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.

Biblical Integration for the Future Church

Have you ever considered that the students in your class will be the leaders of the church in the near future? In your class sit the Sunday-school teachers of tomorrow. In your class sit the pastors and parents of tomorrow. And we are praying that God will use them to bring about transformation and revival. Richard Ross points out four tragic realities that demonstrate our need for God to bring the church to life.

  • A deficient vision for Christ’s glory plagues today’s church.
  • A desperate loss of hope in Christ’s glory exhausts today’s church.
  • A pervasive loss of passion toward Christ’s glory weakens today’s church.
  • A diminished worship of Christ’s glory impoverishes today’s church. (Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ, 22-23). 

God prepared David to sing and sling while he was a kid in the fields. And that preparation was used 1) by the hand of God to fell a giant so that the “whole world will know that there is a God in Israel,” (1 Sam 17:46), and 2) by the voice of God to write many of the Psalms that the Holy Spirit uses in our lives today. 

Now, Scripture is complete so we can’t expect that any of our students will write any biblical passages, but they can live lives that, through the power of God, help the whole world know that Jesus is Lord. And what is your role in this? Though biblical integration, you can teach in a way that repairs the deficient vision for Christ’s glory. Through your subjects, you can offer evidence of hope in Christ’s glory. As an example, you can demonstrate passion for Christ’s glory. And in your academic discipleship, you can direct your students to worship Christ’s glory. By doing so, you will be a hand to heal their plague. You will offer renewed strength to your students’ exhaustion. You will build their strength so that they are not weak. You will give them the riches of Christ to solve their poverty. 

God is the only one who can revive. And when He does, He uses normal means. He uses his Word. He uses prayer. He uses his church. And — thank God! — we are normal people. We are normal means. And, to his glory, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong,” (1 Cor 1:27). 

Your biblical integration is an investment in God’s people for now and for the future. Keep pressing on.

Approaches to Integration: Wisdom

The Wisdom Approach to biblical integration is more about how to think rather than what to think. It is more of an attitude than a singular approach. And anyone can use it seamlessly with the methods they are already employing in the classroom. This attitude/approach is unique because it can be implemented in conjunction with all the other approaches. The idea is to consider the perspective from which content is presented and the directions in which it might go. The goal is not that students would know certain things, but be a certain way: wise. Wisdom is key to living a life that is honorable in the eyes of God and fruitful for his kingdom (2 Tim 3:15, Jas 1:5). Those who exercise the wisdom approach think about things like: 

1) What is the worldview/agenda of those sharing info? People write, speak, and share content for a reason. This means students should be exploring the differences in the missions of info-sources. For example, World Magazine is coming from a fundamentally different place than the New York Times. While it can be easy to find daylight between news sources, students also need to learn how to understand the agendas of textbook publishers, ministries, academic journals, popular authors, and more. We live in an age where an avalanche of information is being delivered to us daily. Therefore, students must learn to wisely examine why content creators are motivated to share. They must also determine what aligns with a biblical worldview, a gospel-centered agenda, and Christian ethics.

2) Now that I know ________, how can it be leveraged for God’s glory and kingdom? Everyone lives for something. Many students hope to leverage skills for wealth, fame, attention, comfort, etc. And none of those things are innately bad. However, we know that if God made all things for his glory, we should work to aim all things toward his glory. To illustrate, when students learn to speak publicly, we want them to consider how they might share the Good News publicly. When students learn to understand cells, energy, or the parts of the body, we want them to intuitively lean into using that scientific knowledge to show love and make a difference. Students should not only learn about any specific thing, but must also learn how to orient and use that thing for God and godliness

3) How should this information change me? How can this form me more into the image of Christ? As we learn anything, wisdom compels us to become more like Christ. If we see big demographic problems in the world (poverty, disease, etc.), we should become more grateful for God’s grace to us, more prayerful that God would use his church to serve those in need. If we learn about history, we can see the successes/mistakes of those in the past and, then, consider how we can learn from them. If we learn to count, we should become awed at the number of things, both big and small, that God has made in his wisdom and power. If we read a novel about forgiveness, we should consider who and how God might call us to forgive. If we sing in the choir, we can think about how we can partner  and unite with others in other ways for God’s glory. The wise person learns about God by learning about God’s world, but he also learns how to live more faithfully for God in the world. 

There are many other questions and ideas that could come from integrating using this attitude, but this is a start. 

Key Resource Wisdom and Curriculum: Christian Schooling After Postmodernity by Doug Blomberg. This book is a deep-dive into some of these concepts. 

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 Story Approach to Biblical Integration.

Approaches to Integration: Biblical Theology

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 Biblical-Theology Approach is one of the more common frameworks for structuring integration. It’s particularly helpful because of the way that it leans on large biblical themes, can be applied to every subject well, and allows room for creativity. The idea is to consider your class’s material through the lenses of Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

  • Creation: God has made all things. And He made them for his glory. So how does your topic/lesson/unit point to a wise, powerful, kind Creator?
  • Fall: All created things have been broken by sin. Where and how do you see the marring of sin in your material?
  • Redemption: Believers are called represent the Redeemer. So how can you and your students use class-content to help, serve, build up, or make wrong-things right?

A biology teacher might say, “Look at the way that God created cells. They demonstrate wisdom and power. But we can also see the effects of the Fall. Cancer, for instance, shows that sometimes cells are broken. But, doctors and researchers are trying to bring redemption into the situation when they love and serve others by treating and healing those with cancer.

Key ResourceBiblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption by Mark Ward

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 Worldview Approach to Biblical Integration.