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.

——————

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. 

Tell Your Story: Biblical Integration and Your Life

You are not a teaching robot. You cannot be replaced by an instructional video on YouTube. You are more than the information you know. You have more to offer than learning strategies, rubrics, and assorted dry-erase markers. You are not just a disciplinarian. You are not just a lesson-planner. No. You are more than all of that. 

You are a person made in God’s image. You are a child adopted into God’s family. You are a soldier in God’s army. You are a missionary sent into a needy mission field. 

Do your students really know you?

Do they know how you got where you are? How you’ve grown? Do they know what you are learning today? Do they know why you are passionate about teaching? Do they know the areas of your teaching that excite you about God? 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul said to the church there, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” Paul was not willing to be a mere preaching robot. He was more than a content delivery system. He loved the church in Thessalonica so much that he shared the gospel (yes, yes, yes!) and his life. 

I know that you love your students. I know you want them to have the gospel. So if you hope to share life with them eternally, start sharing your life with them now. Of course, you need to do this in an age-appropriate and thoughtful way. 

If you want to be a great academic disciple-maker, show your life. Biblical integration is a teaching action that rightly unites biblical truth and academic content in your class. Your life is one of the vehicles through which this can happen. The instructor is part of the instruction. So don’t be afraid to show your integrated life. It will make your material come alive. It will grow relationships. It will impact your students’ lives through the power of God and for the glory of God.  

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. 

Inventory: Biblical Integration Flows From Bible-Intake

Excellent biblical integration is important. It takes effort. It takes intentionality. It takes planning and consistency. But biblical teaching will be empty if it doesn’t flow from a renewable source. Teachers are busy people, so we need to regularly assess if we are functioning in a healthy way. Even good cars need regular maintenance and care. Even the most reliable vehicle needs a repair from time to time. Likewise, we need to examine our lives to see if we are rightly and regularly interacting with God through his Word. We may need maintenance, care, or repair. 

Let’s look at these snapshots from Psalm 119 in order to put together a biblical picture of a right relationship with the Bible:

Your word is a lamp for my feet
    a light on my path.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
    to the very end.
My flesh trembles in fear of you;
    I stand in awe of your laws.
Your statutes are wonderful;
    therefore I obey them.
Great peace have those who love your law,
    and nothing can make them stumble. –
Psalm 119:105, 112, 120, 129, 165

God’s Word — the Bible — is a lamp to light the way; it is awesome and wonderful, and it brings peace. Do you believe that? Does your life show that you really believe that? We can tell what we believe if we resonate with the psalmist’s response to the Word. He says that: 1) His heart is set on keeping God’s decrees, 2) His flesh trembles in fear and awe of the God who shows Himself though the Word, 3) He obeys God’s Word because it is wonderful. 

So… what is your heart set on? Are you deeply committed and invested in following where God leads through Scripture? And do you tremble and find yourself in awe when you open his Book? And are you aiming to obey God’s Word because you believe they are wonderful?

The aim of this post is simple: I want to call you to consider your relationship with the Word. I want you, the teacher, to take inventory of your practices (Are you intaking the Word regularly?), your attitude (Are you in awe of God’s wonderful Word?), and your integration (Is your personal Bible-study feeding your teaching?). Think of this as a little formative assessment of yourself.