Biblical Integrators Must Be Ever-Improving Educators

Christian schools are invested in a ministry of academic discipleship. Today I am emphasizing the academic element of what we do. There are many ministries, but the Christian school is unique in that it is an academic ministry. Without question, the aim of the Christian schooling is discipleship. However, we must not expect sub-par teachers to be great integrators. Because we love our students, and because we believe that God will use them in mighty ways, we must be highly invested in giving them the very best training possible. 

Here are three ways that you can work on improving and growing into the best teacher you can be:

1) Remember your calling. Why did you get into teaching in the first place? What excites you about being a teacher? How can you represent a Christian work-ethic, standard of excellence, and desire to please God in the classroom? God has not called us to be just-good-enough as teachers. He has given us a high calling. Your work has weight. Treat your class as the exciting opportunity that God has made it to be. (Now, I don’t say this to guilt you. We will be tired at times. We are invested in other important tasks — church, family, etc. Our work should not consume us in a workaholic type of way. But I do hope that we will remember that God has called us to a good and important and exciting work that is worth doing well.)

2) Review your documents. Mission drift is real. Many teachers would benefit greatly from looking back at their own syllabus, curriculum map, or other course materials. Is there something that you intended to work on, emphasize, develop, or share that you have let slip through the cracks? Periodically review your own priorities and take stock of whether or not you are still targeting the goals that you set out for yourself. 

3) Recognize an area that needs to be improved in your teaching. We all have room for improvement. There is no perfect teacher. Our students are always changing. Our world is always in flux. Expectations shift. Things that worked in the past might not be as effective today. Therefore, it is wise to find and focus on particular areas to improve. Don’t be vague. Pick a real, concrete thing… and work on it. 

Why does this matter for biblical integrators? There are many reasons, but here are a few. a) You have been given a task by God. Therefore, you must strive to do it as well as you can. b) Your students watch you. You are in a position to model faithfulness to them. c) Improvement pictures sanctification. We are all works in progress, so we should show progress. d) Our students will carry the name of Christ with them if they graduate from Christian schools. Therefore, we need to train them so well that future employers, neighbors, family, and friends, see excellence as a result of a type of schooling that bears the name of Christ. e) You will be more engaged and excited to teach if you know that you are striving to do meaningful work excellently. Being a great teacher is good for students, but it is also good for you. 

As an academic disciple-maker, you are called to point students to Jesus. And we all can do this much more effectively if our teaching is ever-improving.

Approaches to Integration: Story

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 Story Approach to biblical integration is powerful because it recognizes two truths: 1) God created all things to tell his story, and 2) the story is still in process. These are encouraging and empowering truths because if the unstoppable, wise God made this world to tell his story, then it is a good story. And if the story is in process we can play a meaningful role. 

Many young people are oriented toward action, and this approach leans on that inclination and aims it toward God. Bono challenges people, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Find out what God’s doing. It’s already blessed.” That is the idea here: discover the story that God is telling, find your role in it, and get to work. Charles Stanley explained a bit about what that might look like, saying, “The Lord’s specific destiny for your life has a twofold nature: It will further His kingdom on earth, and it will transform you.”

So, how does the story approach to integration work in the classroom? Here are the steps:

1) Determine how your subject is involved in the Protagonist’s efforts. He is the Hero of the story and everything He does shows that He is the Good Guy. This does not need to be encyclopedic or all-encompassing or comprehensive. You can’t cover everything. Instead of trying to do too much, pick a clear theme. In Math, you might talk about God being the great Order-Maker and Problem-Solver. In Art, you could point out that He is the Beauty-Sharer and Restorer. In Science, He can be seen as Life-Giver and System-Designer.

2) Explore how the Hero uses your subject to do things that are good, true, and beautiful. Yes, He created in the past. Yes, Jesus died and rose again in the past. But God is not done working. The Hero continues his heroic redemption mission now. Can we show that God didn’t just order the world, but continues to hold it together now (Col 1:17)? If it were not for the Hero, the world would not continue in its orderly way. He is working now and the continued viability of mathematics shows that truth. 

Can we show that God is restoring the broken, faded, and cracked? Hosea 6 shows his character and work in this way:

Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.

Art courses have unique opportunity to point to God as the ultimate Restorer. Just like an expert might restore and old classic painting that has been marred by the effects of the world, God is in the business of restoring people.

Can we look at conception, birth, and growth and see that God is still giving life today? Can we note from our involuntarily beating hearts that God is still in the business of giving life? Elihu states rightly in Job 33:4, that, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Science classes are an excellent arena for this kind of exploration.

3) Challenge students to get involved in a meaningful role as side-kicks. God is the Hero, but He graciously allows his people to do meaningful things. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but our students can be encouraged to get on God’s team in an active way — like Watson to Holmes or Robin to Batman. All of our subjects can be leveraged for God’s glory. They are tools to be used on behalf of the Hero in his story. Math can be used to order things, improve broken systems, share resources, build, research, and solve. And our students can be involved in those things! Artists can share beauty and goodness in ways that otherwise would be inaccessible. Our students can point to the beauty of God through art. Science can help understand God’s world, show his masterpiece of creation in more detail and depth, and propose ways to meet needs and innovate for the good. In other words, students can apply what they learn in real ways to serve a real Hero.

Key ResourceNotes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson. In his own words, “[The world] is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

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?

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.