Idolectomy: Teacher Identity, Christian Schooling, and the Bible

Surgery is conducted in order to save. The goal is removing something bad, fixing something good, making something right. The end in mind is health. However, the process is painful. Before healing comes hurting. The surgeon cuts. We see God acting as surgeon in the life of his people in the Old Testament: 

Come, let us return to the Lord.

He has torn us to pieces

    but he will heal us;

he has injured us

    but he will bind up our wounds (Hos 6:1).

Calvin rightly pointed out that the human heart is “a perpetual factory of idols.” This isn’t just a problem “out there,” but is a problem wherever humans dwell—including Christian schools. So we need a surgeon to remove the idols growing from our hearts.

Thankfully, the Word of God is a sharp scalpel in the hands of a Great Physician. But before we can get to the surgery, we need to complete the diagnosis.  

Tim Keller asks and answers a key question to get the ball rolling: “What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Many Christians, perhaps especially those serving in Christian schools, would say that nothing is more important to them than God. However, our words might not align with reality. I once heard (and have echoed) a teacher who said that we can take inventory of what we care most about by examining how we spend our time, money, energy, and emotions. We can’t just follow our words; our actions might lead us more readily to the truth.

A good case study in this regard is politics. Political identification/division in the USA has grown in recent years. While it is not wrong to be involved and invested in the political process, finding our ultimate identity in politics is not right. William Wilberforce can serve as an illustration here of living out Christian faithfulness in the political sphere. He worked in the political system to bring out change for the glory of God and the good of people. So politics is not bad, but, as Keller said elsewhere, idolatry can come from turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. So let’s make this personal (I know that’s a little dangerous in regard to politics). Leaning on some ideas from Adam Mabry’s book, Stop Taking Sides: How Holding Truths in Tension Saves Us from Anxiety and Outrage, here are a few questions that might help us think about whether or not engagement with politics has become an idol:

  • Are we more conservative/progressive (in a political sense) than we are Christian?
  • Do we invest more time into political ideology than biblical theology?
  • Do we pay more attention to political happenings than the biblical text?
  • Can we evangelize for a particular political stance more easily than we can for Christ?
  • Can we quote a political leader more smoothly than the Bible?
  • Do we relate more easily with others in our political party than with other Christians in a different political party?
  • Do we get more passionate about politics than the gospel? 

Now, the point here is not to get into a long discussion on politics. Instead, it is to use politics as a case study to help us see how things can easily become ultimate things: idols. These idols could be relationships, hobbies, money, entertainment, reputation, family, and more. Notice that none of these things are necessarily bad on their own. 

Students become like their teachers (Luke 6:40). So what do my students see in me? Do they see me investing more energy and time and thought and passion into things other than knowing God and his Word? Do they see my identity as a child of the living God or as something else? 

How do we graduate good future-spouses? Excellent employees? Ethical leaders? Compassionate, principled politicians? Kind friends? We teach them the Word. Then God uses the Word to bring about change in them. John Piper says it like this:

Give yourselves to this word of God in the Bible. Use it to know yourself and confirm your own spiritual life. If there is life, there will be love and joy and a heart to obey the word. Give yourself to this word so that your words become the word of God for others and reveal to them their own spiritual condition. Then in the wound of the word, pour the balm of the word.

Piper is talking about surgery—the wound of the word. In order to serve our students best, we need idol-removal surgery. This idolectomy will be painful. It will require us to change. It will require us to repent. It will hurt. But it will be good.

The first of Luther’s 95 Theses says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” 

I know that I need to repent of making good things into ultimate things. I need God to remove my idols. And I am praying that God will do it for all of us. And I am praying that our students would see Him change us so that they see that we don’t build our identity on politics, relationships, finances, or any other earthly thing. They need to see us repenting so that they can learn to repent. They need to see us building on the rock rather than the sand so that they can learn to build on the rock as well. They need to see that God is a powerful Surgeon who “injures us” and “binds up our wounds” (Hos 6:1).  

And how does He cut? With the sharp Word (Heb 4:12). Our identity must be shaped by the Book. It is the scalpel in the hand of God. 

The Christian School and Extensive Reading

Over the past several months, I have been doing some research on language learning. This has been interesting to me on a personal level, but it has also been intriguing to me as a teacher. One of the most useful concepts (in my mind) is called: extensive reading. In a class setting, the big idea is for students to read tons and tons of enjoyable material that is on an appropriate level while following the example of the teacher. 

This reminded me of my own childhood journey to loving books. Before I was a great reader, I didn’t enjoy reading. But once I found a series that was interesting and at my level, I just took off. Within a few years, I was reading more advanced literature—from Treasure Island  to Tolkien—and I was loving it.

As I was considering this kind of reading recently, at first I thought, “Wow! My students don’t really do this very much.” I know of a couple students who read real books for fun, but they are the exception to the rule (it seems). However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my students do regularly engage in extensive reading. They don’t read books; they read social media feeds. They digest Fantasy Football articles. They soak in memes. 

Today, more and more people are making the case that social media may be generally unhealthy and dangerous. However, it is effective and addicting. Users can become incredibly proficient in understanding/comprehending (exegeting) and evaluating/applying (hermeneutics) what they are intaking via social media. Many young people are feasting on it through extensive reading.

And it is no wonder that they are being shaped by it. Much can be said about the addictive, negative, divisive outcomes of social media intake, but I want to simply focus here on a lesson that can be learned: extensive reading, regardless of media or mode (book, magazine, computer, phone, website, app, etc.), is powerful in developing fluency. 

It all starts with practice. Getting the ball rolling can be tough. But once it is rolling, it gets easier and easier. Yurika Iwahori explains:

“The human mind has a limited capacity to perform difficult tasks; in performing difficult tasks, such as decoding words and comprehending a text, people make efforts and as a result consume their limited mind capacity; through practice over time, the amount of effort needed for the tasks becomes less; and eventually, the effort required for performing the tasks drops drastically.”     

And the results are good. At the end of a study on teaching Japanese students English, Yurika Iwahori concluded that extensive reading “provides a possible way for students to become fluent readers by being exposed to English, to increase their vocabulary size, syntactic knowledge, and knowledge of the world.”

Okay. So extensive reading can help students read. Got it. And students are doing extensive reading on social media and the wider internet. Got that too. But what’s the point? 

My point here is simple: Christian schools need to get our students reading the Bible extensively. Not reading about the Bible. Not analyzing the Bible. Not jumping to application of the Bible. Not climbing Bloom’s ladder. Not yet. That will come. Much of that must come. First, we just need to get them fluent in the Bible. We need to get them reading extensively so that they become fluent. 

Could it be hard at first? Yes. Will students progress at different rates? Yes. Will there be some bumps along the way? Yes. Will it be tough to retrain brains that have only been feasting on snippets to ingesting long-form texts? Yes. But Bible fluency will be worth it.

English and language arts teachers, can you help? 

History and social studies teachers, can you help?

Spanish and other language teachers, can you help?

If our students become great readers of long-form writing, they have a chance to really become people of the Book. If our students become great Bible readers, the living and active Word will equip them to live as people of the Book (Heb 4:12; 2 Tim 3:15-17). 

We know that extensive reading works out there; people are using it to learn second languages. We know that extensive reading works in here; our students are being shaped by extensive internet reading. So, will we help our kids master the Bible so that the Bible can master them? I think a focus on extensive Bible reading might be a wise and powerful adjustment to our educational strategy.

A Prayer for Biblical Integration: Psalm 1

This week’s post is a short application of the discussion we’ve been having regarding the role of the Bible in Christian school curricula. As we consider the role of Scripture, we want to be obedient to Scripture. And one way that we can do that is by praying. So, below you will see Psalm 1:1-3 and a prayer built around that passage. Please feel free to utilize this prayer for your students, classes, and school.

1 Blessed is the one
  who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,

2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
  and who meditates on his law day and night.

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
   which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Father, we know that true happiness never comes from wickedness. Please help our students to see and know that. As they learn the world and the Word, help them to live wisely. Give them the understanding and courage to choose godliness. Give discernment as they make choices and develop friendships.

Through the power of the Spirit, delight these young people with your Word. Give them diligence to meditate on it day and night. Plant their lives in your Word, your church, and your ways. Grow fruit in their lives—the fruit of the Spirit—make them like you. Let their work prosper for their good and for your glory.

Help me, as their teacher, to walk in your ways as well. Build an ever-deepening passion for Scripture in me. And help my work as an integrator to prosper. Make me an example: a good and godly example. Use your Word in my class to form all of us—my students and myself—into your image and into happiness with you.

Amen. 

Do We Trust the Bible?: Christianity and Christian Schooling in America (Part 4)

In 2 Kings 22, the Bible speaks about a country that finds the Scriptures. The Word of God had been lost, but religious activity had continued without it. There was still a temple. There was still a high priest. But no Word. And then—one day—they found it and read it. What was King Josiah’s response? He tore his clothes in anguish because he understood something scary: “Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13b, emphasis mine). God was angry at the nation because they had neglected his Word. They didn’t reject it. They neglected it.

Upon renewing attention to the Word, things changed. 2 Kings 23:3 tells the next step in the story: “The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant” (emphasis mine).

What turned the nation around? Attention to the Book. If Barna did a survey of Judah while the Book was lost, I think it might have looked quite a bit like this one from ACU.  So what role can Christian schooling play in turning our nation around? Well, we can’t change hearts. But we can direct people to the Book that does. Christian schools can play the role of Josiah by putting the Word back in the spotlight. 

Tony Merida tells his high school students, “If you want to hear God speak, open the book. When you open the Word of God, you open the mouth of God” (The Christ-Centered Expositor, 50-52). Our schools should take this to heart. We must trust that God’s Word is God’s voice. And we must trust that his voice is powerful to change things. 

So I must ask: Do we trust the Bible? When people say that we do, I think we usually mean that we trust that the Bible is true and authoritative. However, I am curious if we trust the effectiveness of the Bible. Do we trust the Bible to do its work in the lives of our students? Do we believe that the Word form worldview in the lives of our students?

Let’s get a tiny bit technical for a moment: The Word of God is living, active, and sharp (Heb 4:12). The biblical worldview is not. You can’t make someone a fisherman by giving that person a fish; you have to give them a fishing pole. You can’t form a biblical worldview by giving them worldview alone; you have to give them the Bible. The biblical worldview is an outcome. It is born when a person starts to see the world through the lens of Scripture. How does this worldview form? By interacting with the Scriptures. But do we trust the Bible to do what the Spirit who authored it says it will do? 

Below are three truths about rightly interacting with the Bible. With those in mind, we will be in a good position to consider some potential ideas to adjust Bible curricula to better accomplish our goals. 

1) We need to trust the power of the Bible. 

This year, my wife and I have been using the book The One-Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids to help us pray for our children each night. Reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Nancy Guthrie discusses what it means for the word of God to continue to work after it has been shared: 

“What does it mean to believe the Word of God is what accomplishes the work of God in the lives of our children? Certainly it means that we do our part to expose our children to the Word of God. But it also means that we trust the Word of God to do its work in them. We trust the Word to convict, convince, and challenge them. It may not happen in our preferred time frame or in our preferred way, but we trust it to work” (283).

While Guthrie is writing about the children in our homes, her point also applies to our schools. Are we trusting the Word to do the work? Or are we leaning on something else?

2) We need to trust that the Bible is for our students. 

There is a big difference between a class about the Bible and a class of the Bible. Let me give an example. We all know that there is a canyon-sized gap between a class about playing guitar and a class of playing guitar. In the first class, the teacher might hold a guitar and point some things out to the students. The teacher might even play the students a song. In the second class, students have guitars of their own. They are making noise… and sometimes music. The second class is much more messy and loud. But it is also the one that will lead to students knowing how to play. 

Teachers rightly have the desire to make every lesson organized, clear, and assessable. But the Bible is not always so clean and clear. It is not a systematic theology book. We might have a concordance, but the Book wasn’t written with an index. But the fact that the Bible is not systematic does not mean that it is flawed. God perfectly gave us what He wanted us to have. And He gave it to us in the way that He wanted us to have it. 

Though it can be easier and simpler to teach about the Bible, we must do the hard, messy work of teaching the Bible itself. We can explain. We can share context. But we must be careful not to replace the Bible itself with teaching about the Bible. Students won’t be able to play guitar if we don’t put guitars in their hands. Students won’t be able to read the Bible if we don’t put the Bible in their hands. 

This does not mean that we give them the whole thing all at once without any developmentally-appropriate framing. We still need to use wisdom. We are not going to give the details of David and Bathsheba to first graders. 

Think of it like this: Learning ukulele can help students learn guitar. You can give a plastic baby-fork to a young child. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Even with the ukulele, the student is still making music. Even with a dull plastic fork, the toddler is using utensils. They are in it. Really in it. In an appropriate, healthy way.

In the best possible ways, we should give our students real Bible. They need classes where they are in it. Might younger students need to live in the Gospels for a while? Maybe. Should we save Song of Solomon for later in the sequence? That makes sense. There is nothing wrong with playing ukulele if it is what they need to prepare for the full guitar. But if the students are just getting material about the Bible (or with sprinkles/nuggets of Bible), we are showing that we might not trust that the Bible is for them. We know that we trust that the Bible is for our kids when we actively, expectantly give it to them. They need to be in it. Even when it is messy and challenging.

3) We need to trust that the Bible forms worldview.

We do not need to choose between teaching the Bible and the biblical worldview. When we teach the Bible, a biblical worldview follows. When Josiah read the Bible, idols were destroyed. Ingesting the Word affected his worldview. This still happens. It is God’s plan for changing us. 

Let’s get practical! How can Christian schools enact this? The simplest, easiest idea might be to employ a Bible curriculum that is text driven. These do exist. However, there is another option: use the Bible as the textbook for Bible classes. This might be wise because students can learn to study the Bible without workbooks and other study-resources that they will likely not employ after graduation. If we use the Bible as the textbook for a reading-focused Bible class, students can build habits that will translate beyond the classroom. They can keep going long after they leave out classrooms. Here are some basic starting points:

  1. High school. Read-the-Bible-in-Four-Years Plan. Devotional plans to read the Bible in one year abound for personal use. They take about 12 minutes per day on average for proficient readers. So what if we allotted 15 minutes per day in a high school setting over four years? We could read the text, do an inductive study, consider worldview implications and applications, and pray from the text each day. Over 440 days, students would graduate having considered the entire Bible and built serious Bible-study muscles. In addition, there would be room for 280 days of assessments, discussion, projects, and focused worldview conversations.
  2. Middle school. Read-the-New-Testament-in-Two-Years-Plan. Proficient readers can read the New Testament by reading six minutes per day for 180 days. Middle schoolers might not be there yet. So what if they read for 10 minutes per day for 200 days? They could read the entire New Testament in two years and still have 160 days for assessments, discussions, projects, etc. 
  3. Middle or high school. Read-the-New-Testament-in-One-Year-Plan. 20 minutes per day would do it with room for lots of conversation and assessment.
  4. Elementary. Bible-story-time. For younger students, the teacher can read the Gospels and Acts to students in 800 minutes. This could be a great time to choose an easy-to-understand translation and read for 5 minutes per day. In one year, these books would be covered. For older elementary students, the learners could do the reading for themselves (or read along with the teacher). 

But what if a Christian school is already committed to a worldview curriculum in Bible class? It is still possible to simply devote a few minutes per day of Bible reading. For example, if a school uses something like Summit’s curriculum in high school, they could still devote 12 minutes per day to Bible reading. This would at least allow those students to have direct contact with Scripture itself in Bible class. While this might not be ideal, it might be a step in the right direction.

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).