Careful Bible Quoting and Tired Teachers

I love God’s Word. I love to read it. I love to sing it. And I love when people quote the Bible. It can be wonderful to hear God’s words on the lips of God’s people. But the Bible is a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), so it can also be disturbing and dangerous when Bible quotation is misused. Let me share an example.

Over the course of this week, I have shared with friends and family that I am tired. It is the end of the school-year and this is a busy time. Events are often. Grading piles are deep. Emotions are strong. During a one of these conversations, someone quoted the King James Version of Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” He used it to remind me that God made today, and we should be joyful in the fact that He made it for us. This is a good sentiment. And I am joyful. However, there is a big problem with this interpretation—basically, that is not what the text actually means. And it is less than the text means.

Psalm 118 is a celebration of God’s saving plan and power. It extols Him for bringing salvation to his people through hardship. To get a picture of the true message of this psalm, look at what verses 20-24 say in the NIV translation:

20 This is the gate of the Lord
   through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
   you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
   let us rejoice today and be glad.

When we read the context, it is difficult to miss that this is actually a messianic prophecy about Jesus. In Acts 4 there is even more clarity when we read Peter quoting this passage correctly under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He said,

Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected,
  which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The danger of misreading Psalm 118:24 to be about rejoicing today without having a gospel-motivation is two-fold: 1) When we do that, we are not actually letting God speak through the Bible—we are putting our message into God’s Word instead of hearing his message. We are missing out on hearing his voice. 2) When we do that, we remove a clear declaration about Jesus, our Messiah, and replace it with a moral challenge. “This day” in the text is not today, but the day of salvation. But the day of salvation should make us joyful today.

As a tired teacher, there is something much more encouraging than a call to be joyful because God made today. There is something deeper, richer, better. There is real Good News. What actually can make a tired teacher joyful? The gospel. Jesus has saved me. In the words of Psalm 118, “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad.” Why should a tired teacher be glad? Because of the gospel.

Please hear this call from one teacher to another: work hard to read the Bible in order to grasp what God really says in it… his message is better than whatever we could replace it with. And let’s work hard together to share the true message with our students.

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Malcolm Gladwell, Norton Juster, and the Biblically Integrated Syllabus

In his foreword to The Course Syllabus, Robert M. Diamond opens by saying,

“The research on teaching and learning is consistent: the more information you provide your students about the goal of a course, their responsibilities, and the criteria you will use to evaluate their performance, the more successful they will be as students and the more successful you will be as a teacher.” (xi)

This has at least one clear implication concerning biblical integration: If learning more about God, his world, and our role in it (biblical integration) is a goal of the courses you teach, then that goal should be outlined in the syllabus. This should include what the details of that integration will be, what role the students will play in it, and how their understanding of it will be measured. When these goals, means, and measures are outlined in the syllabus at the start of the course, they are much more likely to be successfully carried out until the end. They are also more likely to be organized and helpful, while less rushed or stressful.

So where should you start? I think an idea from noted author Malcolm Gladwell can help. In an appendix to What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, he explains that he often works to make “lateral connections”—combining together two good stories in order to build one great one. Why does this combination turn good to great? Because the two stories illuminate and illustrate each other. In Christian education, we are, in a sense, working to do this type of work. Through biblical integration, we show the glory of God through our subject matter, but we also show the uniqueness/importance of our subject in light of the God who made it and us.

Let’s dig deeper into Gladwell’s essay writing. He brings two stories together so that the content of each can be more clearly understood. He shows that the two are actually one story that is more connected than we might think at first.

One of his essays is called “The Picture Problem: Mammography, Air Power, and the Limits of Looking.” In that piece, he shows the difficulty of dealing with incomplete information and varying interpretations. Both x-rays of the human body and satellite photos of hostile territories can include helpful information, but no one is certain about what these pictures mean exactly. By bringing together two seemingly unrelated topics—military reconnaissance and cancer detection—Gladwell is able to get to the heart of deeper issue… in this case, that rightly interpreting limited data is difficult (or impossible). By writing about two seemingly separate issues together, he illuminates both. The two aren’t actually so separate after all. When we integrate our teaching, we are showing those same kinds of connections. But instead of medical and tactical issues, we are working with biblical worldview and course content.

Let’s jump back to syllabus design. We don’t have to be great essayists (though that would be great!), but we do have to write a meaningful course description. The Course Syllabus says:

“A strong course description early in the syllabus can generate student interest by providing a stimulating overview of the course, including its content, value, and the philosophical assumptions behind it. You can increase students’ enthusiasm and motivation by emphasizing the relevance of the course. You will also want the description to reflect your own values and attitudes.” (51)

In your syllabus (or course outline/essential goals/etc.), you must include the ultimate rationale for your course—biblical integration. Students need to understand the great value that they are receiving in understanding God, his world, and their place/role in his world better.

One of my most treasured books is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I believe that it may be the most important piece of fiction that elementary students should encounter. At the start, the reader is introduced to Milo; a little boy who “didn’t know what to do with himself… When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in.”  Why was he so disinterested?

“It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time,” he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. “I can’t see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February.” And since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all. (9)

Throughout the book, Milo encounters all kinds of conflict and questions on his way to meeting Rhyme and Reason. By the end, he has been transformed in his thinking so that he is fully engaged and invested in living a meaningful life.

When we integrate our courses, we are explaining to our students the ultimate why behind what we teach. We are sharing with our Milos why they should bother with our classes. We are to be Justers and Gladwells because we are showing meaningful connections to students so that they can understand how their work fits in with the ultimate questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. How do we put all this together?

The syllabus is a manifesto, a treasure map, a workout plan, a personal letter, a contract. And we want it to be a meaningful, vibrantly biblical one. I have offered some ideas about getting started here: Ideas on How to Do Biblical Integration. In addition, I walked through the three options in that post from a math point of view here, here, and here. Those are all good examples that I suggest you look at and make use of before the launch of the next school year.

Elementary School teachers, simple questions like, “What does this show me about God?” or “How can this help me live for Jesus?” can go a long way. For example, if students are learning to count, you might ask them if there is a number that God can’t count. Or you might point out how amazing He is since He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads (Luke 12:7). If you are working on reading, you might talk about how important it is to read so that we can hear God speak in the Bible—the book He put together for us. And the list could go on. But it really helps to put these questions in your course objectives (and even match them to specific units) in the beginning of the year. It will help things move smoothly, systematically, and less stressfully all year long.

Middle and High School teachers, I would suggest including a mention of biblically integrated rubrics in your syllabus. Using a rubric that includes an integration component helps the students see that it is a priority and it allows them to participate in the integrative work themselves.

Finally, below are some examples from Liberty University’s online syllabi. I have copied the course descriptions from  three subjects and included thought-provoking questions of my own in parentheses. These questions can function as samples that you can use as you integrate your own course description. Look for one in your subject area and think through it. The basic idea is to get your thinking jump-started.

English 101: COURSE DESCRIPTION/RATIONALE

Through the critical engagement of a variety of texts, including written, oral, and visual, this course prepares students to become careful readers, critical thinkers, and skilled writers. (Can you think of any biblical reasons behind why growing as reading, thinkers, and writers might be valuable?) Drawing upon rhetorical theory, it emphasizes the practices of analytical reading, informed reasoning, effective writing, and sound argumentation. (Why is it important that we can understand others and make a case to them?) The course requires 4,000 words of writing in no fewer than five writing projects, three of which are argumentative essays incorporating external sources. (Why is practice important? Why must we support our arguments with credible sources?)

Reading and writing are essential for success in college and in life. (Why are they so essential?) In English 101, the student will further develop his/her skills in analyzing texts, processing that information in the context of his/her worldview, and articulating his/her conclusions clearly to a particular audience. (What does it look like to process content according to a Christian worldview? Why should we be able to customize and argument for different audiences?)

HIEU 201: COURSE DESCRIPTION/RATIONALE  

A survey of the major currents in Western civilization from its beginnings in the ancient Near East to 1648. (Why is it important to trace the history of civilization? How does the Bible, the Church, and the biblical worldview fit into the development of Western Civ?)

This survey course introduces students to political, economic, military, religious, and cultural developments of the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods that constitute the foundation for the modern West. (How does the biblical worldview come to bear on how we think about politics, economics, the military, religion, and culture? How have these ideas developed over time?) It is a required prerequisite for upper-level courses in European history, and it may also fulfill a portion of the General Education requirement.

MATH 201: COURSE DESCRIPTION/RATIONALE

Introduction to descriptive statistics and probability, probability distributions, estimation, tests of hypotheses, chi-square tests, regression analysis, and correlation with applications in business and science. (What role do these measurements play in understanding the world? What do they tell us about our ability to know things? [Crosslisted with BUSI 230] (Why is this information so valuable to business?)

As members of a society increasingly devoted to the use and misuse of numbers, students must learn to correctly interpret and construct statistical presentations in all areas of public discourse, especially in their major fields. (Why is our society tilting toward mathematical/scientific presentations?) This course emphasizes the major applications of statistical knowledge rather than its theory. The course seeks to educate men and women who will make important contributions to their workplaces and communities, follow their chosen vocations as callings to glorify God, and fulfill the Great Commission. (How do we make the most of these skills for the glory of God?)

GQ Magazine vs the Bible

GQ Magazine recently published an article called “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.”  In it, they point out why many famous books are unnecessary, evil, boring, etc., and suggest books to read instead. You may not be surprised to see the Bible come in at #12. They say we don’t need to read the Good Book because some parts may be good, but “overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” They go on to call it “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”  We are going to note three important questions that differentiate between GQ’s view and the understanding that Christians hold.

1) Who Produced the Bible?

GQ is correct that the Bible is “not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” We can heartily agree with that statement because man did not produce it—all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). Of course, GQ’s words may be technically correct in this case, but their intent is disastrous. The secular, man-centered perspective that the famous magazine offers is in direct contradiction with what Christians know to be true. However, they make their point with confidence and without any apparent need to support their view. The magazine presents their perspective as authoritative.

Questions: How would you go about refuting GQ’s claims? How can we effectively share the truth about this with a culture that leans away from the Word’s unique authorship?

2) Why Do We Read the Bible?

The article in GQ offers several reasons for us to avoid reading the Bible. A red-flag should go up in the mind of the believer, not just because of a challenge to the Bible, but because many of the reasons are self-centered preference issues. But should we choose not to read truth because it doesn’t fit with our desired style/content? The author of the article calls the Bible repetitive and filled with moral lessons (that’s what “sententious” means… just in case you are prepping for the SAT) as if those are negatives. The argument is something like: “We don’t like being reminded of how we should live.” But not liking something does not mean that we do not need it or that it is bad. An individual with an illness may choose surgery. Why? Not because they like the experience, but because it can sustain life. Likewise, mothers do not like the pain of childbirth, but it is a good thing. I love the Bible because it is God’s words and I love Him. But when it corrects me, I don’t always want to hear it. The issue here is not that there is a problem with the Bible. I don’t like what it might say at times because there is a problem with me.

Questions: Why do you read the Bible? Why should we encourage others to do so?

3) What Guides Our Lives?

This is where we get to the real heart of the issue (magazine pun intended). GQ exists to report on and analyze men’s fashion and style news. It claims to be an “unrivaled guidance and companion for a successful man.” Here we can see why it might have issue with the Bible. The Bible also claims to be an unrivaled guidance and companion for a successful man. Psalm 119:105 says that the Word of God is a lamp to guide our feet and a light to show our path. Proverbs 2:6 points out that the Lord gives knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. 2 Timothy 3:17 declares that the Bible prepares men for every good work.

In other words, GQ can’t approve of the Bible as the sufficient guide because it is itself claiming to be an unrivaled guide. GQ is trying to fill the shoes that the Bible has worn for past millennia. Just like a sports-team might talk negatively about a rival, this magazine has reason to put the Bible down. GQ has set itself up as competition for God’s Word. But God has no rivals (Rom 11:33-36). Psalm 115:3 says it so well: “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” And of course the Bible explains this well: the Word is how He speaks.

Questions: What does our culture look to for guidance? How can we explain that the Bible is better?

Why “Integration” Is a Valid Term

In my book, I speak in detail about biblical integration as overcoming three artificial divides: heart and mind, general and special revelation, and word and deed. In much of Christian education—especially as it has been iterated over the past several decades in America—these areas have been divided. It has been asked, “Isn’t math just math?… It doesn’t really speak to God or his ways, does it?” Or, as Tertullian asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Some people think that the term “integration” is not a good one when discussing worldview teaching because it denotes the coming together of separate things. I agree wholeheartedly that this can be an issue. We must recognize that biblical integration is “not creating biblical connections, but noting, investigating, and celebrating the connections that already exist through Christ.” However, we must also understand that, while these things are not disconnected by nature, they have been disconnected through practice… our practice. A separation has occurred. It is real. It is not healthy, but it does exist.

And so, it is by practice that these artificially divided concepts must be reunited. Putting the pieces back together will take work. What should this academic jigsaw called? This reconstruction can be termed integration, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The idea of integration refers to the intermixing of those things that were previously segregated. Segregation is the act of division—setting things apart from one another. Biblical integration is necessary because the sacred and secular have been segregated. They do not naturally exist as separate entities, but have been taught and understood as such by many for some time.

The work that must be done to bring divided subjects back together is rightly called “biblical integration.” When we speak of biblical integration, we are not saying that teachers must work to integrate the content. All created things point to their Creator. So, if we are not integrating the content, what are we integrating? Our teaching—not our what, but our ways.

When we integrate, we are pressing back on the idea that nature can be taught without its supernatural Maker. We are letting the Word of God have a voice and a place of authority in the classroom. (It is God’s classroom after all!) We are restoring, reuniting, rebuilding an understanding of the world and ourselves with God at the center—teaching all things from and toward his glory. That is an integration that we should all want to be a part of.

Christian educators need not fear the term “biblical integration,” but should instead look to understand it, practice it, and live it. This is a way we can be about our Father’s business. One day, He will integrate (bring together) Heaven and earth and, in the process, make everything new (Rev 21:1-5). The segregation of the heavenly and material—the celestial and Terran—will end. He will bring together mind and hearts, special and general revelation, and word and deed around Him. He will restore. He will rebuild. He will make his glory known. He will teach us perfectly about who He really is and how his world shows his glory. Let’s jump in and teach in a way that anticipates that glorious day by practicing biblical integration every day.

Portraits of Teamwork in Biblical Integration

One of the best parts of being a teacher at a Christian school is being a member of a team. Different team members might have different roles, but we are all called to work together to accomplish the mission. At my school, we are working to “produce academic, social and physical excellence through a program where minds and hearts are coming fully alive in Christ.” We need each other, and we can rely on one another. Since biblical integration is what makes Christian education Christian, we are called to support each other in this most important endeavor. Here are a couple examples that I hope will encourage you to engage with your team more:

The Guy Across the Hall

On our spread-out campus, I have the privilege of being one of the few that works in a building with other teachers around. There are only are four teachers in our area, and we are all different. However, my building-mates are all excellent instructors and often teach me by setting an example. Their skillful instruction, thoughtful assessment, and improvement-focused feedback show me what a strong teacher does in real life. One of them recently asked this conflict question in class as a part of of biblical integration:  “How is being entertained without thinking dangerous?” He was helping them grow in worldview thinking. The students were challenged by the fact that all the media they consume has a message—movies have motives, Snapchat posts have intent, songs have underlying assumptions, books have agendas, etc. Therefore, we must think about what we are taking in. We must be aware of it and respond to it.

This teacher shared this great question with me. As a result, I have been able to have similar conversations with students, or follow up with his students on the topic. We have been able to start discussions related to 1) Does all media have presuppositions? 2) Does watching/listening/sharing affect me? If so, how? 3) What can we do to more effectively use media to share the Good News with others?

This teacher helped me practice integration and I love it!

The Moment of Need

Throughout this year, I have gotten numerous emails from fellow teachers about biblical integration. Many teachers find themselves in challenging subjects and feel stuck at times. But, when this happens, they usually just need a starting point. They need a little spark, and then they use that spark to burn down the forest.

For example, this is the content of an email from last week: “I need your help. I am going to be teaching Probability, Tree Diagrams, Line Graphs, Bar Graphs, etc.  Do you have any insight on what I bring in to the lesson? In Science, we are studying the ecosystem (producers, consumers, the food chain, food web). Any ideas that I could use?”

I cannot tell you how much I love to receive these types of emails. Why? Because this teacher is working hard to engage the students with biblical integration, and is not afraid to seek out some help. I responded with a couple of quick ideas:

Math: Probability/Graphs/Diagrams

– Probability: You could share about mutual exclusivity in regard to our faith… That if we are new creations, the old is GONE and the new is here (2 Cor 5:17). It is mathematically impossible to be both new and old.

– Graphs: You can show how these might be used to for self-assessment to chart growth. How often am I reading the Bible/praying? (make a chart for the week)

– Tree Diagram: Make a diagram that shows how amazing it is that God is able to be in perfect control even when it seems like there are so many possibilities. Use the graph to show that with Him, nothing is left up to chance.

Science: Ecosystem

You might make the connection that in an ecosystem everything works together (because God designed it), and everything has a role. We are like that too, in fact, 1 Cor 12 talks about how we are like different members of a body that work together too. But, we are not like animals because we are made in God’s image, so we should look out for the needs of others (Phil 2:1-4).

This teacher may have used these ideas, or she may have developed other, better ones. She may have been able to work out some questions/thoughts that worked better with her long-term unit-planning… or these might have fit well with her class goals. The important thing is that we were able to work together.

Being a part of a team is big. You can contribute when you have help to offer, and you can receive assistance when you need it. God has brought us together, and we can model cooperation, humility, creativity, and commitment to our students and peers as we grow as integrators.

 

Conflict, Worldview, and “Reckless” Love

I was very encouraged by the way one of the teachers at my school shared the truth of Scripture during a weekly devotional time. She was speaking about the awesome love of God in her life and from Luke 15—the parable of the lost sheep. And her teaching was especially memorable because she included a moment of conflict. Introducing conflict is a helpful means of biblical integration.

This moment arose out of a definition. You see, a song called “Reckless Love” is immensely popular right now: popular and moving, but not accurate.  That song uses Luke 15 as a supporting text to say that God’s love is reckless. The teacher who was leading our devotional time thoughtfully and appropriately played the song as a part of her message. However, she was careful to make the point that God is not reckless. She said something like, “We know that God is not reckless, but the shepherd in the story does seem to be acting recklessly.” Reckless means acting without thinking or caring about consequences. God is clearly not that way. In fact, in Luke 14 (the chapter before the parable of the lost sheep), Jesus emphasizes the importance of counting the cost before beginning an endeavor: the opposite of recklessness. It is clear that He does not endorse reckless action. And his love is certainly not reckless. It is much better than that!

Recklessness implies not having a full grasp of the situation or the cost. However, God did not seek us out recklessly. He planned it. He saw the situation. And He pursued us because He had always wanted to do so. His was never a reckless choice. Look at this truth from Ephesisian 1:4-8:

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.

When did He choose us? Before the creation of the world. And what did He choose us for? Adoption into his family. Why did He do it? It was his pleasure—we are his desire. And how did He plan to do it? Through his blood. The Bible is clear that his love is not reckless, but it is lavish. He counted the cost and then pursued us; not out of reckless love but knowing love.

The point of conflict that was made in the staff devotional was excellent: God may seem a certain way to us, but we must seek to know Him as He really is. Why? Because the way He really is will always be better than the way He might seem. God is, in reality, more than He is in our imaginations.

The seemingly small moment of conflict in the devotional was really helpful in developing worldview-thinking. What are the areas in your class where you can challenge preconceived ideas about God? How can you help your students move from understanding Him as He might seem to seeing Him as He is?

Biblical Integration Peels Off Dragon Skin

A.W. Tozer memorably noted, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” We want our students to be blessed which means, among other things, we must try to create opportunities for God to hurt them. This does not mean that God is doing something bad; nor are we. Quite the contrary! He is doing something needed in tearing away the bad. In C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the characters is turned into a dragon, but desperately wants to be a boy again. Aslan, the great lion, came and pulled the dragon-flesh away. Look:

“I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off….
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

There is pain in transformation—even in worldview transformation. Transformation means the advent of something new, but also the end of something old. Who we were must die so that we can become who we ought to be. God is in the business of breaking down our idols, even when our hearts are tied to them. Listen to this expressed in Hosea 6:1-3:

“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.
After two days he will revive us;
   on the third day he will restore us,
   that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
   let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
   he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
 like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Biblical integration must, at times, put students in a place to be “torn to pieces.” This is not evil. This injury is needed. The Surgeon must cut in order to heal. And we have myriad idols that need to be cut away. As we press our students to acknowledge Him, there will sometimes be difficulty and pain. But do not be alarmed. After they have been hurt, they can be used.

In what areas is your course uniquely positioned to peel back the dragon skin of worldiness? Where do you need to press your students toward the truth… even if changing directions causes them to fall down for a moment?