Social Science and Scripture (Part 1)
by Steve Huerd
Brad Pitt played the entrepreneurial Oakland A’s baseball manager Billy Bean in the film Moneyball in which he goes against conventional wisdom by following the advice of a statistician in changing his team. Though the film was nominated for six academy awards including best actor and best picture, it raises interesting questions we must address in Christian Education.
For example, how do we really know what is true? This is not a new question per se, as the study of epistemology in philosophy directly studies these phenomena. But, it does pose continual questions as we in academia seek to lead and influence the new generation in discovering truth.
For centuries the church based its epistemology upon revelation or the idea that truth was directly given to us by God through the writing of the Holy Scriptures. However with the rise of the Enlightenment period, man’s reason gradually grew to occupy a more central place in the search for truth. This led to the rise of science, which while being originally created to study God’s universe, eventually became an alternative means of discovering truth in the world. Francis Schaeffer (1976), in his classic book How Should We Then Live, traces this independent and autonomous thinking back to the Renaissance period, placing man in the center of the universe.
Today, centuries later, science and the scientific method of investigation have largely supplanted revelation in the secular world as the chief means of discovering truth and knowledge. Revelation as a means of epistemic knowing has been subjugated to the realm of person opinion or even superstition as there is no way to empirically verify its findings through experimentation.
Thus, when it comes to doing research in the social sciences of academia, empiricism and the scientific method rule. You can’t really say anything unless you can support it with empirical evidence.
Those of us in Christian education, who still hold to God’s revelation through scripture as a means of knowing, must constantly wrestle at the task of integration. We maintain that all truth is God’s truth whether it is found in nature through general revelation (i.e. empirical research) or in special revelation (i.e. the Bible). If we have as our premise the knowledge that “all truth is one and all ways to truth are one because the Author and End of truth is One” (Green, 2007, p. 63), then integration becomes an essential task we must engage with great care.
And, like Billy Bean of the Oakland A’s, we face constant temptations to ignore conventional wisdom in favor of a more scientific approach. Even in the writing of my dissertation, I confess to spending far more time reading and summarizing empirical research than I did in writing about how the scriptures interact with my topic. Yet, if we truly believe that God has revealed truth in the Bible to us, than this truth must have supremacy over human reason being argued through statistically based empirical research.
Integrating truth discovered through empirical research with truth being revealed via scripture is no easy task. The scriptures will always hold epistemic supremacy for me in my thinking, but anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that the Bible doesn’t speak about every little truth God has created. For while God has given us everything we need for a life of godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), there remains much more truth to be discovered in the universe. Social science and scripture need not conflict and it’s not always one or the other, nevertheless we in Christian education need to be prepared so that we don’t lose our way in the midst of the fog in our search for truth.
Schaeffer, F. A. (1976). How should we then live? The rise and decline of western thought and culture. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company.
Green, B. (2007). Ch. 3: “Theological and Philosophical Foundations,” in Shaping a Christian worldview: The foundations of Christian higher education, ed. David Dockery and Gregory Thornbury. Broadman & Holman.
Qualitative Research Sampling
By Sharon Warkentin Short
To me, one of the most intriguing aspects of qualitative research is the selection of the sample with whom to conduct the study. In contrast to the probability or random sampling that is standard for quantitative investigations, qualitative researchers generally rely on “nonprobabilistic” (Merriam, 1998) or nonrandom sampling to determine their research participants. That is to say, rather than selecting individuals or groups in such a way that each member of the population under study has an equal chance of being chosen, qualitative inquirers deliberately seek out respondents who have the most to contribute: “the goal is to select cases that are likely to be ‘information-rich’ with respect to the purposes of the study” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 165). This selection approach has sometimes been labeled “purposive” or “purposeful sampling” (Merriam, 1998).
An instructive way to think about purposeful sampling is to view such participants as panels of experts in a specific area (Maxwell, 2005), comparable to medical specialists who are consulted regarding a difficult case. In that situation, the goal is not to get an average opinion from an entire population of doctors, but rather to hear what these particularly qualified people have to say (Merriam, 1998). At least fifteen different varieties of purposeful samples have been identified (Gall et al., 2003).
For my research I decided that an intensity sample was the best choice. Described as “cases that manifest the phenomenon of interest intensely but not extremely” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 178), such informants can be expected to provide ample useful data without seeming so rare or exceptional that subsequent readers of the research might feel the study has nothing relevant to say to them.
When I was first exposed to the whole area of nonrandom research sampling, I was very skeptical, because it sounded so contradictory to the tenets of objective, scientific research. However, it was the analogy of the panel of medical experts that convinced me. I realized that, for my study, I was not trying to discover what “average” children, or children in general, thought about Bible stories; I wanted to watch closely how one particular group of children in one Sunday school responded to the stories. The sample that I eventually studied constituted an intensity sample in that their church was field-testing a new children’s curriculum organized around the metanarrative of the Bible. This meant that the teaching materials were explicitly focused on Bible stories, and the volunteers and staff were committed to using the materials as effectively as possible. In this program they were more involved with the Bible stories than a typical Sunday school class might have been, but their involvement was not out of reach for most churches.
Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2003). Educational research: An introduction (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (2nd ed.). Vol. 41. Applied Social Research Methods Series. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Spiritual Blindness: Why don’t they get it?
by Steve Huerd
One of the greatest moments in a teacher’s life is when their students “get it” and the light bulb comes on. Sometimes you can see it in their faces, in their assignments or perhaps in their review of your course. There’s something inherently satisfying seeing tangible evidence that you made a difference in someone’s life.
But what happens when they don’t get it and you can’t seemto get through to that young mind? You know the truth you are sharing is critical to their understanding, yet they just don’t seem ready to hear it.
As teachers in Christian education, we are like the Apostle Paul who said to the Corinthians, “we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truth to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13).
Last week I was teaching a large group of high school students in a foreign country on a mission trip and I desperately wanted to share the gospel with them. However, the national staff told me if I did this publicly in this way, it would not be received well by the students due to cultural differences. They might be open to hearing it one-on-one but not in a large group setting, and especially if I preached it to them.
I consented, relinquishing my own ambitions, and shared only a small portion of my personal testimony regarding the importance of God in my life. Immediately afterward two of their national staff thanked me for planting the seed in the student’s minds and said my approach was very effective.
Yet I struggled within myself thinking, “why can’t I just share the gospel with them…this is what they need!” Yet, the truth was simply that they were not ready to hear it in that way. Paul likewise, experienced similar frustration with the Corinthians, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it” (1 Cor. 3:2). Even Jesus, in speaking to the disciples, had to curtail his teaching, “I still have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).
As Christian teachers, we should be aware of the limits of our teaching upon young believer’s hearts. Sometimes our students are just not ready to hear all the wisdom and insight we have to offer them. therefore we must make adjustments in our teaching when appropriate. These somewhat painful and inconvenient adjustments should flow from our love for our students. When they are not ready to hear, we must limit ourselves as teachers so as not to overburden them. No one learns calculus in first grade and no one can “comprehend the thoughts of God except of the Spirit of God.”