Wrong Ways to Think About Biblical Integration: Part One

In their introduction to Teaching and Christian Practices, David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith make an important statement:

“When conversations about pedagogy do occur among Christian faculty, it’s all too common to find them uncritically reflecting tired dichotomies (such as lecturing versus group work) or currently fashionable slogans (such as brain-based or student-centered learning) rather than being informed by explicitly Christian reflection,” (5).

Biblical integration, though a good and necessary practice, can likewise be uncritically considered and practiced. Therefore, the aim of this post is to lead to some critical reflection on some incorrect ideas about biblical integration that stem from unhelpful dichotomies. This list is not exhaustive, but here are a few wrong ways of thinking about integration that stem from unnecessary, false choices.

Wrong Way #1: Biblical Integration requires that I take class-time away from the subject and replace it with Bible study.

The unhelpful dichotomy here would sound something like this, “I only have so much time in my classes. Therefore, the more we integrate the less we interact with our math/history/science/etc.” The problem here is simple: if we think that our biblical integration is something other than our class content, or if we believe that it is in a separate category, we are missing the point of integration. Our biblical integration should never subtract from meaningful, helpful academic class-time. Instead, it should engage our students as they explore, create, analyze, or solve. It provides needed context and content for every legitimate course of study. For example, try to study slavery or the Holocaust without wrestling with the ideas of human dignity and worth, ethical foundations, or power. Conclusion: It’s not academics or integration, but academics through integration.

Wrong Way #2: Biblical Integration requires me to whitewash over the challenging, confusing, or controversial elements that might arise in class content.

The artificial conflict here sounds like, “This is a Christian school, so we can’t talk about bad/evil things. We have to protect our kids from hearing about all of that.” Now, we do have a responsibility to protect our children. We are responsible for their safety and well-being—including their spiritual well-being. However, often their well-being might depend on us preparing them for things that they’ll need to wrestle with in the long-term.

For example, I would not speak to a 3rd grader and a 10th grader in the same way about gender dysphoria and transgenderism in science, history, ethics, current events, or other classes where that might rightly come up as a topic of instruction. I might speak to my 3rd grade student and say,

“We live in a world where some people are confused about being a boy or a girl. When sin came into the world, it affected everything and caused lots of problems and pain. As Christians, we need to love everyone, especially those who are hurting, struggling, or confused. We want to help them understand the truth about who God made them to be. Can you think of a place in the Bible where God talks to us about what to do when we are struggling or confused? Can you think of a place where God tells us how to treat others who are having a hard time?”

When speaking to a 10th grade student, I might start the discussion by saying something like,

“There is a condition that psychologists call ‘gender dysphoria.’ This means that some people are feeling tension between who they are on the inside and who they are on the outside, and this causes distress. As Christians, we know that the Fall affected the world so that it is now disordered. All humans are disordered in serious ways—you and me too. And this is a particularly difficult and contentious area because it is a hot-button issue and a real struggle for real people today. Can you relate to, or empathize with, feeling distress about who you are and how others see you? Can you think of how the Bible might speak to issues related to disorder, the results of sin on the world, and how we can love people well while holding to the truth?”

Instead of glossing over this challenging issue, biblical integration helps the students engage with it in appropriate, biblical ways. Conclusion: The best way to protect our kids is to help them think biblically. The world is more than ready to have the hard conversations with our students, but it is our responsibility to prepare them, engage them, and correct them so that they can succeed in the long-term.

In my next post, I’ll address other wrong ways to think about integration like:  “Biblical Integration requires the teacher to be a Bible-expert,” “The point of biblical integration is Bible knowledge,” and “The teacher needs to do all the integrating.”

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Three

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? This post is part three of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

I was encouraged to see responses that shared the value of well-planned integration. These comments sounded like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher.”

We all know that excellent planning makes our courses easier and better. We are accustomed to mapping our curriculum, carefully selecting our books and assignments, meticulously designing our assessments, and thoughtfully reviewing key ideas and points. Your biblical integration should play a role in all of these areas. And when it does, you will find your work of academic discipleship easier and better. Biblical integration makes your work more fulfilling and meaningful. Therefore, thoughtfully planning your integration will serve you, your students, your school, and your God well.

A few teachers asked a question like this one: “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”

I know that teachers are already capable of correcting and redirecting students so that they can grow. This is a core part of the teaching job so I am not going to dig deeply into the classroom management side of this. You know when to pull a student aside, or have a class discussion, or to let something go. However, I do want to point out some specific unbiblical ideas or trends that you need to be aware of. These ideas permeate much of our Christian culture. Be alert so that you can notice these as they come up because they are harming many of the kids that we are serving. These four key areas are worth engaging with directly and preemptively. Don’t be afraid to speak about them as they arise naturally in your classes. If one student is struggling a particular area, it is likely that many others are as well.

  1. (An Uninformed) View of God. One teacher shared a story about how a student responded to being corrected for doing something wrong. The student said, “It’s not my fault; God made my hand do that!” It seems that this student was sure that God was powerful enough to control his hand (which, of course, God is), but the student was missing something about the moral goodness of God. We live in a culture that often pits God’s attributes against one another. As we work to share how our students understand themselves and the world, the best thing that we can do is to help them see God for who He really is.

**One cultural culprit here is selective teaching of the Bible. Instead of teaching the whole counsel of God, many schools, Sunday Schools, parents, and even churches only teach selections of the Word of God. This, naturally, leads to incomplete, incoherent, and incorrect views of who God really is. In your class, try to engage with the character and characteristics of God as they are described throughout the sixty-six books. 

  1. The (In)Sufficiency of Scripture. I talk to many young people who want to hear God speak to them. They want to know God’s will for their lives. However, they are not willing to commit to hearing the Scriptures even though they tell us God’s will (1 Thess 5:18) and make us ready for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). The Bible gives life, points us in the right way, gives us wisdom, keeps us from sin, and more (Ps 119). God has spoken through the Bible. And He still speaks through the Bible. His Holy Spirit has perfectly put together his words, and when we read them, He is ready to apply them to our minds. But we must teach our students to open up that Bible in order to hear God’s voice. The Bible is the one and only place where you always know that you are hearing God speak. Our consciences can be wrong. Our inclinations can be misinterpreted. Visions or dreams may be from God, or they may not. But the Bible is right—always. And the Bible is 100% from God.

**A representative cultural culprit here is the Jesus Calling material that has been so popular. This series has exacerbated the belief that God’s Word is not enough for his people. Here is a good article by Tim Challies about some of the major problems with Jesus Calling. But in essence, Sarah Young, writes personal messages on the behalf of God because the Bible left her wanting more. Her book (and its spin-offs) are best-selling. We can see that she hit a nerve with this feeling, and it is important that we address that feeling for our students.

  1. (Self-Focused) Prayer and Prosperity Gospel. God loves his people. God loves to listen to his people. However, God is not in the business of giving us what we ask for unless it specifically aligns with his will. 1 John 5:14 is key here: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” And we must remember Jesus in the garden pleading, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,” (Luke 22:42). The Father, in love and in perfect wisdom, did not give Jesus the first part of what He asked for—the Father still sent the Son to drink the cup. However, the Father did this out of love since it resulted in worship (Phil 2) and joy (Heb 12) for the Son. God loves us enough to say, “No.” He loves us enough to give us suffering, pain, frustration, and heart-ache for our good.

**One big cultural culprit in this area is the Christian movie, fiction, and music industry. Many, many Christian movies have been infamously off the mark. For example,  Facing the Giants is a feel-good movie, but teaches a bad theology on prayer and suffering. Of course, God can provide free vehicles, state-championships, and children for his people. However, our trials in this broken world are often the things God uses to make us like Him (Jas 1, Rom 5). And we must remember that we aren’t meant to be satisfied and at home in this life. We are aliens. We are called to deny ourselves. We are to pick up crosses, lay down or lives, and follow Jesus into suffering. Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper is a great corrective to our unbiblical understanding of struggles and pain in this life. (Also, there are some good, Christian movies. I really like Chariots of Fire myself.)

  1. (Dangerous) Cool People. I love listening to messages from Christian teachers from around the world on my phone or computer. I love worship music. However, access to these two things has been a mixed blessing for the church. The people writing the most popular songs are not always the ones who have accurate theology. The ones with the most downloaded podcasts are not always the ones who teach with biblical fidelity. We live in a celebrity culture. And young people are generally more affected by celebrity influence than older people. Satan loves un-truths that are mixed with truth because they are more believable. Likewise, he is pleased when we share messages and songs that are sub-gospel rather than anti-gospel. Believing something less than the truth is just as dangerous as believing something against the truth. This means that we need to have a constant awareness of what is being taught by those who are popular. My church says it like this, “Have our feet planted on the Word of God, and our finger on the pulse of the culture.”

**Cultural culprits here fall into many categories, but some of the most influential are churches that have a wide reach with teaching, music, and style, but are off-track or unhelpful when it comes to the gospel. Bethel Church is an example of a ministry that is concerning in this area. They use their influence in many good ways (some of their songs are excellent), but they also lead people astray in reading and understanding the Bible, their teaching about Jesus, their understanding of discipleship, their elevation of experience, and in many other practical ways. We need help our students follow God and listen to his Word regardless of what the cool people are saying, singing, or teaching. And when the cool people are invested in  unbiblical things, we need to help our students identify what is wrong so that they are not taken in by subtle lies and errors.

Conclusion: I know that I stepped on some toes in this article by pointing to specific books, movies, and ministries. The idea is not to stir up trouble or conflict. And I am not trying to say that these particular books, movies, or ministries are the worst. However, they are representative of a wide scope of cultural culprits that lead many off-track. We need to be able to point to error when it is being taught as beneficial. To that end, in this article, I am hoping to live out (and help you to live out) the charge that Paul gave in 2 Timothy 4:2-5:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,discharge all the duties of your ministry.

If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about any of this, please feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to discuss.

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Two

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? This post is part two of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

Some teachers shared joy in their biblical-integration experiences, saying things like, “I love hearing and interacting with what the students think and feel about God.”

These responses encouraged me because they demonstrate that these teachers are listening to their students. Teachers must be good at delivering information, but we must also excel at receiving it. Our students feel loved, noticed, and cared for when we hear what they have to say. Essential questions are powerful because they open the door for student engagement and response. In the same way, biblical integration that gets students thinking and speaking is powerful because it allows them to be full participants in the conversation. We must allow students to be heard. Then we must, thoughtfully, respond to what they share.

Another survey response related to the question, “How can I make integration feel more natural?”

This is an important question. If biblical integration feels tacked on or supplemental, students will recognize it for what it is — extra. Therefore, the best way to make biblical integration feel natural is to build it into the DNA of your course. It is not ideal to plan all of your units, lessons, assignments, etc. and then try to add biblical content. When we do that, we are doing something unnatural. If that is where you are, don’t be discouraged. But do recognize that there is room to grow.

Instead of adding integration to our material, we should show how the biblical worldview informs and directs our work. Ask questions like:  Where did our subject come from? Why do we study it? What does this unit demonstrate about our world, humanity, God, the church, etc.? How can we use these skills be used to honor God? Where might our subject be affected by sin? Once you have identified some important questions and ideas, consider how you can best get your students to engage them as a part of the course material. Strategizing in this area can make it feel more natural. A few ideas would be:

1) Engage in a worldview-driven introduction at the start of each unit. When you begin the conversation on Lincoln, help the students connect some biblical dots related to his life, beliefs, work, etc. When you start to talk about the design of the eyeball, speak about the qualities of the Designer. Or speak to how we can wisely use our eyes.

2) Include worldview-reflection at the end of each unit. This can be as simple as asking the students to write (or speak) about what they have learned about God’s power, presence, kindness, brilliance, etc. from that particular unit. This kind of work invites them into a natural reflective type of integration.

3) Write the rubrics for your assignments that invite/require the students to integrate. If they create a paper, presentation, project, report, etc., they can show how it relates God’s Word and God’s world. This helps the students start to explore the reality that all things are God’s things. Integration will seem more natural to students when it is more usual for them to be integrators themselves.

4) Have your key integration ideas planned in your unit so that you can assess them. Teach them just like you teach the rest of the content. Biblical integration will seem natural when it is included (and tested) in a way that is congruent with the rest of the material.

Part three of this series will interact with survey responses like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher,” and “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part One

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? I will use that valuable insight to shape some of the articles and resources that I point teachers toward in the future. (Please know that you can reach out to me with any thoughts or questions! I am excited to serve you as you serve the kingdom of God.) This post is part one of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

I was encouraged to see some responses that said something like, “Working on biblical integration is changing the way I (the teacher) think.”

This is great news! In a few years, few students remember the specific lessons from our classes, but many will remember what we are like. They are impacted by our character and our way of thinking more than anything else. Therefore, if you are a biblically-integrating thinker, they will learn to be biblical integrators too.

Academic disciple-makers, like all people, have limited time. They may wonder, “How do I find the time in class to integrate without limiting other important content?”

Time is a valuable resource; we don’t want to waste a moment of our precious in-class time. Therefore, we need to integrate wisely. However, I would encourage all educators to recognize that quality, tight integration should enhance your students’ understanding; it should never detract from it. “A tightly integrated course, unit, or lesson is one where course objectives (not just content) and integration objectives overlap significantly.” I often say that it would be hard to teach MacBeth without mention of Shakespeare. Talking about the author helps students grasp his work. Likewise, it helps students understand the natural world, humanity, art, science, and more when they grasp more about the Author. So I would contend that integration should help teachers manage time better in class because it is a tool for deep understanding.

However, since time is especially limited in the classroom, I would encourage you to thoughtfully plan how your integration will work within your assignments, assessments, and reviews. If you planned for the students to write a paper, ask them to integrate in the paper. This will take no additional time. And, since we want them to be thinking biblically, this is logical. If you are playing a review game, include review questions about the biblical ideas that you have discussed. This helps students see that the biblical worldview that informs and directs your subject is as important as anything else that they could learn.  If you are going to have a discussion, include some biblical prompts or ideas. Ultimately, if there are learning activities that you think cannot be used to help students think biblically, you may want to consider replacing those activities with others that will help the students more.

Part two of this series will interact with survey responses like, “I love hearing and interacting with what the students think and feel about God,” and “How can I make integration feel more natural?”

Effective Service-Learning and Biblical Integration

Service-learning is a trending topic in education today. We obviously love working in the lab of life, getting the students to apply their thinking to real-world issues, and engage in teamwork. And service-learning is especially valuable for Christian schools because it is a form of biblical integration. Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, Christians have an extra motivation to engage in service-learning—serving is an essential part of following Jesus. If we don’t graduate servants, we are not fully accomplishing our goals.

In fact, as academic disciple-makers, teachers are called to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” (Eph 4:12). Part of our mission to to develop our students into able servants who build up the body. So, how do we go about this? I believe that the inductive Bible study provides a good model for moving forward. The three steps are 1) information, 2) understanding, and 3) action.

1) Gather Information about the Need

When choosing a service project (missions trip, local project, etc.), the students should have ample time to understand the need. For example, if they are going to collect cans for a food bank, they should take time to grasp why there are food shortages, what the food bank does, and how they can help. Just as a doctor should not prescribe medication until he understands the sickness, students should not start working to solve a problem until they have an excellent grasp on the issues. (Activity ideas could be: research, field visits, interviews, etc.)

2) Understand and Invest in the Solution

Once students have the investigated, they should make a plan for how they can invest. It is okay for students to collect cans just because someone has asked them to do so. But it is much better if they can be a part of planning the service project. If the food bank needs cans, they could decide if they should 1) ask their parents to donate cans, 2) contact local grocery stores to ask for donations, 3) contact local businesses to ask for donations that can be used to buy cans, 4) contact the canned-food companies directly to ask for help, 5) connect with local churches and youth groups to create a community-wide initiative, 6) use a crowdfunding site to raise money. And the list could go on for a long time. The point is that students need to be a part of making the plan to solve the problem. Service learning must engage the mind; not just the hands and heart. (Activity ideas: brainstorming, mind-mapping, researching what others have done)

3) Take Action Sacrificially

Once the students have developed their own plan, they need to enact it. This should mean that they give up their time, energy, money, or other resources to help. If everything they need is given to them (free of cost), they are missing out on much of the benefit and blessing. When Araunah offered to give David land for his altar, David replied, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing,” (1 Chron 20:24). We must teach our students to give what they have—not what someone else might have. When they give, it helps them understand the the process (mission trip, local project, etc.) is not about them; it is not for them. (Activity ideas: Counting the cost, enacting the actual project)

These steps will help students learn and grow. The process will be stretching. And it will also help the students to remain invested in these projects over time. If they get the information, they will be better informed. If they gain understanding, they will be more able to help and encourage others in the future. And if they act sacrificially, they will remember what they invested in making a difference.

Math Skills = Truth Skills: Observations on Biblical Integration and Math

Math is a wonderfully unique subject. In a sense, math is a project through which we are trying to discover or communicate things as they really are—math is a journey for truth. We want to know and see things accurately. Math offers transferable skills that should be applied to all areas of life because we are all in the business of seeking truth. We see this whenever we solve a basic problem (like 2+2), when we solve for a variable (like 2x = 4), or when we deal with inequalities (like x+2 > 3).

What is 2+2? This is a truth question. We are really asking, “When you have 2 and another 2, what do you truly have?” We want all of our students to be seeking truth. Math is a wonderful way to help them learn to pursue truth and evaluate the world logically.

Solve for x. An equation is a truth claim. 2x = 4 is a statement of fact. When solving for x, students are practicing the pursuit of truth. When they have been given some—but not all—information, they need to work with the facts to uncover additional facts. In this way, they are also being equipped to detect falsehood. If someone were to say 2x = 4 and x=3, they can test this. And they can discover that, no matter how vehemently someone argues that x=3, this is not (and cannot be) the case in reality.

x+2 > 3. In life, there are many inequalities. Students need to be equipped to understand that some ways of living are better than others. I teach my students that knowing God > not knowing Him. That is the truth. I also teach them that honesty > dishonesty. And that eternity > this short life. And the list could go on. Our students need to grasp that one of the big projects of life is related to determining that some things are bigger, better, and more valuable than others. They must be equipped to make those assessments accurately for themselves.

Of course, there is much more that can be observed and understood, but I hope that these ideas help you in the classroom!

Biblical Integration, God’s Word, and Assessing Our Work

Christian education is academic discipleship. We are using our courses to help students grow to know and follow Jesus well in every area of their lives. So how can we assess if we are actually helping them grow in faith? As teachers, we work in a world of quizzes, tests, and formative assessments. We are always trying to find out if our work is making a difference in the minds and hearts of our students. 1 John 2:3-6 gives us strong place to start:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

There are some sweeping and clear statements here: 1) We know that we have come to know Christ if we keep his commands, 2) If we don’t follow his teachings, we are not believers, 3) Those who obey the Word of God have been made complete, 4) The measure of Christianity is Christ.

Now, we must be careful not to go beyond the Bible when we read it. Obviously, no person can perfectly follow Christ in this life. The standard here is not perfection, but progression: Are we rightly teaching our material from and toward a biblical worldview? Are our students (and are we) becoming more like Christ? Are they conforming to Jesus as He shows Himself in his Word?

Therefore, the key for assessing our progress is the Word of God. We must constantly deliver the Bible and its ideas to our classes. As the students learn God’s Word in our classes, we need to know if they are really ingesting it, wrestling with it, and being changed by it. God is faithful and powerful to do the work of transforming lives. He is the One who does the work. But we do have a role to play. Our job is to deliver the powerful Word of God to our students in ways that challenge, encourage, instruct, correct, and inspire them. Hebrews 13:7 calls believers to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Do you see what Christian leaders do? They speak the Word of God to those they lead, and they show the power of that Word in their own lives. As John said, we are to live as Jesus did.

So here are some assessment questions to see if you are accomplishing Bible-centered biblical integration in your class. Don’t be discouraged if you find areas to grow. Rejoice at the progress you have made and praise God that you can continue to grow in effectiveness.

1) Are you regularly using Scripture to shine light on your academic content? Are you giving your students the chance to grasp the biblical worldview as it is actually expressed by God in the Bible? (This is the key question because it is the one that you can directly control.)

2) Are your students learning to notice, point out, and celebrate the biblical truths that they encounter in your classes? Do you ever hear them say things like, “Wow! This science/math/history/language/art lesson makes me think of what the Bible says.”?

3) Are you seeing Christian students growing in biblical character? Are they becoming more honest, fair, empathetic, etc.?

4) Are you seeing non-Christian students wrestling with biblical ideas? Are they learning to wrestle with the ideas of Scripture?

We can’t change our students’ lives, but we do have something that can. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe it (Rom 1:16). God’s Word is the food we need for life (Deut 8:3, Matt 4:4). It is a lamp that lights our path (Ps 119:105). As biblical integrators, we need to regularly check in and assess: Are we delivering God’s Word in our classes? If not, we need to adjust.

Note: I am not saying that you should turn your class into a Bible class. However, I am saying that if you are not bringing God’s Word to bear on your material, you are missing out on much of what it means to teach from and toward the glory of God.