Finding Time for Learning: Integrated IDeas

In the last article, I made the case that teachers must be learners. I encouraged teachers to set goals for making intentional progress. In this article, it is my intention to give some practical advice for how to build habits of learning into a busy life. As a parent, I grasp that school-work isn’t the only kind of busyness that we wrestle with. But many of us have more time to learn than we might think. We just have to know where to look. Below you’ll see a few ideas with some related biblical themes. 

Audio Resources

Audio books, podcasts, and audio Bibles are powerful tools. Why? Because you can learn while you do something else. Do you drive to work? Turn on an intentionally selected audio book. Do you wash dishes or vacuum? Put on some headphones and listen to a podcast on the topic that you’d like to learn more about. Do you walk, run, or do some other form of exercise? You can listen then as well. When our hands and eyes are occupied, we can still learn. I am often able to get between 20 and 40 minutes of Greek study done each workday through listening. I use this time to listen to Bible passages (at a slow speed), to review vocabulary, and to work on other elements of my reading.

Use your time well. Listening might make you a more equipped academic disciple-maker.

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. – Eph 5:15-16

Habit Bunching

If you can attach learning to any regular habit, you can make learning a regular habit. If you eat lunch every day, could you spend the first five minutes of lunch reading a book or watching an educational video? Do you regularly consume media? If so, you could make it a rule that you will not watch a show or log into your social media until you have done ten minutes of intentional learning. Your future self will thank you. (Five minutes per day adds up to over 30 hours in a year. That is three-quarters of a work week.)

Recognize the value of incremental growth over time. 

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,

8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. – Prov 6:6-8

Partnership

Some people find most success when they learn in a group. There is no rule that your learning must be done alone. Could you set up a weekly book-club with a colleague? You could read a chapter per week and discuss it for 15 minutes. Many people could fit in 15 minutes per week. Likewise, you might be able to do something similar with your spouse or roommate. Partnership in God-honoring growth can foster healthy accountability and urgency. 

We are not in this alone. Let’s help each other do good and do well.

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Heb 10:23-25

Classroom

I recently saw one of my legendary fellow-teachers working through a training that she was going to implement and use in her class in the near future. She was learning so that she could teach better. And she had a specific timeline in mind. Her goals weren’t about a fuzzy future; they were about the next week. If you build your lessons so that they require growth and development on your part, you will do what it takes to learn. Building learning into your lesson planning is a great way to ensure progress (just don’t over-do it!). And it is a great way to always be striving to help our students in the best way we can.

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, He told them to go and do what He had taught them to do. They learned from Him and they were not meant to just sit on that knowledge, empowering, or experience. They gave to others what God had given to them. And they gave to advance the kingdom. As we work to advance the kingdom, we want to give our students what God is giving to us.

Use what God gives you to give to others. We grow to help our students grow.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. – Matt 10:5-8

Note: It’s okay if you don’t hit your goal. We are aiming for progress over perfection. I mentioned in the last article that I am trying to spend 400 hours on Greek this year. Is it possible (likely?) that I will only hit 350? Yes. Will that still be good? Yes.

Final note: These are all great ways to learn, but the most important thing to learn is the Word. If you do not currently have a personal, regular time of Bible reading and prayer, consider how you might use the ideas listed about to implement that. If we want our students to grow in Christ, we must model that for them. 

Learning Teachers = Learning Students

We all want our students to grow. We want them to learn. So what do we do? We teach. That is good. Explicit, directed instruction is essential. However, I want to suggest that if we want our students to learn, we must be learners. We must model this for them. And the beginning of a new year is a great time to set some specific goals. 

I have many learning-related goals and I am not going to bore you by listing them all here. But I am going to highlight a few. I hope that my goals will be food-for-thought that helps you create your own goals for your context, situation, available time/energy, and personality.

What one thing will I do this year that will make me better as a teacher in general?

One of my ongoing goals during the past few years has been to become a better teacher of reading. Confident, experienced readers are in a powerful position to continue to learn. Teachers understand the axiom that after learning to read, students read to learn. A bulldozer can dig deeper and faster than a spade. I want my students to have bulldozers for reading. I want them to be able to access, understand, and evaluate content. I want them to be excellent readers.

So, I am investigating “Readers’ Workshop” in more detail this year. And I am trying implement elements of it and experiment with what works best. I have long been a fan of the workshop model, but there are specifics about Readers’ Workshop that I need to learn more about. Specifically, as a Bible teacher, I want my students to increase their abilities to read the Word of God for understanding and application. Students who can’t read well can’t read the Bible well.  

What is one thing that you can do this year to help you improve generally as a teacher? Can I suggest that advancing as a biblical integrator can be a great goal? Think about reading a good book on integration or academic discipleship. Consider working with a partner to talk through your syllabus or course design. 

What one thing will I do this year that will make me better as a teacher in a specific subject area?

I am pressing hard to develop greater proficiency with the biblical languages this year. My biggest goal is to increase my reading proficiency in Greek. As a Bible teacher, it has become increasingly important to me to be able to read the Bible better in the original languages. Since this is a skill, I have designed a system for daily practice. My goal is 400 hours of deliberate practice this year (2022). Thankfully, this goal is not isolated to my teaching. I love reading the Bible. And I love learning about how to do it better. So the 66 minutes of required work each day feels fun to me. Yes, learning/practicing a language is work. But hard work can be fun. This is especially true if it is meaningful personally, tied to vocational goals, and leads to worship.

Now, your goal doesn’t need to take you 400 hours. Four deliberate hours might make a big difference in some areas. But regardless of the time-commitment, you should be growing in a specific subject area. And you should be doing it on purpose. 

What’s your goal for growing in a specific subject area? Maybe it’s reading a biography of a person in that field. Perhaps it’s taking an online training or going to a conference. Maybe it’s getting a new certification. The options are endless.

Let me finish this article with a little-known secret: People often like their work better and are more passionate about doing it well when they are good at it. A learning teacher is often a more satisfied teacher. And a learning teacher is modeling growth to students. And a teacher who sees students growing will be an encouraged teacher. Your learning will help you and your students. So plan it. Organize it. And do it. It will make a difference. 

The Teacher as Evidence of God’s Power: Biblical Integration

Teachers strive to set a godly example for students. We want to say, with Paul, “Follow me like I follow Christ!” (1 Cor 11:1). However, we often (always) fall short of the standard. When Jesus teaches, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” we realize that this is a ladder with the lowest rung infinitely out of our reach (Matt 5:48). And this is not an obscure idea that we have misinterpreted, but a central theme that runs throughout the whole text of the Bible. Here it is fleshed out with more detail:

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:14-16).

Be perfect. Be holy. And do it for, and like, the all-perfect God. This standard is too high for us. The ladder is out of reach. But thankfully, it is not out of reach for Christ. His ability to meet this standard and to raise us up to it should motivate us to praise Him:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:3-4).

He chose us to be holy. It is his plan. I can’t do it, but He can. And He will:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:4-6).

How does this work? How can I do this impossible thing (be perfect and holy)? How will God finish this work in us? 

Augustine offers clarity in a prayer which says, “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire,” or “Father, command what you will and grant what you command.” God tells us to be godly and then, through his power, he gives us the ability to be godly. He grows us. He lifts us up. He polishes us. He refines us. His means, methods, and timing might not always appear linear or logical to us, but they are good and they are for our good.

So what kind of example can we offer our students? Not perfection in ourselves, but someone who is being perfected. We are testimonies of his power in our weakness. We are pictures of progress through his caring might. 

We are evidence. Evidence that He is alive because He is alive in us. Evidence that He is powerful because He is powerful to change us. Evidence that He is kind and forgiving because we celebrate his kindness and forgiveness toward us.

We are saved by grace. It is his work. And we are sanctified by grace. It is his work. 

There are many helpful apologetics for God’s existence, goodness, activity, and power. But we must not neglect this one: our students can see Him working in us. Here are some starting point activities that might help you showing them how He is working in you:

  • Apologize to your students when you have messed up. Humble apologies without self-justification are so rare. Why? Because true humility is a gift from God.
  • Share some of your storyline. Tell students about a struggle (in an appropriate way) and tell them about your journey toward holiness. You can share even if you are not there yet.
  • Ask students to pray for you in the midst of a struggle or challenge. Let them know and see that you need the power of God in your life.
  • Discipline in a way that leads to “seek and trust God,” more than “be good boys and girls.” Growth over laws. Repentance over box-checking. 
  • Share your goals: “I really want to become more gentle and meek so that I can represent Christ better,” or “I am praying that God will help me to listen more,” or “I am actively seeking to be thankful every day.”

Why might activities like this make an impact on our students? Because they teach that He will supply what He commands. And He will get all the glory. As Augustine said:

You he crowns with compassion and mercy; and even if your merits have preceded you, God says to you, “Have a good look at your merits, sort them out carefully, and you will see that they are my gifts” … When you depart from here you will receive according to what you deserve, and you will rise again to receive what you have achieved. Then God will set the crown, not so much on your merits as on his gifts. Whatever he has given you, if you have kept and preserved it, he will recognize.

So we can tell students, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” What we are saying is, “Follow me in growth, in progress, in sanctification. And He gets the glory.”

Academic Discipleship for Greatness: Biblical Integration

What do we want our students to become? Reading the Christmas account in Scripture, I saw a clear answer to that question in a description of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:14-15, an angel tells Zacharias about his future son: “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”

This is what we want our students to become: great in the sight of the Lord. Not great in the sight of peers. That would be fine. Not great in the sight of certain institutions. That would be nice. Not great in the sight of the general public. That would be good. But there is a bigger, better, higher goal: great in the sight of the Lord. This means that our schools must be invested in discipleship. 

If this is the goal, we should be able to examine all of our activities, processes, and expectations to see if they assist in helping the students reach the goal. Now, I am not saying that academic elements are unimportant. Schools have an academic responsibility and exist for academic reasons. But Christian schools exist for academic discipleship. This must be our focus, our obsession, our singular aim. Therefore, I think it is wise to ask: Is [this activity/process/expectation] accomplishing a discipleship aim? 

Again, I am not saying our schools must be Sunday Schools. I am saying that our schools must be Christian schools. 

Let’s get back to the angel’s description of John: “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” What made John a joy to his parents? What made his birthday a joyous time for many? Well, it wasn’t his style or diet. His prophet-uniform and crunchy proteins were not mainstream. It wasn’t his circle of friends. He seemed to grow up to be somewhat isolated. It wasn’t the fact that he was loved by all. Religious people didn’t like him and a powerful politician jailed and killed him. John was a joy to his parents and to others because he was great in the sight of the Lord. 

What kind of greatness are we teaching? Standardized test scores matter. Social skills matter. Influence can be meaningful. Skills are crucial. And the list could go on and on. But we know what we are after. We want our kids to be great in the sight of God. That is all that really matters. That is the end-all-be-all. And joy flows from that. 

So let’s check our practices. Let’s check our goals. Let’s check our motivations. And let’s adjust, refresh, and retune so that, when we return from Christmas Break, we are even more prepared to help our students grow in informed godliness. We want them to be great in the sight of the Lord.

Read and Remind: Basics for Biblical Integrators

Today, a fellow teacher shared some of what she was gleaning from her personal Bible study. She had been reading, was challenged, and decided to share. Her email was thoughtful and encouraging. As she closed, she wrote this:

“Love how God can give new insights and conviction through a passage that I’ve read many times.  Very thankful for His patience with me…He has to remind me of some things over and over!”

Her experience here should be normative for all Christians. And it can be quite helpful for teachers in particular. Here is her point reworded: God teaches us through his Word. Often, He isn’t giving us something new, but a new perspective or better grasp on something we already know. God reminds us. God convicts us. God deepens our understanding. And this happens through the Word. 

God demonstrates regular, consistent, incremental, patient care for our growth. And, as teachers, that should be our posture and practice toward our students. God reminds me. God is patient with me. God slowly deepens and develops my understanding. Therefore, I must do this for my students. Peter wanted this for the people under his care as well:

“I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things (2 Pet 1:12-15, emphasis mine).

We must do this work of reminding by bringing them the Word. I know that God uses his words to shape me. And I know that they are his means to shape them. Am I comfortable letting God be muted in my classroom? Am I willing to allow my coursework to only engage with a gagged God? (Of course, God is able to speak for Himself. We have no power over his abilities. But we know that He has chosen to speak to us through the Bible. Therefore, if we want to hear God speak, we must open his Word.)

Paul said it like this in Romans 10:14-15: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” 

How can your students believe? Hear the Word. How can they hear? You tell them. This is true for your students who are believers and non-believers. They need to hear. They need to be reminded. They need to be patiently encouraged. They need the Word to be in your mind and heart. They need it to be on your lips. They need it to be in your coursework. They need it to be in your classroom. They need it. 

How do I know? Because I know we need it too. 

So what is your next step? Read. Read the Bible yourself. Fill your mind and heart with the Word. Then, it will overflow. You will start reminding others. A colleague did it for me today. And I am praying that we will all do it for our students as well. 

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.