Teach the Whole Truth

Michael Zigarelli

Copyright 2010, Christianity9to5.org. All rights reserved.

Pastors and Christian educators can suffer from two opposite but related errors in their teaching. Pastors usually impart Biblical revelation while ignoring scientific revelation; Christian teachers usually impart scientific revelation while ignoring Biblical revelation. We would all benefit if these leaders broadened their epistemology””their understanding of what counts as “knowledge”””and taught more often from the whole truth of theology plus science.


Error 1: The Bible is All that Counts as Knowledge

First things first. It’s an evangelical pillar that we gain knowledge from the Bible. God reveals Himself and His will through the Judeo-Christian scriptures. We learn from His Word what’s right and wrong, how we should live our lives, how we should relate to one another, how to have eternal life, and a plethora of other essential truths.

As significant as all this is, we should also recognize that there’s more to knowledge than what’s in scripture. There’s more to what’s knowable. God also reveals things to us through our observation and scientific study of His creation””revelation that we would not necessarily receive from reading the Bible. The “special revelation” of scripture has as its teammate the “general revelation” of science. They work synergistically to yield the body of knowledge from which we should teach.

We can go further with this point, and we must in light of the controversy swirling around the place of science in Christian thought. When we, in the name of Biblical supremacy, discount the knowledge that comes from scientific research, we risk discounting something from God. One of the reasons God gave us brains is so we can use them to discover more about Him and His world. We’ll not find a cure for cancer in the Bible, but we will find it someday through our God-given ability to study the disease. Similarly, we learn through research about the human personality, how to build a sturdy bridge, how organizations function optimally, how to keep our drinking water safe, and about countless other mysteries. Untold knowledge flows from this general revelation of God; pastors and all Christians must come to understand science this way, lest we accept and teach a truncated truth (note 1).

Here’s a brief illustration of how this happens and what’s at stake. Consider a question that’s familiar to the readers of this publication: How can we lead most effectively? Scripture has much to say on the topic in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, Jesus himself taught directly on the topic (see, e.g., Matthew 20:25-28), and He modeled the way of leadership for us to emulate. Pastors and Christian authors conduct remarkably helpful exegeses on this subject, offering us practical, Biblically-based leadership principles accordingly.

But they could offer much more completeness in their teaching, more depth and more insight that will greatly aid those they are teaching. They could, for example, dovetail in the decades of profound research that identifies what actually works in the leadership of people, families, organizations and entire nations. Is there not value to these findings? Is there not truth uncovered in this work? Doesn’t God’s “common grace” come into play here””His process of revealing knowledge through those who may not even know Him””and if so, shouldn’t we tap into that grace as we design and teach our lessons?

The fact of the matter is that there’s an abundance of leadership knowledge available through this massive line of scientific research””knowledge that supplements what we can know about leadership from scripture, but knowledge that’s too often sequestered by well-intended disciplers. To improve our discipleship, we should teach leadership (and everything else) from a Christian perspective by starting with the principles revealed in scripture and then by bringing alongside the insights from scientific research. This is the proper order, filtering the latter through the former, thereby maintaining a Christian worldview on all subject matter. Discipleship benefits immeasurably when our pastors teach from this whole truth.


Error 2: Science is All that Counts as Knowledge

It benefits greatly when our Christian professors and school teachers do likewise. Too often, these folks commit the reverse error in their teaching. That is, teachers in Christian universities and secondary schools typically focus on general revelation to the exclusion (or at best, the marginalization) of special revelation. They too teach a partial truth, and sometimes a particularly precarious one since it may be built on the assumptions of a secular worldview.

Frankly, this is the tainted fruit of their being trained in secular colleges and graduate schools: They tend to adopt, often unwittingly, the presumption that scientific knowledge is all that truly counts as knowledge. This is why “faith integration” is becoming such an important movement in Christian education. It’s an urgently-needed corrective to the secularization of faith-based teaching””to limiting truth claims to the realm of scientific study. (Several freely-available articles in the Christianity 9 to 5 online library explore this topic in depth, including A Blueprint for the Christian University, The Professor’s Task in the Christian University, The Challenge for Christian Higher Education, and The Integration of Faith and Learning.)

The point of all this, I hope, is straightforward: We Christians who have been called to the teaching vocation can bless those who sit at our feet by broadening our definition of “knowledge.” In theological terms, we should enlarge our epistemology to include both special and general revelation. Or in plain English, we should include the knowledge that flows from both theology and science as we educate those entrusted to us. Neglecting either one compromises our commission to teach people God’s whole truth.



1. Of course, science as practiced today often presupposes naturalism, an atheistic view of how we got here and how the universe operates””a presupposition that stands in contrast to a Christian worldview. But that does not diminish the findings of science, it only affects the interpretation of scientific results. Properly understood, good science reveals knowledge about how God has created us and the world.

Michael Zigarelli is a Professor of Leadership and Strategy at Messiah College and the editor of Christianity9to5.org.