Integrating Faith and Learning by Lloyd Goldsmith

Integrating faith and learning must be intentional if we are to fulfill the spirit of the ACU mission statement and avoid Elzinga’s “gap between the secular and the sacred” (Elzinga, p.14). Each course must intentionally include a spiritually focused text – a faith read aligned with the course-learning outcome. The faith read can range from a book to a website to an article or a Biblical passage.

Professors must identify activities and readings designed to model for students ways to appropriately integrate faith, critical thinking and creative problem solving within their discipline. In How Learning Works (2010) Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett and Norman apply the science of learning to college teaching and note the importance of reflection as a part of deeper learning, metacognition. Metacognition or thinking about the process of learning is a critical part of long-term learning. Ambrose, et al. (2010) state,

“Students naturally make connections between pieces of knowledge. When these connections form knowledge structures that are accurately and meaningfully organized, students are better able to retrieve and apply their knowledge effectively and efficiently. In contrast, when knowledge is connected in inaccurate or random ways, students can fail to retrieve or apply it appropriately.” (pp. 4-5)

It is important the we are adamant that the faith component be integrated with content throughout each course so the knowledge structures constructed in students mind will be “accurately and meaningfully organized” (Ambrose, et al., p. 5). The faith component must not be viewed as an add-on or after thought of lesser importance. Therefore courses must be constructed using national standards and best practices identified by the faculty. These national standards must be infused with faith connections in a highly contextualized environment (Dewey, 1938). Furthermore all learning experiences, including faith reads, must be presented in a relevancy-oriented experience. When students process new information within a context that makes sense to them, concepts are more likely to become part of long-term transformational learning (Knowles, 1980).

The ACU Online Integrated Faith and Learning Model (See Figure 1.) illustrates how professors both graduate and undergraduate, residential and online, can integrate national standards, faith reads and conceptualized experiences to produce mastery of the student learning outcome for the course.

Figure 1: ACU Online Integrated Faith and Learning Model


The selection of appropriate faith read is central to the ACU Online Integrated Faith and Learning Model bodes well for residential courses too. The faith read incorporated into each course must respect all world faiths and Christian heritages. ACU’s global mission is fulfilled through serving students who seek ACU because of academic and professional standing.


Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M, Lovett, M, and Norman, M. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA:   Jossey-Bass

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: Collier Books.

Elzinga, K.G. (2012) Christian Higher Education vs. Christians in Higher Education. In E. Davis (ed.), A higher education: Baylor and the vocation of a christian university (pp.7-20). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy. Chicago, IL: Association Press.


Lloyd Goldsmith is professor of educational leadership at Abilene Christian University. He helped develop an online graduate degree in school leadership that contains an integrated faith and learning strand. He teaches doctoral courses in leadership at ACU at Dallas. He is a member of Highland Church of Christ where he serves as a teacher in an inner city ministry in Abilene. Lloyd and his wife Mary are enjoying being grandparents.


We believe that learning is a lifelong process and that those of us who teach make a commitment to continue our learning throughout our lives. The Adams Center exists to promote the lifelong learning of Abilene Christian University’s faculty as they strive to integrate their faith and their discipline.
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Author:  Publish Date: October 29, 2015


CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

The CHARIS website is supported by Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX, USA), the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The purpose of CHARIS at ACU is to seek God’s blessings for a healthy relationship between the Christian college/university – its faculty, staff, and students – and the church heritage that gives identity and meaning to such a school. This underlying concern for Christian colleges/universities, and their relationship to the churches, is reflected in the form and content of the CHARIS website.

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