Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Portraits of Teamwork in Biblical Integration

One of the best parts of being a teacher at a Christian school is being a member of a team. Different team members might have different roles, but we are all called to work together to accomplish the mission. At my school, we are working to “produce academic, social and physical excellence through a program where minds and hearts are coming fully alive in Christ.” We need each other, and we can rely on one another. Since biblical integration is what makes Christian education Christian, we are called to support each other in this most important endeavor. Here are a couple examples that I hope will encourage you to engage with your team more:

The Guy Across the Hall

On our spread-out campus, I have the privilege of being one of the few that works in a building with other teachers around. There are only are four teachers in our area, and we are all different. However, my building-mates are all excellent instructors and often teach me by setting an example. Their skillful instruction, thoughtful assessment, and improvement-focused feedback show me what a strong teacher does in real life. One of them recently asked this conflict question in class as a part of of biblical integration:  “How is being entertained without thinking dangerous?” He was helping them grow in worldview thinking. The students were challenged by the fact that all the media they consume has a message—movies have motives, Snapchat posts have intent, songs have underlying assumptions, books have agendas, etc. Therefore, we must think about what we are taking in. We must be aware of it and respond to it.

This teacher shared this great question with me. As a result, I have been able to have similar conversations with students, or follow up with his students on the topic. We have been able to start discussions related to 1) Does all media have presuppositions? 2) Does watching/listening/sharing affect me? If so, how? 3) What can we do to more effectively use media to share the Good News with others?

This teacher helped me practice integration and I love it!

The Moment of Need

Throughout this year, I have gotten numerous emails from fellow teachers about biblical integration. Many teachers find themselves in challenging subjects and feel stuck at times. But, when this happens, they usually just need a starting point. They need a little spark, and then they use that spark to burn down the forest.

For example, this is the content of an email from last week: “I need your help. I am going to be teaching Probability, Tree Diagrams, Line Graphs, Bar Graphs, etc.  Do you have any insight on what I bring in to the lesson? In Science, we are studying the ecosystem (producers, consumers, the food chain, food web). Any ideas that I could use?”

I cannot tell you how much I love to receive these types of emails. Why? Because this teacher is working hard to engage the students with biblical integration, and is not afraid to seek out some help. I responded with a couple of quick ideas:

Math: Probability/Graphs/Diagrams

– Probability: You could share about mutual exclusivity in regard to our faith… That if we are new creations, the old is GONE and the new is here (2 Cor 5:17). It is mathematically impossible to be both new and old.

– Graphs: You can show how these might be used to for self-assessment to chart growth. How often am I reading the Bible/praying? (make a chart for the week)

– Tree Diagram: Make a diagram that shows how amazing it is that God is able to be in perfect control even when it seems like there are so many possibilities. Use the graph to show that with Him, nothing is left up to chance.

Science: Ecosystem

You might make the connection that in an ecosystem everything works together (because God designed it), and everything has a role. We are like that too, in fact, 1 Cor 12 talks about how we are like different members of a body that work together too. But, we are not like animals because we are made in God’s image, so we should look out for the needs of others (Phil 2:1-4).

This teacher may have used these ideas, or she may have developed other, better ones. She may have been able to work out some questions/thoughts that worked better with her long-term unit-planning… or these might have fit well with her class goals. The important thing is that we were able to work together.

Being a part of a team is big. You can contribute when you have help to offer, and you can receive assistance when you need it. God has brought us together, and we can model cooperation, humility, creativity, and commitment to our students and peers as we grow as integrators.

 

Conflict, Worldview, and “Reckless” Love

I was very encouraged by the way one of the teachers at my school shared the truth of Scripture during a weekly devotional time. She was speaking about the awesome love of God in her life and from Luke 15—the parable of the lost sheep. And her teaching was especially memorable because she included a moment of conflict. Introducing conflict is a helpful means of biblical integration.

This moment arose out of a definition. You see, a song called “Reckless Love” is immensely popular right now: popular and moving, but not accurate.  That song uses Luke 15 as a supporting text to say that God’s love is reckless. The teacher who was leading our devotional time thoughtfully and appropriately played the song as a part of her message. However, she was careful to make the point that God is not reckless. She said something like, “We know that God is not reckless, but the shepherd in the story does seem to be acting recklessly.” Reckless means acting without thinking or caring about consequences. God is clearly not that way. In fact, in Luke 14 (the chapter before the parable of the lost sheep), Jesus emphasizes the importance of counting the cost before beginning an endeavor: the opposite of recklessness. It is clear that He does not endorse reckless action. And his love is certainly not reckless. It is much better than that!

Recklessness implies not having a full grasp of the situation or the cost. However, God did not seek us out recklessly. He planned it. He saw the situation. And He pursued us because He had always wanted to do so. His was never a reckless choice. Look at this truth from Ephesisian 1:4-8:

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.

When did He choose us? Before the creation of the world. And what did He choose us for? Adoption into his family. Why did He do it? It was his pleasure—we are his desire. And how did He plan to do it? Through his blood. The Bible is clear that his love is not reckless, but it is lavish. He counted the cost and then pursued us; not out of reckless love but knowing love.

The point of conflict that was made in the staff devotional was excellent: God may seem a certain way to us, but we must seek to know Him as He really is. Why? Because the way He really is will always be better than the way He might seem. God is, in reality, more than He is in our imaginations.

The seemingly small moment of conflict in the devotional was really helpful in developing worldview-thinking. What are the areas in your class where you can challenge preconceived ideas about God? How can you help your students move from understanding Him as He might seem to seeing Him as He is?

Old Hymn Sings Integration

At my school, the teachers get together weekly to pray. Earlier this week, we gathered and praised God by singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” before a time of group prayer. We focused on God’s constant presence and work in and for us. Along with the overarching message of the song, a theme of biblical integration struck me. Look at the words of verse two:

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Here we can see a word-picture that illustrates general revelation. We can see some of God’s characteristics by seeing his world. Seasons and stars testify to what He is like. However, verse three takes us to a different aspect of his faithfulness.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

In this section, we see God’s special revelation. Not only is God great and creative (as we see in nature), He is also active in rescuing us. He made Himself known to us by becoming one of us. His Spirit is with his people uniquely. We have hope because He has given it to us. And we see it illustrated clearly in the Bible. 

The message is “manifold” in the world (general), but made clear in the Word (special).

In your classroom, I encourage you to work hard to bring general and special revelation together as often as possible. Be a living picture of the structure of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Use the general revelation in the world to show your students that God is great, powerful, and wise. Use the special revelation to show that He is also good, kind, and just. Biblical integration is, in large part, showing these two types of revelation together in your class.

For more about bringing together general and special revelation, check out Every Bush is Burning.

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.