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.

Pray Inadequate Prayers for Your Class

Prayer is powerful because God is powerful. Prayer accomplishes much because God accomplishes much. As teachers, we might plan, organize, and work hard, but we must still go to God and pray that He would stoop down and use us for his glory. In his grace, He loves to use his people—even broken, confused, struggling people like us—to do his work in the classroom. But we must remember the truth: He is the One who is doing the work… and if He doesn’t work, our effort is in vain. This is why we must pray.

We must pray that God will use our planning, our words, our assignments and assessments, and our example to show our students the truth about Him. We desire that they would see that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7). We want them to see that He is real. We want them to know that He is good. We are desperate that they understand that He cares for them.

We are compelled to pray because we need God to work, but we also need Him to hear, understand, and graciously improve our imperfect prayers. So often, we don’t know how to pray. We are so ignorant of what is happening in the minds and hearts of the young people in our classrooms. And even if we did know, we are not equipped to prescribe solutions. So why pray if our prayers are so inadequate and we are so ignorant? Because God graciously lends his loving wisdom and power to our ignorance and weakness. John Newton wrestled with this saying,

“When Satan points out to me the [incoherence and weakness of my prayer], and asks, ‘Is this a prayer fit to be presented to the holy heart-searching God?’ I am at a loss what to answer, till it is given me to recollect that I am not under the law, but under grace,—that my hope is to be placed, not in my own prayers, but in the righteousness and intercession of Jesus.”

Yes, our prayers might be disasters, but God loves to succeed through our failures. Jesus prays perfect prayers, and He prays for us. Therefore, our poor prayer should not keep us from praying. Instead, our inadequacy should drive us to our knees, to his throne, to his grace. Jesus said it like this, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Prayer is like every other area of our lives—apart from Christ our prayers are ineffective.  

The reality of my own inadequacy has been impressed on me lately. I can do nothing good on my own. But thank God: He does all things well (Mark 7:37). Let’s seek his face. Let’s ask Him to work. Let’s plead with Him. And let’s remember that Christ makes our inadequate pleas into powerful, persuasive, perfect prayers that please the Father. Pray inadequate prayers for your class; Christ will take them and make them right.

 

Teaching Students to Pray

Christian educators have the great privilege of teaching students to pray in the classroom. It is heartbreaking when I hear high-school students who have grown up attending Christian schools tell me, “Ummm… I don’t really know how to pray.” We have around 180 opportunities to explain, model, and encourage our students in prayer during a school-year. Since God is a real Person who hears and loves us, it is imperative that we develop our students’ ability and desire to pray. Here is a simple outline of how to start.

First, offer a strong definition of prayer. Give students a target.

John Bunyan, the famed author of Pilgrim’s Progress, offered one of the best definitions in I Will Pray in the Spirit (1662). He said,

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.”

Note that prayer is 1) sincere (you mean it), 2) sensible (you understand it), 3) affectionate/passionate (attached to the emotions), 4) Trinitarian (to God through Christ by the Spirit), 5) scriptural (attached directly to God’s Word as written), 6) for the church (not only self-focused), and 7) submitting (desiring God’s will in all things).

During a 9-week span, it would not be difficult to focus on one of these items for a week at a time and then review them. Many students have been taught that prayer is “simply talking to God,” and, while that is true, we must explain how we should go about talking with God.

Second, model prayer for the students.

It is one thing to talk about something, but another to demonstrate it. Think about the difference between explaining a slam-dunk to a student and having someone demonstrate it. It is important for them to see what prayer looks like in real life.

It might be wise to take a moment to explain one element of Bunyan’s definition and then to show it. For example, you could tell them, “It is important that we don’t pray out of a dead ritual or school tradition. In the Bible, God says that He hates it when we do religious things, but don’t really care about Him. That is why our prayers need to be sincere. So, as I pray, I am going to be real with God and ask Him to help us focus and learn today so that we can understand a little bit more about how great He is through [math/science/reading/etc.]…” At at point, you would model a short and clear prayer to show the students how to do this.

Third, encourage students to pray and encourage them when they pray.

Don’t let your students be spectators only. If they are believers, they are not just students—they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Give them opportunities to speak to God in your class. Show them that prayer is not an adults-only activity. And when they do pray, make sure to build them up. Thank them. Make biblical connections to what they prayed. Help them develop a scriptural framework. Overall, try to create a pro-prayer culture in your class.

So how does this discussion on prayer relate to biblical integration? Here are a few answers:

  • If we really believe in the God of the Bible, we will pray to Him.
  • If what we learn about God in our classes (that He is involved, present, active, powerful, caring, wise, etc.) is true, we should pray to Him.
  • Christianity is not just knowing about God, but knowing Him personally. So speaking to Him in prayer is important for our relationship.
  • If we never speak to God, it may show that we think He is not listening, not important enough to talk with, or not real.
  • Most importantly, God listens and responds to our prayers. Therefore, biblical integrators should be seeking God regularly in prayer.

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.

The Power is in the Person

The Bible is valuable because it is the Word of God. It is his breathed-out words for our good (2 Tim 3:16-17). What makes the Bible powerful is the powerful Person who spoke it out. We love to read the words of the Bible, not because they are wonderful words on their own, but because they are God’s words. The same is true for prayer. Prayer is not magic. There is no intrinsic power in praying. We know this because, when people pray to false gods or idols, their prayers are not answered. Prayer is wonderful because there is a real God who hears and responds.

In The Efficacy of Prayer, a short essay by CS Lewis, there is a great point about this. He says that the question, “Does prayer work?” is the wrong question. Why? Because prayer doesn’t (in and of itself) work. God works when He chooses to answer prayer. The power is not in the prayer, but in the Person.

So what does this all have to do with Christian education or biblical integration? Well, it is a good practice to pray in class. And when we do pray, or call students to pray, we must point them to the truth—prayer is not important in and of itself… God is. We don’t pray to pray. We pray to speak with God. We aren’t engaged in a ritual of speaking our wishes or hopes into the air. We must teach our students that prayer is important and powerful because God is. Here are a few good questions to start your thinking:

  • What is our posture when we approach the living God?
  • What is our language when we speak with the King of all?
  • What expresses our belief that God hears and cares about what we say?
  • What about our prayers reinforces the truth that God is with us?
  • What about our prayer shows our confidence in Jesus as our mediator?

Satan would likely love it if we help raise a generation of people who pray often, but don’t pray rightly. He would love it if they learned to love prayer, but never learned to love God. He would love it if they declare the value of prayer, but live lives that deny the value of God. Let’s not get things backwards.

In your class, keep this in mind: People who believe in a living God will pray and know the power of prayer, but those who practice prayer may not really know God at all. Teach them the power of God and then they will grasp the value of prayer.