Academic Discipleship Makes a Long-Term Difference: Biblical Integration

Teaching in a biblically integrated fashion takes work. Teaching is hard on its own. And actively asking God’s Word to inform and shape your content adds another layer of challenge. However, it is worth it. There are many reasons for integration, but I want to highlight the truth that it helps students live faithfully for the rest of their lives.

Recent research shows that Christian colleges have an impact on their students. Compared with public and non-religious private schools, graduates of Christian colleges are 1) less motivated by money, 2) more interested in helping those in need, and 3) more interested in work that aligns with religious beliefs. 

The same research indicates that those who graduate from these schools want to protect the environment, combat injustice, and reduce poverty. While there are many who go to public and non-religious schools that care about these issues, it is clear that the religious bent of the university makes a big difference.

While this research was conducted on college graduates, the principles likely carry over to primary and secondary education as well. In fact, some research shows that 83% of commitments to Christ happen between the ages of four and fourteen. Therefore, we can assume that the long-term goals, desires, and commitments of students are being shaped at that time too. 

Academic discipleship is powerful because it meets students during a time when they are being shaped. And who they become as young people will affect who they are as adults. Imagine the impact that your integrated teaching is having on future churches, families, work-places, neighborhoods, political organizations, music and literature and visual art.

Your work makes a difference. Don’t give up. Your lessons are changing lives if they are infused with the Word. After all, that Word is alive and power and sharper than a double-edged sword (Heb 4:12).

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.

Biblical Integration and the Power of Truth

“What is truth?” This is a big question. Philosophers, psychologists, lawyers, and first-century Roman officials (John 18:38) ask it. The dictionary says that truth is that which is “in accordance with fact or reality.” Truth is the way things really are. Truth is what really happened. Truth is real — fact. Untruth is unreal — fiction. 

And truth does not change because we agree with it. Truth does not require our assent or permission to be true. I can say that up is down, but that does not make it true. 

Sometimes people can get confused about truth because (truly) we all have different experiences. Since we live different lives, we all experience different things in life. Different things are true of me than might be true of others, but those those truths about me are a part of the real, true world. For example: I am a man. And I have a beard. Those things are not universal truths because they are not true of all people. In addition, they are different kinds of truths. I am a man, and I always will be. Though I have a beard, I likely won’t always have one. My beard could change. But the truth that I had a beard at this time on this date will never change. In fact, it can never change.

That might have seemed like a long and wandering introduction. After all, truth is evident to all, so why bother sharing pop-philosophical thoughts about it? Well, truth is a concept that is highly valued, but not well understood. And as teachers, we are called to teach truth. We are also called to teach students to know and find the truth in a world of competing messages. To that end, the folks at GotQuestions help us understand what truth is not with the following list:

  • Truth is not simply whatever works. This is the philosophy of pragmatism—an ends-vs.-means-type approach. In reality, lies can appear to “work,” but they are still lies and not the truth.
  • Truth is not simply what is coherent or understandable. A group of people can get together and form a conspiracy based on a set of falsehoods where they all agree to tell the same false story, but it does not make their presentation true.
  • Truth is not what makes people feel good. Unfortunately, bad news can be true.
  • Truth is not what the majority says is true. Fifty-one percent of a group can reach a wrong conclusion.
  • Truth is not what is comprehensive. A lengthy, detailed presentation can still result in a false conclusion.
  • Truth is not defined by what is intended. Good intentions can still be wrong.
  • Truth is not how we know; truth is what we know.
  • Truth is not simply what is believed. A lie believed is still a lie.
  • Truth is not what is publicly proved. A truth can be privately known (for example, the location of buried treasure).

It is a fact that many intelligent academic leaders deny the truth of the Bible. But the Bible is true regardless of what they believe. It is a fact that some people get away with telling lies in this life. But that doesn’t make the lies truth regardless of the consequences. It is a fact that many people earnestly believe that there is no God. But they are earnestly wrong regardless of how fervent their beliefs are.

When you teach in a biblically-integrated fashion, you are offering your students something amazing — truth. God is the ultimate Truth. He is the Truth that all truths are contingent upon. Why is the earth in orbit around the sun? Well, gravity hold it in place. But God holds gravity. And the sun. And the earth. And our ability to notice these things. He has declared these things to be so. I tell my students that when God said, “Let there be light,” light came true. God, as Truth Himself (John 14:6), is the one who defines and declares truth. He is the Shaper of reality. Reality conforms to God. And truth is that which conforms to reality.

When you practice biblical integration, you are trying to tell “the truth, the whole, and nothing but the truth.” An dis-integrated lesson can’t be the whole truth because it is missing Truth Himself.

Thanksgiving as Biblical Integration

Thanksgiving is a holiday and it is an action. Often, I associate Thanksgiving with pie, cranberry sauce, and family. These are good things. But Thanksgiving should be most associated with God. Why? Because He is the One who is our greatest gift. In addition, He is the One who has given us all things. He is the One to whom we are grateful. And He is the One for whom we are grateful.

Who does an atheist thank for his family, friends, joys, and provisions? Random chance? Unfeeling forces of nature?

Thanksgiving is a season of pie (did I mention pie already?), but it is, first and foremost, meant to be a season of active gratitude to the Lord who provides all good things (Jas 1:17). This makes it a holiday because “holiday” means holy day. 

Thanksgiving is a holy-day, not because of some special significance of November’s Thursdays, but because it has been set aside for giving thanks. God has made us holy through the gospel:

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. – Heb 2:11

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Heb 10:10

God has made us holy and He has made us family. He has given us ourselves and He has given us Himself. If this does not lead you to thankfulness, there is significant gospel-disconnect. And you can be sure that some of your students are experiencing that disconnect. 

As teachers, it is essential for us to use biblical integration to show students how indebted we are to the God who paid our debt. Doesn’t God give life and cause our hearts to beat? Didn’t He knit us together in the womb? Hasn’t He authored our personality? Hasn’t He given us our gifts? Doesn’t He forgive our sin? Hasn’t He adopted us into his own family? Isn’t He wonderful?

Your subject matter exists for the glory of God (Rom 11:36). How can you teach in a way that leads students to grateful praise? John Piper makes the case that thanksgiving “is not willed, but awakened.” It is our job (and our pleasure) to help students wake up to God’s goodness in giving us Himself through the gospel. And Matt Boswell says, “As we allow the truths of the gospel to enlarge our hearts, we find ever-increasing room for thankfulness to God.” Teach in a way that enlarges the hearts of your students so that they can ever-more faithfully and joyously live in thanksgiving.

Biblical Integration for the Future Church

Have you ever considered that the students in your class will be the leaders of the church in the near future? In your class sit the Sunday-school teachers of tomorrow. In your class sit the pastors and parents of tomorrow. And we are praying that God will use them to bring about transformation and revival. Richard Ross points out four tragic realities that demonstrate our need for God to bring the church to life.

  • A deficient vision for Christ’s glory plagues today’s church.
  • A desperate loss of hope in Christ’s glory exhausts today’s church.
  • A pervasive loss of passion toward Christ’s glory weakens today’s church.
  • A diminished worship of Christ’s glory impoverishes today’s church. (Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ, 22-23). 

God prepared David to sing and sling while he was a kid in the fields. And that preparation was used 1) by the hand of God to fell a giant so that the “whole world will know that there is a God in Israel,” (1 Sam 17:46), and 2) by the voice of God to write many of the Psalms that the Holy Spirit uses in our lives today. 

Now, Scripture is complete so we can’t expect that any of our students will write any biblical passages, but they can live lives that, through the power of God, help the whole world know that Jesus is Lord. And what is your role in this? Though biblical integration, you can teach in a way that repairs the deficient vision for Christ’s glory. Through your subjects, you can offer evidence of hope in Christ’s glory. As an example, you can demonstrate passion for Christ’s glory. And in your academic discipleship, you can direct your students to worship Christ’s glory. By doing so, you will be a hand to heal their plague. You will offer renewed strength to your students’ exhaustion. You will build their strength so that they are not weak. You will give them the riches of Christ to solve their poverty. 

God is the only one who can revive. And when He does, He uses normal means. He uses his Word. He uses prayer. He uses his church. And — thank God! — we are normal people. We are normal means. And, to his glory, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong,” (1 Cor 1:27). 

Your biblical integration is an investment in God’s people for now and for the future. Keep pressing on.

Biblical Integrators Must Be Ever-Improving Educators

Christian schools are invested in a ministry of academic discipleship. Today I am emphasizing the academic element of what we do. There are many ministries, but the Christian school is unique in that it is an academic ministry. Without question, the aim of the Christian schooling is discipleship. However, we must not expect sub-par teachers to be great integrators. Because we love our students, and because we believe that God will use them in mighty ways, we must be highly invested in giving them the very best training possible. 

Here are three ways that you can work on improving and growing into the best teacher you can be:

1) Remember your calling. Why did you get into teaching in the first place? What excites you about being a teacher? How can you represent a Christian work-ethic, standard of excellence, and desire to please God in the classroom? God has not called us to be just-good-enough as teachers. He has given us a high calling. Your work has weight. Treat your class as the exciting opportunity that God has made it to be. (Now, I don’t say this to guilt you. We will be tired at times. We are invested in other important tasks — church, family, etc. Our work should not consume us in a workaholic type of way. But I do hope that we will remember that God has called us to a good and important and exciting work that is worth doing well.)

2) Review your documents. Mission drift is real. Many teachers would benefit greatly from looking back at their own syllabus, curriculum map, or other course materials. Is there something that you intended to work on, emphasize, develop, or share that you have let slip through the cracks? Periodically review your own priorities and take stock of whether or not you are still targeting the goals that you set out for yourself. 

3) Recognize an area that needs to be improved in your teaching. We all have room for improvement. There is no perfect teacher. Our students are always changing. Our world is always in flux. Expectations shift. Things that worked in the past might not be as effective today. Therefore, it is wise to find and focus on particular areas to improve. Don’t be vague. Pick a real, concrete thing… and work on it. 

Why does this matter for biblical integrators? There are many reasons, but here are a few. a) You have been given a task by God. Therefore, you must strive to do it as well as you can. b) Your students watch you. You are in a position to model faithfulness to them. c) Improvement pictures sanctification. We are all works in progress, so we should show progress. d) Our students will carry the name of Christ with them if they graduate from Christian schools. Therefore, we need to train them so well that future employers, neighbors, family, and friends, see excellence as a result of a type of schooling that bears the name of Christ. e) You will be more engaged and excited to teach if you know that you are striving to do meaningful work excellently. Being a great teacher is good for students, but it is also good for you. 

As an academic disciple-maker, you are called to point students to Jesus. And we all can do this much more effectively if our teaching is ever-improving.