In recent years, educators have espoused what has become known as “Integrated Learning,” and this is making the whole learning process exhilarating. Learning is integrated into real life. Basically, integrated learning embraces the philosophy of holism, interconnectedness and interconnection.
Such forms of learning emphasize connections rather than the divisions between the academic disciplines. Integration comes from the Latin word “integer," meaning whole or entire. It has become an integral part of conversations at various levels and disciplines within education. No longer do professionals approach problems from a narrow perspective. Psychologists and psychiatrists treat the personality as being a closely held together unit. Integrated approaches have become the basis of medical treatments of various human disorders. Even ecologists will argue that deforestation, population, pollution and a host of other factors over centuries are all contributing in an interconnected manner to the crisis we face at present. Everything needs to be studied as wholes.
The key word is “holism” - the relation of the parts and the whole. The important thing to note: the part can only be understood in the context of the whole. Meanings are discovered only within their contexts – the parts become meaningful within the whole. In short, integration refers to making connections between constituent elements in order for their full meaning to be explored. In education, integration relates to how the various subjects must be held together for a better understanding.
An understanding of the whole and parts has been around ever since the Greek philosopher Aristotle, but the concept has been revived widely in recent times. The great philosopher stated - “The whole is more than the sums of its parts". This basic definition summarizes what is generally believed to be the essence of holism. The term is derived from the Greek word “holos” meaning “whole”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines holism as the “tendency in nature to form wholes that are more than the sum of the parts by ordered grouping.” The theory, therefore, emphasizes both the whole and the interdependence of its parts. Moreover, it also points to an increase in learning when effectively practised.
The Bible as a Whole
While this approach is rapidly being adopted by schools and colleges, theological education is still catching up. We will all agree that the Bible must be studied as a whole, and Scriptures must be considered in their relevance to life itself as a whole. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have studied our subjects in separated “silos." We see the Pentateuch as one unit, the Synoptics as something else, Johannine theology as being distinct from Pauline thought and so on.
What we need is a concern for placing all these within the whole rather than fragmenting the Bible into parts, sometimes isolated verses. The parts belong to the whole. Integration in our theological context is, therefore, the holding together of Scripture as a whole not only for getting to grips with its meaning, but also maximising its impact on our lives.
At one of our early gatherings of The International Council of Higher Education (ICHE) we affirmed “Ten Principles of Integrated Learning” and some of them are relevant here. For instance, we affirmed that “Integrated learning is built on the premise that there is unity of truth in God both through his General revelation and Special revelation.” This must directly apply to the unity in God’s Word. It is here we discover the need for the scope of the entire Bible to be emphasized rather than individual references, sometimes outside the context of this whole.
Another fact we underlined was that “Integration is not new to many contexts. Many traditional cultures already value integration but were introduced to Western systems of education, which disintegrated knowledge into specializations.” As we become faithful exegetes and expositors of God, is it not imperative that we restore some of this holism? Are we more enamored by the academic preoccupation with particulars rather than with seeing Scripture from within its integrated whole?
This raises an important question for us as academics, faculty members or even pastors – Are we to refrain from particulars in order to emphasize wholeness and integration? Are particular verses, phrases or even certain books not to be emphasized for their own value? ICHE clarified - “Integrated education must not discount the need for specialization. Integration requires a core of knowledge of various specializations around which integration must take place. A proper balance must be sought between specialization and integration.” It is this balance between the parts and the whole, that we will see the Bible become the double-edged sword we claim it is.
Integration must ensure that Scriptures become relevant within various contexts – the Western world, Africa, Asia or wherever. We face the need to bring Scriptures alive within our own contexts. One of the principles of integration addressed this need – “The role of local or regional contextual factors must be considered in implementing the concept of integrated learning.” However, we clarified, integration involves not only local contextual perspectives but also global concerns which impact us locally today.
Holism, integration, interconnectedness is invading our thinking powerfully, and is here to stay. An integrated approach to the Bible is the urgent need. Our interpretations and writings will then become relevant to our contexts. Integration is all about these live interconnections. Our congregations will begin to see the relevance of the word of God in whatever situation they are. The word will impact our people as they continue to discover the power of the Word in their lives. After all, learning is life and life is learning.
Dr. Ken Gnanakan, Chairman of Theological Book Trust, and reputed author of several books, is Chancellor of the ACTS Group of Institutions and Chairman of the International Council for Higher Education. He has served as Chairman and General Secretary of Asia Theological Association for over 15 years. Gnanakan is an environmentalist, educationalist and theologian and resides in Bangalore, India with his wife Prema.