Biblical Integration and the Foundations of Science

I recently read Christianity as a Foundation for Science by Loren Haarsma. Professor Haarsma, who  teaches physics at Calvin College, makes many excellent points and I encourage you to read the article. In this post, I want point out some the key ideas contained there. [Please note that all quotations are taken from Haarsma’s article.]

As instructors, we must recognize that “apparent conflicts between scholarly claims and religious claims are not limited to science… they occur in almost every subject.” This is true of the interpretation of language, understanding of art, views on history, and ideas like justice or freedom. Worldview conflict is everywhere. However, science may be the area where the conflicts appear to rage most often and most violently. “Whether you teach in a public or a Christian institution, you are no doubt aware that there are many conflicting voices telling us what the relationship between science and Christianity ought to be.”

Ideology leads some  to say that science is an enemy of theology. But, “A much more common opinion amongst scientists today is that science and religion deal with entirely separate realities and have nothing to do with each other.” Many believe that scientific study and religious concepts are on different planets. They say that they never come into contact and should never interact. However, Christians need to look no further than Genesis 1:1 to see that God’s work and the world are innately tied. Christian educators know that this world is God’s world. He has made it. He owns it. He works in it. However, knowing those things does not mean that biblically integrated science is easy. Haarsma says:

Every Christian educator who has taught a science class has undoubtedly noticed how difficult it is to teach science from a distinctively Christian perspective. In other academic subjects such as politics, history, philosophy, literature, art or sociology, while there are many parts of those subjects where Christians and non-Christians do their work essentially identically, there are other parts of those subjects where it is easy to contrast Christian viewpoints with nonChristian viewpoints. In the natural sciences, however, it frequently seems as though the entire subject is religiously neutral. Is there such a thing as distinctively Christian physics or chemistry?

Now, I do not agree that science is more difficult to teach Christianly than any other subject. However, I do think that the methodology of science or math looks a little different than art or music. We must treat different subjects differently because… they are different. That being said, we do need to ask: Is there such a thing as distinctively Christian physics or chemistry?

“Perspective” is an important word in thinking this through. All people, regardless of their worldview commitments, interact with the same scientific facts. Every student and teacher has access to the same evidence about the world. Our differences come not from the facts, but from how we interpret those facts. Therefore, it is not the physics or chemistry that is distinctly Christian. Instead, it is our teaching of the subjects that should be. Christians believe that world is ordered and has “laws of nature” because there is a Law-Maker. Atheistic naturalists disagree vehemently about the Law-Maker, but they will not disagree about the laws themselves: Christians and non-Christians understand the laws of thermodynamics… Christians, however, will point to Christ as the foundation of all scientific laws. Notice this teaching exercise from Haarsma:

The Bible speaks about God’s governance of everything. Modern science speaks about “natural laws” governing physical events, such as the motion of objects. Is there a conflict here? At this point, I let my students discuss the issue for a few minutes, and then ask them to volunteer some answers. I think you would be pleased at the thoughtful answers I usually receive. They understand that there isn’t necessarily a contradiction is these claims. God can govern through natural laws.

So where do we land on all this? It is possible and important for Christian educators to teach science from and toward the glory of God. I will let Haarsma take the conclusion:

“The biblical perspective is clear. If something happens ‘naturally,’ God is still in charge.”

“A biblical picture assures us that God governs creation in consistent and orderly ways, and God gives us the gifts we need to study his creation and partially understand it. Scientists talk about natural laws ‘governing’ the universe. Christians who are scientists occasionally slip into using that language as well. From a biblical perspective, however, it is incorrect to say that natural laws govern. God governs. God created natural laws, and God usually governs creation through the natural laws he designed and created. God can do miracles any time he chooses, but most of the time God chooses to work in consistent ways. “

“When a Christian employs the scientific method to investigate nature, a biblical understanding of God and nature motivates her to do science, and provides a strong foundation for her belief that she is using the right method. When she uses the scientific method, she is not acting “as if God doesn’t exist.” She is acting like there is a God – not a capricious God, but the God of the Bible, who made an orderly world and who still governs it in an orderly fashion.”

Advertisements

A Short Review and 10 Quotes from “Truth Weaving” by D.P. Johnson

Truth Weaving: Biblical Integration for God’s Glory and Their Abundant Living is a useful, short book on biblical integration. Johnson does an excellent job of presenting a vision, rationale, and method of biblical integration in only 94 pages. Many will enjoy this book because it is non-academic, easy to read, full of stories, and practical. Chapter 5 might be especially useful to new/frustrated integrators because it gives some ideas on how to plan for successful biblical integration. I have read the book twice now and both times I read it in one sitting because of the engaging style and helpful content.

My one major issue with the book (and it is a central one) is Johnson’s definition of integration itself. He says, “Biblical integration is weaving biblical worldview into the subject and the lives of the students,” (17). In other words, he sees integration as bringing biblical worldview into a particular subject from the outside: “truth weaving.” I think that it is necessary to see that biblical integration “is not creating biblical connections, but noting, investigating, and celebrating the connections that already exist through Christ.” This may seem like a subtle difference, but it is significant. Integration can be from the outside in, but it is more often from the inside out. The teacher is not adding biblical worldview to the class. Instead, the teacher illuminates how the subject already declares the glory of God (Ps 19). God has already woven his glory into the world. We do not need to re-do what He has done perfectly. Our job is to make that glory known.

I would have liked for his definition to say something like this instead: Biblical integration is weaving biblical worldview into the way one teaches a subject and forms the lives of the students. That definition is more theologically accurate and more practically doable.

With that in mind, I recommend Truth Weaving and know that you will benefit from reading it. Check out some of the highlights:

“Successful biblical integrators need hearts and lives filled with God’s word,” (13).

“Typically, we think of biblical integration as a product to deliver, but in reality, it is primarily a thinking process to practice. We model biblical integration in the classroom with the intention that our students will learn to do it for themselves,” (35).

“When we know our students, we are able to identify powerful points of contact that open the door for memorable and meaningful communication,” (43).

“Objectives come in three sizes: small, medium and large—lesson, unit and course objectives. Any and all of these are suitable for integration,” (49).

“HOW we teach is (nearly) as important as WHAT we teach,” (69).

“Jesus engaged people by: (1) asking questions, (2) telling parables and (3) living out his message,” (74).

“There is a litmus test to see if we are being intellectually engaging. Are the students wrestling with the content and coming to know what they believe?” (75).

“Some students are eager and thankful for the opportunity to learn the Bible, but others are not so receptive,” (78).

“Start slowly. Trying to do too much, too fast, usually brings failure and frustration. The result is reluctance to try again,” (85).

“I pray that God would kindle with you a passion and vision for biblical integration. May He continually feed that fire through all your years of teaching,” (86).

The Aim of Christian Education: Biblical Integration Around the Country and in Your Classroom

Christian education and biblical integration are diverse topics because Christianity is made up of diverse people and groups. While Christian schools (should) all want to be successful in their missions, not all Christian schools have the same mission. Take a moment to think about the Christian schools in your area: do they all seem to be targeting the same goals?

To illustrate and engage this idea, I have taken short quotes from some well known Christian colleges in the US (feel free to click on the links to see the context that surrounds each quote). I have added emphasis (bold type) and summarized the aim of each one to highlight some key differences.

As you read, please thoughtfully consider which concepts resonate best with you and your understanding of Christian education. (Note: I do not intend to put these schools in competition so that we can decide which ones are better. The goal is simply to engage with many excellent, but different, ideas.)

Biola University

“Learning the art of pursuing truth is, indeed, at the center of a Biola University education. Our faculty teach and model this pursuit in order to develop in our students patterns of thought that are rigorous, intellectually coherent and thoroughly biblical.

The aim: shaping how students think in biblical ways.

Charleston Southern University

“Charleston Southern University has developed a leadership center to build Christian men and women who will lead our businesses, government, education, media, arts and entertainment, churches and families from the foundation of a distinctively biblical worldview; a center that would equip Christian leaders to integrate their faith into every area of life and culture; that would reach into the marketplace locally and globally to engage and challenge men and women whom God has placed there to live out their calling as Ambassadors for Christ.”

The aim: developing Christian leaders who live undivided lives.

Colorado Christian University

“Our undergraduate and graduate curriculum integrates faith and learning in a scholarly environment that fosters critical and creative thinking, academic excellence, and professional competence.”

The aim: creating an environment where Christian growth occurs.

Columbia International University

“Yes, we want students to excel academically, but we also want to help you yield to Christ unconditionally while enriching your spiritual life, achieve your personal and career goals, and practice your vocational skills wherever God leads you.”

The aim: cultivating excellent students who desire to follow Christ.

Gordon College

“Our primary responsibility is to prepare students for the long haul, to make them spiritually, intellectually, relationally and professionally ready for a lifetime of growth—from the first job out of college and beyond, into fields not yet existing.”

The aim: preparing students for a life of Christian growth and service.

Houston Baptist University

“HBU endeavors to bring together Athens, the world of academic learning, and Jerusalem, the world of faith and Christian practice. Faith and learning, so often seen as separate, and indeed as contraries, are deeply embedded in each other at HBU. In fact, instead of two different worlds, they are part of the same world – twin gifts given to humanity by the Creator and Redeemer. Since the book of nature and the book of scripture have the same author, the rigorous study of nature, what otherwise might be called “secular” learning symbolized by Athens, is a unique act of worship.”

The aim: restoring the relationship between faith and academics.

The King’s College

“We educate young leaders to seamlessly integrate their faith, ethics, and morality into their lives and careers. Students are immersed in challenging academic and spiritual study that demands thinking, communicating, and problem-solving with the mind, heart, and soul.”

The aim: educating leaders to practice integration themselves.

Liberty University

[Liberty] understands “education as the process of teaching and learning, involves the whole person, by developing the knowledge, values, and skills which enable each individual to change freely. Thus it occurs most effectively when both instructor and student are properly related to God and each other through Christ.

The aim: developing gospel-partnership between teacher and student.

Clearly, these Christian educational institutions have their own unique goals and character. Each practices biblical integration in its own way. Each is aiming for a slightly different end through a slightly different process. Which ones seem to fit you best? Which ones seem to fit your school? Self-knowledge and understanding is immensely valuable. We need to know what we are aiming toward in our classrooms.

“Truth Isn’t Truth:” Biblical Integration and Telling Truth

One of the prime reasons for biblically integrated teaching is to help students see the world as it is: the real world. Biblical integrators are invested in telling truth. These truths include the following facts: 1) God is the Creator and Owner of all, 2) Jesus is Lord, 3) People are created in the image of God, 4) Our actions matter, 5) There is right and there is wrong, 6) Those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, and 7) We are created for his glory. This list of facts could continue to fill volumes, but I simply want to illustrate that we are in the truth business. And we do not want the One who is the way, truth, and life left out of the teaching of his world. However, the wider culture often has a different view of what truth is. Take a moment to watch the following video where a well-known politician states vehemently, “Truth isn’t truth!” (Note: the purpose of posting this video is not related to political ideology, but a more foundational set of beliefs.)

Integrators need to note two things: we are on the side of truth and of the truth. First,  truth is a concrete thing. It is not relative or variable. Truth actually is truth. Second, the Bible is clear that we must be honest and tell the truth. Those who are on the side of truth do not need to take time to get their story straight. They are free to just tell it like it is.

In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey says that biblical worldview is “the imprint of God’s objective truth on our inner life.” Objective is defined as “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.” Objective truth is the way things actually are. It is reality. And, as Pearcey points out, objective truth belongs to God because He is the Author and Sustainer of all things. He is the prime reality. He is the realest of real. He is the foundation of everything. A culture that chips away at the concept of truth is chipping away at an accurate understanding of God, ourselves, the world, the meaning of life, true pleasure and joy, relationships, and everything else.

Think about it. If there is no truth, there is no right or wrong. There are no laws of physics or mathematics. There is no true love. Therefore, biblical integrators must contend for truth. It is what we do. We want God’s objective truth imprinted on the lives of our students. When culture-shapers (like the politician in the video) make a case against truth, they are making a case against God and godliness.

In addition to contending for truth as a concept, we contend for the truth in real-world situations. This means that we teach and model honesty to our students. Honesty means aligning our words with the way things really are in the world: telling it like it is. For example, when we share the gospel, we are being honest because the truth is that mankind is dead in sin, but Christ came to save sinners. We are spreading the Good, true News.  Proverbs 14:25 says, “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.” Truth is life-giving because it rightly represents God, and He is a life-giver.

So in our world that maligns the idea of truth and says that many options could be “truths,” we need to stand up and say that truth is truth. Then we must demonstrate the truth of that statement by living lives of honesty.

Be a Leader Worth Remembering: Biblical Integration and Example

As a biblical integrator, you are speaking God’s Word to your students. In the classroom, you help them see that Jesus is Lord and that all things are his. Every Christian educator is a leader because we are leading our students to rightly see and savor Christ and his gospel in many different areas of life. And as leaders, our lives are meant to be on display.

Hebrews 13:7-8 calls Christians to notice the lives of their leaders, saying, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Students should be able to look to your life and remember the ways that you have taught the Word to them. Further, they should be able to see the outcome of the way we live out our faith and want to imitate it because the true Christian life is attractive. This does not mean that they see a cushy, no-problems life when they look to us. The author Hebrews points back to Jesus here to help us see. Just one chapter earlier, he called believers to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2).

Jesus’ life was hard and painful, but it was aimed at the joy set before Him. We too might experience hard things in this life, but, like our Ultimate Leader, we are aiming for joy. Our students should understand how to follow Jesus because they see us doing it.

In Hebrews 13:6, we read: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” Martin Luther answered that rhetorical question in the closing lines of his most famous hymn with a challenge:

Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

That is the kind of leader that students will remember and emulate. Why? Because that is a picture of the Christ-like leader. Jesus let goods and closeness with the Father go when He left Heaven to pursue us. He laid his mortal life down and allowed mere mortals to kill Him. He did this knowing the power and truth of God. He was confident that his kingdom is forever. Jesus has accomplished everything for us, and He calls us to follow his example. He is the Leader of leaders.

So how do leaders follow Christ? Verses 15-16 of Hebrews 13 offers part of the answer:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

We give Him praise continually. We openly profess his name. As a biblical integrator, your course becomes an auditorium of worship as you point students to his greatness, goodness, and presence. And we put these truths into action when we do not forget to do good and share with others.

Students will not quickly forget a teacher who openly professes Jesus with words and follows Christ’s example with action. This is the kind of leader worth remembering. Will you follow Christ by being that teacher this year?

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.

Five Steps for Understanding the Bible

The Bible is a book written over thousands of years on multiple continents in several languages by many people. It includes parables, history, prophecy, poetry, letters, and more. There is significant historical and cultural distance between believers today and those who initially heard the Word. These are just a few of the realities that can make understanding the Bible difficult. Since the Bible identifies itself as a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), it is necessary for those who read it to know how to handle it correctly. The following list contains five steps (and some follow up ideas) that can help you read and grasp what God says through his Word.

1) Careful Reading
Ask yourself, “Have I carefully and thoughtfully read through this passage? Can I sum up what the author of the text said in a clear/concise way?”

Tip: When reading, we are striving to understand the author’s intended meaning. When we comprehend what the author meant to say, we are on the right track.

2) Context
Ask, “Do I understand where this fits in the big story of the Bible? And do I grasp what was going on immediately before and after this passage?”

Tip: Never read a Bible verse… always read a paragraph at minimum.

3) Characters
Ask, “Who is involved in this story? Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to?”

Tip: When the Bible uses the words you, we, us, etc., we need to know who is involved. For example, in 2 Tim 4:13, Paul says, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” But we know that this is a command to Timothy, not to us today.

4) Consistency
Ask, “Does my understanding of this passage line up with the truths from the rest of the Bible?”

Tip: If our understanding does not align with the character of God, the nature of the gospel, or the greatest commandment/commission, we are off track.

5) Connection
Ask, “How should I act, think, or be in light of what this teaches about God, his world, and my relationship with Him?”

Tip: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), so one of the best connections that we should always look to make is to improve our understanding of who God is. We will respond in a life of worship when we see Him for who He really is.

PS: Some people find it helpful to organize this under a three-step inductive approach:

I propose reading in three steps—information, understanding, and action.

1) Information: What does this passage say? Sum it up in your own words.
2) Understanding: What does it mean? Why does it matter? What does it say about God? What universal principles can be found here?
3) Action: What should I think, do, or be in response?

Mark Strauss recommends these four questions: 

(1) Where is this passage in the larger story of Scripture?
(2) What is the author’s purpose in light of the passage’s genre and historical and literary context?
(3) How does this passage inform our understanding of the nature of God and his purpose for the world?
(4) What does this passage teach us about who we ought to be (attitudes and character) and what we ought to do (goals and actions) as those seeking to reflect the nature and purpose of God?

Mark L. Strauss, How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 78-79, Kindle.