Worship Music and Wolves: Biblical Integration and Critical Thinking

Some of the most popular Christians teachers and theologians are musicians. As Christians, we might listen to a sermon podcast. We might study a book by a professor. But we sing and memorize the theology of musicians. This means that they must be held to the highest standard. Songs are in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. James 3:1 says that not many should desire to be teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly than others.

One of the large issues facing the believers today is that our most popular worship musicians are often not from churches with a strong, biblical theology. For example, I believe that “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham and Brian Johnson is one of the best worship songs released recently. It has excellent, moving, and accurate words that poetically express the gospel. However, Brian Johnson’s church, Bethel, is known for errant theology and practice . Likewise, Hillsong pastor Joel Houston stated that “evolution is undeniable,” in reference to a questions about the popular song “So Will I.” (I wrote about that song a few months ago in light of their lyric on evolution.) Hillsong produces many of the most popular worship songs sung today. The list continues. “Death Was Arrested” is a fantastic and valuable worship song. It came out of North Point Church where Andy Stanley is the pastor. He recently made waves by saying that we should “unhitch” from the Old Testament. Let me repeat: many of the most popular Christian, worship songs are coming out of churches that are not teaching in accordance with the historic, Christian faith.

As biblical integrators, we must be working hard to develop the critical-thinking skills of our students. I am not contending that we should stop singing all the songs from churches like Bethel, Hillsong, or North Point. However, I do think that we need to stop singing them uncritically. We don’t want to raise up a generation that trusts a church or band simply because they are  able to write catchy songs. We want our students to develop into young Bereans who test every teaching against the Word (Acts 17:10-12).

This is where we come in. Yes, Bible class and chapel should assist in helping students trust the Bible and navigate its ideas, but much of the work is done in other classes. An English teacher helps students discover which sources are credible. A math teacher assists students in sniffing out faulty logic. A science teacher shows students how to measure and understand reality. A history teacher helps students learn from the mistakes of the past. An art teacher equips students to note the ideas conveyed in various styles and forms. A speech teacher shows brings to light the art of arguments and persuasive techniques.

We are not trying to shield our students from the ideas that these churches and church leaders are promoting. But we must be investing extreme effort to help our students develop the skills needed to assess the situation themselves. They will face dangerous and errant theology throughout their lives. We must prepare them. They need to know what to do when the most popular teachers are peddling attractive heresies. We all know that devil can attack from the outside, but he is even more dangerous when the attack comes from within. As Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt 7:15). Let’s teach our students to critically apply the Word of God to detect falsehood. Souls are on the line.

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Cheesecake, Pie, and Biblical Integration

No one makes cheesecake like my grandma. For years, she would make a cherry cheesecake for me on my birthday. It was a highlight that made me excited for the next year to zoom by so that I could get to the next cool, smooth, rich cake.

My friend Ashley makes phenomenal pies and brings them to our church small group. These are pies that I rave about for weeks after having a slice. They are day-dream inducing delights that have the power to grow a small group into small church. They are nothing like my grandma’s cheesecakes. The two desserts have different ingredients and are made in different ways, but they are both blue-ribbon, gold-medal, Nobel Prize level foods.

Biblical integration is the same way. Two people can teach the same math class, but do in vastly different ways. And they can both be great classes.

The most important variable in biblical integration is you: the teacher. Every integrating teacher is coming to the course with similar (if not identical) tools. We all have the same Bible. We have the same Holy Spirit. We have the teacher manual and the textbooks. We have the same internet. So how is it that classes that bring together all the same resources can be so diverse?

A huge part of the diversity has to do with the unique way that God has designed us. He has given each of us different gifts, different personalities, different weaknesses, and different passions. And, in his wisdom, our Lord did this on purpose. A hot dog might be the perfect food at a baseball game, but it wouldn’t be fitting for a fancy wedding reception.

In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Your Lord has crafted you as a teacher specifically for the task of God-glorifying, student-impacting biblical integration. But please know that the way you integrate should be a little different than those around you. Not only is this okay, it is necessary. Yes, all of us should be doing some of the same things. For instance, every chef should keep the kitchen clean. However, there is room for diversity and uniqueness in how the chef utilizes that clean kitchen. There is room for your unique gifting at your school as well.

Don’t compare yourself to other integrators and think, “Wow, they are so much better designed for this than I am.” Yes, they may be doing things differently, but your goal is not to be better than they are. Instead, you are aiming to complement what they do. You can bake the bun for their hot dog or churn the ice-cream to go with their pie. If you are a Christian educator, you are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the work that He has prepared in advance for you to do. He didn’t mess up when He designed you for this. You just need to find out how to best leverage his design for his glory.

I love my grandma’s cheesecake. I love Ashley’s pie. They are different. They are wonderful. Different chefs have different gifts and styles. The integration you bake up for and in your class might not look like mine, but that is not only good, it is God’s intention for us. Be who He made you to be. Use the gifts He has given you.

Assignments as Contracts: Improving Expectations with Integration Clauses

A contract is “a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties.” It lays out the expectations and needed components. Contracts are important in everything from home purchases to landscaping work to employment and more. And we can think of every classroom assignment as a contract as well.

Students need to know what is expected of them. When work is assigned, students agree to accomplish a certain task in a specific way. These tasks and means will vary based on age, subject, unit, etc. However, students in every class need to fully understand what success looks like. Do your students understand that biblical integration is an essential part of success in your class? This is where integration clauses in your assignments can help.

If we include biblical integration clauses in our contracts (assignments), students understand that they are expected to participate in integration. When we explicitly ask for integration in our expectations, students can leverage their creativity, effort, and critical-thinking skills to accomplish the goal set out before them. Further, if students realize that they are expected to recognize, report, understand, explain, and celebrate God’s glorious ways in their work, they will be able to rise to the occasion.

Educational assessments are the means by which we can measure how much our students are learning. If we want our students to learn Christ through academic content, we need to write our contracts (assignment instructions) in a way that allows us to see if they are actually getting it. If we don’t include integration in our assessments, we cannot know if our integrated teaching is getting through.

Therefore, when you assess (at the start, middle, or end of a unit) you should assess biblical integration. If you assign a paper, review, lab report, science experiment, quiz, creative writing prompt, worksheet, bell-work, or test, you should try to include elements of biblical integration as a part of the assessment. This means that it should be mentioned through integration clauses in your rubrics, study guides, and assignment instructions.

Here are a few examples of integration clauses in contracts (assignments):

  • Math Quiz: In 1 Kings 3, Solomon was faced with a problem. While we have to solve problems to find x in this class, he had to solve a problem to find a mom. He was able to use his wisdom and problem-solving skills to find the truth and serve justice. What is one way that you can use your problem-solving skills to help others?
  • History Essay: In our study on the American Revolution, we investigated the lives of many leaders. List 3 examples of Christian characteristics that you saw in them.
  • Science Project/Lab Report: After completing the report, include one sentence on what the results of the experiment tell us about God, God’s design, or ourselves.

Strategies for Implementing Biblical Integration

This post is a simple list of ideas for implementing biblical integration in your classroom. The idea is to help you bring the great ideas that you have developed in your syllabus to life. These are just starting points for acting on your plans. Each idea begins with a prompt that you might use to introduce your integration to students. Feel free to tweak them to work best in your class.

The Partnership: “I need you to help me understand how to help young people understand how [insert lesson content] relates to God/Christian-living/worldview/etc.”

The key here is that you are asking for your students to help you by sharing their expertise. They are youth-culture experts. Why engage their expertise and understanding in integration?

  • Example: I need you to help me understand how to help people your age understand that the laws of physics show that God is the powerful Law-maker.

The Pitch: What if I told you that [insert lesson content] helps us see the reality/goodness/power/etc. of God in the world?

This type of implementation is excellent for starting a unit because it is promotional. You are asking students to evaluate the credibility of what you are saying. This invites students to judge your idea… and they often love judging. Use this to get them talking, assessing, improving, and otherwise engaging.

  • Example: What if I told you that the fact that humans like us can create and appreciate art shows us that God made human beings uniquely in his image?

The Question: “What does the Bible tell us about [lesson content]? Does the Bible help us understand [lesson content]?

When the Bible speaks clearly about a principle or idea, we can ask students to generate the integration themselves. This is an excellent idea for moving them up Bloom’s Taxonomy.

  • Example: What does the Bible us about the importance of words and language?

The Conflict: “[Non-Christian] says that [subject area] tells us that Christians are incorrect. What would you say in response?”

Some kids love to fight. Why not leverage that instinct to help them fight for good?

  • Example: Richard Dawkins says that God might be “the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.” What separates a hero and a villain in literature? How can we tell if God is a hero or villain?

The Explorer: “In your [research-paper/science-project/case-study/book-review] include one paragraph showing how [your topic] relates to biblical teaching and worldview.”

All students can use their own unique gifts to observe and note worldview issues. You might share an integrated rubric to help them know what you are looking for.

  • Example: Your interactive review of The Cosmos’s “Where did we come from?” should include one paragraph pointing out where the host denies the biblical worldview. Then write one paragraph with a biblical response.

The Shovel: “Now that we have started to understand that [insert unit title] supports a biblical understanding of the world, let’s dig deeper by [insert research activity.]

Students can often do self-guided work once they have been started off in a supported way.

  • Example: Now that we have seen that solving equations shows that God equipped is to be problem-solvers, let’s dig deeper by discussing how solving equations could honor God in the real world. [Ideas: stewardship in calculating interest; service in determining the right amount of paint to buy to do a service project; missions in determining the amount of gas needed for a mission trip.]

The Hammer: “Using [insert academic idea], how would you smash [insert anti-biblical idea]?”

Many students like the idea of tearing things down. Be careful with this one, but don’t be afraid to use it wisely.

  • Examples: Using this math concept, how would you smash the idea that taking on debt is not a big deal? Using the historical example of Hitler’s rise to power, how would you smash the idea that political engagement is not important? Using your persuasive speech-skills and body-language, how would smash the idea that Bible-studies must be boring.

The Screwdriver: “We loosely described how [content idea] relates to [Christian idea]. But how can we tighten it up?”

One key element of integration is taking the general and moving to the specific.

  • Example: We loosely discussed that many great books echo the story of Jesus, but how can we attach that idea more tightly to Mark Twain?

The Role-Switch: “Last week, I showed you how [academic content] demonstrates the glory/love/work/etc. of God. Now I want you to step up to the front and teach it back to me.”

We often learn more through teaching, so let the students teach.

  • Example: Last week, I demonstrated that the human eye’s irreducible complexity shows God’s design. Erica and Steve, can you come to the front and teach those ideas to me? I’ll take a seat at your desk.

The So-What: “We saw that [academic idea] is important in understanding [Christian worldview idea], but how does that affect our everyday lives?”

Abstract worldview concepts are important, but they need to touch our lives too.

  • Example: “We have talked about the fact that the moon is the perfect distance from the earth for many reasons. Clearly, this is evidence of God’s design. But how does understanding God’s design help me follow Him today?”

Of course, there are many other ways to jump into implementation, but I hope this list helps!

Biblical Integration Requires a Good Bible (or Two)

I have written previously about the importance of careful Bible reading. For many reasons, it can be easy to misunderstand what the text is saying. For that reason, I recommend that believers (especially teachers) take these five steps as they read. However, I need to state the obvious here: If you are reading a bad version of the Bible, your interpretation of the Bible will be bad too. The person who listens to the news on a static-filled, choppy radio station will likely miss out or misunderstand. With so many accurate and helpful translations of the Bible in English, there is no reason for us to settle for static. Here are two types of Bibles to avoid using for biblical integration followed by a quick recommendation:

1) Sectarian Versions

Some Bibles have been edited to promote a certain theological standpoint. They are not as interested in accurately transmitting the ancient text to the modern world as they are in promoting a certain type of belief. In essence, those behind these books alter the Bible to be what they want instead of what God wants. Two examples of these Bibles come immediately to mind: The Passion Translation and The New World Translation.

The Passion Translation was written/translated by Brian Simmons to help English speakers experience the passion and fire of the Bible. However, as Andrew G. Shead notes,

He achieves this by abandoning all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text that it is at least 50% longer than the original. The result is a strongly sectarian translation that no longer counts as Scripture; by masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.”

There are many issues with this book, but among the most serious is that the author adds his own content and re-words the Bible to promote a certain type of theology.  

The New World Translation is put out by the Watchtower Society and is the “translation” used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This version exists to promote an errant theology. Famously, undermining the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s deity, there are many changes made to what the text has stated historically. If a version of the Bible tries to change what the Bible says, we should avoid it.

2) Paraphrases

Some versions of the Bible are not translations, but paraphrases. There is nothing wrong with a paraphrase as a devotional aid. But there is a problem if we use a paraphrase in place of a translation. Why? When we go to the Bible, we want to hear God’s words. When we go to a paraphrase, we are getting a person’s version of God’s words. “The primary problem of any paraphrase of the Bible is that it inputs far too much of a person’s opinion of what the Bible says, instead of simply stating what the Bible says.” The most popular paraphrase is The Message by Eugene Peterson. I am a fan of this book and have learned much from Peterson, but The Message should not be used as a version of the Bible. Another popular paraphrase is The Living Bible.

So what Bible should you use? Well, there is a great book on the topic. This is a complex question, but I would quickly recommend that teachers use an easy-to-understand, but credible version with their classes. The NIV, CSB, or NLT could be good options. However, in your own study, it can be very helpful to compare one of these easy-to-read (dynamic) versions with more formal versions like the ESV, NASB, or KJV. You can often gain helpful insight and accuracy by comparing two different translations.

To sum up: If we want to have accurate biblical integration, let’s use accurate translations of the Bible.

 

What Do Words Mean?: Literature, Government, and the Bible

Merriam-Webster defines a word as “a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use.” One key element of this definition is that words communicate a meaning. Every word means something. But who gets to assign that meaning? Now, the answer may seem obvious, but it has been anything but settled in education for decades.

Steve Cornell of Summit Ministries states, “In a postmodern world, truth and reality are understood to be individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion.” For postmoderns, the meaning in words is shaped by individuals. This means that a phrase could have as many unique meanings as there are people in the world–upwards of 7 billion.

Christians often seem to think that postmodernism does not affect them, but they are wrong. We see it in our Bible studies every time someone says, “To me, this verse means…” Those who use this phrase are implicitly stating that the text of the Bible legitimately has different meanings to different people. However, this is not the case. None of the Bible or its meaning is determined by the reader. The reader only gets to recognize, understand, and apply what God says. 2 Peter 1:21 is helpful in that it states that the prophets were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they wrote words from God. God has decided what his Book will say and what it will mean. I’ll leave this paragraph at that (though much more could be said) so that we can move toward integration in literature and government.

Literature, by nature, relates to words. Its business is words. Government is possibly just as word-driven. Why? Because laws, treaties, constitutions, and orders are all made up of… you guessed it: words.

In literature, reader-response criticism is a theory that basically says that the meaning of a text is the responsibility of the reader; not the writer. It doesn’t really matter what the poet was writing about. The real meaning is in what the reader understands, feels, or thinks. In government, we can see people try to interpret constitutions as if they are “living,” evolving documents. Instead of trying to hold to what the document originally meant to those who developed it, people try to find out what it should have meant or what it should mean today.

Both reader-response theory and the idea of a living Constitution are related to postmodernism. They are both related to individualism. They are both related to human pride. They say, “I get to decide. My will should be done. My preference is key. My understanding is best. I am in control.” However, as Christians, we understand that words have been endowed with meaning. Yes, we are embedded in culture and time. Yes, authors and framers were embedded in their limited culture too. However, God is above and beyond those things. And, as people made in his image, He has invited us to participate in the use of language with Him.

So what do words mean? They mean what the author intended them to mean. God authored the Bible so He determined its meaning. Harper Lee penned To Kill a Mockingbird so she determined what its words mean. Our founders crafted the US Constitution and, therefore, they determined its meaning.

So what are we after when we read? We want to get to the author’s original intent. Why that word? Why that phrase? It might take work to get to the meaning, but it is fruitless to assign our own meaning. We might enjoy the control, but we are sacrificing the truth. Our task as believers and Christian educators is to understand the Author’s original meaning and then respond rightly to it. Literature and government have been battered by postmodern theories of understanding for a long time. What a wonderful battlefield to help our students see why it is necessary to fight to hear God’s voice. It will require us to humble ourselves and submit to his words, but, while difficult, his words are sweeter than honey to the taste (Ps 119:103).

Here are some concepts for future integration.

In literature: What is the role of an author? What are the consequences when we misunderstand a word or message? If the reader/listener defines the meaning of words/messages, can a promise have any value? What is reader-response criticism? How does our understanding of authorship and meaning affect our understanding of the Bible?

In government: What role do words play in laws, treaties, or orders? Can society function if we cannot agree on meanings of the words in governing documents? What is originalism? What is textualism? What is a living document? How does our understanding of governing documents affect our understanding of the Bible?

Tight Biblical Integration: Examples of “Tight” Integration from Spanish 3

Here is an often overlooked fact: the tighter the biblical integration, the more effective it is. So what is “tight” integration? A tightly integrated course, unit, or lesson is one where course objectives (not just content) and integration objective overlap significantly. In the abstract, that may sound confusing, so let me illustrate using some Spanish 3 content. [Note: I am not a Spanish or grammar expert, so please forgive any silly mistakes in Spanish or grammar. But I think that these concepts will be of help to those of you who are the experts.]

While working to integrate some Spanish unit plans with a friend (who has helped me greatly with this post), we came across a unit plan that included an objective on expressions with conditional and future tenses. The aim is that students would understand the conditional and future tenses. In order to succeed in this unit academically, students must grasp that some ideas, situations, or promises are conditional. Then, they must comprehend what separates the conditional tense from other tenses. Finally, they need to be able to identify the conditional tense and when to use it. Amazingly, tight integration can help with these. Check it out:

Are some statements conditional? Yes. Anything that relates to what a person would do, would like to do, or could do. Examples: 1) I would like to study more, but I don’t have time. Me gustaría estudiar más, pero no tengo tiempo. 2) I would visit, but I don’t have the money to come. Yo visitaría, pero me falta el dinero para ir. 3) If you wouldn’t lie, you wouldn’t have to worry about getting caught. Si no mintieras, no tendrías que preocuparte por las consecuencias.

What separates the conditional from other tenses? These relate to a certain condition that often could change or has changed. Concerning the conditional phrases above, #1’s condition relates to studying (lack of time is affecting study), #2’s relates to a condition of finances (I am in a situation where I don’t have enough money to travel), #3’s is about honesty and worry (those who are in a state of honesty can also be in a state of confidence). Obviously, a Spanish teacher would likely present these ideas and examples in Spanish.

When should I use the conditional tense? Whenever one wonders (“Would she?” or “Could that happen?”), uses conjecture (“They must have known.”), or speaks to a probability/possibility (I would go with you if…”).  Elijah used this type of speech while making fun of Baal’s prophets in 1 Kings 18:27, “At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’” Balaam also says to his donkey, “If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now,” (Num 22:29).

You might be thinking, “Kelly, I come here for help in integration. If I knew you you would keep blabbing on about grammar, I would have avoided this article.” (Note: that is a use of the conditional tense.) So how does this help us see tight biblical integration?

First, we can use the Bible’s rich conditional content to help students understand core ideas. When thinking about conditional phrases, we see that there is a world of difference between saying, “I would help you,” and “I will help you.” The first is conditional and the second is future. In John 14:3, it is good that Jesus said “I will come back and take you to be with me.” That future statement is much stronger than a conditional version might have been. However, we also see God using a conditional phrase to long for people to be wise and listen. Look at Deuteronomy 32:29, “If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!”

Second, we can understand important theological truths through the vehicle of academics. Conditional phrases can show us following Christ is serious business. Peter wrote, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them,” (2 Pet 2:20-21). Did you catch it? “It would have been better…”

Maybe most importantly, tight integration supports academic and worldview learning at the same time. When students think of conditional terms, the biblical worldview can support their understanding of grammar. And their Spanish grammar will help them understand biblical truth. As they learn the grammar that supports correct use of Spanish, they are becoming more and more equipped to understand God and God’s Word. The better they know their Spanish, the better they know what God teaches. The integration objective is fully overlapped with the academic objective. That is tight integration. In this scenario, the better the academics the better the biblical integration because the two have become one.

Now, you might be tempted to say, “Well, if all my lessons were about the conditional tense, this would be easy.” (Note the conditional tense of that sentence.) But I contend that tight integration is more available across a myriad of units. To illustrate, in another Spanish 3 unit, the students learn about the difference between saber and conocer. One word relates to knowing about something (Example: “I know a lot about Michael Jordan. He won six NBA titles.” (Yo sé mucho de Michael Jordan. Ha ganado seis premios del NBA.) and the other relates to knowing something (Example: “I know Michael Jordan well. He is coming to Thanksgiving at my house.” (Yo conozco bien a Michael Jordan. Vendrá a mi casa para celebrar el Día de la Acción de Gracias. ) Couldn’t this be taught in a tightly integrated way to show the difference between knowing about Jesus and really knowing Him? Couldn’t students grasp this important academic concept, have it illustrated by the Bible, and be challenged in their faith at the same time? Yes, yes, and yes.

I will give you one more example. A later unit in Spanish 3 focuses on circumlocution. This is the skill of talking circles around an idea or concept: speaking about something without naming that thing directly. Think of the game Catchphrase in which one tries to get his team to guess a word without saying the word itself. For example, if my word was skunk, I might say, “An animal with black fur and white stripes that may emit a bad smell.” Circumlocution is a valuable teaching methodology because it helps students build a more complete idea of a subject.

The tightly integrating teacher can illustrate and explain the concept of circumlocution with some biblical examples. One simple idea is to have them circumlocute the concept of sin (or other important term).As they think about what the concept really means, their understanding will grow. They might talk about falling short, missing the mark, dishonoring God, divine treason, failure to follow, lack of faith, etc. Therefore, the task of circumlocution in Spanish 3 might provide them with knowledge and and understand that challenges their theology and worldview.

Let me close with two key thoughts:

1) In your biblical integration, you should aim for tightness over creativity every time. Being creative is great, but creativity should be a servant of mission… it is not the mission on its own. The more your integration objectives overlap with your academic objectives the better.

2) Tight integration will help you as a teacher and your student outcomes. This kind of biblical integration, where there is little distinction between biblical objectives and course objectives, will make your class stronger academically and biblically. There should be no tug-of-war between the two areas. When you are tightly integrating, academics supports worldview and worldview supports academics.