We’re delighted to welcome Dr. Robbie Fox Castleman to the blog today to share some ideas on connecting faith and your field in the classroom. Dr. Castleman is a professor at John Brown University and an InterVarsity Press author. She has also served in InterVarsity area and national directorships. This article is taken, in part, from an address to faculty at John Brown University, 2019.
Teachers, from pre-school to post-docs are a very brave lot. James cautions the early church, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). And James isn’t done with his warning! We teachers talk. A lot. So, James continues with great insight and admonition about the power of the tongue to bless or to kill, the tongue like small rudder guides a whole ship or like a small spark, sets a forest ablaze! And he tells us the truth that our tongue, our mouth, what we say—is the hardest thing in our lives to discipline.
In addition, teachers very seldom know how what we say and teach makes a life-impacting, positive contribution to our students. Of course, as we all well know, “instant feedback” for negative impact is more common, far more discouraging. At least we university professors do not (usually) have a parent attached. As Christian educators we can take no small comfort in the impact of the Teacher from Nazareth. Jesus himself healed 10 lepers once and only one returned to say, “thank you”. So, if those were the odds for Jesus, we should not be discouraged if one in a hundred or a thousand let us know if we said something, taught something or did something that changed their lives.
Teaching that is more than information demands a patience and a gentleness of spirit if it is to cross a very long bridge to life-changing wisdom. In fact, James concludes his admonition with these words: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” (3:13). And surely, this includes the need for our words, our teaching to bear the marks of gentleness and patience in order that our students learn more than mere knowledge, but become wise people, people who know what to do with what they know. No where is this more important than our teaching and modeling of what it means to integrate learning and faith. The integration of faith and learning is a challenge to accomplish in our own lives in the academy. To model this integration for our students is an invaluable help on the growth-chart that marks wisdom.
The most important thing to remember is that integration does not mean to take our profession or the subject we teach and fit faith into it. This direction for integration is trying to fit the big thing into something important, but much smaller. And the results are always wanting and produce something much less than wisdom.
God’s self-revelation, the wholeness of the Gospel, and what it means to live in Christ is the over-arching reality of our lives. This is the big thing intro which all penultimate things, ideas, efforts, knowledge must find its humble abode. Our teaching, our subject expertise, our leadership, and learning is meant to take its place within the biblical faith that defines our whole lives. The common phrase of the “integration of faith and learning” means taking our profession, our work, our classroom, and our particular academic focus and thinking through how these things fit into biblical faith, ultimately revealed to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word integration is rooted in integer, a whole number. The name God gave himself as revealed to Moses (Exodus 3) points to this wholeness of being and doing. YHWH, I am who I am. God’s integrated Self means there is no distinction between who God is and what God does. He does not act, does not do anything that is counter to the oneness of divine ontology, even when revealed in three Persons.
The integration of our professional work and learning in our academic field into the story of Salvation, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is an act of submitting something engaging and wonderful, but limited, the one Reality that is always greater than what we do or know.
This direction of integration makes all the difference in how we understand what it means to be a “Christian professor”. It is not enough to just be known as fair, forthright, honest and have a Bible prominently displayed in our office. There is a difference between learning to drive a car like Jesus would, and putting a Christian bumper-sticker on our car and thinking that’s sufficient as our campus witness.
One way to think through the depth of this challenge is to admit that the “integration of faith and learning” is part of what Paul means when he admonished the Christians in Philippi to have the “same mind…that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
To appreciate the challenge of this text, the reader needs to realize that Paul was in a season of his life that was hard, demanding, disappointing. Paul the evangelist and church-planter was subject to the confines of Roman house arrest while awaiting trial. Paul refers to “joy” many times in this letter because he was not all that happy. Joy, Paul makes clear, is not rooted in one’s emotions, but in cultivating the mind of the Savior. When we find it difficult to integrate life, learning, professional excellence in our academic field into faith we have to think about what this means and develop a willingness to pay cost it demands.
Think about this: the Greek word root for “think—to form an opinion” is used twenty-six times in the New Testament and ten of them are in the little four-chapter letter to the Philippians! In addition, Paul uses another, and generally more common Greek word for “thinking, reasoning” six times in the letter to the Philippians. Suffice it to maintain for this short essay, learning to share the mind of Christ is not just the highway to integration, but to real joy.
In the light of joy, Paul reminds Philippian and professorial believers that “We’ve been granted the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well” (Philippians 1:29). No matter where we teach or what subject we teach or the students in front of us, to understand suffering as a privilege we must share the mind of Christ to rejoice in the challenge.
 All Scripture references are from the NRSV translation, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville: 1989.
 Luke 17:11-19
Dr. Robbie F. Castleman is Chair of the Nursing Program Advisory Board and Professor Emerita of Theology & New Testament at John Brown University. She has also served in area and national directorships with InterVarsity. Her books include The God-Breathed Word, Trinitarian Speech Act & the Art of Hermeneutics, (Baker Academic Publishers, 2016); New Testament Essentials (InterVarsity Press, 2014), and Story-Shaped Worship (InterVarsity Press Academic, 2013), among many others. She was also awarded 2014 Professor of the Year for the John Brown University Golden Eagle Award program.