Worship Music and Wolves: Biblical Integration and Critical Thinking

Some of the most popular Christians teachers and theologians are musicians. As Christians, we might listen to a sermon podcast. We might study a book by a professor. But we sing and memorize the theology of musicians. This means that they must be held to the highest standard. Songs are in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. James 3:1 says that not many should desire to be teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly than others.

One of the large issues facing the believers today is that our most popular worship musicians are often not from churches with a strong, biblical theology. For example, I believe that “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham and Brian Johnson is one of the best worship songs released recently. It has excellent, moving, and accurate words that poetically express the gospel. However, Brian Johnson’s church, Bethel, is known for errant theology and practice . Likewise, Hillsong pastor Joel Houston stated that “evolution is undeniable,” in reference to a questions about the popular song “So Will I.” (I wrote about that song a few months ago in light of their lyric on evolution.) Hillsong produces many of the most popular worship songs sung today. The list continues. “Death Was Arrested” is a fantastic and valuable worship song. It came out of North Point Church where Andy Stanley is the pastor. He recently made waves by saying that we should “unhitch” from the Old Testament. Let me repeat: many of the most popular Christian, worship songs are coming out of churches that are not teaching in accordance with the historic, Christian faith.

As biblical integrators, we must be working hard to develop the critical-thinking skills of our students. I am not contending that we should stop singing all the songs from churches like Bethel, Hillsong, or North Point. However, I do think that we need to stop singing them uncritically. We don’t want to raise up a generation that trusts a church or band simply because they are  able to write catchy songs. We want our students to develop into young Bereans who test every teaching against the Word (Acts 17:10-12).

This is where we come in. Yes, Bible class and chapel should assist in helping students trust the Bible and navigate its ideas, but much of the work is done in other classes. An English teacher helps students discover which sources are credible. A math teacher assists students in sniffing out faulty logic. A science teacher shows students how to measure and understand reality. A history teacher helps students learn from the mistakes of the past. An art teacher equips students to note the ideas conveyed in various styles and forms. A speech teacher shows brings to light the art of arguments and persuasive techniques.

We are not trying to shield our students from the ideas that these churches and church leaders are promoting. But we must be investing extreme effort to help our students develop the skills needed to assess the situation themselves. They will face dangerous and errant theology throughout their lives. We must prepare them. They need to know what to do when the most popular teachers are peddling attractive heresies. We all know that devil can attack from the outside, but he is even more dangerous when the attack comes from within. As Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt 7:15). Let’s teach our students to critically apply the Word of God to detect falsehood. Souls are on the line.

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Cheesecake, Pie, and Biblical Integration

No one makes cheesecake like my grandma. For years, she would make a cherry cheesecake for me on my birthday. It was a highlight that made me excited for the next year to zoom by so that I could get to the next cool, smooth, rich cake.

My friend Ashley makes phenomenal pies and brings them to our church small group. These are pies that I rave about for weeks after having a slice. They are day-dream inducing delights that have the power to grow a small group into small church. They are nothing like my grandma’s cheesecakes. The two desserts have different ingredients and are made in different ways, but they are both blue-ribbon, gold-medal, Nobel Prize level foods.

Biblical integration is the same way. Two people can teach the same math class, but do in vastly different ways. And they can both be great classes.

The most important variable in biblical integration is you: the teacher. Every integrating teacher is coming to the course with similar (if not identical) tools. We all have the same Bible. We have the same Holy Spirit. We have the teacher manual and the textbooks. We have the same internet. So how is it that classes that bring together all the same resources can be so diverse?

A huge part of the diversity has to do with the unique way that God has designed us. He has given each of us different gifts, different personalities, different weaknesses, and different passions. And, in his wisdom, our Lord did this on purpose. A hot dog might be the perfect food at a baseball game, but it wouldn’t be fitting for a fancy wedding reception.

In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Your Lord has crafted you as a teacher specifically for the task of God-glorifying, student-impacting biblical integration. But please know that the way you integrate should be a little different than those around you. Not only is this okay, it is necessary. Yes, all of us should be doing some of the same things. For instance, every chef should keep the kitchen clean. However, there is room for diversity and uniqueness in how the chef utilizes that clean kitchen. There is room for your unique gifting at your school as well.

Don’t compare yourself to other integrators and think, “Wow, they are so much better designed for this than I am.” Yes, they may be doing things differently, but your goal is not to be better than they are. Instead, you are aiming to complement what they do. You can bake the bun for their hot dog or churn the ice-cream to go with their pie. If you are a Christian educator, you are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the work that He has prepared in advance for you to do. He didn’t mess up when He designed you for this. You just need to find out how to best leverage his design for his glory.

I love my grandma’s cheesecake. I love Ashley’s pie. They are different. They are wonderful. Different chefs have different gifts and styles. The integration you bake up for and in your class might not look like mine, but that is not only good, it is God’s intention for us. Be who He made you to be. Use the gifts He has given you.

The Power of Out-of-Class Interaction: Biblical Integration

In Every Bush is Burning, I make the case the biblical integrators should be “incarnational, intentional instigators.” The idea is that Christian educators should model a life of discipleship on purpose while showing conflict between a Christian worldview and others ways of understanding life. While much of this takes place in the classroom, biblical integration must not be caged up there.

Christian educators can show students an important picture of Christianity in the real world at lunch, in meetings, during ceremonies and chapel, in sports or clubs, and wherever else students and teachers interact. And there is inherent power in this out-of-class connection. This power shows up in what I will call the ACDs: application, credibility, and definition (I know, it’s not as good as the ABCs).

In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, we read, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This passage helps us see the need for ACDs. It shows that teaching must happen at home (the usual confines of learning) and on the road (outside of the regular instructional location). Why? Because the rubber always meets the road on the road.

Application – How does this play out in real life?

It is valuable for a parent (or teacher) to instruct a student in the classroom to love God. However, when you speak about these instructions at home and on the road, the student is able to see how these commands look in the world. The teacher who engages with students at lunch, on the playground, before or after classes, and in the halls has the chance to show the intersection of biblical teaching and biblical living.

Credibility – Do you really believe what you say?

Students can spot an artificial person. They have a radar for the fake. When we show them that we believe what we teach through our actions, they will be more invested in listening to us. In other words, if what we teach in the class doesn’t line up with what we are like out of class, it is a problem. But when it does line up, it is beautiful.

Definition – What does a clear picture of your teaching look like?

In Deuteronomy 6, the call is to impress the teachings of God on our children. They need more than vague ideas. This is one of the reasons why Jesus did not just come out of a hidden cave to teach before disappearing. He taught often, but he married his teachings to his actions and called his disciples, “follow me.” It was not enough for Him to say, “You have heard it said… but I say…” His students needed to hear Him speak and watch his life. He said, “Love your neighbor,” and then He showed that command by laying down his life.

So in order to impress God’s teaching on our students, they need the ACDs. They need to see us in our regular instructional areas, but they also need to see that instruction playing out in our lives. Maybe think of it like this: if your classroom interaction is the text, let your out-of-class interaction be the illustration. Together those two things can form an engaging and persuasive textbook for students to learn from.

Hearing the Voice of God: Biblical Integration and Listening to the Spirit

After reading the recent LeadLikeThis article on prayer, a few people came to me saying something like, “Your article helped me to better understand how to speak to God and how to help students do that… but how can I hear Him speaking to me?” This is an important question, so I wanted to answer thoroughly and biblically. If we are followers of Christ, it is necessary that we are able to confidently hear his voice so that we can know Him, love Him, and follow his direction. So where can we turn to hear God’s voice? The first place we go should be Scripture.

Scripture is God’s words (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, anyone who wants to hear God speak should open up the Bible and read. While popular pastors like Andy Stanley may be telling us to unhitch from parts of the Bible, we recognize that Scripture is filled with God’s own endorsement of his written Word. Psalm 1 says it brings joy. Psalm 18 calls it flawless. Psalm 19 says it is perfect. Psalm 119 says it is a light for our path and the way to purity. Isaiah 40 testifies that it lasts forever. 1 Peter 1 calls it living. And the list could go on and on.

The Bible is only place that a person can go to be 100% sure that he is hearing from God. While the Spirit of God can and does actively lead us, there are others who would as well. Scripture is the key in knowing the voice of God as He leads us. The sheep know the Shepherd’s voice to us (John 10:4) because it is always consistent with his Word to others (Titus 1:2). His voice is always calling us to “crucify the flesh” so that we can walk “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). We know we are in step with the desires of the Spirit when we live according to the Word of the Spirit. The Bereans pleased God and were called noble because they tested Paul’s preaching against Scripture (Acts 17:11). As a result of their use of the Word, many believed (Acts 17:12).

As evangelical Christians, we call this trust in God’s Word the sufficiency of Scripture: that everything we need to know in order to follow God in this life is found in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:17 says that Scripture thoroughly equips God’s servants for every good work. “Every good work” includes your work as a biblically integrating teacher. The Bible is sufficient for leading you because it is God’s own words.

What about the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t He speak today? Yes… notably through the Bible. Look at 2 Peter 1:20-21:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Author and Originator of the Bible. Those who want to hear the Spirit’s voice need only open his book. He has given it to us. And He wants us to go to the Word since it is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). There is no distinction between the words of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and active, and that Word is the Spirit’s Word.

So how does the Bible lead the Christian teacher? Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Not only did the Spirit of God inspire the text of Scripture, He also applies it to us. He reminds God’s people about the Person and work of Jesus (John 14:26). In that way, the Holy Spirit points away from Himself and to the glory of Christ (John 16:14). This is not because He is lower or less than Christ (He is not), but because each Member of the Trinity has different roles. We see these differentiated roles in the gospel: the Father sent the Son (John 3:16), the Son lived and died (Romans 5:8), the Spirit raised the Son from the dead (Romans 8:11). We can also clearly see the roles of the Trinity in creation, in Jesus’ baptism, and in God’s work of drawing us to Himself. Likewise, each Member of the Trinity has a different role in speaking to us. The Spirit “carried along” human writers as He authored Scripture through them. But the Bible is complete (Revelation 22:18-19), so what does the Spirit do now that his canon is closed? One pastor sums it up well:

“The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower us as we preach, teach, write, talk, witness, think, serve, and live. He does lead us into God’s truth and direct us into God’s will for our lives. But He does it through God’s Word, never apart from it.”

The Spirit works all the time in our world in real ways. He guides us. He convicts us. He reminds us. He encourages us. He is alive and active. And He does all of those things in conjunction with his perfect Word. The Spirit has said all that need be said in his Word, and the complete faith has been handed down once and for all in the Bible (Jude 3). Thank the Spirit for that! And ask Him to bring his own words to bear on our lives through his active ministry.

And, of course, a strong belief in the sufficiency of Scripture does not in any way diminish our confidence in the supernatural God’s ability to do supernatural things. The message of the Good News is a perfect picture of the supernatural Word in action since the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). Faith is a supernatural gift that the Spirit gives through the hearing of the Word about Christ (Romans 10:17). Our God works in wondrous ways and He does as He pleases. But any miraculous works we see are servants of the miraculous Word since Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), and God does not contradict Himself. Those who love to please the Spirit should love to honor his priority on the Word.

The Spirit may use any number of means to illuminate and apply the Scripture to our lives as He pleases. Through the Word, the Spirit tells us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). He then shows us how to love our neighbor, convicts us when we don’t, and gives us the power to love like He does. Therefore, we must recognize that all of God’s supernatural works are meant to point us back to his voice as revealed in the Bible. The Bible is the Spirit’s voice and He is invested in letting it ring out clearly in our minds and hearts.

So to close: What kind of person pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word (Isaiah 66:2). What kind of teacher pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word and rightly handles that Word (2 Timothy 2:15). If you want to hear God speak, look to his Word and tremble. The Spirit of God will work through his Word in you and in your class. If you want to lead your students to hear God’s voice, call them to tremble at his Word as well. How do we hear his voice? We go to his Word.

Why “Integration” Is a Valid Term

In my book, I speak in detail about biblical integration as overcoming three artificial divides: heart and mind, general and special revelation, and word and deed. In much of Christian education—especially as it has been iterated over the past several decades in America—these areas have been divided. It has been asked, “Isn’t math just math?… It doesn’t really speak to God or his ways, does it?” Or, as Tertullian asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Some people think that the term “integration” is not a good one when discussing worldview teaching because it denotes the coming together of separate things. I agree wholeheartedly that this can be an issue. We must recognize that biblical integration is “not creating biblical connections, but noting, investigating, and celebrating the connections that already exist through Christ.” However, we must also understand that, while these things are not disconnected by nature, they have been disconnected through practice… our practice. A separation has occurred. It is real. It is not healthy, but it does exist.

And so, it is by practice that these artificially divided concepts must be reunited. Putting the pieces back together will take work. What should this academic jigsaw called? This reconstruction can be termed integration, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The idea of integration refers to the intermixing of those things that were previously segregated. Segregation is the act of division—setting things apart from one another. Biblical integration is necessary because the sacred and secular have been segregated. They do not naturally exist as separate entities, but have been taught and understood as such by many for some time.

The work that must be done to bring divided subjects back together is rightly called “biblical integration.” When we speak of biblical integration, we are not saying that teachers must work to integrate the content. All created things point to their Creator. So, if we are not integrating the content, what are we integrating? Our teaching—not our what, but our ways.

When we integrate, we are pressing back on the idea that nature can be taught without its supernatural Maker. We are letting the Word of God have a voice and a place of authority in the classroom. (It is God’s classroom after all!) We are restoring, reuniting, rebuilding an understanding of the world and ourselves with God at the center—teaching all things from and toward his glory. That is an integration that we should all want to be a part of.

Christian educators need not fear the term “biblical integration,” but should instead look to understand it, practice it, and live it. This is a way we can be about our Father’s business. One day, He will integrate (bring together) Heaven and earth and, in the process, make everything new (Rev 21:1-5). The segregation of the heavenly and material—the celestial and Terran—will end. He will bring together mind and hearts, special and general revelation, and word and deed around Him. He will restore. He will rebuild. He will make his glory known. He will teach us perfectly about who He really is and how his world shows his glory. Let’s jump in and teach in a way that anticipates that glorious day by practicing biblical integration every day.

Modern Worship Sings Integration (and Evolution)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screwtape, Students, and Biblical Integration

I recently read the short essay by CS Lewis, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in one of his essay collections. If you are unfamiliar, Screwtape is a fictional character created by Lewis to help us understand how Satan and his demons might work to harm us. In short, Screwtape is an accomplished administrator for the cause of demonic activity. He supports up-and-coming Junior Temptors as they enter the field. Lewis’s essay records Screwtape’s speech for the graduation of a new class of temptors.

About halfway through the speech, Screwtape comes the to the topic of education. He has a great deal to say about how education can be, and is being, used for evil. He latches on ideas that are popular in education even today. However, his main point relates to a warped view of democracy: treating different people as if they are the same.

He says that if we can get schools to teach students as if they are all the same—equally gifted, equally engaged, equally hardworking—then many future leaders will be damaged. If the future theologians, teachers, poets, scientists, doctors, musicians, and philosophers are treated as identical they will be held back. If their learning is frustrated, we can be confident that their contributions in the world will be held back too.

Every person (yes, this includes students) is equally valuable as an individual created in the image of God. However, people do have different aptitudes, strengths/weakness, characteristics. We know this is true. And in most areas of life we live with the differences in mind. For example, a tall, athletic student will likely excel at basketball more than a small, uncoordinated student. Therefore, we should help each of them achieve their full potential, but we should not give them the same standard for success. Greatness for small student in this area might be mediocrity for the large one.

Screwtape’s plan is to keep students from learning because an accurate understanding of the world, and their place in it, has the power to unleash godly leaders in all fields. In other words, Screwtape is adamently opposed to biblical integration. And part of his plan to harm the process of biblically integrated education is to diminish education as a whole.

So what are we to do as Christian educators?

  1. Know the students. We need to understand their gifts and struggles and teach accordingly. Screwtape celebrate a child able read great literature like Dante being slowed down because of other students his age who are still spelling out, “a cat sat on a mat.”
  2. Call the students to their giftedness. Expect great effort and great results in areas of great gifting. Screwtape intends that, “All incentives to learn and all penalities for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows?”

There is no shame in recognizing differences of gifting. A great athlete is great. A great musician is great. A great writer is great. A great scientist is great. But there is a great shame in treating all students as if they have been created identical. They are equal in value, but not identical in design. This is why my school (and many others) emphasize individualized learning.

To integrate well, we must know the students well. And then we must help them grow to be successful in the areas in which God has gifted them. Why? Because just as He shows his glory to students as they study the world, He also shows us his glory as we note how He uniquely designed each student.