Looking back and looking ahead: major contributors to faith integration in U.S. Christian higher ed

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Prof. Karen LONGMAN (LONGMAN) served for 19 years at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) in the USA, before she became Professor of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University, Los Angeles, California, and the editor of the Journal of Christian Higher Education: An International Journal of Research, Theory and Practice.



In her presentation, LONGMAN shared her expertise in working with Faith-based Higher Education through the member institutions of CCCU. She believed that the core issue of faith learning integration lies in the question: what makes Christian higher education distinctive?  She then traced the development of thought regarding faith-learning integration in the US context, and she affirmed that the more important question is to ask: “why” or “what is” telos of Christian higher education.


LONGMAN also gave a brief historical overview on several key scholars, whose work have shaped the thinking about faith-learning integration in the US context.  Five major “Fingerprints” and their works were identified as follows: 


  1. Arthur F. Holmes: The Idea of a Christian College (1987);

  2. William Hasker: “Faith-Learning Integration: An Overview” in Christian Scholar’s Review 11(3). 1992, 234-248; 

  3. Richard T. Hughes and William B. Adrian: Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Success in the Twenty-first Century (1997);

  4. Todd Ream and Perry Glanzer: The Idea of a Christian College: A Re-examination for Today’s University (2013); and 

  5. Calvin College professors, notably James K.A. Smith with his trilogy: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (2009), Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (2013), and You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (2016). 


Arthur Holmes was widely respected as “Mr. Integration”, for his promotion of “integrating faith and learning” in his book mentioned above.  There, he proposed four distinctive approaches to the integration of faith and learning, namely: the Attitudinal Approach, the Ethical Approach, the Foundational Approach, and the Worldview Approach.  William Hasker followed Holmes’ distinction but focused more on the exploration of resources regarding the study of worldviews and academic subjects/ disciplines studies.   On the other side, Richard Hughes and William Adrian developed a major research project and produced a huge volume, Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Success in the Twenty-first Century in 1997.   There are seven chapters in this volume, each of which introduces a Christian faith tradition that is prominently represented in US higher education, namely: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Mennonite, Evangelical/ Interdenominational, Wesleyan/ Holiness, and Baptist/ Restoration.  In outlining the various theological traditions, the research project affirmed the fact that “there is no such thing as generic Christian higher education, all have developed in some ways with their denominational or theological orientations”.  


Moving into the 21st century, scholars discovered that Christian higher education had been undergoing great changes in the past 50 years.  In their book, The Idea of a Christian College: A Re-examination for Today’s University (2013), Todd Ream and Perry Glanzer  reported that much had changed since the publication of Holmes’ The Idea of a Christian College.  A key difference was that Christian colleges affiliated with the CCCU were no longer primarily small, residential, rural, and oriented toward a liberal arts education.  Ream and Glanzer further offered a timely call for a “re-do” or an update of the goals and distinctives of Christian higher education in three areas.  First, they urged Christian higher education to place greater emphasis on the role of worship and the Church as having a “rightful place” on ordering the lives of students. They believed that “to be fully human and to live in right relationship with God” are essential elements for Christian higher education today.  Second, in asking the question “what does it mean to be human?”, they asserted that rather than focusing primarily on the cognitive domain, Christian higher education should exemplify “what it means for God to lay claim over all domains of our existence – our minds, our bodies, and our emotions, as well as what it means in specific divine and social relationships”.  Third, when considering seriously the move from “traditional college model” with undergraduate, liberal arts education orientations to “today’s university model” with more broadened curricular, international concerns and graduate programs offerings, Ream and Glanzer called for a shift in the understanding of faith-learning integration.  To this, LONGMAN remarked: “To what extent should Christian institutions today be attempting to hold fast to the ideal that was articulated by Arthur Holmes back in 1975?”.


LONGMAN then turned to the fifth “Fingerprint” - an integrative leadership from Calvin College, acknowledging notably scholars like James K.A. Smith, David I Smith, Susan Felch and others from Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship, and the Calvin Center for Christian Worship.  She cited especially the work of James K.A. Smith, who argued against Descartes’ assertion that human beings are fundamentally “thinking thing.” Smith preferred seeing human beings as one that is “more imaginative, practice-oriented, and centered in the worship life of the church”.  Rather than keeping the term “integration”, Smith declared his preference for the term “correlation” and called for another form of theological engagement with the world.  For Smith, human beings are not only thinkers who act out of what they know, but also “lovers” who act out what they love and desire.  Christian higher education should then become “a platform for shaping the loves and desires of students through formative practices, which can become constructive habits…  As a result, our academic work becomes part of an education that is wholistic, resulting in action that is motivated by what we love and how we imagine that God wants the world to be.”


Lastly, LONGMAN drew our attention to the telos of Christian higher education, as a more engaging vision in faith-learning integration.  She reiterated that our job as Christian educators is to help our students assess their loves in the world and to deeply know God, who is the ultimate giver and receiver of love- the telos for life and learning.  Echoing with what Ream and Glanzer, and James K.A. Smith had said about wholistic education, she re-affirmed: “our integrative work should also relates to the heart – our loves and our imaginations as to how the world could be, and should be – and how the academic preparation of students can equip them to invest all of themselves – mind, heart, and hands – in every academic discipline and every area of endeavor – the medical fields, criminal justice, social work, environmental sustainability – in ways that honor God and bring hope and healing to our world.”