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.

 

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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.

Biblical Integration and the Foundations of Science

I recently read Christianity as a Foundation for Science by Loren Haarsma. Professor Haarsma, who  teaches physics at Calvin College, makes many excellent points and I encourage you to read the article. In this post, I want point out some the key ideas contained there. [Please note that all quotations are taken from Haarsma’s article.]

As instructors, we must recognize that “apparent conflicts between scholarly claims and religious claims are not limited to science… they occur in almost every subject.” This is true of the interpretation of language, understanding of art, views on history, and ideas like justice or freedom. Worldview conflict is everywhere. However, science may be the area where the conflicts appear to rage most often and most violently. “Whether you teach in a public or a Christian institution, you are no doubt aware that there are many conflicting voices telling us what the relationship between science and Christianity ought to be.”

Ideology leads some  to say that science is an enemy of theology. But, “A much more common opinion amongst scientists today is that science and religion deal with entirely separate realities and have nothing to do with each other.” Many believe that scientific study and religious concepts are on different planets. They say that they never come into contact and should never interact. However, Christians need to look no further than Genesis 1:1 to see that God’s work and the world are innately tied. Christian educators know that this world is God’s world. He has made it. He owns it. He works in it. However, knowing those things does not mean that biblically integrated science is easy. Haarsma says:

Every Christian educator who has taught a science class has undoubtedly noticed how difficult it is to teach science from a distinctively Christian perspective. In other academic subjects such as politics, history, philosophy, literature, art or sociology, while there are many parts of those subjects where Christians and non-Christians do their work essentially identically, there are other parts of those subjects where it is easy to contrast Christian viewpoints with nonChristian viewpoints. In the natural sciences, however, it frequently seems as though the entire subject is religiously neutral. Is there such a thing as distinctively Christian physics or chemistry?

Now, I do not agree that science is more difficult to teach Christianly than any other subject. However, I do think that the methodology of science or math looks a little different than art or music. We must treat different subjects differently because… they are different. That being said, we do need to ask: Is there such a thing as distinctively Christian physics or chemistry?

“Perspective” is an important word in thinking this through. All people, regardless of their worldview commitments, interact with the same scientific facts. Every student and teacher has access to the same evidence about the world. Our differences come not from the facts, but from how we interpret those facts. Therefore, it is not the physics or chemistry that is distinctly Christian. Instead, it is our teaching of the subjects that should be. Christians believe that world is ordered and has “laws of nature” because there is a Law-Maker. Atheistic naturalists disagree vehemently about the Law-Maker, but they will not disagree about the laws themselves: Christians and non-Christians understand the laws of thermodynamics… Christians, however, will point to Christ as the foundation of all scientific laws. Notice this teaching exercise from Haarsma:

The Bible speaks about God’s governance of everything. Modern science speaks about “natural laws” governing physical events, such as the motion of objects. Is there a conflict here? At this point, I let my students discuss the issue for a few minutes, and then ask them to volunteer some answers. I think you would be pleased at the thoughtful answers I usually receive. They understand that there isn’t necessarily a contradiction is these claims. God can govern through natural laws.

So where do we land on all this? It is possible and important for Christian educators to teach science from and toward the glory of God. I will let Haarsma take the conclusion:

“The biblical perspective is clear. If something happens ‘naturally,’ God is still in charge.”

“A biblical picture assures us that God governs creation in consistent and orderly ways, and God gives us the gifts we need to study his creation and partially understand it. Scientists talk about natural laws ‘governing’ the universe. Christians who are scientists occasionally slip into using that language as well. From a biblical perspective, however, it is incorrect to say that natural laws govern. God governs. God created natural laws, and God usually governs creation through the natural laws he designed and created. God can do miracles any time he chooses, but most of the time God chooses to work in consistent ways. “

“When a Christian employs the scientific method to investigate nature, a biblical understanding of God and nature motivates her to do science, and provides a strong foundation for her belief that she is using the right method. When she uses the scientific method, she is not acting “as if God doesn’t exist.” She is acting like there is a God – not a capricious God, but the God of the Bible, who made an orderly world and who still governs it in an orderly fashion.”

A Short Review and 10 Quotes from “Truth Weaving” by D.P. Johnson

Truth Weaving: Biblical Integration for God’s Glory and Their Abundant Living is a useful, short book on biblical integration. Johnson does an excellent job of presenting a vision, rationale, and method of biblical integration in only 94 pages. Many will enjoy this book because it is non-academic, easy to read, full of stories, and practical. Chapter 5 might be especially useful to new/frustrated integrators because it gives some ideas on how to plan for successful biblical integration. I have read the book twice now and both times I read it in one sitting because of the engaging style and helpful content.

My one major issue with the book (and it is a central one) is Johnson’s definition of integration itself. He says, “Biblical integration is weaving biblical worldview into the subject and the lives of the students,” (17). In other words, he sees integration as bringing biblical worldview into a particular subject from the outside: “truth weaving.” I think that it is necessary to see that biblical integration “is not creating biblical connections, but noting, investigating, and celebrating the connections that already exist through Christ.” This may seem like a subtle difference, but it is significant. Integration can be from the outside in, but it is more often from the inside out. The teacher is not adding biblical worldview to the class. Instead, the teacher illuminates how the subject already declares the glory of God (Ps 19). God has already woven his glory into the world. We do not need to re-do what He has done perfectly. Our job is to make that glory known.

I would have liked for his definition to say something like this instead: Biblical integration is weaving biblical worldview into the way one teaches a subject and forms the lives of the students. That definition is more theologically accurate and more practically doable.

With that in mind, I recommend Truth Weaving and know that you will benefit from reading it. Check out some of the highlights:

“Successful biblical integrators need hearts and lives filled with God’s word,” (13).

“Typically, we think of biblical integration as a product to deliver, but in reality, it is primarily a thinking process to practice. We model biblical integration in the classroom with the intention that our students will learn to do it for themselves,” (35).

“When we know our students, we are able to identify powerful points of contact that open the door for memorable and meaningful communication,” (43).

“Objectives come in three sizes: small, medium and large—lesson, unit and course objectives. Any and all of these are suitable for integration,” (49).

“HOW we teach is (nearly) as important as WHAT we teach,” (69).

“Jesus engaged people by: (1) asking questions, (2) telling parables and (3) living out his message,” (74).

“There is a litmus test to see if we are being intellectually engaging. Are the students wrestling with the content and coming to know what they believe?” (75).

“Some students are eager and thankful for the opportunity to learn the Bible, but others are not so receptive,” (78).

“Start slowly. Trying to do too much, too fast, usually brings failure and frustration. The result is reluctance to try again,” (85).

“I pray that God would kindle with you a passion and vision for biblical integration. May He continually feed that fire through all your years of teaching,” (86).

Reflective Teaching and Biblical Integration

Yale University’s Center for Teaching and Learning states that reflective teaching is “a self-assessment of teaching, wherein an instructor examines their pedagogy, articulates reasons and strengths for their strategies, and identifies areas for revision or improvement.” As teachers, we are always looking to improve. We want students to learn and grow. We love it when things “click,” and when the “light bulb turns on.” We recognize that, even in areas of success, there is space for bettering our practices.

Since we are a few weeks into the new school year, I think that this is a great time to be reflective about our practice of biblical integration. If you can, carve out about ten minutes for a mini-reflection. I will guide you through it with three E’s–emotions, evidence, and encouragement.

First, concerning integration, examine your emotions: how do you feel integration has been going in your class so far this year? Have your students benefited from it? Have things fit well together? Is it rewarding to you? Has there been a moment or two that stand out in your mind as integration success-stories? The nature of your feelings about biblical integration this year should tell you something about how it is going in your classroom.

Next, let’s look to the evidence. Have your students engaged with biblical worldview concepts in your class? What types of integration have been the most thought-provoking, conversation-generating, or ongoing over time? Have you included biblical integration on any assessments (formal or informal)? If so, how have the students done with that? Has the Bible and its truth had a voice in your classroom on a regular basis? Or is integration only a once-in-a-while thing? If the evidence shows that students are engaging with biblical truth in your classroom regularly you are on a good track.

Lastly, let me offer you encouragement. When we reflect, it is important to let our reflection be broader than ourselves. We must note our situation, our task, and our King.

Teaching is hard. Christian education is hard. Biblical integration has challenges as well. However, Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is active and sharp. God has given you an effective tool to use in the classroom. You can’t change a heart, but his Word can. But He hasn’t stopped there. He has done even more than that. He has chosen you for this task of Christian ministry. I love Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” He can advance his gospel in any way He wants, and He chose you to do it. Why? Because it pleases Him. It pleases God when you make Him known through your subject. It pleases God when you represent Him through your attitude. It pleases God when use your classroom for his glory. Be encouraged if you identified areas of improvement in your biblical integration. Those improvements are simply future opportunities to worship God through our teaching. And they will please Him too.

The Aim of Christian Education: Biblical Integration Around the Country and in Your Classroom

Christian education and biblical integration are diverse topics because Christianity is made up of diverse people and groups. While Christian schools (should) all want to be successful in their missions, not all Christian schools have the same mission. Take a moment to think about the Christian schools in your area: do they all seem to be targeting the same goals?

To illustrate and engage this idea, I have taken short quotes from some well known Christian colleges in the US (feel free to click on the links to see the context that surrounds each quote). I have added emphasis (bold type) and summarized the aim of each one to highlight some key differences.

As you read, please thoughtfully consider which concepts resonate best with you and your understanding of Christian education. (Note: I do not intend to put these schools in competition so that we can decide which ones are better. The goal is simply to engage with many excellent, but different, ideas.)

Biola University

“Learning the art of pursuing truth is, indeed, at the center of a Biola University education. Our faculty teach and model this pursuit in order to develop in our students patterns of thought that are rigorous, intellectually coherent and thoroughly biblical.

The aim: shaping how students think in biblical ways.

Charleston Southern University

“Charleston Southern University has developed a leadership center to build Christian men and women who will lead our businesses, government, education, media, arts and entertainment, churches and families from the foundation of a distinctively biblical worldview; a center that would equip Christian leaders to integrate their faith into every area of life and culture; that would reach into the marketplace locally and globally to engage and challenge men and women whom God has placed there to live out their calling as Ambassadors for Christ.”

The aim: developing Christian leaders who live undivided lives.

Colorado Christian University

“Our undergraduate and graduate curriculum integrates faith and learning in a scholarly environment that fosters critical and creative thinking, academic excellence, and professional competence.”

The aim: creating an environment where Christian growth occurs.

Columbia International University

“Yes, we want students to excel academically, but we also want to help you yield to Christ unconditionally while enriching your spiritual life, achieve your personal and career goals, and practice your vocational skills wherever God leads you.”

The aim: cultivating excellent students who desire to follow Christ.

Gordon College

“Our primary responsibility is to prepare students for the long haul, to make them spiritually, intellectually, relationally and professionally ready for a lifetime of growth—from the first job out of college and beyond, into fields not yet existing.”

The aim: preparing students for a life of Christian growth and service.

Houston Baptist University

“HBU endeavors to bring together Athens, the world of academic learning, and Jerusalem, the world of faith and Christian practice. Faith and learning, so often seen as separate, and indeed as contraries, are deeply embedded in each other at HBU. In fact, instead of two different worlds, they are part of the same world – twin gifts given to humanity by the Creator and Redeemer. Since the book of nature and the book of scripture have the same author, the rigorous study of nature, what otherwise might be called “secular” learning symbolized by Athens, is a unique act of worship.”

The aim: restoring the relationship between faith and academics.

The King’s College

“We educate young leaders to seamlessly integrate their faith, ethics, and morality into their lives and careers. Students are immersed in challenging academic and spiritual study that demands thinking, communicating, and problem-solving with the mind, heart, and soul.”

The aim: educating leaders to practice integration themselves.

Liberty University

[Liberty] understands “education as the process of teaching and learning, involves the whole person, by developing the knowledge, values, and skills which enable each individual to change freely. Thus it occurs most effectively when both instructor and student are properly related to God and each other through Christ.

The aim: developing gospel-partnership between teacher and student.

Clearly, these Christian educational institutions have their own unique goals and character. Each practices biblical integration in its own way. Each is aiming for a slightly different end through a slightly different process. Which ones seem to fit you best? Which ones seem to fit your school? Self-knowledge and understanding is immensely valuable. We need to know what we are aiming toward in our classrooms.