Christianity and Christian Schooling in America: Part One

The summary data from a fascinating research project conducted by George Barna were recently published by Arizona Christian University’s Cultural Research Center. The findings are worthy of consideration and discussion. Therefore, I will be devoting the next few posts to reflections on this study. Some topics will include:

1. Biblical beliefs are unusual in American culture.
2. The biblical worldview doesn’t stay biblical without the Bible.
3. Self-identification is often an exercise in self-deception.
4. Taking away from the teachings of the Bible is dangerous.
5. Adding to the teachings of the Bible is dangerous. 

Let’s start by looking at #1 this week. Only 6% of American adults belong to a group that uniformly believes that the Bible is the true, accurate Word of God. Only 6% belong to a group that is uniformly confident that God is the perfect, just, all-powerful, ruling Creator. Only 6% percent belong to a group that almost unanimously holds that salvation is not contingent on people doing enough good things to earn eternal life.

What do these facts say about you and your school?

If you believe the Bible is true, you are in the minority. If you believe in the biblical view of God’s nature and character, please know that many, even some who call themselves “Christians,” disagree with you. Works-based false gospels have been prevalent since the birth of the church. Paul battled them in Galatia. We battle them in the USA. 

Biblical beliefs are unusual in American culture. In ACU’s summary, Barna notes, “‘Christian’ has become somewhat of a generic term rather than a name that reflects a deep commitment to passionately pursuing and being like Jesus Christ.” Generic Christian-ish ideals and sentiments are common. But specific, concrete commitments stemming from the Bible are not not.

How does your Christian school communicate what it believes about God, Bible, and salvation? How well do your students understand those things? Is your school “Christian” or is it Christian? What about your specific classroom? How can you tell?

Next time, we will take a look at the role of the Bible in shaping the biblical worldview.

Knowing About God is Not Enough: Biblical Integration

In his classic book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer offers the following reminder:

If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens.

(Packer, 21)

Knowing about God is essential, but it is not enough. There was a certain group of knowledgeable people in Jesus’ day, but they had a problem: they saw the knowledge as the end rather than the means. Here is Jesus’ response to this group:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?

(John 5:39-40, 46-47)

As academic disciple-makers, we want to make sure that our students know about God. But we don’t want to stop there. We want our biblical integration to show that Word and the world testify about Christ. And He is not a mere fact to be downloaded, but a Person to be honored, treasured, worshiped, and pursued. One goal of our work is to help students to know about God. But that goal serves a greater goal. 

Knowledge about God is meant to help people live well in relationship with Him. When we know that He is faithful, we can live in faith. When we know that He is strong, we can trust Him to handle the things that are too big for us. When we know that He is kind, we can approach Him in repentance. 

In other words, knowledge is meant to be fuel for worship. When you serve your students through biblical integration, remember that all the knowledge you teach your students about God is meant to help them know and rightly respond to Him. Part of your role as an academic disciple-maker is to be an academic worship-leader. As your students gain knowledge about God, give them the opportunity to respond to that knowledge in praise, wonder, repentance, fear, joy, and love. 

An Academic Disciple-Maker’s Prayer: Biblical Integration from Philippians 1

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11

Lord, help my students to grow in love for you and others. Use the time they spend in my class to deepen their knowledge and insight. As they learn my subject matter, teach them to fear you and to follow you. Teach them your Word. Empower them with supernatural discernment to seek what is best. Strengthen their allegiance to you in their thoughts, words, desires, and actions so that they may live in a way that is pure and blameless. Fill their lives with the fruit of righteousness that comes only from you. And may this righteousness be clear to others so that they too will praise and glorify you.

High-Pressure Testing: Biblical Integration and Calling Students to Examination

Testing is a hot-topic for teachers. What kinds of tests are best? How should tests be constructed? What are the outcomes that we are looking for? What do test-results really mean?

Tests are often on the minds of students as well. They can sometimes be opportunities to shine. But they can also be stressful. This is especially true of high-leverage tests like the ACT/SAT or other standardized tests. Graduation could be on the line. Acceptance could be on the line. Scholarships could be on the line. Tests, especially in academic settings, can be high-pressure activities. However, they can also be quite valuable. This is also true in our spiritual lives. 

Recently, our school devoted time in MS/HS chapel to interact with the question, “How can I know for sure that I am saved?” This is an important test: a probing question. And it is one that many students were asking. Thankfully, it is also a biblical question. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul challenges the church there, saying, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” There is a way to test ourselves. And it is possible to fail.

Self-examination is a crucial part of following Jesus. And the test-results should lead people to know where they actually stand. In 1 John 5:13, the motivation of John’s writing is clear: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Believers should test themselves. And they should know if they pass the test. 

So what does this examination look like? How can we examine ourselves? How do we really test ourselves so that we can know for sure that we have eternal life?

One of our chapel-speakers pointed out that one evidence of salvation is change: Have you been changed by the gospel? Is your life becoming more Christlike? Are you hating and battling sin? That is in line with what John says just a few verses later: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them,” (1 John 5:18).

A famous Reformation line is something like, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone.” We can test if our belief is real by the impact it has on our living. Good faith will be joined by good works. Are we being changed? Are we growing? Do we keep fighting?

At the close of this article, let me take a turn toward academic discipleship in particular. As a teacher, you likely test your students. You probably also teach them to self-assess. They may learn to do study guides, reviews, practice activities, ungraded quizzes, and more. But are you teaching them to examine themselves to see whether or not they are in the faith? 

I am burdened that there are many non-Christian students populating Christian schools. There will come a day when they face the true final exam. Standing before the Lord Himself, will they hear, “Well done!” or “I never knew you,”? Perhaps practicing some self-examination now will put them in position to prepare for that final exam.   

If you speak of God in your integration (and I am confident that you do), consider helping students test where they stand with that God. The final exam is coming for all of us: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.,” (Heb 9:27-28).

Biblical Integration Must Be Fully Christian

This might seem obvious, but Christian schooling is about more than just helping students believe in God. James tells us that even the demons believe (Jas 2:19). And, it goes without saying that we are not content with bringing students to the level of demons. Believing in God is not enough. Even being amazed by God is not enough (after all, the demons tremble at God). It comes back to knowing God, trusting God, loving God. It all comes back to the Son.

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:35-36).

Let me encourage you to highlight the Son in your class. Every session of your class does not need a gospel-presentation, but Jesus must be exalted. Teachers may need to work to figure how to highlight Him best, but Colossians 1:15-17 clearly states that everything we teach has been made through Him and is for Him and is sustained by Him:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

This is what I mean when I say that biblical integration must be “fully Christian”: our work must turn the eyes and minds of our students toward Christ. He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). Colossians 1 continues in verse 18:

And [Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

In everything He should be seen as supreme. How is Christ’s supremacy demonstrated in your classroom? I understand that it can be daunting to call for teachers to integrate so specifically. But for a school to be Christian, the classes that make up the school must be Christian. And, a class cannot be truly or fully Christian without making much of Christ. 

Would you consider how you might shine the spotlight on Jesus once through your material this week? Just start there: aim for one specific element that highlights the Son. And as you exalt Him in and through your course, I am confident that you will love making much of Him. I am confident that you will want to keep doing it. 

The Great Commission for Teachers

To help orient myself for a new school-year, I wanted to take some time to consider the Great Commission. This was valuable for me, so I am sharing it with you too. So what follows is a simple, short interaction with the Great Commission for teachers.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20

Make Disciples: Our Big Goal

Jesus called his followers to make disciples. This is an orienting command for all of us. God has commanded us to make disciples. Thankfully, He is also the one who equips us to make disciples. He is also the one who ultimately gives life—this is his work. Your work is his work. As a teacher, remember that discipleship is your goal. And remember that God is able to accomplish that goal through you.

Baptizing: Salvation is the Beginning of Discipleship

The disciples were going out into the world and—think about this– everyone they would encounter would be lost. There was no Christian culture. There were no Christian schools. There were no Christians at all. And yet, the disciples were called to make disciples. And each new disciple would need to be baptized. This means that step one of discipleship is salvation. There are students in your class that need the Good News.  They need Jesus. They need salvation from the wrath of God. And you are there to carry out the Great Commission. God has put you there for this.

Teaching them to Obey: Growth after Salvation

As a teacher, this part of the passage is especially sweet for me. I hope that is sweet for you too! God has intentionally included teaching in his plan for discipleship. In addition, our specific type of teaching (liberal arts) is especially unique. Most churches do not have the opportunities we have to show God’s glory in math, science, art, language, physical education, and history. In addition, most are not able to spend as much time diving into how we can be obedient worshippers and faithful ambassadors in math, science, art, and the rest. 

Local churches are called to equip the saints (Eph 4:12) by starting with God’s Word and directing people to discipleship in God’s world. We often start with God’s world and direct our students to God’s Word. In this way, our work—your work—is kingdom work.   

“I am with you always.” 

Jesus finishes his commission by reminding the disciples that this is ultimately his work. He will be present. He will be working. And we can trust that He will do it. 

New Tools Coming in the Future: Exciting News!

For almost three years, I have been writing articles on academic discipleship through biblical integration on this site. There are over 100 individual articles published and the site is on track to have about 2500 views during this calendar year (2020). While these are not earth-shattering numbers, I find them encouraging. The trends are all positive. Teachers, administrators, and parents continue to show that they care about learning about integration and growing as integrators. Because of that, I am planning to use the next several weeks to increase the value of the site in a new way: online, interactive training-modules.

I have led in-person trainings regarding biblical integration for years in at conferences, schools, and professional development events. However, COVID-19 has been a catalyst for me to learn more about online teaching, instructional design, and development. Therefore, I believe the time is right to leverage this growth to adapt and form much of this content for maximum impact online. By early 2021, I am hoping to make my Every Bush is Burning training available for free on this site. If that goes well, I have several other courses that I would like to develop as well. These could be used by individual teachers, but they will also be useful for small groups or entire schools looking for professional development in this area.

Since this will be a large undertaking, I will not be posting new weekly articles for several weeks. This is not because I have given up on the site. This is not because I am not continuing to invest in helping teachers grow as integrators. On the contrary, I am working hard to produce larger-scale elements that provide greater benefit for those who have come to appreciate what this site offers. I am excited about this new opportunity and I am praying that God would use it in big ways.

Shaping What Students Want: Biblical Integration

What do your students want at any given moment? Is it recess? Popularity? Friendship? A nap? The school-day is filled with numerous desires. Some may be good and others less so. As a teacher, you know that it would not be good for your students to always get what they want. The might not want to have to study… but they need to do it. They might not want troubleshoot, think critically, and work hard… but they need to do those things. Sometimes, as teachers, we help students achieve success in spite of their desires. However, we must also see that we play an important role in shaping those desires. 

As we teach students, we play a role in molding what they want. Brett McCracken wisely notes, “Faith institutions should make no apologies for a collective formational process that sometimes means subordinating individual goals to the larger mission. This is what faith has always been about.” The Christian faith changes people.

Who would want to live in poverty far from family? Many Christian missionaries. Who would want to listen to people struggling through some of life’s hardest seasons? Many Christian counselors. Who would want to spend time with pre-adolescents who have yet to discover the power of antiperspirant? Many Christian teachers. These missionaries, counselors, and teachers have had their vision of the good life transformed by their faith. The same can be said for parents, pastors, coaches, and many more. The Christian faith develops Christian desires. 

Christians schools have the opportunity to impact students daily. We have regular, structured opportunity to shape what the learners care about. Students are not simply learning academic content; they are learning life-orientation. They are learning what and how to love.

English teachers, don’t just help you students love Shakespeare. Help them love words. Help them see their ability to share the Beautiful News in a beautiful way. Math teachers, do more than fan the flame of abstract logic. Assist your students in loving prudence, problem-solving, and accuracy. What a gift to the church that would be! History teachers, don’t just tell the story. Instead, show students the power of a life well-lived. Help them to see that, like the Wilberforces, Luthers, Bonhoeffers, and Augustines of the past, there is power in faithful living. 

Paul said that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6). He was shaping Timothy’s desires. He was teaching him what to want. We can, and must, do the same for the “Timothys” that God has given to us.

Teaching Students to Think Wisely: Biblical Integration

Time with students is limited. They will graduate. They will move on. And the Christian school strives to make an impact on them before they go. But what mark are we trying to leave? Well, we want them to have necessary knowledge; they need truth. However, they also need the skill of biblical thinking. We don’t want them to leave without the skill of properly weighing all things against the Word of God. We want them to be wise.

Wise choices are godly choices. Therefore, we want our students to learn to think wisely. Proverbs 4:7 makes the priority of wisdom clear, saying, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Therefore, the Christian school’s goal is to help students get wisdom; though it cost all we have, we must give understanding. Dr. Matthew Hall says that the Christian school should “mobilize its curriculum, faculty, and programming to help students develop the skill of thinking critically according to God’s revelation.” In other words, everything the Christian school does should help students become wise. 

We are not primarily invested in what students know, but in how they think. However, the Bible actually makes an amazing connection between knowledge and wisdom: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both (Prov 1:7, 9:10). Therefore, knowledge and wisdom are bound together. Those who know the truth about God are in position to honor Him with their lives by fearing Him. If wisdom and understanding are worth paying any price, we should give our all to teach our students to fear God. 

If we graduate God-fearers, we are largely successful. I think a large portion of our work may boil down to that. And if I am measuring the efficacy of my teaching, I can ask myself: Are my students trembling at his Word more because of my class? (Isaiah 66:2). Are they growing in fear of the One who can kill the soul rather than those who can only harm the body? (Matt 10:28). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. If I am teaching my students to fear God, I am teaching them to think wisely. In light of this, let me encourage you to consider developing and implementing biblical integration that shows your students God’s glory. Help them to see Him for who He is: worthy of awe and worship. This will equip them to live lives that are worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1). This will help them to think wisely.

The Beautiful Life: Biblical Integration and Example

The Institute for Family Studies recently highlighted some research regarding the ways in which Christian schooling helps at-risk students understand and embrace healthy, godly views of marriage and family. While the study revealed much, I was particularly struck by the impact of simply being embedded in Christian community for an extended period of time. Students were changed by seeing healthy relationships lived out in front of them.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but students might not always listen to your lectures. They might not always take proper notes. But they see you. They see your consistency. They see how you live. They see how you love. This is the incarnational nature of biblical integration—truth and love embodied.

Clearly, we want all of our students to come to know Jesus. We want them to embrace the truth of the gospel and to understand God’s good design for them. However, I  know that not all my students have been convinced that Christianity is true. Not all of them embraced the fact that it is good. But many have understood that it is beautiful. And that has, at times, been a part of a longer process of wrestling with the gospel.

When my wife and I went through the embryo adoption process, they saw conviction and care and family. When I have been too quick to speak or self-focused, they have seen humility, restitution, and a longing for forgiveness and restoration. They have seen service. They have experienced care. They have observed kindness. They have noted real joy. I don’t bring these up because I am a special, great teacher. None of these beautiful elements are unique to me, nor do they stem from me. They are the fruit that grow from the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). I know that students see these things—and more—in coaches, teachers, administrators, parents, peers, and more.   

Press on in showing students the beauty of God and godliness. Show them the beauty of knowing Christ. Perhaps lost students will consider the truth of the gospel because they can’t deny its beauty. Perhaps struggling students will embrace the goodness of biblical ethics because they have been drawn to the beauty of biblical relationships. Keep loving your students well. It makes a difference.