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. 

Worth the Price: Biblical Integration as Value

People don’t usually mind paying for things. What people dislike is paying too much for things. People who value a fancy phone will choose to fork over $1000 (the equivalent of 750 tacos) in order to have that phone. Often, people will be so eager for the product that they value that they buy that new phone even though their “old” phone is still good. Why? Because they are convinced that it is worth the cost. 

But when people buy a phone, they are not actually buying a phone. No, they are buying fast access to streaming entertainment sources, a variety of communication avenues, social media options, a photo studio, a game system, a status symbol, business solutions, a home remote, and more. People don’t pay for a box made of plastic and glass; they pay for the experience facilitated by that box.

This is true for all high-dollar investments. People don’t pay for flowers for their wedding; they invest in a beautiful environment for their experience. They don’t pay for gasoline on their roadtrip; they invest in gas to get miles and miles of experience.  I don’t buy books for the paper; I buy them for the knowledge, adventure, and wisdom they contain. I buy books for the experience.

Likewise, families who pay for Christian schooling are not paying for seat time and instruction. Instead, those things are a means to an end. It’s not about getting the child into a seat, but getting a biblical, thoughtful, informed worldview into the child. Yes, tuition dollars pay for salaries, insurance, facilities, technology, and a million other things. But these things are just glass and plastic. Just like smartphone-users are paying for what they can experience through their phones, Christian school families are paying for what their kids experience. 

Your work is the crux of that experience. You and your courses are what make Christian schooling unique. Students can sit in desks anywhere. But they can’t get you and your class anywhere. Therefore, it is essential to make sure that you are providing the academic discipleship that these students need. Your biblically-integrated class is the experience. Your teaching and curriculum make Christian schooling worthy of its price tag. What can you do to continue to add value? Smartphones are getting updates and improvements all the time. Our classes should be too. Let me encourage you to add critical updates to your biblical integration. Many families sacrifice to pay for the cost of Christian schooling. Our job isn’t to lower the price, but to raise the value. Remember: people don’t mind paying for things if they know that it is money well spent. 

Explicitly Communicating Your Key Content: Biblical Integration

Biblical integration, like everything else, is more effective when it is communicated effectively. Great integration becomes poor integration when it is communicated poorly. Sometimes it is appropriate for students to discover an integration concept themselves. There are times when they need to mine the material and develop their own critical thinking skills. However, there are other times when the teacher needs to explicitly state a particular concept. Here are a few steps that you can implement to help you to explicitly communicate key integration concepts in your class. I will use an integration-idea from English/Speech class to illustrate.

1. Say it.

The first step in communicating an integration concept is simply to say it. This is obvious, but it needs to be said because (sadly) integration ideas often never make off of the lesson plan. 

English/Speech Example: Words have power (Jas 3).

2. Say it clearly and robustly.

Take your concept and develop it so that it clarifies a concept substantially. This helps to eliminate confusion.

E/S Ex: Words have power to direct our thoughts, attitudes, and actions (Jas 3).

3. Say it memorably. 

Often great teaching is separated from average teaching by active attention to memory. Great teaching sticks, so make your concept sticky.

E/S Ex: Words have power to mold me and my words mold others (Jas 3).

4. Say it with connective tissue.

It is important the student fully grasp how the integration concept is connected to the course. If it is just a biblical fact or idea, it is not integration. 

E/S Ex: Words have power to mold me and my words mold others, so writing and speaking are superpowers that can be used for good or evil (Jas 3).

5. Say it repeatedly. And have the students say it too.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And be sure to put the phrase on your quiz or test. 

E/S Examples: 

True or False: Words have power to mold me and my words mold others, so writing and speaking are superpowers that can be used for good or evil (Jas 3).

Fill in the blank: Words have _______ to mold me and __ words mold others, so writing and speaking are ___________ that can be used for good or evil (Jas 3).

In three sentences, explain the following in your own words: Words have power to mold me and my words mold others, so writing and speaking are superpowers that can be used for good or evil (Jas 3).

If you want to make sure your students know key integration ideas, develop them well. If you follow the steps above, you’ll be on a great track.

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. 

The Ultimate Formative Assessment: Biblical Integration for Salvation

If you work at a Christian school, it can be easy to assume that your students are Christians. However, that would be a mistake. Some of your students may be followers of Jesus. Some may possess genuine faith. That is exciting! But others may know about Jesus rather than knowing Him. Still others may come from Christian homes, but not have Christian hearts. Yet another group might be faking it, going through the motions, or just not care. So, instead of assuming that your students are believers, I think it is wise to give them the opportunity to show evidence of their new identity. In 2 Timothy 1:15, Paul says that he is reminded of Timothy’s “sincere faith.” How can you tell if students have a sincere faith? Here is a very imperfect and imprecise checklist that can help. Start at the top and move down:

  • Does this student claim to be a Christian? (Rom 10:9-10)
  • Can they articulate the core of the gospel effectively? (1 Tim 1:15)
  • Do they love the Bible? (Ps 19:7-13)
  • Do they desire to learn more about God, praise Him, share Him, and pray to Him? (Ps 63:1-5)
  • Do they exhibit habits of obedience and growing holiness? Or do they make sin a habit? (1 John 3:6)
  • Do they desire to serve? (Mark 10:43-45)

Of course, your job is not to confidently judge their hearts or definitively determine the state of their souls. However, it is your job to meet students where they are. We disciple believers. We evangelize unbelievers. This means we must try our best to know where they are.

Treating all of our students as if they are believers is not loving. Some will develop a tragic type of false security tied to spiritual activity (Matt 7:21-23). Others will come to the conclusion that Christianity is powerless because a false version of it has proved powerless in their lives. Others will create a bad name for believers because their lack of saving faith leads to faithless living. 

As an academic disciple-maker, part of your job is to use your content 1) to help believing students grow and 2) to present a gentle, thoughtful, compelling case for the gospel to those who are lost. Therefore, you must seek to know where students stand. Think of this as a formative assessment. You are always trying to discover where they stand so that you can serve and teach them best. And this formative assessment is the most important one because the consequences are eternal. 

New Assessments, New Integration: Integrated Remote-Learning (Part 3)

This is the third 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.]

As we know, teaching remotely is different than teaching in a face-to-face environment. One of the differences relates to assessment. It is challenging to remotely test memory with a high level of confidence. How can you keep the students from just looking up answers as they take the test/quiz? It is tough. So my suggestion is to encourage them to look up their answers. Instead of fighting their instinct to search for answers, we can feed that desire. Of course, this means that our questions need to change. 

“In what year and town was George Washington born?” can be changed to, “Find out when and where George Washington was born. Share three interesting facts about his family and early life. Cite your sources.”

This exposes the students to the same material, but it is an appropriate assessment for remote work because it is not assessing memory. And it actually offers a few advantages over a simple memory assessment; it engages students’ curiosity and teaches them to cite sources. So how does this relate to biblical integration? Simply put: you can ask you students to be contributors to integration, rather than just consumers of it. 

Can you design a project that asks the students to be a part of the integration process? Yes. You can assign a book-review that asks students to note biblical themes. You can assign a reflection project that asks students to identify a scientist’s underlying worldview assumptions. The truth is that, by creating a thoughtful rubric that includes expectations of biblical integration, almost every project can be an effective tool for integration. 

As you move to remote learning, you need to alter your assessments. When you make those changes, why not build in a requirement for student-generated biblical integration? It takes very little additional work, but provides serious benefit.

Content Delivery: Integrated Remote-Learning (Part 2)

This is the second 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.]

Remote learning (RL) is fundamentally different from face-to-face (F2F) learning. For many reasons, it is not optimal to structure RL as if it were F2F. Because of the differences in mode, structure, communication, classroom management, tools, etc., teachers should strive to leverage the strengths of RL and minimize its weaknesses. One of the great strengths of RL (when students and teachers have access to the internet) is content delivery. This is because students — especially MS and HS students — are capable and enthusiastic about using their personal technologies. In some F2F environments, smartphones can be a distraction. But when practicing RL, smartphones/computers/tablets are a gateway to your guided tour of experts, popular teachers, digital tools, and examples. What may have once been a struggle for your teaching has become an opportunity. And today, I am going to highlight the power of digital content delivery for biblical integration using examples from science.

Digital Content as Guest Speaker

Did you know that you can invite experts into your remote classrooms? Biology teachers can have Dr. Michael Behe teach your students about irreducible complexity through his Secrets of Cell series. Dr. Michael Keas can expertly explain how Christianity was crucial in the development of modern science. I have also enjoyed the MindMatters podcast because of its engagement with biblical worldview and the science of the mind. Of course, there are numerous other expert resources that a teacher of any subject could use. 

Digital Content as Opportunity for Investigation

RL can give students space to investigate. And RL can remove students’ ability to rely too much on others. This means that teachers can present digital content in a way that encourages students to explore, evaluate, and grow. In science, a teacher could share Christianity Today’s list of twelve women in science. Students could learn about different fields (biology, genetics, paleoclimatology, ecology, etc.). But they could also learn about what these leading scientists say about how their faith is innately connected to their scientific work. 

One of the great teachers at my school recently presented students with a list of views on the origins of the universe and asked them to explain what they believed. This caused students to investigate, understand, explain, and share what they believed. The conversation related solidly to science and to theology. This is a classic example of tight integration. And while it could have worked in a F2F class, it was perfect for RL.

Do What Your Guest Speakers Can’t 

So when you are teaching and integrating remotely, use your time to interact with students and organize the content that they need to learn. If someone else has already made a good-quality, easy-to-understand video explaining bacterial flagellum, you don’t always need to recreate it (although there may be a time for that in some circumstances). Instead, you should use your time to facilitate the elements of learning that are not already present in the video. Let your guest speakers (digital content) introduce and illustrate the content as much as possible. You can then use your time to make commentary on the content, encourage responses from your students, respond in depth to student work, show biblical connections, etc. This will show your students how they can grow into thoughtful evaluators of content. You are modelling good practices for them. 

Don’t feel obligated to reinvent the wheel. Instead, go and find the best wheels you can and fasten them to the axles of your class. This will take your unique perspective, wisdom, and style. But don’t feel like RL has to be just like your F2F class. It’s different. But different has opportunities that you can seize.

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. 

Show Them: Biblical Integration and Informing Imagination

Imagine explaining New York City to a child who has lived in a small, rural community. You could talk about the way that sky-scrapers are like two-story houses, but even taller. You could talk about how the streets are busy — kind of like Walmart at Christmastime. These comparisons can be a good start, but they can only take the student so far. Obviously, to really understand NYC, the child would need to visit. But, the next best thing is to show dynamic, accurate visual or artistic representations. These representations can inform and fuel an accurate imagination.

Imagination is often thought of as a place to dream up fantasy worlds and make-believe. However, an informed, accurate imagination is a tool that can envision the real world and what we should truly believe. 

The classic tools that we use to help students with imagination include pictures, maps, and graphs. But here are three other types of tools that you can use in your class to fuel and shape healthy imaginations. 

Well-Done Christian Documentaries

Sadly, there are some Christian media projects that are not excellent in content or quality, but there are others that are fantastic. Be on the lookout for those that are really good. I’m currently intrigued by this preview of The Riot and the Dance: Water, in which Dr. Gordon Wilson states, “One Artist invented water. He invented every liquid habitat and ecosystem that has ever existed. And He fills every inch with life, with death, and with perpetual renewal.” This is the kind of resource that we need to invite into our classrooms. 

Infographics

These are visualizations of reality. They can help us see the truth about how things relate to us and each other. These kinds of images can help information “click” in our students’ minds. Here is an example about the languages spoken in the world. There are many ways that this could be used in relation to biblical integration. Can you think of any? 

Biographies/Memoirs

Over the past summer, I was able to read a biography of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. There was a great deal of content about how his faith shaped his decision-making in every stage of life. Faithful, historical-figures like William Wilberforce, Hannah More, and Isaac Milner are worth exploring. These three Christians were contemporaries and made massive impacts in their fields — Wilberforce in government, More in literature and education, and Milner in mathematics. They are examples for us and our students. Thankfully, numerous biographies about Christian thinkers and leaders are written for all reading-levels. These should be used regularly and freely. 

These three types of resources can fuel accurate, godly imaginations. We might not be able to take them all to New York City, but we can make the idea of of NYC come to life in accurate, engaging ways. Let’s do more than tell our students about God’s integrated world; let’s show them. 

 

Red Ink on Biblical Integration

Biblical illiteracy. Common misconceptions. Lack of context. Unintended heresies. Moral drifting. Self-centeredness. Anxiety. Fear. Disappointment. These are just a few of the issues plaguing Christians today. And many of these issues persist even for those who grow up in church and go to Christian schools. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make an impact. And our impact can affect these students for the rest of their lives. 

Bob Brown reported on recent research that shows that students do better in school when they receive a greater amount of critical feedback. 

“Why do students do better when there’s more red ink on their exams? Gershenson [one of the researchers] hypothesized they are more aware of when they need to seek help. Teachers who grade more rigorously grasp their students’ weaknesses and tend to follow up with increased interaction and improved instruction.”

In the moment, red ink can be hard for the student to see, but it gives life in the long-term. And if we are willing to help students improve in academic content areas, how could we not invest some red ink into their worldview as well? They need your correction. Yes, you correct grammar problems. Yes, you correct math mistakes. But do you take time to correct theological problems and biblical mistakes?

When we identify weaknesses in the way our students read the Bible, understand its message, or apply it to life, we must intervene. We can’t let our students carry those issues if we can act to help them. In other words, red ink — while it looks brutal on the page — can be mercy. That is part of your task as an integrator. 

Don’t let your students grow up in academics without growing up godliness as well. Jesus grew up in wisdom and stature and favor with God (Luke 2:52). That’s our goal for our students too.