The Teacher as Evidence of God’s Power: Biblical Integration

Teachers strive to set a godly example for students. We want to say, with Paul, “Follow me like I follow Christ!” (1 Cor 11:1). However, we often (always) fall short of the standard. When Jesus teaches, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” we realize that this is a ladder with the lowest rung infinitely out of our reach (Matt 5:48). And this is not an obscure idea that we have misinterpreted, but a central theme that runs throughout the whole text of the Bible. Here it is fleshed out with more detail:

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:14-16).

Be perfect. Be holy. And do it for, and like, the all-perfect God. This standard is too high for us. The ladder is out of reach. But thankfully, it is not out of reach for Christ. His ability to meet this standard and to raise us up to it should motivate us to praise Him:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:3-4).

He chose us to be holy. It is his plan. I can’t do it, but He can. And He will:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:4-6).

How does this work? How can I do this impossible thing (be perfect and holy)? How will God finish this work in us? 

Augustine offers clarity in a prayer which says, “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire,” or “Father, command what you will and grant what you command.” God tells us to be godly and then, through his power, he gives us the ability to be godly. He grows us. He lifts us up. He polishes us. He refines us. His means, methods, and timing might not always appear linear or logical to us, but they are good and they are for our good.

So what kind of example can we offer our students? Not perfection in ourselves, but someone who is being perfected. We are testimonies of his power in our weakness. We are pictures of progress through his caring might. 

We are evidence. Evidence that He is alive because He is alive in us. Evidence that He is powerful because He is powerful to change us. Evidence that He is kind and forgiving because we celebrate his kindness and forgiveness toward us.

We are saved by grace. It is his work. And we are sanctified by grace. It is his work. 

There are many helpful apologetics for God’s existence, goodness, activity, and power. But we must not neglect this one: our students can see Him working in us. Here are some starting point activities that might help you showing them how He is working in you:

  • Apologize to your students when you have messed up. Humble apologies without self-justification are so rare. Why? Because true humility is a gift from God.
  • Share some of your storyline. Tell students about a struggle (in an appropriate way) and tell them about your journey toward holiness. You can share even if you are not there yet.
  • Ask students to pray for you in the midst of a struggle or challenge. Let them know and see that you need the power of God in your life.
  • Discipline in a way that leads to “seek and trust God,” more than “be good boys and girls.” Growth over laws. Repentance over box-checking. 
  • Share your goals: “I really want to become more gentle and meek so that I can represent Christ better,” or “I am praying that God will help me to listen more,” or “I am actively seeking to be thankful every day.”

Why might activities like this make an impact on our students? Because they teach that He will supply what He commands. And He will get all the glory. As Augustine said:

You he crowns with compassion and mercy; and even if your merits have preceded you, God says to you, “Have a good look at your merits, sort them out carefully, and you will see that they are my gifts” … When you depart from here you will receive according to what you deserve, and you will rise again to receive what you have achieved. Then God will set the crown, not so much on your merits as on his gifts. Whatever he has given you, if you have kept and preserved it, he will recognize.

So we can tell students, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” What we are saying is, “Follow me in growth, in progress, in sanctification. And He gets the glory.”

Academic Discipleship for Greatness: Biblical Integration

What do we want our students to become? Reading the Christmas account in Scripture, I saw a clear answer to that question in a description of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:14-15, an angel tells Zacharias about his future son: “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”

This is what we want our students to become: great in the sight of the Lord. Not great in the sight of peers. That would be fine. Not great in the sight of certain institutions. That would be nice. Not great in the sight of the general public. That would be good. But there is a bigger, better, higher goal: great in the sight of the Lord. This means that our schools must be invested in discipleship. 

If this is the goal, we should be able to examine all of our activities, processes, and expectations to see if they assist in helping the students reach the goal. Now, I am not saying that academic elements are unimportant. Schools have an academic responsibility and exist for academic reasons. But Christian schools exist for academic discipleship. This must be our focus, our obsession, our singular aim. Therefore, I think it is wise to ask: Is [this activity/process/expectation] accomplishing a discipleship aim? 

Again, I am not saying our schools must be Sunday Schools. I am saying that our schools must be Christian schools. 

Let’s get back to the angel’s description of John: “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” What made John a joy to his parents? What made his birthday a joyous time for many? Well, it wasn’t his style or diet. His prophet-uniform and crunchy proteins were not mainstream. It wasn’t his circle of friends. He seemed to grow up to be somewhat isolated. It wasn’t the fact that he was loved by all. Religious people didn’t like him and a powerful politician jailed and killed him. John was a joy to his parents and to others because he was great in the sight of the Lord. 

What kind of greatness are we teaching? Standardized test scores matter. Social skills matter. Influence can be meaningful. Skills are crucial. And the list could go on and on. But we know what we are after. We want our kids to be great in the sight of God. That is all that really matters. That is the end-all-be-all. And joy flows from that. 

So let’s check our practices. Let’s check our goals. Let’s check our motivations. And let’s adjust, refresh, and retune so that, when we return from Christmas Break, we are even more prepared to help our students grow in informed godliness. We want them to be great in the sight of the Lord.

Read and Remind: Basics for Biblical Integrators

Today, a fellow teacher shared some of what she was gleaning from her personal Bible study. She had been reading, was challenged, and decided to share. Her email was thoughtful and encouraging. As she closed, she wrote this:

“Love how God can give new insights and conviction through a passage that I’ve read many times.  Very thankful for His patience with me…He has to remind me of some things over and over!”

Her experience here should be normative for all Christians. And it can be quite helpful for teachers in particular. Here is her point reworded: God teaches us through his Word. Often, He isn’t giving us something new, but a new perspective or better grasp on something we already know. God reminds us. God convicts us. God deepens our understanding. And this happens through the Word. 

God demonstrates regular, consistent, incremental, patient care for our growth. And, as teachers, that should be our posture and practice toward our students. God reminds me. God is patient with me. God slowly deepens and develops my understanding. Therefore, I must do this for my students. Peter wanted this for the people under his care as well:

“I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things (2 Pet 1:12-15, emphasis mine).

We must do this work of reminding by bringing them the Word. I know that God uses his words to shape me. And I know that they are his means to shape them. Am I comfortable letting God be muted in my classroom? Am I willing to allow my coursework to only engage with a gagged God? (Of course, God is able to speak for Himself. We have no power over his abilities. But we know that He has chosen to speak to us through the Bible. Therefore, if we want to hear God speak, we must open his Word.)

Paul said it like this in Romans 10:14-15: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” 

How can your students believe? Hear the Word. How can they hear? You tell them. This is true for your students who are believers and non-believers. They need to hear. They need to be reminded. They need to be patiently encouraged. They need the Word to be in your mind and heart. They need it to be on your lips. They need it to be in your coursework. They need it to be in your classroom. They need it. 

How do I know? Because I know we need it too. 

So what is your next step? Read. Read the Bible yourself. Fill your mind and heart with the Word. Then, it will overflow. You will start reminding others. A colleague did it for me today. And I am praying that we will all do it for our students as well. 

Biblical Integration Must Be Fully Christian

This might seem obvious, but Christian schooling is about more than just helping students believe in God. James tells us that even the demons believe (Jas 2:19). And, it goes without saying that we are not content with bringing students to the level of demons. Believing in God is not enough. Even being amazed by God is not enough (after all, the demons tremble at God). It comes back to knowing God, trusting God, loving God. It all comes back to the Son.

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:35-36).

Let me encourage you to highlight the Son in your class. Every session of your class does not need a gospel-presentation, but Jesus must be exalted. Teachers may need to work to figure how to highlight Him best, but Colossians 1:15-17 clearly states that everything we teach has been made through Him and is for Him and is sustained by Him:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

This is what I mean when I say that biblical integration must be “fully Christian”: our work must turn the eyes and minds of our students toward Christ. He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). Colossians 1 continues in verse 18:

And [Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

In everything He should be seen as supreme. How is Christ’s supremacy demonstrated in your classroom? I understand that it can be daunting to call for teachers to integrate so specifically. But for a school to be Christian, the classes that make up the school must be Christian. And, a class cannot be truly or fully Christian without making much of Christ. 

Would you consider how you might shine the spotlight on Jesus once through your material this week? Just start there: aim for one specific element that highlights the Son. And as you exalt Him in and through your course, I am confident that you will love making much of Him. I am confident that you will want to keep doing it. 

The Great Commission for Teachers

To help orient myself for a new school-year, I wanted to take some time to consider the Great Commission. This was valuable for me, so I am sharing it with you too. So what follows is a simple, short interaction with the Great Commission for teachers.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20

Make Disciples: Our Big Goal

Jesus called his followers to make disciples. This is an orienting command for all of us. God has commanded us to make disciples. Thankfully, He is also the one who equips us to make disciples. He is also the one who ultimately gives life—this is his work. Your work is his work. As a teacher, remember that discipleship is your goal. And remember that God is able to accomplish that goal through you.

Baptizing: Salvation is the Beginning of Discipleship

The disciples were going out into the world and—think about this– everyone they would encounter would be lost. There was no Christian culture. There were no Christian schools. There were no Christians at all. And yet, the disciples were called to make disciples. And each new disciple would need to be baptized. This means that step one of discipleship is salvation. There are students in your class that need the Good News.  They need Jesus. They need salvation from the wrath of God. And you are there to carry out the Great Commission. God has put you there for this.

Teaching them to Obey: Growth after Salvation

As a teacher, this part of the passage is especially sweet for me. I hope that is sweet for you too! God has intentionally included teaching in his plan for discipleship. In addition, our specific type of teaching (liberal arts) is especially unique. Most churches do not have the opportunities we have to show God’s glory in math, science, art, language, physical education, and history. In addition, most are not able to spend as much time diving into how we can be obedient worshippers and faithful ambassadors in math, science, art, and the rest. 

Local churches are called to equip the saints (Eph 4:12) by starting with God’s Word and directing people to discipleship in God’s world. We often start with God’s world and direct our students to God’s Word. In this way, our work—your work—is kingdom work.   

“I am with you always.” 

Jesus finishes his commission by reminding the disciples that this is ultimately his work. He will be present. He will be working. And we can trust that He will do it. 

Shaping What Students Want: Biblical Integration

What do your students want at any given moment? Is it recess? Popularity? Friendship? A nap? The school-day is filled with numerous desires. Some may be good and others less so. As a teacher, you know that it would not be good for your students to always get what they want. The might not want to have to study… but they need to do it. They might not want troubleshoot, think critically, and work hard… but they need to do those things. Sometimes, as teachers, we help students achieve success in spite of their desires. However, we must also see that we play an important role in shaping those desires. 

As we teach students, we play a role in molding what they want. Brett McCracken wisely notes, “Faith institutions should make no apologies for a collective formational process that sometimes means subordinating individual goals to the larger mission. This is what faith has always been about.” The Christian faith changes people.

Who would want to live in poverty far from family? Many Christian missionaries. Who would want to listen to people struggling through some of life’s hardest seasons? Many Christian counselors. Who would want to spend time with pre-adolescents who have yet to discover the power of antiperspirant? Many Christian teachers. These missionaries, counselors, and teachers have had their vision of the good life transformed by their faith. The same can be said for parents, pastors, coaches, and many more. The Christian faith develops Christian desires. 

Christians schools have the opportunity to impact students daily. We have regular, structured opportunity to shape what the learners care about. Students are not simply learning academic content; they are learning life-orientation. They are learning what and how to love.

English teachers, don’t just help you students love Shakespeare. Help them love words. Help them see their ability to share the Beautiful News in a beautiful way. Math teachers, do more than fan the flame of abstract logic. Assist your students in loving prudence, problem-solving, and accuracy. What a gift to the church that would be! History teachers, don’t just tell the story. Instead, show students the power of a life well-lived. Help them to see that, like the Wilberforces, Luthers, Bonhoeffers, and Augustines of the past, there is power in faithful living. 

Paul said that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6). He was shaping Timothy’s desires. He was teaching him what to want. We can, and must, do the same for the “Timothys” that God has given to us.

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. 

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.

Academic Discipleship Makes a Long-Term Difference: Biblical Integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving as Biblical Integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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