An Academic Disciple-Maker’s Prayer: Biblical Integration from Philippians 1

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11

Lord, help my students to grow in love for you and others. Use the time they spend in my class to deepen their knowledge and insight. As they learn my subject matter, teach them to fear you and to follow you. Teach them your Word. Empower them with supernatural discernment to seek what is best. Strengthen their allegiance to you in their thoughts, words, desires, and actions so that they may live in a way that is pure and blameless. Fill their lives with the fruit of righteousness that comes only from you. And may this righteousness be clear to others so that they too will praise and glorify you.

High-Pressure Testing: Biblical Integration and Calling Students to Examination

Testing is a hot-topic for teachers. What kinds of tests are best? How should tests be constructed? What are the outcomes that we are looking for? What do test-results really mean?

Tests are often on the minds of students as well. They can sometimes be opportunities to shine. But they can also be stressful. This is especially true of high-leverage tests like the ACT/SAT or other standardized tests. Graduation could be on the line. Acceptance could be on the line. Scholarships could be on the line. Tests, especially in academic settings, can be high-pressure activities. However, they can also be quite valuable. This is also true in our spiritual lives. 

Recently, our school devoted time in MS/HS chapel to interact with the question, “How can I know for sure that I am saved?” This is an important test: a probing question. And it is one that many students were asking. Thankfully, it is also a biblical question. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul challenges the church there, saying, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” There is a way to test ourselves. And it is possible to fail.

Self-examination is a crucial part of following Jesus. And the test-results should lead people to know where they actually stand. In 1 John 5:13, the motivation of John’s writing is clear: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Believers should test themselves. And they should know if they pass the test. 

So what does this examination look like? How can we examine ourselves? How do we really test ourselves so that we can know for sure that we have eternal life?

One of our chapel-speakers pointed out that one evidence of salvation is change: Have you been changed by the gospel? Is your life becoming more Christlike? Are you hating and battling sin? That is in line with what John says just a few verses later: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them,” (1 John 5:18).

A famous Reformation line is something like, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone.” We can test if our belief is real by the impact it has on our living. Good faith will be joined by good works. Are we being changed? Are we growing? Do we keep fighting?

At the close of this article, let me take a turn toward academic discipleship in particular. As a teacher, you likely test your students. You probably also teach them to self-assess. They may learn to do study guides, reviews, practice activities, ungraded quizzes, and more. But are you teaching them to examine themselves to see whether or not they are in the faith? 

I am burdened that there are many non-Christian students populating Christian schools. There will come a day when they face the true final exam. Standing before the Lord Himself, will they hear, “Well done!” or “I never knew you,”? Perhaps practicing some self-examination now will put them in position to prepare for that final exam.   

If you speak of God in your integration (and I am confident that you do), consider helping students test where they stand with that God. The final exam is coming for all of us: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.,” (Heb 9:27-28).

Biblical Integration Must Be Fully Christian

This might seem obvious, but Christian schooling is about more than just helping students believe in God. James tells us that even the demons believe (Jas 2:19). And, it goes without saying that we are not content with bringing students to the level of demons. Believing in God is not enough. Even being amazed by God is not enough (after all, the demons tremble at God). It comes back to knowing God, trusting God, loving God. It all comes back to the Son.

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:35-36).

Let me encourage you to highlight the Son in your class. Every session of your class does not need a gospel-presentation, but Jesus must be exalted. Teachers may need to work to figure how to highlight Him best, but Colossians 1:15-17 clearly states that everything we teach has been made through Him and is for Him and is sustained by Him:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

This is what I mean when I say that biblical integration must be “fully Christian”: our work must turn the eyes and minds of our students toward Christ. He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). Colossians 1 continues in verse 18:

And [Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

In everything He should be seen as supreme. How is Christ’s supremacy demonstrated in your classroom? I understand that it can be daunting to call for teachers to integrate so specifically. But for a school to be Christian, the classes that make up the school must be Christian. And, a class cannot be truly or fully Christian without making much of Christ. 

Would you consider how you might shine the spotlight on Jesus once through your material this week? Just start there: aim for one specific element that highlights the Son. And as you exalt Him in and through your course, I am confident that you will love making much of Him. I am confident that you will want to keep doing it. 

The Great Commission for Teachers

To help orient myself for a new school-year, I wanted to take some time to consider the Great Commission. This was valuable for me, so I am sharing it with you too. So what follows is a simple, short interaction with the Great Commission for teachers.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20

Make Disciples: Our Big Goal

Jesus called his followers to make disciples. This is an orienting command for all of us. God has commanded us to make disciples. Thankfully, He is also the one who equips us to make disciples. He is also the one who ultimately gives life—this is his work. Your work is his work. As a teacher, remember that discipleship is your goal. And remember that God is able to accomplish that goal through you.

Baptizing: Salvation is the Beginning of Discipleship

The disciples were going out into the world and—think about this– everyone they would encounter would be lost. There was no Christian culture. There were no Christian schools. There were no Christians at all. And yet, the disciples were called to make disciples. And each new disciple would need to be baptized. This means that step one of discipleship is salvation. There are students in your class that need the Good News.  They need Jesus. They need salvation from the wrath of God. And you are there to carry out the Great Commission. God has put you there for this.

Teaching them to Obey: Growth after Salvation

As a teacher, this part of the passage is especially sweet for me. I hope that is sweet for you too! God has intentionally included teaching in his plan for discipleship. In addition, our specific type of teaching (liberal arts) is especially unique. Most churches do not have the opportunities we have to show God’s glory in math, science, art, language, physical education, and history. In addition, most are not able to spend as much time diving into how we can be obedient worshippers and faithful ambassadors in math, science, art, and the rest. 

Local churches are called to equip the saints (Eph 4:12) by starting with God’s Word and directing people to discipleship in God’s world. We often start with God’s world and direct our students to God’s Word. In this way, our work—your work—is kingdom work.   

“I am with you always.” 

Jesus finishes his commission by reminding the disciples that this is ultimately his work. He will be present. He will be working. And we can trust that He will do it. 

Teaching Students to Think Wisely: Biblical Integration

Time with students is limited. They will graduate. They will move on. And the Christian school strives to make an impact on them before they go. But what mark are we trying to leave? Well, we want them to have necessary knowledge; they need truth. However, they also need the skill of biblical thinking. We don’t want them to leave without the skill of properly weighing all things against the Word of God. We want them to be wise.

Wise choices are godly choices. Therefore, we want our students to learn to think wisely. Proverbs 4:7 makes the priority of wisdom clear, saying, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Therefore, the Christian school’s goal is to help students get wisdom; though it cost all we have, we must give understanding. Dr. Matthew Hall says that the Christian school should “mobilize its curriculum, faculty, and programming to help students develop the skill of thinking critically according to God’s revelation.” In other words, everything the Christian school does should help students become wise. 

We are not primarily invested in what students know, but in how they think. However, the Bible actually makes an amazing connection between knowledge and wisdom: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both (Prov 1:7, 9:10). Therefore, knowledge and wisdom are bound together. Those who know the truth about God are in position to honor Him with their lives by fearing Him. If wisdom and understanding are worth paying any price, we should give our all to teach our students to fear God. 

If we graduate God-fearers, we are largely successful. I think a large portion of our work may boil down to that. And if I am measuring the efficacy of my teaching, I can ask myself: Are my students trembling at his Word more because of my class? (Isaiah 66:2). Are they growing in fear of the One who can kill the soul rather than those who can only harm the body? (Matt 10:28). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. If I am teaching my students to fear God, I am teaching them to think wisely. In light of this, let me encourage you to consider developing and implementing biblical integration that shows your students God’s glory. Help them to see Him for who He is: worthy of awe and worship. This will equip them to live lives that are worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1). This will help them to think wisely.

The Beautiful Life: Biblical Integration and Example

The Institute for Family Studies recently highlighted some research regarding the ways in which Christian schooling helps at-risk students understand and embrace healthy, godly views of marriage and family. While the study revealed much, I was particularly struck by the impact of simply being embedded in Christian community for an extended period of time. Students were changed by seeing healthy relationships lived out in front of them.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but students might not always listen to your lectures. They might not always take proper notes. But they see you. They see your consistency. They see how you live. They see how you love. This is the incarnational nature of biblical integration—truth and love embodied.

Clearly, we want all of our students to come to know Jesus. We want them to embrace the truth of the gospel and to understand God’s good design for them. However, I  know that not all my students have been convinced that Christianity is true. Not all of them embraced the fact that it is good. But many have understood that it is beautiful. And that has, at times, been a part of a longer process of wrestling with the gospel.

When my wife and I went through the embryo adoption process, they saw conviction and care and family. When I have been too quick to speak or self-focused, they have seen humility, restitution, and a longing for forgiveness and restoration. They have seen service. They have experienced care. They have observed kindness. They have noted real joy. I don’t bring these up because I am a special, great teacher. None of these beautiful elements are unique to me, nor do they stem from me. They are the fruit that grow from the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). I know that students see these things—and more—in coaches, teachers, administrators, parents, peers, and more.   

Press on in showing students the beauty of God and godliness. Show them the beauty of knowing Christ. Perhaps lost students will consider the truth of the gospel because they can’t deny its beauty. Perhaps struggling students will embrace the goodness of biblical ethics because they have been drawn to the beauty of biblical relationships. Keep loving your students well. It makes a difference. 

Different, Bold Teaching: Biblical Integration

Who is more powerful: Christ or the devil and the world? The Bible tells us, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). We know this is true, so we must teach and structure our teaching as if this is true. There are several implications of this truth, but I want to highlight two here:

1) We must teach differently.

John continues, saying that worldly people “speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them,” but we are different because “we are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us,” (1 John 4:5-6). Christian teaching—academic discipleship—is not teaching the same old stuff in the same old way with some biblical ideas sprinkled into the mix. No, we actually see the whole world from a different viewpoint. Math and science, language and literature, arts and athletics, all subjects must be understood from this new point of view. The word worldview makes this point because our beliefs don’t shape how we view any one area of life, but instead shape how we view the entire world. This doesn’t mean that we stop teaching in an academic fashion. This does not mean that we trade out our content for Bible study. It means that we teach the content well, but we teach it from a different viewpoint: a biblical viewpoint. Here is a video-example regarding math.

Will the world look at us as fools? Probably. But, in Paul’s words from Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

2) We must teach boldly. 

If we teach differently, we must also teach boldly.  Our mission is not to protect our students from the “powerful” ideas of the world. Instead, we must wisely, age-appropriately introduce those ideas to our students so that they can see them for what they really are: weak. Paul tells us what we do in 1 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Why do we teach boldly? Because the gospel, the Bible, the biblical worldview, the Holy Spirit, and the church are powerful. Those who have those things don’t just dent bad ideas, they demolish them.

When we are firmly grounded in Scripture, we have no need to fear ungodly ideas because they are, by nature, lacking the power of God. We should not fear them (unless we are giving in to them); those ideas should fear us and our believing students. We aim to teach and unleash our students on the world. And the gospel gives our students the ability to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). The gospel is the power of God (Rom 1:16). The power that God has given us is “his incomparably great power” and “is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,” (Eph 1:19-20). 

So, it is essential for you to be bold in your teaching. Help you students learn to demolish worldly arguments. With Paul, I want to remind you “to fan into flame” the faith that God has gifted you and your students (2 Tim 1:6). Don’t fear, but act out of “power, love and self-discipline,” (2 Tim 1:7). God has given us the ability to be bold, so let’s do it. 

He Hangs the Earth on Nothing: Integrated Remote-Learning (Part 1)

This is the first part of a short series about how to accomplish biblical integration in a remote environment. These ideas can help teachers who are transitioning to an online environment, but they may also be helpful supplements that you could use for homework in other ways. [Note: Some of this may work more effectively for middle school and high school students than elementary-aged students.]

The unique nature of online learning gives it certain advantages over in-classroom learning. I am not saying that it is better, but there are aspects of it that can be educationally helpful. The University of Denver has some guidelines for transitioning classes to an online format that include this good point:

Try not to get bogged down with doing everything you would normally… What has to stay? What can go? Is there a way to meet your learning outcomes in a manageable way given the tools you have? When you find yourself getting stuck on issues like “how can I possibly do X online?!” Think about, “could I do something besides X?”

One of the basic ideas of online instruction is that it is different than in-person instruction. Therefore, it is unwise to try to teach your class in the normal way during abnormal circumstances. Our objectives remain, but many other things change. The environment is different. The interactions are different. The tools of engagement are different. Therefore, you cannot simply do what you did before and post it online. This is true for your elements of biblical integration as well. To that end, here is an idea that can help you create an excellent, integration, online experience for your students.

Lean into (Slow) Discussion and Collaboration

According to Purdue University, “Although response time may be longer online, the quality of feedback tends to be more detailed and focused than in the classroom setting.” This is because when you ask a question in-person, the student that thinks of an answer the fastest speaks up. But online, speed is not as relevant. And students need to write out or record their responses, so the fast answer must be refined. And, the slower answer gets equally heard. One of my favorite discussion activities is a shared sharpening task called “Make-It-Better.” 

To do this, you give students a prompt like this one: 

The Bible is not anti-science. Instead, science supports the Bible and the Bible supports science. 

The students would be asked to make this statement better. They can add detail and examples. They can interact with ideas and sources. They can clarify arguments. They can include cultural understanding. And as they work on it, they might come up with something like this: 

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins seems to represent many non-Christians in saying that the Bible does not correspond with science. However, in that same book, he also calls on parents, saying, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” In taking his advice, I have evaluated evidence and come to disagree with him on his conclusion.

Dawkins states, “If all the evidence in the universe turned in favour of creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favours evolution.” I do not think that this is an accurate assessment how we should interpret the evidence. The Bible is not anti-science. While there are many diverse pieces of evidence, here is one that I am currently interested in: Job — the oldest book of the Bible — states a scientific fact that could not be known at that time without divine revelation. In Job 26:7, the writer states that God stretches the north over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing. The most ancient book of the Bible offers a modern, poetic description of the earth being in space. That seems like one piece of evidence that, to Dawkins’ chagrin, seems to support the accuracy of biblical evidence. Therefore, I continue to be confident that science supports the Bible and the Bible supports science.

With collaborative tools like Google Docs, there is no reason that a class of students could not Make-It-Better like this. In addition, the teacher is able to see what each student contributes so that each student can be held accountable for participation. And what subjects could this work for? English — for the development of writing, grammar, developing a thesis, citing sources. Speech — developing a theme to make a persuasive argument. Science — understanding the biblical connections to modern discoveries. History — understanding how ideas have developed and been challenged (or supported) over time. 

The Holy Spirit Points to Jesus: Biblical Integration

The Holy Spirit wrote a book — the Bible. 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that the Spirit directed and controlled the writers of Scripture. While human writers employed pen and paper, the Holy Spirit employed those men. All of Scripture points to and testifies about Jesus (John 5:39-40). In other words, the Holy Spirit chose to write one book. And He chose to write that one book about Jesus Christ. 

As God, the Holy Spirit is utterly free to do all that He pleases, and it pleases Him to make much of Jesus. It pleased Him to do that when He wrote the Bible, and it pleases Him to do that through each of us. In Spirit-Filled Teaching, Roy B. Zuck describes this, saying, 

“Teaching does not suddenly become Christian when a spiritual footnote is added to what a teacher imparts. Rather, biblical truth must be interwoven by the Spirit into the very fabric of teaching, if it is to be considered Christian education,” (54).    

So, our job is to obey the Father and partner with the Spirit by teaching Christ-exalting biblical-truth to our students. There is a great line in Student Ministry and Supremacy of Christ about this: “Every dimension of hope is initiated by the Father, developed by the Spirit, while always exalting the Son,” (Ross, 16). This is the work of God’s Spirit in the world today. John Piper explains, 

“The Spirit is sent to make Christ real to people and to show us who he really is in his glory so that we come to love him and trust him and obey him and show him to the world. What this means is that the Holy Spirit is more likely to come in power where the truth about Jesus is being lifted up and made plain. The Spirit loves to come and take the truth about Jesus and turn it into an experience of Jesus.”

So, as integrators, we must ask ourselves: Are we in step with the Spirit by making much of Jesus in our classrooms? The Holy Spirit gives power to the gospel that we proclaim — awesome power (Rom 1:16). I want the Spirit to work mightily in and through me. And we can be confident that He will do this when we join Him in doing what He loves to do. 

Part of why I am so passionate about Christ-exalting, biblical integration is that the Spirit is too. In the Spirit’s book, He said that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19) and Christ holds all things together (Col 1). Jesus is worthy. And the Spirit loves to speak of Him. The Spirit loves to highlight his work of salvation on the cross. He led four men to pen whole books about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is God — worthy of praise Himself — but He points to Christ. We too can be like Him by living out the end of Galatians 5: 

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Let’s keep in step with the Spirit by agreeing with the Spirit and the Spirit’s book. And let’s teach his book. And let’s proclaim the message of the book — Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:11). 

Biblical Integration: Are You Teaching the Gospel?

This may seem obvious, but it must be said: there is no Christianity without the gospel. In turn, academic discipleship must be gospel-teaching, gospel-celebrating, gospel-reminding. In Gospel-Centered Teaching, Trevin Wax explains, 

“We may be commenting on Christian Scripture, pulling out good points of application, and offering solid information. But it’s the gospel that makes our teaching distinctively Christian. It’s the gospel that separates our study from mere moralistic suggestions or information overload,” (78).  

Now, as I often say, this does not mean that you need to turn your physics class, art class, or history class into Sunday School. No. But your class should distinctly belong in a Christian school. Christian schooling is more than just Bible-related schooling. Later in his book, Wax recalls missiologist Ed Stetzer’s reminder that we shouldn’t preach sermons that could be true if Jesus had not died on the cross and been raised from the dead (83). [Some call these “synagogue sermons.”]  Wax suggests asking ourselves two questions as we prepare to teach: 1) If I am teaching Old Testament truths, am I teaching them in a way that “a faithful Jew could not affirm?” (79), and 2) Is my teaching of the New Testament distinctive from the teachings of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Muslims? (81). 

Each of these groups teaches things from and about the Bible. But they are not teaching in a way that is distinctively Christian. What is the difference? The gospel.

The gospel is everything to the Christian. It is the key. If we graduate students who believe that God is big and strong and wise, but don’t recognize their need for the Savior, we have failed. If we graduate students who think that Jesus was a great teacher, but not the Lord of all, we have failed. If we graduate students who don’t believe in the deity or resurrection of Jesus, we have failed. Paul said it like this:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. – 1 Cor 15:3-4, 14

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Rom 10:9, 12-13

There are many groups, like those listed above, who teach and use the Bible in various ways. But only those who believe that Jesus is Lord, that Christ died for our sins, and that God raised Him from the dead are saved. In other words, the gospel essential. And the truth of the gospel is the interpretive key to the whole Bible. Without the gospel, we cannot rightly be biblical. Jesus made this clearly to non-believing Jewish people when He said, “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,” (John 5:39-40). 

Therefore, in order to practice real, true biblical integration, we must be teaching the Jesus-centered gospel. Biblical integration must include gospel-integration. We must be pointing to Jesus.