Approaches to Integration: Perspectives

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 Perspectives Approach to biblical integration offers the teacher multiple angles from which to view academic content. While this post will be a bit more technical than the others, please stick with it. You will find it worthwhile. 

Regarding the perspectives approach, each angle offers a new, complementary take on how any idea, unit, concept might be rightly integrated. John Frame has helpfully trumpeted the idea of triperspectivalism as a theological method. Many find this type of philosophical writing difficult to understand and apply, but the idea is extraordinarily powerful. Let me (over)simplify.

The idea of triperspectivalism is that everything can be looked at from three (tri) perspectives. Whenever a person views an object or idea from more than one direction, that person is able to gain understanding. These are the three perspectives that Frame directs us toward: authority, power, and presence. For our biblical integration, we would ask, “What does God’s authoritative Word say about this academic content? And How does it display his power, control, and nature? And how should it affect how I live in his presence?”

Below, I have arranged the three perspectives so that they are connected to other key ideas like the roles of Jesus and the elements on inductive Bible study.

*Authority — Prophet — Normative — Standard — Information — Observation

**Power — King — Existential — Object — Understanding — Interpretation

***Presence — Priest — Situational — Subject — Action — Application

Take a look about how these might be applied to biblical integration (and note that I am referencing key-words from above with asterisks and bold-text ). In history class, we could note that God is in control of all things from Daniel 4:17, 25, 32. In these verses it is repeated that, “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” No matter what happens, from wars to politics to technological changes, God has *authority over it all. We can *observe this truth and rely on it. The fact that He has authority is the key piece of *information when understanding anything and everything. We could explore that single perspective for a long time, but there is more. That concept from Daniel also points out God’s active **power — He gives kingdoms to whoever He wishes. Therefore, when we **interpret history (or current events), believers can rely on the fact that his power is never in question. And even if terrible things occur, what the enemy intends for evil, God intends for good (Gen 50:20). Our **understanding must be shaped by God’s power. Lastly, God has spoken to us about his authority and power so that we can live accordingly in his ***presence. In other words, in our situations we can take ***action by ***applying these truths. His authority and power allow us to live wisely and faithfully. 

In other words, we ask of our content: 1) What does the *Prophet say is the *normative *standard? Here we lean heavily on the special revelation of the Bible. 2) How does the **King exercise his **power on the **object? Here we can look to God’s work of general revelation in the world. 3) How should I — the ***subject — act in response as I ***apply truth in my ***situation? Here we recognize that we live in the ***Priest’s ***presence for his glory. 

I know that this was a more challenging read than usual, but I didn’t want to leave this out because, when harnessed, it can be very powerful. 

Key Resource — The most robust place to go would be Theology in Three Dimensions by John Frame. However, the easiest place to get started is to get a deep understanding of inductive Bible study. Thinking about content in these terms will help get the ball rolling without needing to expend too much effort in understanding this approach. As you can see from this article, there is significant alignment between these two seemingly different frameworks. 

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 Wisdom Approach to Biblical Integration. 

Approaches to Integration: Contributor

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 Contributor Approach to biblical integration is significantly different from the approaches discussed previously. The biblical-theology and worldview approaches hinge on the teacher using a grid of questions to structure well-organized lessons that lead toward specific truths. However, the contributor approach is different; instead of leading directly to truths, it leads to questions. 

You see, throughout life, students will not always have their teachers to guide them in biblical thinking. Therefore, it is important to teach young people to ask the right questions so that they can teach themselves. In other words, the aim of this approach is to help students learn to learn. 

So how can we do this? What does the contributor approach look like? 

The idea is to lead students in a form of directed freedom. Think of directed freedom as giving students an overarching task, but allowing them to have freedom in how they go about it. This allows them to explore, try things, make adjustments, and be creative. Here are a few ideas:

1) Academic Content Creation: Asking students to include biblical-integration as part of an assignment. For example, if your students write a book review or paper, create a project, or develop a presentation, you can ask them to include biblical integration in that work. Tell them what you are looking for and include the integration in your grading rubric. They could be asked to search the Bible for connections, develop a biblically-formed analysis, or demonstrate the truths about God that they learned. 

2) Class Discussion: After introducing a new topic in class, ask the students leading questions about how this content points to God, discipleship, brokenness, etc. For example, if a PE teacher introduces a game that requires teamwork to the class, that PE teacher could then ask, “This game requires teamwork to succeed. Can you think of any other areas of life in which teamwork is needed in or to succeed?” This could lead in many directions: family/relationships, the church, communities, etc. Or the PE teacher could ask, “We can tell who is on our team in this game by looking at the uniforms. How can we tell who is on our team in life?” This could lead students to talk about beliefs/convictions, willingness to sacrifice, and more. Another idea would be for the PE teacher to ask, “There is a difference between a good and a bad teammate. If someone is distracted or unwilling to work, that causes a problem in our game. What makes a good teammate in life? Do you think you are a good teammate? Why?” And the discussion would move ahead from there.

3) Practical/Real-Life Engagement: Different classes are passionate and equipped in different areas. Some course material opens doors for moving outside of the class environment. One class, upon learning how to address envelopes, might be asked to send a letter of encouragement to someone in their life. This gives them freedom to choose whether to write to a parent, sibling, friend or pastor. They are contributing. Another class, upon learning about the justice system, could choose to pray for those who are incarcerated by using the tools provided by Prison Fellowship. As you can see, these activities are teacher directed, but students have varying levels of freedom to engage as they think is best. They can use their own will and choice to make an impact.

There are many other ideas that we could discuss, but the main idea of the contributor approach is to give students the opportunity (and expectation) of participating in the process of biblical integration. Many of these ideas are low-stakes and variable which generally sets them up as formative assessments. This approach might not be sufficient on its own, but it can supplement other approaches and help your classroom come to life. In addition, it helps the students learn to take responsibility for their own biblical thinking… and that is worth working toward. 

Key ResourceFormative vs. Summative Assessment from Carnegie-Mellon University

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 Perspectives 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. 

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. 

Null Curriculum and Biblical Integration

The biggest decision a teacher makes concerning a class is: What do I leave out? Think about American History, for example. A complete American History would include everything that has happened in America. Obviously, that is too much for any one class, any sequence of classes, or any person. So, the teacher needs to decide what to leave out of the course. The teacher needs to decide what is not important enough to include. Every teacher has to determine the null curriculum.

This decision should be made thoughtfully and with intentionality. However, that does not always happen — especially concerning biblical integration.

Every subject/unit/idea is grounded in biblical truth. Everything that exists does so for God’s glory. Therefore, biblical integration should never be in the null curriculum. We should not run out of space for biblical integration. Why? Because the content exists for God’s glory. 

When we disintegrate — place biblical integration in the null curriculum — we are conveying the message that it is not as important as what is in the overt curriculum. When we don’t assess biblical integration, it shows students that it’s not worth remembering. When we don’t invest time and resources in biblical integration, it sends the message that other things are more valuable.

Now, please note that this is not an encouragement to replace academic content with biblical content. Instead, it is a challenge to ground  your academic content in, and aim it toward, God’s glory. I’ve said this before, but it makes the point well: We would not teach Macbeth without talking about Shakespeare, so why would we teach God’s creation without mentioning Him? Let’s be intentional about what we leave out. Let’s choose a proper null curriculum.

Develop Biblical Integration That Excites YOU

Have you ever noticed that the best, most memorable teachers are usually the ones who are excited about their content? Students get excited when their teacher is excited. Students love to learn when teachers love to teach. In other words: engaged teachers engage students.

So what are the elements of your class or your subject that cause you to be amazed at what God has done? What aspects of your content makes your want to worship Him? 

It is important to identify those elements because you can authentically highlight them for your students. And it won’t be forced. It won’t be artificial. It will be passionate and real and right.

This idea reminds me of something recorded in Mark 1:40-45. There, we read about Jesus healing a man from leprosy. But after healing the man, “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’” 

Jesus did a mighty miracle, but strongly warned the man to keep quiet about it. However, if we read on, we can see that this man just couldn’t hold it in. “Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” 

When we see God’s power, goodness, glory, and work, we will be compelled to tell the story. The man in this episode spread the news so effectively that Jesus couldn’t even enter a town without the paparazzi finding Him. Instead, He stayed outside in “lonely places.” But they didn’t stay lonely for long — the people just couldn’t help but come to Him. One man’s enthusiastic sharing of God’s work changed things for a lot of people.

Likewise, if you are excited about an element of biblical integration, it will have an impact on your students… and perhaps beyond. So take a little time to think about what enthuses you, and then infuse that into your integration. It will make a difference. 

Biblical Integration Is Worth Doing Poorly

At the start of the year, teachers have incredibly full plates — we’re talking marathoner-at-the-buffet-after-the-race full plates. We’re planning lessons, organizing rooms, learning names, figuring out new procedures, and more. But as academic disciple-makers, we must keep our goal — implementing biblically-integrated classes — in mind. 

“But,” you might think,”I can’t really do it well because I am so overwhelmed!” Don’t worry; “If you want to do something well, the best way to start is by doing it poorly.” 

That’s right. It’s okay not to be perfect and polished when you are getting started. That’s just part of the process. How did your first day of driver’s ed look? How did your first piano lesson sound? How was your first golf-swing? I bet there was room for improvement. And that is the point that I am trying to make.

Learning occurs in stages. In order to get to to step 2, you must take step one.

G.K. Chesterton, the noted author, said something similar — “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” He was making the case that, while there are experts out there, many things gain value because you are the one doing them. For example, it is possible that there is a hug-expert out there in the world. This person might have just the right arm-length, smell, technique, etc. This person may be able to execute the most technically excellent hug: a perfect 10. But does a crying child want a perfect hug from the expert or an amateur hug from mom? I think we all know the answer.

This is true for you and your class as well. Your students don’t need the PhD-level, scripted integration that is technically sound and perfectly organized from someone else as much as they need your integration. 

I am not excusing poor teaching or preparation here. No, we should strive to be excellent. But don’t forget that excellence is achieved one step at a time. If you want to do something well, start by doing it poorly. You will grow. And your students will grow with you. So get started right now. You might miss the bulls-eye at times, but at least you aimed for the target.