Wrong Ways to Think About Biblical Integration: Part One

In their introduction to Teaching and Christian Practices, David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith make an important statement:

“When conversations about pedagogy do occur among Christian faculty, it’s all too common to find them uncritically reflecting tired dichotomies (such as lecturing versus group work) or currently fashionable slogans (such as brain-based or student-centered learning) rather than being informed by explicitly Christian reflection,” (5).

Biblical integration, though a good and necessary practice, can likewise be uncritically considered and practiced. Therefore, the aim of this post is to lead to some critical reflection on some incorrect ideas about biblical integration that stem from unhelpful dichotomies. This list is not exhaustive, but here are a few wrong ways of thinking about integration that stem from unnecessary, false choices.

Wrong Way #1: Biblical Integration requires that I take class-time away from the subject and replace it with Bible study.

The unhelpful dichotomy here would sound something like this, “I only have so much time in my classes. Therefore, the more we integrate the less we interact with our math/history/science/etc.” The problem here is simple: if we think that our biblical integration is something other than our class content, or if we believe that it is in a separate category, we are missing the point of integration. Our biblical integration should never subtract from meaningful, helpful academic class-time. Instead, it should engage our students as they explore, create, analyze, or solve. It provides needed context and content for every legitimate course of study. For example, try to study slavery or the Holocaust without wrestling with the ideas of human dignity and worth, ethical foundations, or power. Conclusion: It’s not academics or integration, but academics through integration.

Wrong Way #2: Biblical Integration requires me to whitewash over the challenging, confusing, or controversial elements that might arise in class content.

The artificial conflict here sounds like, “This is a Christian school, so we can’t talk about bad/evil things. We have to protect our kids from hearing about all of that.” Now, we do have a responsibility to protect our children. We are responsible for their safety and well-being—including their spiritual well-being. However, often their well-being might depend on us preparing them for things that they’ll need to wrestle with in the long-term.

For example, I would not speak to a 3rd grader and a 10th grader in the same way about gender dysphoria and transgenderism in science, history, ethics, current events, or other classes where that might rightly come up as a topic of instruction. I might speak to my 3rd grade student and say,

“We live in a world where some people are confused about being a boy or a girl. When sin came into the world, it affected everything and caused lots of problems and pain. As Christians, we need to love everyone, especially those who are hurting, struggling, or confused. We want to help them understand the truth about who God made them to be. Can you think of a place in the Bible where God talks to us about what to do when we are struggling or confused? Can you think of a place where God tells us how to treat others who are having a hard time?”

When speaking to a 10th grade student, I might start the discussion by saying something like,

“There is a condition that psychologists call ‘gender dysphoria.’ This means that some people are feeling tension between who they are on the inside and who they are on the outside, and this causes distress. As Christians, we know that the Fall affected the world so that it is now disordered. All humans are disordered in serious ways—you and me too. And this is a particularly difficult and contentious area because it is a hot-button issue and a real struggle for real people today. Can you relate to, or empathize with, feeling distress about who you are and how others see you? Can you think of how the Bible might speak to issues related to disorder, the results of sin on the world, and how we can love people well while holding to the truth?”

Instead of glossing over this challenging issue, biblical integration helps the students engage with it in appropriate, biblical ways. Conclusion: The best way to protect our kids is to help them think biblically. The world is more than ready to have the hard conversations with our students, but it is our responsibility to prepare them, engage them, and correct them so that they can succeed in the long-term.

In my next post, I’ll address other wrong ways to think about integration like:  “Biblical Integration requires the teacher to be a Bible-expert,” “The point of biblical integration is Bible knowledge,” and “The teacher needs to do all the integrating.”

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Two

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 two of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

Some teachers shared joy in their biblical-integration experiences, saying things like, “I love hearing and interacting with what the students think and feel about God.”

These responses encouraged me because they demonstrate that these teachers are listening to their students. Teachers must be good at delivering information, but we must also excel at receiving it. Our students feel loved, noticed, and cared for when we hear what they have to say. Essential questions are powerful because they open the door for student engagement and response. In the same way, biblical integration that gets students thinking and speaking is powerful because it allows them to be full participants in the conversation. We must allow students to be heard. Then we must, thoughtfully, respond to what they share.

Another survey response related to the question, “How can I make integration feel more natural?”

This is an important question. If biblical integration feels tacked on or supplemental, students will recognize it for what it is — extra. Therefore, the best way to make biblical integration feel natural is to build it into the DNA of your course. It is not ideal to plan all of your units, lessons, assignments, etc. and then try to add biblical content. When we do that, we are doing something unnatural. If that is where you are, don’t be discouraged. But do recognize that there is room to grow.

Instead of adding integration to our material, we should show how the biblical worldview informs and directs our work. Ask questions like:  Where did our subject come from? Why do we study it? What does this unit demonstrate about our world, humanity, God, the church, etc.? How can we use these skills be used to honor God? Where might our subject be affected by sin? Once you have identified some important questions and ideas, consider how you can best get your students to engage them as a part of the course material. Strategizing in this area can make it feel more natural. A few ideas would be:

1) Engage in a worldview-driven introduction at the start of each unit. When you begin the conversation on Lincoln, help the students connect some biblical dots related to his life, beliefs, work, etc. When you start to talk about the design of the eyeball, speak about the qualities of the Designer. Or speak to how we can wisely use our eyes.

2) Include worldview-reflection at the end of each unit. This can be as simple as asking the students to write (or speak) about what they have learned about God’s power, presence, kindness, brilliance, etc. from that particular unit. This kind of work invites them into a natural reflective type of integration.

3) Write the rubrics for your assignments that invite/require the students to integrate. If they create a paper, presentation, project, report, etc., they can show how it relates God’s Word and God’s world. This helps the students start to explore the reality that all things are God’s things. Integration will seem more natural to students when it is more usual for them to be integrators themselves.

4) Have your key integration ideas planned in your unit so that you can assess them. Teach them just like you teach the rest of the content. Biblical integration will seem natural when it is included (and tested) in a way that is congruent with the rest of the material.

Part three of this series will interact with survey responses like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher,” and “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”

Biblical Integration, God’s Word, and Assessing Our Work

Christian education is academic discipleship. We are using our courses to help students grow to know and follow Jesus well in every area of their lives. So how can we assess if we are actually helping them grow in faith? As teachers, we work in a world of quizzes, tests, and formative assessments. We are always trying to find out if our work is making a difference in the minds and hearts of our students. 1 John 2:3-6 gives us strong place to start:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

There are some sweeping and clear statements here: 1) We know that we have come to know Christ if we keep his commands, 2) If we don’t follow his teachings, we are not believers, 3) Those who obey the Word of God have been made complete, 4) The measure of Christianity is Christ.

Now, we must be careful not to go beyond the Bible when we read it. Obviously, no person can perfectly follow Christ in this life. The standard here is not perfection, but progression: Are we rightly teaching our material from and toward a biblical worldview? Are our students (and are we) becoming more like Christ? Are they conforming to Jesus as He shows Himself in his Word?

Therefore, the key for assessing our progress is the Word of God. We must constantly deliver the Bible and its ideas to our classes. As the students learn God’s Word in our classes, we need to know if they are really ingesting it, wrestling with it, and being changed by it. God is faithful and powerful to do the work of transforming lives. He is the One who does the work. But we do have a role to play. Our job is to deliver the powerful Word of God to our students in ways that challenge, encourage, instruct, correct, and inspire them. Hebrews 13:7 calls believers to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Do you see what Christian leaders do? They speak the Word of God to those they lead, and they show the power of that Word in their own lives. As John said, we are to live as Jesus did.

So here are some assessment questions to see if you are accomplishing Bible-centered biblical integration in your class. Don’t be discouraged if you find areas to grow. Rejoice at the progress you have made and praise God that you can continue to grow in effectiveness.

1) Are you regularly using Scripture to shine light on your academic content? Are you giving your students the chance to grasp the biblical worldview as it is actually expressed by God in the Bible? (This is the key question because it is the one that you can directly control.)

2) Are your students learning to notice, point out, and celebrate the biblical truths that they encounter in your classes? Do you ever hear them say things like, “Wow! This science/math/history/language/art lesson makes me think of what the Bible says.”?

3) Are you seeing Christian students growing in biblical character? Are they becoming more honest, fair, empathetic, etc.?

4) Are you seeing non-Christian students wrestling with biblical ideas? Are they learning to wrestle with the ideas of Scripture?

We can’t change our students’ lives, but we do have something that can. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe it (Rom 1:16). God’s Word is the food we need for life (Deut 8:3, Matt 4:4). It is a lamp that lights our path (Ps 119:105). As biblical integrators, we need to regularly check in and assess: Are we delivering God’s Word in our classes? If not, we need to adjust.

Note: I am not saying that you should turn your class into a Bible class. However, I am saying that if you are not bringing God’s Word to bear on your material, you are missing out on much of what it means to teach from and toward the glory of God.

 

GQ Magazine vs the Bible

GQ Magazine recently published an article called “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.”  In it, they point out why many famous books are unnecessary, evil, boring, etc., and suggest books to read instead. You may not be surprised to see the Bible come in at #12. They say we don’t need to read the Good Book because some parts may be good, but “overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” They go on to call it “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”  We are going to note three important questions that differentiate between GQ’s view and the understanding that Christians hold.

1) Who Produced the Bible?

GQ is correct that the Bible is “not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” We can heartily agree with that statement because man did not produce it—all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). Of course, GQ’s words may be technically correct in this case, but their intent is disastrous. The secular, man-centered perspective that the famous magazine offers is in direct contradiction with what Christians know to be true. However, they make their point with confidence and without any apparent need to support their view. The magazine presents their perspective as authoritative.

Questions: How would you go about refuting GQ’s claims? How can we effectively share the truth about this with a culture that leans away from the Word’s unique authorship?

2) Why Do We Read the Bible?

The article in GQ offers several reasons for us to avoid reading the Bible. A red-flag should go up in the mind of the believer, not just because of a challenge to the Bible, but because many of the reasons are self-centered preference issues. But should we choose not to read truth because it doesn’t fit with our desired style/content? The author of the article calls the Bible repetitive and filled with moral lessons (that’s what “sententious” means… just in case you are prepping for the SAT) as if those are negatives. The argument is something like: “We don’t like being reminded of how we should live.” But not liking something does not mean that we do not need it or that it is bad. An individual with an illness may choose surgery. Why? Not because they like the experience, but because it can sustain life. Likewise, mothers do not like the pain of childbirth, but it is a good thing. I love the Bible because it is God’s words and I love Him. But when it corrects me, I don’t always want to hear it. The issue here is not that there is a problem with the Bible. I don’t like what it might say at times because there is a problem with me.

Questions: Why do you read the Bible? Why should we encourage others to do so?

3) What Guides Our Lives?

This is where we get to the real heart of the issue (magazine pun intended). GQ exists to report on and analyze men’s fashion and style news. It claims to be an “unrivaled guidance and companion for a successful man.” Here we can see why it might have issue with the Bible. The Bible also claims to be an unrivaled guidance and companion for a successful man. Psalm 119:105 says that the Word of God is a lamp to guide our feet and a light to show our path. Proverbs 2:6 points out that the Lord gives knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. 2 Timothy 3:17 declares that the Bible prepares men for every good work.

In other words, GQ can’t approve of the Bible as the sufficient guide because it is itself claiming to be an unrivaled guide. GQ is trying to fill the shoes that the Bible has worn for past millennia. Just like a sports-team might talk negatively about a rival, this magazine has reason to put the Bible down. GQ has set itself up as competition for God’s Word. But God has no rivals (Rom 11:33-36). Psalm 115:3 says it so well: “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” And of course the Bible explains this well: the Word is how He speaks.

Questions: What does our culture look to for guidance? How can we explain that the Bible is better?

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.

 

How Does the Holy Spirit Speak in the Classroom?

I recently asked a student, “How can you know what God wants you to do? How can we listen to the Holy Spirit?” The answer was fascinating. The student answered by pointing to prayer, talking to parents/mentors, and turning off the smartphone. While those are helpful and needed answers, the foundation was missing. Even after much prodding, the student could not seem to get there. Of course, the key to knowing God’s will is listening to his words… the Bible.

It is amazing that many seem to miss that God is speaking still today through his ancient words. Scripture is living and active (Heb 4:12). It is fully equips us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). It comes down to this: you cannot know the Lord if you don’t listen to Him speak. And, while there are variations between English translations, there are about 800,000 words in the Bible we read. There is no question in the believer’s mind that these 800,000 are God’s own words. This is the objective message of God. So we must hammer home that in order for students to hear the voice of God, they need to listen to Him speak through his Word. Do we want to hear the Spirit speak? Do we really? If so, we must go to the Word.

And, of course, we know that. How did the student know that it is important to pray, speak to wise mentors, and eliminate distractions? From the Word.

A pastor painted this picture beautifully for me from the Bible. Ephesians 5:17-20 (NLT) says, “17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How do we understand what God wants us to do? By being filled with the Spirit. But how do we do that?

Look at the parallel passage from Colossians 3, “16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Here Paul replaces his statement about being filled with the Spirit with being filled with the message. So how do we know what the Spirit says? How can we become filled with the Spirit? Become filled with the Spirit’s message. Become filled with the Word. He is the Author of the Bible, after all.

So do you want the Spirit to speak powerfully in your classroom? Then give the Bible, the Spirit’s own words, a prominent voice in your teaching.

A Simple Question

John Frame is one of the theologians who has most influenced me over the past few years. I love the way that he is able to communicate complex truths in simple ways. In one of his articles, he speaks on Christian education from Deuteronomy 6:6-9, saying:

“God-centered” is really too weak a term to describe this kind of education. “God-saturated” is more like it. Children are to grow up in an environment where they cannot avoid the Word of God; it is always there, searching them, admonishing them, instructing them in the truth. [emphasis mine]

I love this statement. Christian education should be so saturated with God, through his Word, that students cannot avoid encountering what He has to say.

So here is the simple question: Can a student in your class avoid being searched, corrected, and instructed by the Word of God?

I pray that we would all improve in this area so that our teaching is truly biblical. Let me close by quoting Frame from the same article. Note his strong case for a truly biblical form of biblical integration:

It follows that everything the child learns about the world should be related to God’s Word. And in a way Scripture speaks about everything. It doesn’t give us detailed instruction about plumbing, or British history, or auto repair, but it does teach us how to relate all these things to God, how to study them, and how to implement our studies in practical life so that God is pleased. We cannot, for example, study history while ignoring divine providence, let alone (as in many secular curricula) ignoring the substantial role of religion in forming the culture and politics of nations. We cannot teach science without emphasizing that this world is created and directed by God. It is God’s providence that makes the world an orderly place that we can understand and dominate (Gen. 1:28-30). We cannot teach modern music and film without teaching children how to evaluate these from God’s perspective.