The mechanism


It has become a standard requirement of theology courses that they be concerned with the three great objectives for their students – academic formation, spiritual formation and ministerial formation. Additionally, we all seem to agree that “balance” between these is never enough but we must strive towards “integration”. The problem is that this concept of integration is now in danger of becoming one more phrase, one more aspiration meaning little.

If we were to ask whether our college is thinking about and practicing integration well, could we describe the markers against which we can compare ourselves, or the goals we can set ourselves? Below, I suggest five key areas of thinking and practice that I hope will be useful. These points came out of a recent masters seminar on theological education I conducted with three thoughtful students in Belfast and I am grateful for their stimulation.

  1. We need an integrating concept.

Different writers have tried to integrate the three objectives by taking one of them and making it the integrating factor, such as ministerial formation in some presentations of missional theological education. Others have complained that for too long, it has been academic formation and instead taken spiritual formation as the single key. It never seems to work to elevate one about the others. More usefully, it has been suggested that worship or the glory of God be the integrating concept. It can be argued that Bonhoeffer in his little book Life Together uses Christ himself.

  1. We need an understanding of how they fit together

Some have used a Venn diagram to illustrate how each relates to the other two separately and together. Some have talked about different lenses through which we view the material or tasks. Also usefully, some have taken the Trinitarian concept of perichoresis as a specific Christian ontology of unity in diversity. As in the persons of the Trinity, each of the three is bought to life by the others and when you encounter one you encounter the other two. That would have grand implications for lecturing, ministry placement and chapel.

  1. We need a Biblical and Theological basis

There are plenty of biblical resources to help us conceive of the way to integrate these aims. There is Paul’s pattern of moving from doctrine to practice based on the doctrine, Christ’s insistence that we will only know if we obey, the relationship of the Holy Spirit to understanding, and so we can go on. There are also plenty of theological resources – especially from pre-enlightenment days when it was un-natural (except in certain scholastic circles) to have dis-interested or godless theology. I still stand in awe of Calvin placing within his institutes a chapter on self-denial. If we teach the need for integration to ourselves and our students, we are just teaching the bible and good theology.

  1. We need to remember we are dealing with people

Integration is personal in that we are preparing/teaching, persons, singular individuals who do not exist in three parts. It is rightly now common to speak of holistic theological education because we know that the students have to be un-divided. We teach John Smith or Mary Jones who have heads, hearts and hands which need to work together. Just as importantly, if we want to have any chance of getting through to John or Mary, we need to exemplify the three united in our person, to be as their teacher, a devout-scholar-minister.

  1. We need practical ways of helping the integration

You probably do some of these already. Tools available are reflective practice journals, integrative seminars, integration essays at the end of a semester, mentoring, certificates or diploma supplements which do not just talk about academic achievement and so on. Perhaps above all, we can set out the goal of integration to our students at the beginning of their time with us and frequently throughout their course.

Every college or seminary is somewhere on the spectrum between fragmentation and integration. Maybe the five areas above – conceptual, structural, biblical, personal and practical – will help us place our institution on that spectrum and encourage us towards the task.

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3 Comments on “Integration”

  1. perryshaw Says:

    As usual you have “nailed it” Graham! I also have found that each of your five points is an essential component for developing an integrated learning experience. I particularly valued your use of the term “perichoresis”, which I increasingly have found a helpful paradigm for promoting integration: seeking in classroom academic exercises to take time for affective and behavioural reflection, and in life and ministry experiences taking time to reflect on these experiences through foundational theological lenses.
    The one piece that I would add to your list is that genuine integration needs commitment in heart and action from the faculty. In the integrative modules at our school, the level of quality integration is directly proportional to the active involvement of the members of the faculty team. Where they are committed then good integration takes place; where they are only interested in teaching their little pieces of the module then integration is less effective.

  2. harknessa Says:

    Thanks, Graham. Further to Perry’s comment, the thought comes to me that a key element of the ‘practical’ area is how to ensure consistency between the stated and the operating theologies of the TE settings…. not just integration across the content of the curriculum, but between the content and the curricular processes.


  3. Sarah Says:

    This post is reflected in your most previous post on thinking and conduct. It’s so important that we don’t compartmentalize different areas of our life. I agree with you that humans are holistic beings. Everything affects something else. I agree with your emphasis on the integration of head, heart, and hands. In fact that is the motto of the Bible college I attend, God’s Bible School & College. They say, head, heart, and hands–you can’t live what you don’t know; you can’t give what you don’t have; you can’t love without serving. I entirely support your position that we should integrate this kind of thinking into our classrooms whether strictly theological classrooms or not. It’s important to bring together all the areas in our life to make us effective servants of Christ.

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