Integrating Faith and Learning With the Trinity

—by Mary H. Korte, Ph.D.

Faculties and administrators at Lutheran institutions often discuss the importance of integrating faith and learning; however, the percentage of called or even Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) professors at many Concordia University System (CUS) institutions has dramatically declined over the last decade while the percentage of non-LCMS professors has increased. Although these professors may be excellent scholars, proficient in their disciplines, and practicing Christians, they are often unfamiliar with Lutheran doctrine or have spent little, if any, time studying theology. Before asking, “How will I integrate faith and learning?” professors must ask, “Which faith will I integrate?” and “What elements of that faith should be integrated with learning in my discipline?” The goal at a Lutheran university should not be to integrate a generic spirituality, an inoffensive but vapid Christianity, or a New Age personal “faith” with learning. Instead, the goal should be to provide a robust Christian education that is compatible with Lutheran doctrine as understood by the LCMS and which integrates basic Christian theology with learning. A “Concordia education” should not describe merely an education for Christian students, courses taught by Christian faculty, or programs offered at an institution affiliated administratively, financially, and historically with the LCMS.

Because CUS schools are liberal arts universities offering diverse programs and sincere Christians disagree about some practices, e.g. communion, baptism, married clergy, or women’s ordination, certain questions are best left to theology courses. However, to integrate faith and learning and model Christian scholarship, all professors should consider C.S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity.” An authentic “Christian education” demands teaching and learning infused with an understanding of who God is and what our relationship with Him is as codified in the ecumenical creeds, all of which affirm God’s Triune nature. The Apostles’ Creed is an excellent starting point to integrate faith and learning through the Trinity in the liberal and fine arts, business, education, and professional programs.

Heresies about God’s nature have arisen throughout Church history. Creeds address heresies and affirm Scriptural teaching about God. CUS institutions employ faculty from many denominations; however, all orthodox Christian faiths confess the ecumenical creeds. The Apostles’ Creed is a theologically sound and universal statement for integrating faith and learning at CUS schools. Christianity is unique in its description of God as Triune. Although Scripture uses neither “Trinity” nor Triune, Trinitarian theology is derived from Scripture’s descriptions of God.  Lest we think theology is of little use, consider how C. S. Lewis compared theology to a map:

If a man…look[s] at the Atlantic…and then… at a map of the Atlantic, he…will be turning from something real to something less real….The map is…only coloured paper, but there are two things…to remember….[F]irst…, it is based on what…thousands of people have found…by sailing the real Atlantic….[I]t has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together….[Secondly] go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun….But the map is going to be more use…if you want to get to America.
[T]heology is like the map….Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused…. [S]econdly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map….In fact, that is just why a vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.[1]

Although the Trinity may be seen as a problem, it is a solution. God is not alone: God is one essence and three distinct persons. God’s Triune nature models not only how we should interact with each other at CUS institutions, but also how we should act professionally. Humans, created in God’s image, are not designed to function as solitary academics but in an academic community. Although the Trinity may feel as if it does not make sense and analogies of the Trinity eventually break down, it is a theological map that helps us understand God’s nature. Why is the Trinity important? Without the Trinity, Jesus is not God because there was no Incarnation; however, only the Incarnation makes atonement possible. Jesus must be fully God to reconcile man with God. The Trinity also makes the resurrection possible. Trinitarian theology based on Scripture holds that there is only one God (1 Tim 2:5), the Father is God (2 Pet 1:17), the Son is God (Titus 2:13), the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4), Jesus is God in human flesh (John 20:28), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate, distinct persons (Luke 3:22), and all three persons of the Trinity have a role in our relationship with God (Matt 28:19). 

The Trinity is how God revealed that our relationship with him is with three divine persons, and our salvation depends on it. We should consider what it means for us, our vocations, and our scholarship that God is one in three persons, a blessed Trinity. The Apostles’ Creed has practical applications for integrating faith and learning because the Trinity is central to vocation in a Christian community. Seamands suggests that understanding and emphasizing the Trinity is critical because God’s Triune nature models how we should function in our ministry.[2] Integrating faith and learning is not just about academic content—it is also about how we interact with and support each other. We baptize, pray, worship, and receive the benediction in the Triune name of God. Why not also integrate faith and learning in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? We can then identify convergences among Trinitarian doctrine, Reformation theology, vocation, “mere” Christianity, Christian experience, and the heritage of Lutheran education. 

Christian vocation requires a Trinitarian, not just a monotheistic, vision and commitment. The Apostles’ Creed can set norms and expectations for faith and learning as we prepare students for service to Christ in the Church and the world because God is Triune. Through the Trinity, we understand what God expects with regard to interpersonal relationships, e.g. faculty with administration, faculty with faculty, faculty with students, and faculty with other scholars and professionals. Creedal Christianity is an important foundation for vocation and scholarship. Like Lewis’s map, the Apostles’ Creed is a map to direct our teaching ministry. When we confess the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm belief in the Trinity. The First Article acknowledges the work of God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. The Second Article affirms the redemptive work of God the Son, the incarnate Christ who, by his atoning death on Calvary and his resurrection, brings salvation and eternal life to sinful beings. The Third Article describes the work of sanctification performed by the Holy Spirit in lives of individual Christians and through the “communion of saints” which is the Church.

Lutheran theology has historically concentrated not only on the connection but also the proper distinction between law and gospel because this was the heart of the Reformation. The law demands perfect obedience to God’s will and holy living, an impossible task for fallen humans, while the gospel promises forgiveness through God’s grace alone by faith in Jesus Christ. Lutheran educators often integrate faith with learning as it relates to redemption and sanctification, i.e. the second and third articles of the Apostles’ Creed but ignore the first article. As noted in Together with All Creatures, a report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the LCMS, an unintended consequence of our Reformation heritage is that many Lutherans “have focused to such a degree on salvation that nothing else matters. [They say,] ‘I’m saved and am going to heaven, so why worry about this present world?’”[3] A significant exception has been in science where integrating faith with learning often ignores redemption and sanctification but emphasizes creation, i.e. first article theology, because it seeks to answer a basic question scientists ask, “How did this universe and everything in it begin?” Depending on one’s denomination, integration has focused on understanding the shortcomings of naturalistic evolutionary theories vis-à-vis theories such as Intelligent Design or young-earth creationism, analyzing how evolution and natural selection might conflict with Scripture, or exploring how theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism might be reconciled with Scripture. 

Using environmental science as an example, this paper will consider how the three articles of Apostle’s Creed are related to the integration of faith and learning. The First Article states that God the Father is Maker of heaven and earth. Luther (SC) explained 

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that he provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to him to thank, praise, serve, and obey him. This is most certainly true.

In response to rising environmental awareness in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Christian bodies, including the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), developed statements outlining theological understandings of environmental stewardship and the responsibility of Christians to serve and obey God by caring for creation. In 1969, the LCMS noted that God the Father had tasked mankind with stewardship of the world’s natural and human resources, and it was resolved that the Church would develop educational materials about environmental stewardship (Res 10-08). In 1977, Synod adopted a resolution on energy conservation with particular concern regarding energy costs for people in poverty (Res 8-06).  In 1986, a resolution (Res7-18) concerning stewardship of soil and water was passed. In 1986, commentary in Luther’s Small Catechism stated, “It is our duty to…be good stewards of creation…We are good stewards when we avoid polluting air, land and water; carefully dispose of waste; use rather than waste natural resources; conserve rather than waste energy; recycle or reuse materials whenever possible; and value and take care of all God’s creation.”[4] A 1992 resolution affirmed natural resource conservation on local and national levels, and in 2000 the Stewardship Ministry division of the LCMS produced a booklet titled “Stewardship of Creation” to educate members about environmental stewardship. In 2007, Synod Res. 3-06 requested the CTCR “to develop a biblical and confessional report on responsible Christian stewardship of the environment.”[5] The CTCR study was released in April, 2010, as Together with All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth. This analysis of where humans fit into creation and how we should live within creation is available as a booklet through Concordia Publishing House or on the LCMS website ( It is excellent material to initiate discussion in environmental science, ecology, or related courses at Christian schools and is a resource professors can use to integrate faith and learning with respect to environmental issues and theological considerations surrounding responsible stewardship of earth’s resources.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a statement in 1993 which emphasized that “Christian concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on a cross, [and] the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth.”[6] Notice how this parallels the three articles: it refers to the work of God the Father as Creator, God the Son as Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit as Sustainer. The ELCA statement links environmental abuse with degradation of God’s gifts and notes that Scripture teaches God is the creator who blesses not only humans but also all the world. Because man and animals were all made from the earth, they share a common kinship. Man was tasked with tilling the earth and caring for other living creatures. Other documents include a call for environmental justice and sustainable living.  Issues such as mountaintop removal for coal mining, energy usage, and water scarcity and pollution are specifically addressed on the ELCA website.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Synod website summarizes Christian responses to environmental problems. It states that “[c]aring for the world in which we live is more than a political or economic issue. For the Christian it is a moral issue.”[7] Using numerous verses, the WELS document relates environmental degradation to sin and man’s fallen nature while noting that humans have been tasked to care for creation with benevolence while looking forward to inhabiting their heavenly home.

Considering only this brief summary, it is clear that the branches of American Lutheranism agree on principles of environmental stewardship. However, authors of many environmental science texts still present Lynn White, Jr.’s thesis as evidence that the Judeo-Christian heritage is at the root of the world’s environmental problems, and professors teaching courses other than environmental science need to understand and know how to counter White’s arguments. Understanding First Article theology is critical in many disciplines.

White argued that science and technology are rooted in Christian teachings about man’s relationship to God and nature. He wrote, “[W]hat people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them.”[8] White is correct that what people believe about man relative to creation significantly influences how they treat nature. However, White incorrectly answered that Christianity teaches God created the world solely for human benefit and nature has only utilitarian value when he asked, “What did Christianity tell people about their relations with the environment?”[9] He concluded, “By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.”[10] Professors of environmental law, environmental policy, environmental ethics, environmental literature, environmental history, and environmental science can all counter White’s arguments with First Article theology.

Many connections exist between First Article theology and environmentally oriented courses. Most criticism of Christianity is derived from mistaken interpretations of Genesis 1:28 which proclaims, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” White wrote, “[m]an named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them.  God planned all of [creation] explicitly for man’s benefit and rule:  no item in…creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.”[11] White’s error is three-fold:  1) he does not rightly consider the Biblical meaning of dominion; 2) he fails to consider the Fall’s effects, that is to say, that all men have inherited Adam’s sin and all creation has been affected; and 3) he does not understand the ethical significance that man was created in God’s image. White’s charges against Christianity fail to connect the First and Second Articles of the creed or extend them to the Third Article. When God created the world, he made humans in his image and gave them dominion over creation. Christ’s servant leadership, which is neither autocratic nor domineering, exemplifies what dominion means in this context. Jastram noted, “Dominion can be exercised without abuse.  Christians whose hearts have been changed by Christ are able to resist ‘lording it over’ others.”[12]

Many scientists can integrate faith and learning in relation to the First Article. Scientists follow God’s model when they create experimental protocols to gather data as they explore logic and design in the natural world. Students are accustomed to seeing how disciplines such as art, music, drama, or literature require creativity; however, they are often surprised when assigned a science problem that requires creativity for its solution. Since God created our human parents in his own image, all people are equal and deserve to be treated accordingly. Thus, when human subjects are involved, faculty and student researchers must submit proposals to an Institutional Review Board tasked with protocol approval in light of ethics and appropriate informed consent. Likewise, animals were created by and proclaimed “good” in God’s sight. Universities must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee to review protocols using vertebrates.

Peter Pesic quoted Johannes Kepler as writing, “Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God.  That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God.”[13] Kepler was driven to “read the mind of God” and astronomers and NASA still use Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Because God the Father declared his creation to be very good, science must acknowledge certain limits and take care not to exceed them. Issues such as cloning, stem cell research, and genetic engineering are familiar topics in bioethics. Less familiar cases, e.g. more than twenty U.S. nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll (1946 to 1958) or the Tuskegee syphilis study (1932-1972) can also be discussed in light of the First Article and man’s proper use of creation. 

Although through one man’s sin we are now all born in sin and all creation suffers with us, we learn from the Second Article that by his perfect life, suffering, and death, Christ redeemed not only mankind but also all of creation. The fall and Christ’s redemption are cosmic and ultimately apply to all things, biotic and abiotic. Because we are redeemed and made in God’s image, we are called to be co-workers to care for and sustain creation. Luther’s explanation of the Second Article (SC) teaches us to confess

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and delivered me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be wholly his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

In the Second Article, we confess that Jesus, God Incarnate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The purpose of his suffering and submission to the Father’s will was to redeem humanity “together with all creatures” because only his perfect sacrifice removes the stain of Adam’s sin. Creation’s redemption came with a heavy price, Christ’s blood. Although the full price of redemption has been paid, sin has irrevocably defiled God’s originally perfect world. Because of sin, all living things will suffer until Christ returns. The victory has been won; however, just as humans are able to use their creative talents to participate in God’s sustaining work in creation, they can also participate, albeit imperfectly and incompletely, in Christ’s work of redeeming the world from sin’s effects. The Fall produced the general effect of bringing death to all creatures; however, Christ descended into hell, defeated Satan, and rose triumphantly. He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. Those who through grace have faith in Christ will share life in his eternal kingdom. Although we can do nothing to cancel the general effect of sin, God Incarnate has done so for us. However, the Fall produces on-going effects of sin in this world. Sinful abuse of natural resources defiles and pollutes our environment. When we encourage students to be responsible stewards because the world belongs to God who created and redeemed it, we are in a small but significant way modeling Christ’s Second Article work.

  Whenever we relieve human or animal suffering though our vocations, we are partially ameliorating sin’s terrible effects. Many CUS programs prepare students for vocations that relieve suffering. Applied science examples include physical or occupational therapy, athletic training, nursing, psychology or counseling, pharmacy, pre-medical or pre-veterinary majors, and a physician assistant program. Service learning projects can be especially useful in these disciplines if students are taught that by helping others they are acting as “little Christs” in service to their neighbor. Not only is this related to the Second Article, but it also exemplifies the purpose of CUS schools.  For example, the mission statement of Concordia University Wisconsin is to be a “Lutheran higher education community committed to helping students develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and the World.”

Unless we ground our service in the Creed, it can be compassionate and professional; however, it is not different from a secular model and our service is indistinguishable from generic caring. A secular model of scholarship, e.g. Boyer’s Model, might see scholarship of teaching and learning through a lens of originality, humanitarian or community service, and professional/personal self-improvement or development. A Trinitarian model relates scholarship to God the Father as creator, God the Son as redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit as sanctifier and comforter. This model is fuller and richer, has lasting spiritual meaning, and motivates us to practice our vocation for the glory of God in service to our neighbor. 

Knowing Christ died to redeem all creation leads us to consider how the Third Article, i.e., addressing sanctification, relates to scholarship and vocation. As an example from environmental science, the Holy Spirit guides us to repent of misusing God’s gifts and natural resources, grow in faith, trust that God daily forgives us, and in repentance truly desire to care for our fallen world, its suffering creatures, and polluted ecosystems. Paul Althaus wrote that Luther believed “All creatures are God’s masks and disguises; He permits them to work with him and help him create all sorts of things—even though he could and does create without their co-operation.”[14] However, unregenerate sinners see only the mask of God, namely the creature, and cannot see God. This ultimately leads to idolatry and a mechanistic, utilitarian view of nature. Luther warned that humans should be humble with regard to creation:  we are creatures and co-workers with God but we are not co-creators. In fact, the Fall was due to human desire to be gods. Although God gave Adam and Eve free will to obey him, they had limited freedom with regard to creation; they were forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Their use of nature had boundaries as should ours. God is active in creation through human agents as they practice their vocations and grow in faith through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. As professors, administrators, citizens, civic leaders, government officials, clergy, students, scholars, or researchers, we are responsible for preserving as much of the broader image of God as possible as we fulfill God’s calling to practice creation care. 

Once we see this large theological picture and relate environmental ethics to all three Creedal articles, we can counter the charge that Christianity is the root cause of environmental problems and instead proclaim that Christianity is the best way to address environmental issues. Luther understood the effect of sin on creation is such that “All our faculties today are leprous, indeed dull and utterly dead….[T]he knowledge of nature—that we should know all the qualities of trees and herbs, and…beasts—is utterly beyond repair in this life.”[15] He was appalled that although “… [God] has granted us the enjoyment and, as it were, the rule of almost all the creatures….almost all of us live in the most shocking abuse of the gifts of God”[16] because environmental degradation, particularly with regard to logging and mining practices, was already evident in his time. 

When God gave man dominion over earth, it was not his intent that we should drive species to extinction or destroy habitat with a consequent loss of biodiversity.  Centuries before the LCMS published Together with All Creatures, Luther wrote, “This Word assigns to all creatures their function and also preserves all creatures that they may not degenerate but that the distinct species may be preserved in endless propagation.”[17] Luther understood that only humans are moral agents; therefore, other creatures depend on us to exercise dominion carefully and justly.  We have been given dominion but not freedom to abuse either humans or non-human organisms. Environmental problems come from sins such as greed, corruption, or self-centeredness that result from disobedience and disrespect for God’s gift of dominion. Environmental degradation and injustice are the consequences of sinfully ignoring the Genesis 2:15 mandate to “work and keep” the Garden, i.e. to cultivate and preserve it which would develop a fruitful relationship with earth and all creatures; it is not the result of man having been given lordship of creation. Because all men have sinned, the “tragedy of the commons” is seen in all, not just Christian, cultures.

When teaching about faith, both law and gospel should be in each lesson. Beyond understanding that environmental degradation results from sin, students can be reminded of God’s immanence in creation and that through the incarnation, He took on human flesh to redeem fallen man as well as the fallen creation including all species and ecosystems. As redeemed creatures wearing the masks of God, we are privileged to work for Him as we practice environmental stewardship. We, together with all creatures, share in Christ’s redemption and are ecologically interdependent in this physical world.

Both man and nature have intrinsic, not merely utilitarian, value because Christ died for all creation. God does not sustain his creation as a distant power but is one with creation while remaining separate as he maintains an active and holy presence in it.  God did not create the natural world, its creatures, and mankind simply to withdraw from them as some might argue.  Instead, God remains involved in his creation and with all his creatures not only in ways that are discernible to human senses but also through means we do not know or fully comprehend.  This understanding is not animistic but is similar to Luther’s teaching that the infinite can be found in the finite (finitum capax infiniti). Paradoxically, there can be transcendence in immanence. Both biotic and abiotic elements of nature, including mankind, are masks of God in this world and as such, creation reveals God. When studying ecology, students can see both law and gospel: God’s wrath as evident in the physical death and decay of all organisms as well as God’s love for his creatures as evident by his provision through natural cycles and ecological checks and balances. Even so, we must remember that the Word is needed for salvation because only through the Word comes faith in Christ’s redemptive work.

Just as the Apostles’ Creed clarifies the mystery of the Trinity, our vocational calling to serve God as scholars and teachers should include an attempt to clarify mysteries in our academic disciplines. We should acknowledge what we don’t know, work to correct our errors and learn from them, and accept in humility that we cannot expect to know or understand everything. We will make mistakes, we will sin, and we will fall short not only of God’s desires for us but also fall short of our own expectations. Regardless, we can live in blessed confidence as we say with Luther (SC)

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

Luther clearly understood that by nature we are poor stewards of the environment.  He wrote, “This is the universal bane of our nature, that we are not satisfied with God’s gifts but abuse them and thus mock their Donor and Creator.”[18] However, when we confess the Third Article, we trust that the Holy Spirit is empowering us to grow in holy, God-pleasing living and service to others. If we integrate this truth of faith with learning, we can model a joyful and thankful response to the working of the Holy Spirit in our teaching, research, and environmental stewardship as we live our earthly lives “together with all creatures.”  

Dr. Mary Korte is a called LCMS Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences, Concordia University Wisconsin

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (NY: HarperCollins, 2002), 127–28.

[2] Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2005).

[3] Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Together with All Creatures, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 6.

[4] CTCR, Together, 5.

[5] CTCR, Together, 5.



[8] Lynn White, Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155 (1967): 1205.

[9] White, Historical Roots, 1205.

[10] White, Historical Roots, 1205.

[11] White, Historical Roots, 1205.

[12] Nathan Jastram, “Man as Male and Female: Created in the Image of God,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 68, no. 1 (January 2004): 24.

[13] Peter Pesic, Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 90.

[14] Paul Althus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 1966), 107–8.

[15] LW 1:66.

[16] LW 1:245.

[17] LW 1:95–96.

[18] LW 1:244.

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