Biblical Integration: These Classroom Tools Can Help You

Biblical integration is not the task of a teacher trying to artificially make connections from a particular subject to Scripture. Instead, it is “noting, investigating, and celebrating the connections that already exist through Christ.”

As an instructor, you can help your students explore and engage in this type of study themselves. Send them on a mission. Support them as they go. Therefore, it is wise to stock your classroom with resources that can help you partner with your students in the process. (Note: You do not need to go out and buy all of these. They are just some ideas. Some might click with you more than others.) Along with a Bible, here are some of the tools that I suggest:

1) An Illustrated Bible Guide (I suggest The Bible Explorer’s Guide because it is loaded with pictures and bite-sized facts.)

This type of resource will work well in classrooms of all ages and subjects. However, it is especially helpful for younger students so that they can be free to explore and engage their imaginations with biblical truth.

2) A Good Theology Book (Grudem and Frame have good options if you can support students with guidance. They also offer shorter, easier-to-read versions of their work–Christian Beliefs and Salvation Belongs to the Lordthat can be given to inquisitive MS/HS students to interact with on their own.)

When students have questions about a particular biblical topic, you can point them to a resource to help them explore.

3) A Go-To Place for Your Questions (GotQuestions is a good website for this.)

When a student asks a biblical/theological question, it is a good instructional strategy to do some research together. Just search your question (Ex: What is the Trinity?) into the search box and see what comes up. This can help you have an environment of exploration in your classroom.

4) A News/Culture/Politics Resource for MS/HS Students (WorldMagazine is one of my favorites. It has good online content (free), but the paper copies would be good to have physically in your room if possible.)

If students can see the the Christian worldview brought to bear on the pressing issues of the day, it will widen their thinking and strengthen their convictions.

Conclusion: Four Reasons to Look Into These Resources for Your Classroom

  • Having material that you can (generally) trust on hand is very valuable when students have questions.
  • Having this material in view can spark ideas and questions in students who see it.
  • Having this material available can be useful in reading time (for younger students) and research (for older students).
  • Having this material can give you and your students a common point of reference for ongoing discussions.
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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.

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.”

Biblical Integration, Curiosity, and the Way God Stirs

Augustine, one of the great Christian thinkers/leaders of history, was not always a fan of school. He loved Latin, but found Greek, math, and other studies dull. Regardless of the harsh discipline administered to him, he was not motivated by the punishment—he was motivated by love. He said, “…free curiosity has greater power to stimulate learning than rigorous coercion.” (Confessions, 1.23). He loved Latin, and so he excelled there. (Note: Augustine was not saying that we should pander to the desires of young people, but he was noting that desires have power.)

Biblically integrated courses have the ability to help build a Christian worldview through the areas that students love. If all of our classes are integrated, the student who loves art will encounter biblical truths, challenges, and encouragements through art. The same is true for the math genius, superior athlete, language lover, and history buff. Christian educators can engage students with and for the gospel through free curiosity.

Speaking to God, Augustine declared, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you…” (1.1) The excellent Christian school will remember that God has made each student differently, and will respond to that reality by recognizing that an integrated computer class might stir some to praise differently than an integrated grammar course.

The Christian school has a diverse collection of tools that God can use to stir up praise. Along with those tools, God has provided an even more diverse group of students. This is a part of his wise plan. So, how can you put yourself and your course in the best position for God to use to engage a holy curiosity in your students?

Only God knows, but there may be another Augustine sitting in your class—and your course might be the tool the Lord uses to stir up the desire to praise.

Simmer over Summer: Valuable Time for Biblical Integration

Life is different for teachers during the summer. It is a sort of forced procrastination. All of your teaching is put off until school starts again in a couple months. And this forced procrastination can be a great and powerful gift to the Christian educator.

In a TED Talk, Adam Grant, a Wharton Business School professor, shared, “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in non-linear ways, to make unexpected leaps.” This summer you have time before you start to teach your classes again. I hope that you are taking a restful break from the daily grind of teaching. However, I hope you are not turning off your brain. The year might be over, but you are still a teacher. Therefore, it is a good idea to take the time you have to allow your course (especially concerning biblical integration) to float around in your brain.

When you read that novel at the beach or watch that blockbuster movie, see if any of the themes connect or illustrate God’s work or ways. When you go to the doctor with your child, notice things about the situation that teach us about ourselves, our world, our God. When you are pushing your lawn mower each week, use the isolation that the droning motor offers to think about what you can do to help you students better see how your class content is from and toward the glory of God.

Dr. Grant says, “Procrastination can be a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.” Since school is out, the summer months have forced you to slow down as a teacher. You might be very busy with other responsibilities, so you are not necessarily going to sit down for long hours with your curriculum and lesson plans. But as you go through this busy time, keep your course on the back-burner—simmering over summer. You might be surprised at how sermons, VBS concepts, vacation plans, family time, and any number of other elements can offer ideas for excellent integration.

The Recipe: Cooking Up an Integrated Syllabus

The aim of this post is to offer step-by-step help in creating a biblically integrated syllabus. The syllabus can be described as the plan, the contract, or the map for the whole course. But here I am making the case that you can think of your syllabus as a recipe.

A recipe is the guide for making a dish. It outlines the tools, the heats, the ingredients, and more. Those who follow a clear recipe for a great dish often save themselves from frustration and disappointment. Having a recipe does not guarantee success; executing the meal is still necessary. But it is important to construct  your dish before it goes into the oven. Likewise, it will take the whole year to bake your course, but it should be fully constructed before you add the heat of the school year.

[Note of encouragement: In order to succeed, you do not need to throw away your existing material. This process outlined below is designed to help you improve what you already have.]

Step 1: Picture

It wasn’t always this way, but now most people find their recipes on the internet. Since webpages aren’t limited by space or color, we most often see a beautiful picture of the dish being described. This is usually at the top of the page. Why? Because it is a visual summary of what you can expect if you follow the instructions. Your course description can be thought of in the same way. The course description paints the picture for your class. It shows the students a snapshot of what they are getting into.

So, what does an integrated course description look like? And how do we get there? I engaged the topic of course descriptions in a previous post that is certainly worth reading. Here, like with a recipe, I am simply going to give some clear directions.

First, look at the course description that you have already constructed. If you have not included a course description in your syllabus, it is imperative that you write one. It does not need to be long, and there are many examples that you can access on the internet. Here is the course description/rationale from WRIT201: Intro to Creative Writing from Liberty University.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing, including how to successfully explicate selected poems, creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction. The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality.”

In order to integrate this description, we need to start asking the essential worldview questions that we want the students to be able to answer throughout this course. (For some help, check out this post.)

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing (Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means?), including how to successfully explicate selected poems , creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction (Why is it important to understand what an author means? ). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality (Why is it important that we create quality, creative works?).”

These are just a few of the questions that we could ask (others might show the connection and importance of story-telling/fiction to Jesus’ parables, etc.), but these three questions are enough to fuel our integrated course from start to finish. Once we have the essential worldview questions in place, we want to design a biblical framework for answering them.

Our course descriptions must have scriptural basis. We cannot be biblical integrators without using the Bible. A Spirit-led class = A Scripture-led class. God has elected to speak to us through his Word, and we need not look for any other word from Him because the Bible is God-breathed—useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God will be fully equipped for every good work. His Word is sufficient. And his Word is the only authority for the church. Therefore, if you want God to work and lead and speak in your classroom, make space for his voice—the Bible. Let us not try to make God mute by emptying our syllabi of his words. So, next we investigate some ways in which the Bible speaks to our course questions.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing (Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means? → Because the Bible is made up of many complex units, genres, and styles, and we want to rightly handle the Word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15.), including how to successfully explicate selected poems , creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction (Why is it important to understand what an author means? → Because God is the ultimate Author who speaks to us through the written Word, and we want to understand what He means. 2 Pet 1:20-21.). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality (Why is it important that we create quality, creative works? → Because disciples are to teach all the things that Jesus taught, and He taught thoughtfully and creatively. Matt 28:18-20.).”

We are nearly done with our course description. Now we take out the essential questions, but leave the responses and Scripture references.

“The student will learn the literary components, complexity, and craft of creative writing because the Bible is made up of many complex units, genres, and styles, and we want to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). This will include how to successfully explicate selected poems, creative nonfiction essays, and short fiction because God is the ultimate Author who speaks to us through the written Word, and we want to understand what He means (2 Pet 1:20-21). The student will also learn how to create original works of publishable quality because disciples are to teach all the things that Jesus taught, and He taught thoughtfully and creatively (Matt 28:18-20).”

Now that is a nicely integrated course description! And every other portion of the syllabus flows easily from there.

Step 2: Pieces

The next part of a recipe (after the picture) is a list of ingredients—getting all the pieces together. The syllabus should have a list of assessments, projects, etc. as well. These are your course ingredients.

For our Creative Writing class, we might have a list of assignments that looks like this:

Quizzes – 30%. Students will be tested on vocabulary, knowledge, and ability to recognize different genres/literary devices.

Analysis Paper – 30%. Students will choose an piece of approved literature to research and explicate. They will note the literary tools used to express worldview ideas in order to understand the rationale and aim of the author’s art.

Creative Essays – 40%. Students will demonstrate their understanding of by writing short, personal essays that employ techniques discussed in class.

Your syllabus likely already has something like this laid out within it. In order to integrate this section, simply take the questions that you asked in the course description and add them to the appropriate assignment as an essential integration question like so:

Quizzes – 30%. Students will be tested on vocabulary, knowledge, and ability to recognize different genres/literary devices. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important to understand this variety of elements, styles, and means?)

Analysis Paper – 30%. Students will choose an piece of approved literature to research and explicate. They will note and evaluate the literary tools used to express worldview ideas in order to understand the rationale and aim of the author’s art. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important to understand what an author means?)

Creative Essays – 40%. Students will demonstrate their understanding of by writing short, personal essays that employ techniques discussed in class. (Essential Integration Question: Why is it important that we create quality, creative works?)

Now, whenever you use your class time for a quiz/paper/essay, you have an integration question to work with: your assignments match and are married to your course description. The work is done, and you do not need to create new integration questions for any day that you engage one of these assignments. And, because you already have a biblical rationale to answer these questions in your course description, you are in great shape to reinforce what the Bible teaches throughout the year. You can keep going back to the central ideas that you have already laid out. This little bit of work now saves you much time and struggle later. And won’t it be great to finish the year and know that your students have grasped the ways in which their creative writing course is built from and toward God’s glory?

Step 3: Process

The final part of a recipe is the process—when and how to do what. In our syllabus, it is the same. We have all the components, but we need to have a plan for how to fit them together. This is where unit planning and your course objectives come in. Here are the measurable learning outcomes from Liberty’s WRIT201 course:

  1. Identify and discuss the major elements and characteristics of contemporary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  2. Develop and implement strategies for reading and evaluation of published contemporary literary works.
  3. Author original writing in three genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  4. Evaluate, edit, and revise original creative pieces of writing produced within the course.
  5. Identify trends and opportunities in publishing original writing.
  6. Demonstrate the ability to organize and work collaboratively with others.
  7. Discuss the deployment of creative writing in relationship to a Christian worldview.

All we need to do in order to integrate these objectives/outcomes is bring in our questions and answers from the course description and assignments. Notice what I mean below:

  1. Identify and discuss the major elements and characteristics of contemporary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in order to better understand important works including the Bible.
  2. Develop and implement strategies for reading and evaluation of published contemporary literary works in order grasp and rightly respond to the underlying worldview.
  3. Author original writing in three genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
  4. Evaluate, edit, and revise original creative pieces of writing produced within the course in order to grow in creative and technical proficiency for the advancement of the gospel
  5. Identify trends and opportunities in publishing original writing in order to use my gifts to honor God.
  6. Demonstrate the ability to organize and work collaboratively with others in order to better serve the church and reach the world.
  7. Discuss the deployment of creative writing in relationship to a Christian worldview to grow in understand of God, his Word, and his world.

Conclusion

I want to encourage and challenge you to make time to integrate your syllabi. It is a process, and it does take work. But it is an investment that I know you and your students will find worthwhile. More than that—it grounds your course in the Word, worldview thinking, and discipleship.

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.