Cultural Attack on Biblical Truth: Practice for Integrating Teachers

“The Golden Rule is terrible relationship advice… It’s the worst relationship advice, like, ever.” So says Jennifer Furlong at a 2017 TED Talk event held in Florence, SC. [Note: The linked video momentarily displays a Facebook post with a profane word in it from 4:30-4:37.] The Golden Rule is a scriptural mandate (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31) so there is going to be serious conflict between Mrs. Furlong and the Christian.

What makes the Golden Rule so “terrible” in her eyes? Here are a few elements that she mentions: 1) It is good for kids, but not for complex issues that adults deal with in our relationships, 2) People have different ideas about what it means, and 3) It makes us think about ourselves rather than others.

What does she suggest people use instead? The Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

**Before reading on, take a moment to think about how you would respond to a student who shared this idea in your class. Imagine that some of your students attended the TED Talk on Evans St. and came back with these ideas. How would you deal with this worldview conflict?**

There are myriad ways to respond, but I will offer one basic observation and then five good ideas that might work well with different students:

Observation: This all boils down to a misunderstanding of the Golden Rule. It does not mean, “If I want vanilla ice-cream, then I should make you eat vanilla too.” Instead, the person practicing the Golden Rule would recognize that some people enjoy certain desserts and others do not. The Golden Rule is an attitude that seeks to notice, understand, and serve others. The Platinum Rule can be understood as an application of the Golden Rule. That would resolve any tension. The problem arises when people look to replace clear biblical teaching with a more culturally acceptable version. Now… on to some ideas for responding to students who might come into the classroom with this idea.

1) Biblical Response (Good to use with students who are believers and have a high view of God)

To say that a command in the Word of God is “terrible advice” is dangerous. This is especially true since Jesus says in Matthew 7:12 that the Golden Rule sums up all the Law and Prophets. Therefore, to cut out this teaching is to undermine the whole Bible.
Who are we to say that God made a mistake? If there is conflict between what He says and what we say, we are certainly wrong. It seems unwise to say that the One who knows everything made a mistake.

2) Logical Response (Good to use with students who are critical thinkers and may not be strong in their belief)

Is it really wise to always give people what they want? Sometimes love means not giving a person what they want. Sometimes love says, “No.” A child might be afraid of the dentist and say, “I don’t want to get my teeth cleaned!” But the loving response is not to give in, but to stand with the child, reassure her, and help her learn to handle scary situations.
Beyond that, how do we even know that individuals want to be respected and cared for? Because we want to those things too. In other words, the only leg that the Platinum Rule can stand on is actually the Golden Rule.

3) Practical Response (Good to use with students who are trying to figure out how things work in the real world)

What would it be like if everyone did unto others as they wanted done unto them? Every student wants an A in your class. Should you give it to them? Also, in some situations it might be very difficult to know how a person wants to be treated… that is, unless you use the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, contrary to what Mrs. Furlong says, actually gives us a reference for how we can treat others well.  

4) Genetic Response (Good to use with students who need to know why people think the way they do)

As often happens, this TED Talk took a reasonable idea and then took it too far–it became something it was never meant to be. Dr. Tony Alessandra, who wrote the book on the Platinum Rule, is complimentary of the Golden Rule. He says he believes in that Golden Rule “110%… when it comes to values, ethics, honesty, consideration, etc.” So if he believes in the Golden Rule, why does he promote the Platinum Rule? Because when he moved from NYC to San Diego, he learned that he need to manage his employees as San Diegans rather than New Yorkers. If he treated everyone as if they were just like him (a New Yorker), he would have problems. His idea of the Platinum Rule was to: “Talk to people in ways that make it easy for them to listen. Manage and lead people in ways that internally motivate them to want want to follow.” That sounds an awful lot like the Golden Rule. He may not think of it this way, but his Platinum Rule idea is just the Golden Rule applied to differences between people. Mrs. Furlong ran with this idea so far that she said the Golden Rule is terrible relationship advice.

5) Identity Response (Good to use with students who need to better understand who they are in Christ)

God created mankind in his own image (Gen 1:26-27). Therefore, when we do unto others as we want them to do unto us, we are pressing into the reality that God made us like Him. In other words, the Golden Rule means that we should treat others with dignity and respect because God made all humans in his image.
In Luke’s account of the Golden Rule, the context is loving one’s enemies. The goal of the teaching is to help those who will listen show kindness to all. Even our enemies are made in his image. In Matthew’s account, the Rule is at the end of a passage about God’s goodness in answering prayer. He is a kind and giving Father. Therefore, we should be kind and giving to one another.

As an integrating teacher, are you ready to handle to worldview conflict that students will bring to your class? They need you to be.

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Example is Key in Biblical Integration

We have a monumental responsibility as Christian teachers leading Christian students. Now, I am sensitive to the reality that many of the students that attend Christian schools are not followers of Christ. But some are. And just as we have the responsibility to point the lost to Christ, we have the responsibility to point the believers to an accurate picture of a life of follow-ship. Luke 6:39-42 speaks to this topic:

[Jesus] also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

There are a few principles that must stand out to the biblical integrator here. 1) Who we are influences who our students will be. 2) It is foolish to call students to a life that we are not living. 3) Disciplining ourselves keeps us from hypocrisy. 4) Hypocritical teachers lead students (and themselves) to fall into a pit.

My school’s Policy and Procedure Manual contains a great statement about the high school’s curricular goals. It says, “Training in worship, in righteousness, and in ministry is not considered ‘extra’ curricular… Rather worship, training in righteousness, and ministry are at the core of our academic curriculum and are the very foundation of our purpose.” This is a strong statement and it makes me smile. But it also calls me to a serious inventory of myself as a teacher: Is worship, righteousness, and ministry the “very foundation” of my life? Am I living the life that I am calling my students toward?

Paul called the Corinthian church to follow him just like he followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Part of what made him an effective teacher was that he was a living example for those under his care. Let’s not be teachers who will not be taught. It is much easier to help students by removing their specks when our eyes are free of planks. Beyond that, students are much more likely to allow us near their specks when they can see that our eyes are clear. We must be able to say, “Follow me like I follow Christ,” and lead them so that neither they nor we will fall into a pit.

So, take some time to take an inventory. Identify your planks and specks. Renew your worship. Seek righteousness. Serve the Lord. After all, your students’ lives are on the line—“everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”

Five Steps for Understanding the Bible

The Bible is a book written over thousands of years on multiple continents in several languages by many people. It includes parables, history, prophecy, poetry, letters, and more. There is significant historical and cultural distance between believers today and those who initially heard the Word. These are just a few of the realities that can make understanding the Bible difficult. Since the Bible identifies itself as a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), it is necessary for those who read it to know how to handle it correctly. The following list contains five steps (and some follow up ideas) that can help you read and grasp what God says through his Word.

1) Careful Reading
Ask yourself, “Have I carefully and thoughtfully read through this passage? Can I sum up what the author of the text said in a clear/concise way?”

Tip: When reading, we are striving to understand the author’s intended meaning. When we comprehend what the author meant to say, we are on the right track.

2) Context
Ask, “Do I understand where this fits in the big story of the Bible? And do I grasp what was going on immediately before and after this passage?”

Tip: Never read a Bible verse… always read a paragraph at minimum.

3) Characters
Ask, “Who is involved in this story? Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to?”

Tip: When the Bible uses the words you, we, us, etc., we need to know who is involved. For example, in 2 Tim 4:13, Paul says, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” But we know that this is a command to Timothy, not to us today.

4) Consistency
Ask, “Does my understanding of this passage line up with the truths from the rest of the Bible?”

Tip: If our understanding does not align with the character of God, the nature of the gospel, or the greatest commandment/commission, we are off track.

5) Connection
Ask, “How should I act, think, or be in light of what this teaches about God, his world, and my relationship with Him?”

Tip: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), so one of the best connections that we should always look to make is to improve our understanding of who God is. We will respond in a life of worship when we see Him for who He really is.

PS: Some people find it helpful to organize this under a three-step inductive approach:

I propose reading in three steps—information, understanding, and action.

1) Information: What does this passage say? Sum it up in your own words.
2) Understanding: What does it mean? Why does it matter? What does it say about God? What universal principles can be found here?
3) Action: What should I think, do, or be in response?

Mark Strauss recommends these four questions: 

(1) Where is this passage in the larger story of Scripture?
(2) What is the author’s purpose in light of the passage’s genre and historical and literary context?
(3) How does this passage inform our understanding of the nature of God and his purpose for the world?
(4) What does this passage teach us about who we ought to be (attitudes and character) and what we ought to do (goals and actions) as those seeking to reflect the nature and purpose of God?

Mark L. Strauss, How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 78-79, Kindle.

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.

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.

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?