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.

Advertisements

Malcolm Gladwell, Norton Juster, and the Biblically Integrated Syllabus

In his foreword to The Course Syllabus, Robert M. Diamond opens by saying,

“The research on teaching and learning is consistent: the more information you provide your students about the goal of a course, their responsibilities, and the criteria you will use to evaluate their performance, the more successful they will be as students and the more successful you will be as a teacher.” (xi)

This has at least one clear implication concerning biblical integration: If learning more about God, his world, and our role in it (biblical integration) is a goal of the courses you teach, then that goal should be outlined in the syllabus. This should include what the details of that integration will be, what role the students will play in it, and how their understanding of it will be measured. When these goals, means, and measures are outlined in the syllabus at the start of the course, they are much more likely to be successfully carried out until the end. They are also more likely to be organized and helpful, while less rushed or stressful.

So where should you start? I think an idea from noted author Malcolm Gladwell can help. In an appendix to What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, he explains that he often works to make “lateral connections”—combining together two good stories in order to build one great one. Why does this combination turn good to great? Because the two stories illuminate and illustrate each other. In Christian education, we are, in a sense, working to do this type of work. Through biblical integration, we show the glory of God through our subject matter, but we also show the uniqueness/importance of our subject in light of the God who made it and us.

Let’s dig deeper into Gladwell’s essay writing. He brings two stories together so that the content of each can be more clearly understood. He shows that the two are actually one story that is more connected than we might think at first.

One of his essays is called “The Picture Problem: Mammography, Air Power, and the Limits of Looking.” In that piece, he shows the difficulty of dealing with incomplete information and varying interpretations. Both x-rays of the human body and satellite photos of hostile territories can include helpful information, but no one is certain about what these pictures mean exactly. By bringing together two seemingly unrelated topics—military reconnaissance and cancer detection—Gladwell is able to get to the heart of deeper issue… in this case, that rightly interpreting limited data is difficult (or impossible). By writing about two seemingly separate issues together, he illuminates both. The two aren’t actually so separate after all. When we integrate our teaching, we are showing those same kinds of connections. But instead of medical and tactical issues, we are working with biblical worldview and course content.

Let’s jump back to syllabus design. We don’t have to be great essayists (though that would be great!), but we do have to write a meaningful course description. The Course Syllabus says:

“A strong course description early in the syllabus can generate student interest by providing a stimulating overview of the course, including its content, value, and the philosophical assumptions behind it. You can increase students’ enthusiasm and motivation by emphasizing the relevance of the course. You will also want the description to reflect your own values and attitudes.” (51)

In your syllabus (or course outline/essential goals/etc.), you must include the ultimate rationale for your course—biblical integration. Students need to understand the great value that they are receiving in understanding God, his world, and their place/role in his world better.

One of my most treasured books is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I believe that it may be the most important piece of fiction that elementary students should encounter. At the start, the reader is introduced to Milo; a little boy who “didn’t know what to do with himself… When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in.”  Why was he so disinterested?

“It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time,” he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. “I can’t see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February.” And since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all. (9)

Throughout the book, Milo encounters all kinds of conflict and questions on his way to meeting Rhyme and Reason. By the end, he has been transformed in his thinking so that he is fully engaged and invested in living a meaningful life.

When we integrate our courses, we are explaining to our students the ultimate why behind what we teach. We are sharing with our Milos why they should bother with our classes. We are to be Justers and Gladwells because we are showing meaningful connections to students so that they can understand how their work fits in with the ultimate questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. How do we put all this together?

The syllabus is a manifesto, a treasure map, a workout plan, a personal letter, a contract. And we want it to be a meaningful, vibrantly biblical one. I have offered some ideas about getting started here: Ideas on How to Do Biblical Integration. In addition, I walked through the three options in that post from a math point of view here, here, and here. Those are all good examples that I suggest you look at and make use of before the launch of the next school year.

Elementary School teachers, simple questions like, “What does this show me about God?” or “How can this help me live for Jesus?” can go a long way. For example, if students are learning to count, you might ask them if there is a number that God can’t count. Or you might point out how amazing He is since He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads (Luke 12:7). If you are working on reading, you might talk about how important it is to read so that we can hear God speak in the Bible—the book He put together for us. And the list could go on. But it really helps to put these questions in your course objectives (and even match them to specific units) in the beginning of the year. It will help things move smoothly, systematically, and less stressfully all year long.

Middle and High School teachers, I would suggest including a mention of biblically integrated rubrics in your syllabus. Using a rubric that includes an integration component helps the students see that it is a priority and it allows them to participate in the integrative work themselves.

Finally, below are some examples from Liberty University’s online syllabi. I have copied the course descriptions from  three subjects and included thought-provoking questions of my own in parentheses. These questions can function as samples that you can use as you integrate your own course description. Look for one in your subject area and think through it. The basic idea is to get your thinking jump-started.

English 101: COURSE DESCRIPTION/RATIONALE

Through the critical engagement of a variety of texts, including written, oral, and visual, this course prepares students to become careful readers, critical thinkers, and skilled writers. (Can you think of any biblical reasons behind why growing as reading, thinkers, and writers might be valuable?) Drawing upon rhetorical theory, it emphasizes the practices of analytical reading, informed reasoning, effective writing, and sound argumentation. (Why is it important that we can understand others and make a case to them?) The course requires 4,000 words of writing in no fewer than five writing projects, three of which are argumentative essays incorporating external sources. (Why is practice important? Why must we support our arguments with credible sources?)

Reading and writing are essential for success in college and in life. (Why are they so essential?) In English 101, the student will further develop his/her skills in analyzing texts, processing that information in the context of his/her worldview, and articulating his/her conclusions clearly to a particular audience. (What does it look like to process content according to a Christian worldview? Why should we be able to customize and argument for different audiences?)

HIEU 201: COURSE DESCRIPTION/RATIONALE  

A survey of the major currents in Western civilization from its beginnings in the ancient Near East to 1648. (Why is it important to trace the history of civilization? How does the Bible, the Church, and the biblical worldview fit into the development of Western Civ?)

This survey course introduces students to political, economic, military, religious, and cultural developments of the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods that constitute the foundation for the modern West. (How does the biblical worldview come to bear on how we think about politics, economics, the military, religion, and culture? How have these ideas developed over time?) It is a required prerequisite for upper-level courses in European history, and it may also fulfill a portion of the General Education requirement.

MATH 201: COURSE DESCRIPTION/RATIONALE

Introduction to descriptive statistics and probability, probability distributions, estimation, tests of hypotheses, chi-square tests, regression analysis, and correlation with applications in business and science. (What role do these measurements play in understanding the world? What do they tell us about our ability to know things? [Crosslisted with BUSI 230] (Why is this information so valuable to business?)

As members of a society increasingly devoted to the use and misuse of numbers, students must learn to correctly interpret and construct statistical presentations in all areas of public discourse, especially in their major fields. (Why is our society tilting toward mathematical/scientific presentations?) This course emphasizes the major applications of statistical knowledge rather than its theory. The course seeks to educate men and women who will make important contributions to their workplaces and communities, follow their chosen vocations as callings to glorify God, and fulfill the Great Commission. (How do we make the most of these skills for the glory of God?)

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?

Modern Worship Sings Integration (and Evolution)

NOTE: This is a quick music review that will be of interest to Christian educators and leaders. It addresses serious issues that apply to many topics beyond music itself.

So Will I (100 Billion X) is a popular worship song by Hillsong United. The first several segments of the song highlight different areas in which creation glorifies God. And each ends with a personal commitment. For example, “If the stars were made to worship so was I,” or “If creation still obeys you so will I.” This is a great picture of the healthy integration—when we see God’s world, it should press us to respond rightly to God.

However, there are some problems with this song. The most glaring is that it seems to clearly endorse evolution. Look at these lines about God’s creative work:

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If creation still obeys You so will I

While this might just be a lack of precision in language, the writers seem to clearly endorse a theology of theistic evolution.

Like most things, this song has some good and some bad. However, in this case, the strong call to a biblical response of worship to God is wonderful. And, on the other hand, the endorsement of theistic evolution is unhealthy (at best, divisive) and almost hidden in the middle of the song.

So here is the call for you as an educator (or parent, or pastor, etc.): Don’t assume that everything with a Christian label can be consumed by your students without critique and care. Hillsong United is popular. In the world of worship music, they are tastemakers. Their lyrics are on the lips of millions. But one of the biggest weapons of the evil is a lie coming from a trusted voice. And just last night, I was at an event where almost 200 students (and their leaders/parents) sang this song with vigor. No one seemed to bat an eye or pause with concern. And that is what concerns me most.

We must teach our students to discern truth and error. We have the means to do this because we have the Bible. Use your biblical integration to help students think and weigh things from a biblical perspective.

Two Tragedies in Christian Education

My biblical-integration-alert was triggered (in a good way) when watching the trailer for The Riot and the Dance. Take 80 seconds to watch it, and I am sure that you will see the connection as well.

We must remember that we teach the Artist through his art. The whole world truly does speak about Him, and it often speaks loudly. This is called general revelation.

Our job is to help our students make sense of the God’s world by clarifying it with his Word. The Bible is the way we confidently access God’s special revelation. While the world can be loud, the Word is clear. We are on a mission to help our students do more than see–we want them to understand and worship. We work to bring the volume and clarity together. And we must never let this aim slip from our minds.

Tragically, there are many places in the world where the Bible is more than unwelcome. There are places where God’s words are banned. For example, public execution was the consequence of distributing Bibles in North Korea. Christians cannot meet together there without fear. Our freedom to meet and teach from and toward the glory of God is wonderful gift, but its continuation is not guaranteed. We must not squander the advantages that many do not have.

God has given the Christian school in America three great gifts today: access to his own words, access to his wonderful world, and access to an environment conducive to teaching Christianly. It is in light of these gifts that we can see a second tragedy. That sad truth is that many are in the practice of neglecting one or more of these gifts. It is heartbreaking that there are regimes around the world that, out of passion, try to squelch the activities of Christian education. However, is it not also devastating that there are Christian schools in this nation that, out of passivity, do not carry out the mission of truly Christian education?

If you are a Christian educator, make the most of God’s good gifts to you. Let the Lord speak loudly (through the world) and clearly (through the Word) in your classroom.