any discipline besides theology) interact in an additive way
such that the whole truth is the sum of the contributions of both but
neither has direct, straightforward implications for the other. In my
opinion, the complementarian approach is inadequate as a total
integrative model because, among other things, it contributes to the
widespread philosophical naturalism that dominates much of the
contemporary academy and broader culture. As Philip E. Johnson has
pointed out:

“Politically astute scientific naturalists feel no hostility
toward those religious leaders who implicitly accept the key
naturalistic doctrine that supernatural powers do not actually affect
the course of nature. … The most sophisticated naturalists realize
that it is better just to say that statements about God are `religious’
and hence incapable of being more than expressions of subjective
feeling. It would be pretty ridiculous, after all, to make a big deal
out of proving that Zeus and Apollo do not really exist.” 4

Elsewhere, Johnson observes:

“[T]he conflict between the naturalistic worldview and the
Christian supernaturalistic worldview goes all the way down. It cannot
be papered over by superficial compromises. . . . It cannot be mitigated
by reading the Bible figuratively rather than literally. . . . There is
no satisfactory way to bring two such fundamentally different stories
together, although various bogus intellectual systems offer a
superficial compromise to those who are willing to overlook a logical
contradiction or two. A clear thinker simply has to go one way or
another.” 5

Johnson’s remarks serve as a reminder that Christian complementarians
run the risk of achieving an integration between science and Christian
theism at the price of placing the epistemological authority and certain
important metaphysical claims of Christianity in some private, upper
story. Whether intentional or not, when employed too broadly, the
complementarity approach contributes to the scientism that controls
contemporary culture. Thereby, it inadvertently fosters a separation of
the secular and sacred because careful biblical exegesis does very
little intellectual work in the areas of study where complementarity is
employed. The effect of this is to marginalize Christian doctrine in the
market place of ideas.

In my view, Christian complementarians give up too much intellectual
ground too quickly in light of the pressures of philosophical
naturalism. I am neither a sociologist nor the son of one, but I still
opine that philosophical naturalism is sustained in the academy and
broader culture by sociological, and not distinctly rational factors. In
my discipline of philosophy, signs indicate that important figures are
finally acknowledging this. For example, naturalist Thomas Nagel has
recently written:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, … , I am talking
about … the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being
strongly subject to this fear myself. . . . I want atheism to be true
and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and
well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I
don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief.
It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I
don’t want the universe to be like that. . . . My guess is that this
cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is
responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One
of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary
biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the
human mind.” 6

Along similar lines, in his 1996 presidential address for the Pacific
Division of the American Philosophical Association, Barry Stroud noted

“`Naturalism’ seems to me in this and other respects rather
like “world Peace.” Almost everyone swears allegiance to it, and is
willing to march under its banner. But disputes can still break out
about what it is appropriate or acceptable to do in the name of that
slogan. And like world peace, once you start specifying concretely
exactly what it involves and how to achieve it, it becomes increasingly
difficult to reach and to sustain a consistent and exclusive
`naturalism.'” 7

I know these remarks are terse and controversial and I shall try to
develop and defend my understanding of the nature and limitations of a
complementarity view of integration in a subsequent paper. For now, I
turn to a brief presentation of the epistemic tasks of integration and
the models used to carry out those tasks.

Epistemic Tasks for Integration

The word “integration” means to form or blend into a whole, to unite.
The human intellect naturally seeks to find the unity that is behind
diversity and, in fact, coherence is an important mark of rationality.
In conceptual integration, one’s theological beliefs, especially those
derived from careful biblical exegesis, are blended and unified with
propositions judged to be justifiably believed as true from other
sources into a coherent, intellectually satisfying world view. One of
the goals of integration is to maintain or increase both the conceptual
relevance of and epistemological justification for Christian theism. To
repeat St Augustine’s advice, “We must show our Scriptures not to be in
conflict with whatever [our critics] can demonstrate about the nature of
things from reliable sources.” 8 We
may distinguish three different aspects of the epistemological side of
integration: direct defense, polemics, and Christian explanation.

1. Direct Defense. In direct defense, one engages in
integration with the primary intent of enhancing or maintaining directly
the epistemic justification of Christian theism or some proposition
taken to be explicit within or entailed by it, especially those aspects
of a Christian world view relevant to one’s own discipline. Specific
attention should be given to topics that are intrinsically important to
mere Christianity or currently under fire in one’s field of study.
Hereafter, I will simply refer to these issues as “Christian theism.” I
do so for brevity’s sake. “Christian theism” should be taken to include
specific views about a particular area of study that one takes to be
relevant to the integrative task.

There are two basic forms of direct defense, one negative and one positive.9 The
less controversial of the two is a negative direct defense where one
attempts to remove defeaters to Christian theism. If you have a
justified belief regarding some proposition P, a defeater is something
that weakens or removes that justification. Defeaters come in two
types: 10
rebutting defeaters and undercutting defeaters. A rebutting defeater
gives justification for believing -P; in this case, that Christian
theism is false. For example, attempts to show that the Biblical concept
of the family is dysfunctional and false or that homosexuality is
causally necessitated by genes or brain states and that, therefore, it
is not a proper object for moral appraisal are cases of rebutting
defeaters. An undercutting defeater does not give justification for
believing -P, but rather seeks to remove or weaken justification for
believing P in the first place. Critiques of the arguments for God’s
existence are examples of undercutting defeaters. When defeaters are
raised against Christian theism, a negative defense seeks either to
rebut or undercut those defeaters.

By contrast, a positive direct defense is an attempt to build a
positive case for Christian theism. Arguments for the existence of God,
objective morality, the existence of the soul, the value and nature of
virtue ethics, and the possibility and knowability of miracles are
examples. This task for integration is not accepted by all Christian
intellectuals. For example, various species of what may be loosely
called Reformed epistemology run the gamut from seeing a modest role for
a positive direct defense to an outright rejection of this type of
activity in certain areas, e.g., justifying belief in God and the
authority of Holy Scripture.

2. Philosophical Polemics. In philosophical polemics, one
seeks to criticize views that rival Christian theism in one way or
another. Critiques of scientific naturalism, physicalism, pantheism, and
normative ethical relativism are all cases of philosophical polemics.

3. Theistic explanation. Suppose we have a set of items xi through xn
that stand in need of explanation and we offer some explanations E as
an adequate or even best explanation of the items. In such a case, E
explains xi through xn and this fact provides some
degree of confirmation for E. For example, if a certain intrinsic genre
statement explains the various data of a biblical text, then this fact
offers some confirmation for the belief that the statement is the
correct interpretation of that text.

Now Christian theists ought to be about the business of exploring the
world in light of their world view and, more specifically, of using
their theistic beliefs as explanations of various desiderata in the
intellectual life. Put differently, we should seek to solve intellectual
problems and shed light on areas of puzzlement by utilizing the
explanatory power of our world view. For example, for those who accept
the existence of natural moral law, the irreducibly mental nature of
consciousness, natural human rights, or the fact that human flourishing
follows from certain biblically mandated ethical and religious
practices, the truth of Christian theism provides a good explanation of
these phenomena. And this fact can provide some degree of confirmation
for Christian theism.

Models Employed in Integration

When problem areas surface, there is a need for the Christian scholar
to think hard about the issue in light of the need for strengthening
the epistemic authority of Christian theism and placing it squarely
within the plausibility structure of contemporary culture. Let us use
the term “theology” to stand for any Christian idea that seems to be a
part of a Christian world view derived primarily from special
revelation. When one addresses problems like these, there will emerge a
number of different ways that theology can interact with an issue in a
discipline outside theology. Here are some of the different ways that
such interaction can take place.

1. The Two Realms View. Propositions, theories, or
methodologies in theology and another discipline may involve two
distinct, non-overlapping areas of investigation. For example, debates
about angels or the extent of the atonement have little to do with
organic chemistry. Similarly, it is of little interest to theology
whether a methane molecule has three or four hydrogen atoms in it.

2. The Complementarity View. Propositions, theories, or
methodologies in theology and another discipline may involve two
different, complementary, non-interacting approaches to the same
reality. 11 Sociological
aspects of church growth and certain psychological aspects of
conversion may be sociological or psychological descriptions of certain
phenomena that are complementary to a theological description of church
growth or conversion. I shall elaborate more on this approach in my second paper.

3. The Direct Interaction View. Propositions, theories, or
methodologies in theology and another discipline may directly interact
in such a way that either one area of study offers rational support for
the other or one area of study raises rational difficulties for the
other. For example, certain theological teachings about the existence of
the soul raise rational problems for philosophical or scientific claims
that deny the existence of the soul. The general theory of evolution
raises various difficulties for certain ways of understanding the book
of Genesis. Some have argued that the Big Bang theory tends to support
the theological proposition that the universe had a beginning.

4. The Presuppositions View. Theology tends to support the
presuppositions of another discipline and vice versa. Some have argued
that many of the presuppositions of science (e.g. the existence of
truth, the rational, orderly nature of reality, the adequacy of our
sensory and cognitive faculties as tools suited for knowing the external
world) make sense and are easy to justify given Christian theism, but
are odd and without ultimate justification in a naturalistic world view.
Similarly, some have argued that philosophical critiques of
epistemological skepticism and defenses of the existence of a real,
theory-independent world and a correspondence theory of truth offer
justification for some of the presuppositions of theology.

5. The Practical Application View. Theology fills out and adds
details to general principles in another discipline and vice versa, and
theology helps one practically apply principles in another discipline
and vice versa. For example, theology teaches that fathers should not
provoke their children to anger and psychology can add important details
about what this means by offering information about family systems, the
nature and causes of anger, etc. Psychology can devise various tests
for assessing whether one is or is not a mature person and theology can
offer a normative definition to psychology as to what a mature person

There is much work to be done by Christian scholars in the
integrative task. Moreover, as we carry out this task in our own
vocations, we should place a priority on the issue surfaced by a
convergence of the intrinsic nature of Christianity and the current
intellectual environment in its unfavorable aspects, viz., at showing
that Christianity is a knowledge tradition and employing it as such. As
we labor in this endeavor, we will want to keep in mind different
epistemic tasks that focus our work, different models of integration
available to us, and the role of our disciplines in the mission of
concern to us all.


1. Augustine De genesi ad litteram 1.21. Cited in Ernan McMullin, “How Should Cosmology Relate to Theology?” in The Science and Theology in the Twentieth Century, ed. Arthur R. Peacocke (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 20.

2. J. Gresham Machen, address delivered on September 20, 1912 at the
opening of the one hundred and first session of Princeton Theological

3. George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution (New York, NY: Bantom Books, 1971), p. 252.

4. Phillip E. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), pp. 100-101.

5. Ibid., p. 111.

6. Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (N. Y.: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 130-131.

7. Barry Stroud, “The Charm of Naturalism,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 70 (1996): 43-44.

8. Augustine De genesi ad litteram 1.21.

9. See Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), pp. 14-18.

10. For a useful discussion of various types of defeaters, see John Pollock, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge (Totowa, N. J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1986), pp. 36-39; Ralph Baergen, Contemporary Epistemology (Fort Worth, Texas: Hartcourt Brace and Company, 1995), pp. 119-24.

11. Richard Bube has complained that my characterization of complementarity is confused and is actually a description of what he
calls compartmentalization. See his Putting it All Together (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1995), p. 168. Cf.
chapters 6 and 10. For Bube, compartmentalization treats science and theology as different descriptions about different kinds of things with no common ground or possibility of conflict. Complementarity views science and theology as different descriptions of the same reality. Unfortunately, Bube is simply wrong in this complaint towards my
position. What he calls compartmentalization is close to what I call the
“two realms” view of integration and my description of complementarity
is an accurate one. The source of Bube’s confusion is revealing. I claim
that the complementarity view eschews interaction between science and
theology and Bube says that it embraces such interaction. However, Bube
equivocates on what “interaction’ means in this context. For me, it is
“epistemic” interaction, roughly the same description of the same
reality that can be in conflict or concord to varying degrees of
strength. For Bube, interaction amounts to taking two different
(non-interacting in my sense) perspectives and forming them into a
whole. For example, a completely scientific description of the origin of
life in natural terms could be described in theological terms as God’s
activity in bringing life into being. It is clear that his notion of
interaction is not the one I deny in explicating complementarity.