Bible Class and Worldview Class: Christianity and Christian SChooling (Part 3)

Christian schools must not simply teach Christian things. We cannot be satisfied by teaching things from the Bible. We must teach the Bible itself. This is where biblical integrators and Bible teachers must work in tandem as an effective team. Both roles are important. They are complementary. The success of one depends largely on the other.

This is part three of an ongoing reflection on data published by ACU’s Cultural Research Center. Last week, I wrote about how American culture has suffered because of the persistence of Christian words and categories that have been stripped of their biblical foundation. A passion for biblical worldview may have, in some instances, outrun a passion for the Bible. What the Bible can do for us may have displaced what the Bible is. The Bible is not merely a means to an end; hearing God speak is a most wonderful end. And, of course, his words are transformative. They do accomplish God’s purposes. However, we must be careful not to read the Bible only to get nuggets of truth, but to hear the voice of the one true God. 

The words of God about the Word of God must shape us: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Is 66:2). When we tremble before the Word of God, we will be changed. Paul tells us that the Scripture is able to make us wise for salvation (2 Tim 3:15). David says God’s laws are more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10). So how do we live in response to what the Word says about the Word?

Bible classes must focus on teaching the Bible. And all other classes must focus on integrating the truths of the Bible. Both tasks lead to biblical worldview development. These points may seem obvious, but even Bible classes at Christian schools can fall into the trap of teaching Christian topics without teaching the Bible itself. We can teach biblical worldview, church history, apologetics, and theology while referencing the Bible, but without really teaching it. This is a problem. Our Bible classes must not become Christianty classes or worldview classes. We must read and wrestle with the Word in order to tremble at it. Where there is only a little Word, there will be only a little trembling.

To illustrate the way this looks in real life, note that the scope of Summit’s popular Bible curriculum is almost entirely a worldview curriculum. It is wonderful. I use part of it in one of my classes. And a student in that class just told me that this year has been the most meaningful Bible class of his school career. I have learned from it. This is not a critique of that material (in fact, I happily endorse it). However, it is called a “Bible” curriculum with the intention that it will be taught in Bible classes. This means that a more Scripture-centric type of class will not be taught in that slot. (Note: I’m not trying to single out Summit here. This reality is visible in varying degrees across many excellent publishers of many excellent curricula. Summit just serves as a good example because they did a wonderful job of clearly articulating the scope of their worldview curriculum.) 

My school clearly states that we use “Scripture as the foundation for all Bible classes,” and that “students [will] develop a Christian worldview.” We strive to do this. But I see room for improvement in my own classes and in the wider culture of Christian schooling. 

This may be a controversial statement, but I think it is true: Bible classes should primarily teach the Bible. Worldview topics should stem from and be organized out of the Bible. These are Bible classes. When worldview is taught first, the Bible is used to support the objectives of the worldview lesson. The worldview-objective becomes the leading actor and the biblical text becomes the supporting actor. These roles must be reversed. While biblical support is a good and necessary thing, the worldview teaching should flow from the text of the Bible. 

Prioritizing the Bible will not diminish worldview teaching. After all, the Bible does shape and form worldview. Genesis 1 assumes the existence of God and identifies Him as Creator. Romans 3 is clear about the sinful nature of mankind. The Bible teaches about ethics, obligations, priorities, origins, issues, truth, sin, culture, and more. It is all there. Summit’s Understanding the Times textbook has been structured to help students compare what the Christian worldview teaches about these things with what other belief-systems say. It is brilliant! But it does not engage deeply with the Bible itself. This makes it a magnificent worldview textbook—that is what it was created to be—but it is not a Bible textbook.

In the school, and in the culture at large, a problem arises when we teach ideas that have been harvested from the Bible without teaching the content of the Bible itself. It is the Scripture that is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). It is the Scripture that is able to fully equip God’s people for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). It is the Scripture that is living, active, and sharp (Heb 4:12). We must not fall into the trap of teaching a godly worldview without teaching God’s Word. This is building a house without a foundation. There is no substitute for what is God-breathed. SparkNotes can’t replace Shakespeare even if the main plot-points are there in clear, helpful ways. It is infinitely more true that worldview classes can’t really replace Bible classes. But they can and should be taught alongside of Bible classes.

Now school administrators might be thinking, “We can’t add another class to our schedule. We are over-filled as it is.” Don’t worry. You already have what you need. You have a team of academic disciple-makers doing biblical integration in every class at every level. 

So Bible classes should teach biblical worldview as it is borne out of the text of the Bible itself. Bible classes move from Word to world. But all other subject areas work the other way. They move from world to Word. All the classes in the school—the entire spectrum of liberal arts—should then bring clarity of Christian worldview teaching. Why? Because each course (science, literature, art, math, music, physical education, etc.) highlights a different part of the world and teaches students how to view it. In other words, every class in the Christian school is a biblical worldview class. 

Now I am not saying that Christian schools are to blame for the decline of a biblical worldview in America. However, I am saying that we might be able to make an adjustment to be a more effective part of solving that problem. 

Here is the point: Those who know Christ and are committed to understanding and applying his Word will develop an increasingly Christian worldview. However, those who are taught a biblical worldview without being grounded in the Word will find areas to compromise and redefine.

To conclude, I want to reiterate that nothing I have said here is intended to undermine or criticize the importance of teaching biblical worldview in Christian schools. We must be doing that. What I am saying is that I think that there is a problem when we teach biblical worldview without sufficient time in the text of Scripture itself.

Next time, I am going to look at some avenues which schools might start to consider enacting this idea and responding to the research data in practical ways.

The Bible and Being Biblical: Christianity and Christian Schooling (Part 2)

This is the second installment of reflections on the data from a fascinating research project conducted by Arizona Christian University’s Cultural Research Center. Last time, I highlighted the simple fact that the Christian worldview is rare—only 6% of Americans fall into a group that systematically holds to biblical doctrines. 

Why is this number so small? And why do so many people class themselves Christians—even evangelicals—if they don’t believe what Christians believe? In this article, I am going to share a hypothesis regarding why this is.

Question: Why do people call themselves evangelical Christians, but don’t believe what Christians believe?

Hypothesis: Many Christians have faulty understandings of the Bible and those faulty understandings allow for erosion of biblical beliefs.

The biblical worldview cannot long survive without the Bible. Why? Because the Bible is what makes the biblical worldview biblical. It will not work to teach biblical worldview without a foundation of the Bible. It will not work to teach biblical ethics without a robust engagement with the Bible. And yet, this is something that certainly happens. And, it happens in Christian schools. But before we get to that, let’s focus on the issue at large. 

Let me put it like this: Scripture is not the mine where we find the gold; Scripture is the gold! 

B. C. Newton explains it like this, “We can subtly treat Scripture as our primary source of many for understanding God’s special revelation to humanity rather than viewing Scripture as God’s special revelation to humanity.” The Bible is not only a record of God’s voice and God’s teachings. It is God’s voice. It is God’s teaching. 

I am fascinated by the report from ACU’s Cultural Research Center that many people self-identified as “evangelical Christians,” but that those in that group do not believe what evangelicals believe. Bebbington’s clear definition of what it means to be evangelical is well-accepted and well-known. Evangelical Christians prioritize the teaching and authority of the Bible, are centered on the saving work of Jesus on the cross, are passionate about conversation by grace through faith, and are actively pursuing transformation through evangelism and service. 

So in this survey we learn that many in the group that calls themselves evangelical Christians don’t hold to evangelical beliefs. About 40% deny the first commitment of evangelicals (the authority, accuracy, and reliability of the Bible as the Word of God) and about 40% believe that doing good works saves you (denying the second and third commitments of evangelicals). Additionally, about 75% say that “having faith matters more than which faith you have.” 

Thomas Kidd, well-known Christian historian, explains where we stand with the confusion

“There are good reasons for churches to continue to describe themselves as ‘evangelical,’ if by that term they are referencing their historic commitment to the Bible’s authority, the necessity of spiritual conversion, and the felt presence of God in daily life, but pastors in particular should realize that the meaning they attach to evangelical may not be the same as that of some in their congregation.”

Kidd’s point here is that while the classic definition of evangelicalism still exists, many people have replaced that definition with an alternate concept. And, the survey shows that the new, replacement view has a lower, less-central view of the Bible and less accurate views of what the Bible teaches about truth and salvation. 

Back to my hypothesis, I believe that this has happened, in part, because Christian institutions have emphasized Christian truths that have been mined from the Bible rather than the Bible itself. People’s minds are populated with Christian words and Christian categories. However, the house has been removed from its foundation and it is crumbling. This hypothesis obviously relates directly to what happens in Christian schools. 

Teaching biblical worldview in place of Bible will lead to failure. In addition, teaching Bible without the practical application of biblical worldview will lead to failure. But the biblical worldview must stem from robust engagement with the text of Scripture itself. The next post will more closely consider how Christians schools can rise to the occasion and meet this challenge. We can be a part of the solution.

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.