Approaches to Integration: Story

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

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The Story Approach to biblical integration is powerful because it recognizes two truths: 1) God created all things to tell his story, and 2) the story is still in process. These are encouraging and empowering truths because if the unstoppable, wise God made this world to tell his story, then it is a good story. And if the story is in process we can play a meaningful role. 

Many young people are oriented toward action, and this approach leans on that inclination and aims it toward God. Bono challenges people, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Find out what God’s doing. It’s already blessed.” That is the idea here: discover the story that God is telling, find your role in it, and get to work. Charles Stanley explained a bit about what that might look like, saying, “The Lord’s specific destiny for your life has a twofold nature: It will further His kingdom on earth, and it will transform you.”

So, how does the story approach to integration work in the classroom? Here are the steps:

1) Determine how your subject is involved in the Protagonist’s efforts. He is the Hero of the story and everything He does shows that He is the Good Guy. This does not need to be encyclopedic or all-encompassing or comprehensive. You can’t cover everything. Instead of trying to do too much, pick a clear theme. In Math, you might talk about God being the great Order-Maker and Problem-Solver. In Art, you could point out that He is the Beauty-Sharer and Restorer. In Science, He can be seen as Life-Giver and System-Designer.

2) Explore how the Hero uses your subject to do things that are good, true, and beautiful. Yes, He created in the past. Yes, Jesus died and rose again in the past. But God is not done working. The Hero continues his heroic redemption mission now. Can we show that God didn’t just order the world, but continues to hold it together now (Col 1:17)? If it were not for the Hero, the world would not continue in its orderly way. He is working now and the continued viability of mathematics shows that truth. 

Can we show that God is restoring the broken, faded, and cracked? Hosea 6 shows his character and work in this way:

Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.

Art courses have unique opportunity to point to God as the ultimate Restorer. Just like an expert might restore and old classic painting that has been marred by the effects of the world, God is in the business of restoring people.

Can we look at conception, birth, and growth and see that God is still giving life today? Can we note from our involuntarily beating hearts that God is still in the business of giving life? Elihu states rightly in Job 33:4, that, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Science classes are an excellent arena for this kind of exploration.

3) Challenge students to get involved in a meaningful role as side-kicks. God is the Hero, but He graciously allows his people to do meaningful things. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but our students can be encouraged to get on God’s team in an active way — like Watson to Holmes or Robin to Batman. All of our subjects can be leveraged for God’s glory. They are tools to be used on behalf of the Hero in his story. Math can be used to order things, improve broken systems, share resources, build, research, and solve. And our students can be involved in those things! Artists can share beauty and goodness in ways that otherwise would be inaccessible. Our students can point to the beauty of God through art. Science can help understand God’s world, show his masterpiece of creation in more detail and depth, and propose ways to meet needs and innovate for the good. In other words, students can apply what they learn in real ways to serve a real Hero.

Key ResourceNotes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson. In his own words, “[The world] is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Approaches to Integration: Worldview

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

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The Worldview Approach to biblical integration is similar in many ways to the Biblical-Theology Approach. They are both versatile and helpful in all subject areas. However, rather than taking cues from the overarching meta-narrative of Scripture, the Worldview Approach uses worldview questions to better understand what a particular area of academic content teaches about God, ourselves, the world, and life in general. 

Personally, I think that James Sire’s list of eight worldview questions may be the most comprehensive toolbox of worldview questions. But they may be overwhelming to many teachers. Therefore, I recommend that those using this approach to integration lean on four questions from Ravi Zacharias instead. They are:

Origin  – Where do we come from?

Meaning – Why are we here?

Morality – What’s right and what’s wrong?

Destiny – Where are we going?

For example, an art teacher might point out that God is the origin of art — He is the ultimate Artist that all others strive to imitate when they create. He is also the definition of the beauty and wonder that art tries to convey. The teacher might also explain our response to, and desire for, beauty demonstrates that we were made to experience the beauty of holiness (Ps 96:9). We find our meaning in the One who defines beauty. We were made to be satisfied by his glory. 

Art also allows us to explore and express morality. It can point to the tragedy of sin. It can illustrate the treasure of kindness, bravery, self-sacrifice. It can help us see that true morality is loving God and others. To that end, one famous artist said, “My paintings are messengers of God’s love.” Our subjects are not only subjects to study, but to use to share and teach and explain the Good News. And art can also speak to destiny. From stained-glass to film, art can express things and ask questions that ordinary means cannot. It can show that life is a vapor, that we long for something beyond this world, and much more. Even more, students can lean into their destiny as imagers of God by creating art that reflects God’s glory, nature, and character. 

Key ResourceRZIM Ministries: What is a Worldview? from Ravi Zacharias 

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Contributor Approach to Biblical Integration.

Biblical Integration: Is It What You Hoped?

Most teachers are a few weeks into a new school-year at this point. All of the dreams and goals and plans expressed in your syllabus or guidelines are now bearing the weight of real students in real classes. So, how is it going? Now that we in the swing of things, we need to adjust and adapt our plans in light of real life.

I don’t mean that you need to do a dramatic overhaul or throw anything out However, if we are honest, we can note that not every plan that we dreamt up over the summer and during in-service training is working perfectly. Good teachers are always adapting because good teachers are always improving. 

Take a moment to consider your biblical integration. Are you have the kinds of discussions you wanted to have? Are you interacting deeply with the content in the ways that you planned? Are your students understanding and growing as you had hoped? These are basic questions. If you find an area that is not everything that you had hoped, you need to understand why things are not working in life like they did in your plans. Are you running low on time? Is the mix of students different than you expected? Were your goals unrealistic in some way? Those questions can help you find the pain-points — the factors that separate your planned biblical integration from your actual biblical integration. 

Once you notice some issues and identify some causes, you can work to adjust. Sometimes a little tweak, a tiny bit of attention, or one structural alteration can get things back on track. Other times, you might need to step back and make a bigger shift. But that is okay. There is nothing wrong with noticing that something is not working, but it is wrong to notice that something isn’t working and not address it. As academic disciple-makers, we need to work hard to make sure our biblical integration is as effective and accessible as possible. This year (or semester, or month) may be the only chance we get to point our students toward God’s glory. 

Wrong Ways to Think About Biblical Integration: Part One

In their introduction to Teaching and Christian Practices, David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith make an important statement:

“When conversations about pedagogy do occur among Christian faculty, it’s all too common to find them uncritically reflecting tired dichotomies (such as lecturing versus group work) or currently fashionable slogans (such as brain-based or student-centered learning) rather than being informed by explicitly Christian reflection,” (5).

Biblical integration, though a good and necessary practice, can likewise be uncritically considered and practiced. Therefore, the aim of this post is to lead to some critical reflection on some incorrect ideas about biblical integration that stem from unhelpful dichotomies. This list is not exhaustive, but here are a few wrong ways of thinking about integration that stem from unnecessary, false choices.

Wrong Way #1: Biblical Integration requires that I take class-time away from the subject and replace it with Bible study.

The unhelpful dichotomy here would sound something like this, “I only have so much time in my classes. Therefore, the more we integrate the less we interact with our math/history/science/etc.” The problem here is simple: if we think that our biblical integration is something other than our class content, or if we believe that it is in a separate category, we are missing the point of integration. Our biblical integration should never subtract from meaningful, helpful academic class-time. Instead, it should engage our students as they explore, create, analyze, or solve. It provides needed context and content for every legitimate course of study. For example, try to study slavery or the Holocaust without wrestling with the ideas of human dignity and worth, ethical foundations, or power. Conclusion: It’s not academics or integration, but academics through integration.

Wrong Way #2: Biblical Integration requires me to whitewash over the challenging, confusing, or controversial elements that might arise in class content.

The artificial conflict here sounds like, “This is a Christian school, so we can’t talk about bad/evil things. We have to protect our kids from hearing about all of that.” Now, we do have a responsibility to protect our children. We are responsible for their safety and well-being—including their spiritual well-being. However, often their well-being might depend on us preparing them for things that they’ll need to wrestle with in the long-term.

For example, I would not speak to a 3rd grader and a 10th grader in the same way about gender dysphoria and transgenderism in science, history, ethics, current events, or other classes where that might rightly come up as a topic of instruction. I might speak to my 3rd grade student and say,

“We live in a world where some people are confused about being a boy or a girl. When sin came into the world, it affected everything and caused lots of problems and pain. As Christians, we need to love everyone, especially those who are hurting, struggling, or confused. We want to help them understand the truth about who God made them to be. Can you think of a place in the Bible where God talks to us about what to do when we are struggling or confused? Can you think of a place where God tells us how to treat others who are having a hard time?”

When speaking to a 10th grade student, I might start the discussion by saying something like,

“There is a condition that psychologists call ‘gender dysphoria.’ This means that some people are feeling tension between who they are on the inside and who they are on the outside, and this causes distress. As Christians, we know that the Fall affected the world so that it is now disordered. All humans are disordered in serious ways—you and me too. And this is a particularly difficult and contentious area because it is a hot-button issue and a real struggle for real people today. Can you relate to, or empathize with, feeling distress about who you are and how others see you? Can you think of how the Bible might speak to issues related to disorder, the results of sin on the world, and how we can love people well while holding to the truth?”

Instead of glossing over this challenging issue, biblical integration helps the students engage with it in appropriate, biblical ways. Conclusion: The best way to protect our kids is to help them think biblically. The world is more than ready to have the hard conversations with our students, but it is our responsibility to prepare them, engage them, and correct them so that they can succeed in the long-term.

In my next post, I’ll address other wrong ways to think about integration like:  “Biblical Integration requires the teacher to be a Bible-expert,” “The point of biblical integration is Bible knowledge,” and “The teacher needs to do all the integrating.”

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Three

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? This post is part three of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

I was encouraged to see responses that shared the value of well-planned integration. These comments sounded like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher.”

We all know that excellent planning makes our courses easier and better. We are accustomed to mapping our curriculum, carefully selecting our books and assignments, meticulously designing our assessments, and thoughtfully reviewing key ideas and points. Your biblical integration should play a role in all of these areas. And when it does, you will find your work of academic discipleship easier and better. Biblical integration makes your work more fulfilling and meaningful. Therefore, thoughtfully planning your integration will serve you, your students, your school, and your God well.

A few teachers asked a question like this one: “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”

I know that teachers are already capable of correcting and redirecting students so that they can grow. This is a core part of the teaching job so I am not going to dig deeply into the classroom management side of this. You know when to pull a student aside, or have a class discussion, or to let something go. However, I do want to point out some specific unbiblical ideas or trends that you need to be aware of. These ideas permeate much of our Christian culture. Be alert so that you can notice these as they come up because they are harming many of the kids that we are serving. These four key areas are worth engaging with directly and preemptively. Don’t be afraid to speak about them as they arise naturally in your classes. If one student is struggling a particular area, it is likely that many others are as well.

  1. (An Uninformed) View of God. One teacher shared a story about how a student responded to being corrected for doing something wrong. The student said, “It’s not my fault; God made my hand do that!” It seems that this student was sure that God was powerful enough to control his hand (which, of course, God is), but the student was missing something about the moral goodness of God. We live in a culture that often pits God’s attributes against one another. As we work to share how our students understand themselves and the world, the best thing that we can do is to help them see God for who He really is.

**One cultural culprit here is selective teaching of the Bible. Instead of teaching the whole counsel of God, many schools, Sunday Schools, parents, and even churches only teach selections of the Word of God. This, naturally, leads to incomplete, incoherent, and incorrect views of who God really is. In your class, try to engage with the character and characteristics of God as they are described throughout the sixty-six books. 

  1. The (In)Sufficiency of Scripture. I talk to many young people who want to hear God speak to them. They want to know God’s will for their lives. However, they are not willing to commit to hearing the Scriptures even though they tell us God’s will (1 Thess 5:18) and make us ready for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). The Bible gives life, points us in the right way, gives us wisdom, keeps us from sin, and more (Ps 119). God has spoken through the Bible. And He still speaks through the Bible. His Holy Spirit has perfectly put together his words, and when we read them, He is ready to apply them to our minds. But we must teach our students to open up that Bible in order to hear God’s voice. The Bible is the one and only place where you always know that you are hearing God speak. Our consciences can be wrong. Our inclinations can be misinterpreted. Visions or dreams may be from God, or they may not. But the Bible is right—always. And the Bible is 100% from God.

**A representative cultural culprit here is the Jesus Calling material that has been so popular. This series has exacerbated the belief that God’s Word is not enough for his people. Here is a good article by Tim Challies about some of the major problems with Jesus Calling. But in essence, Sarah Young, writes personal messages on the behalf of God because the Bible left her wanting more. Her book (and its spin-offs) are best-selling. We can see that she hit a nerve with this feeling, and it is important that we address that feeling for our students.

  1. (Self-Focused) Prayer and Prosperity Gospel. God loves his people. God loves to listen to his people. However, God is not in the business of giving us what we ask for unless it specifically aligns with his will. 1 John 5:14 is key here: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” And we must remember Jesus in the garden pleading, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,” (Luke 22:42). The Father, in love and in perfect wisdom, did not give Jesus the first part of what He asked for—the Father still sent the Son to drink the cup. However, the Father did this out of love since it resulted in worship (Phil 2) and joy (Heb 12) for the Son. God loves us enough to say, “No.” He loves us enough to give us suffering, pain, frustration, and heart-ache for our good.

**One big cultural culprit in this area is the Christian movie, fiction, and music industry. Many, many Christian movies have been infamously off the mark. For example,  Facing the Giants is a feel-good movie, but teaches a bad theology on prayer and suffering. Of course, God can provide free vehicles, state-championships, and children for his people. However, our trials in this broken world are often the things God uses to make us like Him (Jas 1, Rom 5). And we must remember that we aren’t meant to be satisfied and at home in this life. We are aliens. We are called to deny ourselves. We are to pick up crosses, lay down or lives, and follow Jesus into suffering. Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper is a great corrective to our unbiblical understanding of struggles and pain in this life. (Also, there are some good, Christian movies. I really like Chariots of Fire myself.)

  1. (Dangerous) Cool People. I love listening to messages from Christian teachers from around the world on my phone or computer. I love worship music. However, access to these two things has been a mixed blessing for the church. The people writing the most popular songs are not always the ones who have accurate theology. The ones with the most downloaded podcasts are not always the ones who teach with biblical fidelity. We live in a celebrity culture. And young people are generally more affected by celebrity influence than older people. Satan loves un-truths that are mixed with truth because they are more believable. Likewise, he is pleased when we share messages and songs that are sub-gospel rather than anti-gospel. Believing something less than the truth is just as dangerous as believing something against the truth. This means that we need to have a constant awareness of what is being taught by those who are popular. My church says it like this, “Have our feet planted on the Word of God, and our finger on the pulse of the culture.”

**Cultural culprits here fall into many categories, but some of the most influential are churches that have a wide reach with teaching, music, and style, but are off-track or unhelpful when it comes to the gospel. Bethel Church is an example of a ministry that is concerning in this area. They use their influence in many good ways (some of their songs are excellent), but they also lead people astray in reading and understanding the Bible, their teaching about Jesus, their understanding of discipleship, their elevation of experience, and in many other practical ways. We need help our students follow God and listen to his Word regardless of what the cool people are saying, singing, or teaching. And when the cool people are invested in  unbiblical things, we need to help our students identify what is wrong so that they are not taken in by subtle lies and errors.

Conclusion: I know that I stepped on some toes in this article by pointing to specific books, movies, and ministries. The idea is not to stir up trouble or conflict. And I am not trying to say that these particular books, movies, or ministries are the worst. However, they are representative of a wide scope of cultural culprits that lead many off-track. We need to be able to point to error when it is being taught as beneficial. To that end, in this article, I am hoping to live out (and help you to live out) the charge that Paul gave in 2 Timothy 4:2-5:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,discharge all the duties of your ministry.

If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about any of this, please feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to discuss.

Effective Service-Learning and Biblical Integration

Service-learning is a trending topic in education today. We obviously love working in the lab of life, getting the students to apply their thinking to real-world issues, and engage in teamwork. And service-learning is especially valuable for Christian schools because it is a form of biblical integration. Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, Christians have an extra motivation to engage in service-learning—serving is an essential part of following Jesus. If we don’t graduate servants, we are not fully accomplishing our goals.

In fact, as academic disciple-makers, teachers are called to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” (Eph 4:12). Part of our mission to to develop our students into able servants who build up the body. So, how do we go about this? I believe that the inductive Bible study provides a good model for moving forward. The three steps are 1) information, 2) understanding, and 3) action.

1) Gather Information about the Need

When choosing a service project (missions trip, local project, etc.), the students should have ample time to understand the need. For example, if they are going to collect cans for a food bank, they should take time to grasp why there are food shortages, what the food bank does, and how they can help. Just as a doctor should not prescribe medication until he understands the sickness, students should not start working to solve a problem until they have an excellent grasp on the issues. (Activity ideas could be: research, field visits, interviews, etc.)

2) Understand and Invest in the Solution

Once students have the investigated, they should make a plan for how they can invest. It is okay for students to collect cans just because someone has asked them to do so. But it is much better if they can be a part of planning the service project. If the food bank needs cans, they could decide if they should 1) ask their parents to donate cans, 2) contact local grocery stores to ask for donations, 3) contact local businesses to ask for donations that can be used to buy cans, 4) contact the canned-food companies directly to ask for help, 5) connect with local churches and youth groups to create a community-wide initiative, 6) use a crowdfunding site to raise money. And the list could go on for a long time. The point is that students need to be a part of making the plan to solve the problem. Service learning must engage the mind; not just the hands and heart. (Activity ideas: brainstorming, mind-mapping, researching what others have done)

3) Take Action Sacrificially

Once the students have developed their own plan, they need to enact it. This should mean that they give up their time, energy, money, or other resources to help. If everything they need is given to them (free of cost), they are missing out on much of the benefit and blessing. When Araunah offered to give David land for his altar, David replied, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing,” (1 Chron 20:24). We must teach our students to give what they have—not what someone else might have. When they give, it helps them understand the the process (mission trip, local project, etc.) is not about them; it is not for them. (Activity ideas: Counting the cost, enacting the actual project)

These steps will help students learn and grow. The process will be stretching. And it will also help the students to remain invested in these projects over time. If they get the information, they will be better informed. If they gain understanding, they will be more able to help and encourage others in the future. And if they act sacrificially, they will remember what they invested in making a difference.

From and Toward: STEAM-Style

Biblical integration means teaching all things from and toward the glory of God. These two directions—from and toward—are both important. In STEAM subjects like science, and all other subjects, we need build on strong foundations (from) and aim for healthy goals (toward). Sadly, some of the work done in scientific fields has recently been marred by an uncritical acceptance of two beliefs: naturalism and cultural relativism.

From: Foundations of Science

Naturalism is “the philosophical belief that reality is composed solely of matter and that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes (e.g., law of gravity).” In other words, there is no supernatural.

John A. Bloom helpfully noted, in The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide, that “contemporary science has chosen to restrict itself to giving naturalistic explanations no matter what,” (21) and this leads to perceived conflict between between science and Christianity. Bloom helps us understand that there is no real conflict between science and the Christian faith. No, he helpfully illustrates that the real conflict is between naturalistic and Christian commitments. Therefore, the science vs. faith narrative that is often conveyed in popular culture is not accurate to real life. Instead, the faith commitments of naturalism and Christianity provide differing perspectives on the foundations of scientific study.  

Naturalism and Christianity are both faith commitments. The question is: which is more scientific? And which provides a better foundation? Naturalism assumes materialism (the belief that all things are composed of matter, energy, or ideas). Christianity, on the other hand, holds that there is a God who works in and above the material world. God is able to do this because He is not a part of creation; He is the Creator.

Christianity offers a stronger foundation to build upon because it can engage all the laws of nature, and it gives reasonable support by demonstrating that the laws of the natural world were decreed by a Law-maker. Naturalism assumes laws of nature, but can give no account for the origin or enforcement of these laws. Instead of limiting the study and understanding of the world to the natural, Christians can study the natural universe and investigate natural causes most accurately and confidently because we understand that God is the Originator, Designer, and Sustainer. We have a foundation to build on. Those committed to a secular worldview are looking for a “God-particle,” a theory of everything, and other unifying ideas, but they are searching for what Christians have already found—God.

Toward: Right Aims of STEAM-Subjects

While science is invested in investigating the what of various phenomena, engineering and technology is working with the how and why. Tech companies want to design, enhance, and engineer items to make the world better. And, in many ways, they have succeeded. We have devices that can clean water, perform accurate surgeries, preserve food, and much more. However, the big question that needs to be asked is: What is the definition of better?

Is cheaper, more accessible food better? Are GMOs good or bad? Are fossil-fuels good because of all the advances that they provide? Or are they a problem because of the pollutants they emit?

STEAM subjects must wrestle with ethics because engineering and technology are ethically guided. Many technologies have made things easier for the developed world, but easier doesn’t always mean better. The prevailing moral construct of secularism is cultural relativism—“the belief that truth and morals are relative to (or defined by) one’s culture.” This is a shaky concept. It would mean that the will of the people (the culture) is what determines what is good. In other words, what we want is what we should get. On its face, this is a dangerous way to live. Every one of us wants things that are not good. There are numerous historical examples of cultures gone wrong—think about slavery, greed, discrimination, and other evils that have marked era after era. Why would a rational person (like a scientist) want to live according to a hypothesis that has already been tested and been found disastrous?

Christians have a vision of the good life. We have a reason to believe in innate human rights. We have an understanding of the brokenness of mankind. We have a commitment to follow Christ in helping those in need.

Christian engineers and technologists have concrete aims and standards. This is a major advantage when it comes to inventing, designing, or improving. We can wrestle with whether or not our work is honoring to God. We can choose projects that do more than make things easy—we can work on projects that meet needs, advance the gospel, support equity, and explore God’s creation.

In my next post, we will examine the aim of the scientific method and how that relates to biblical integration.