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.

 

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Biblically-Integrated STEAM

In a basic sense, teachers are trying to do two things: 1) teach truth and 2) teach a right response to truth. In other words, teachers are invested in worldview and worship. We are showing students what is true and what to do with truth. Here is how STEAM teachers might start to think about worldview and worship with Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Knowledge and Comprehension (Bloom’s Levels 1 & 2)

In any scientific subject, students will encounter realities and systems within creation. These could include the water-cycle, ecosystems, cell structure, chemical reactions, etc. And each of these elements of creation shows something about God — his brilliance, his size, his creativity, his organizational skills, etc. So when we are on a lower-level of Bloom’s ladder, we are sharing information about the world… and about the God who made that world.

Most basically, this worldview information gives us a chance to teach worship through character. Chapters 1-3 of John A. Bloom’s (not the same Bloom who created the learning taxonomy) The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide are very helpful here. Our response to gaining knowledge and comprehension is to become excited explorers. This occurs because we know that God is a great Designer. We should be humbled as we note his power and brilliance. We should be thankful that He chose to make us, and make us able to see and understand some of his creation. The low levels of the taxonomy are made for biblically integrated teaching on character.

Application and Analysis (Bloom’s Levels 3 & 4)

As students gain knowledge and comprehension, they will start to apply and analyse that information. In other words, they are adding understanding to their information. In science, this is where they can start to practice, predict, experiment, and illustrate truths. Logical thinking plays a major role here as students wrestle with laws, roles, identity, and purposes. They learn that not only does the sun shine light and heat, but that that light has characteristics and elements that work in certain ways. Those characteristics demand understanding and response. For example, the sun provides our planet with necessary heat, but it also emits UV rays that can be dangerous.

In these stages of Bloom’s, students are learning how the world works and how they should operate in the world. They can learn about UV radiation and how they should cover their skin so they are no burned by it. This is where so-what questions arise and are answered. If the sun might burn me, what should I do? If a certain process creates dangerous pollution, what should we do? In essence, these stages are not just about how things work, but how they work together.

Synthesis, Evaluation, Creation (Bloom’s Levels 5 & 6)

The highest levels of Bloom’s are about evaluating the way things are and creating things as they should/could be. In STEAM-thinking, this is where engineering, design-thinking, artistic elements come into play because students are not only looking at God as the Creator; here they practice being created in his image by creating things themselves. We have studied UV radiation and we have studied inorganic chemicals. Next, we can put those pieces together  and learn about how some inorganic chemicals can protect their skin from UV radiation in sunscreen. Scientists in the past synthesized understanding of the sun and of chemicals to create sunblock! Very cool! This is what this level is all about: action.

Here is where we call students to the actions of creating, serving, sacrificing, and designing. They do not have to be geniuses. And they do not have to invent sunblock for these levels to work well. But the students should be thinking about how they can love others, serve those in need, and take care of the world. Questions here could include simple things like: What is the best way to brush my teeth? What toothpaste should I use? But there could be more dynamic questions too: I use clean water to brush my teeth, but many people in world don’t have clean water. What can I design cheaply using my knowledge of evaporation and condensation to make clean water? Or: Many people in world can’t easily buy toothpaste. What can I make using my understanding of chemistry that could work as a safe tooth-cleaning solution?

Obviously, you can go in any direction: technology for sharing the Bible digitally, systems-thinking for producing additional healthy food, artistic work to help others understand important truths, etc.

God has made people in his image. This means at least two things: 1) We should design and create good things to help/serve people like He does, and 2) Every person in the world is valuable, so we should work to love and serve them.

Note: You may have noticed that this post followed the inductive Bible-study method: information (what?) = Levels 1-2, understanding (so what?) = Levels 3-4, and action (now what?) = Levels 5-6. This is because good Bible-study naturally aligns with Bloom’s. God has designed us to learn in these ways.

Assignments as Contracts: Improving Expectations with Integration Clauses

A contract is “a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties.” It lays out the expectations and needed components. Contracts are important in everything from home purchases to landscaping work to employment and more. And we can think of every classroom assignment as a contract as well.

Students need to know what is expected of them. When work is assigned, students agree to accomplish a certain task in a specific way. These tasks and means will vary based on age, subject, unit, etc. However, students in every class need to fully understand what success looks like. Do your students understand that biblical integration is an essential part of success in your class? This is where integration clauses in your assignments can help.

If we include biblical integration clauses in our contracts (assignments), students understand that they are expected to participate in integration. When we explicitly ask for integration in our expectations, students can leverage their creativity, effort, and critical-thinking skills to accomplish the goal set out before them. Further, if students realize that they are expected to recognize, report, understand, explain, and celebrate God’s glorious ways in their work, they will be able to rise to the occasion.

Educational assessments are the means by which we can measure how much our students are learning. If we want our students to learn Christ through academic content, we need to write our contracts (assignment instructions) in a way that allows us to see if they are actually getting it. If we don’t include integration in our assessments, we cannot know if our integrated teaching is getting through.

Therefore, when you assess (at the start, middle, or end of a unit) you should assess biblical integration. If you assign a paper, review, lab report, science experiment, quiz, creative writing prompt, worksheet, bell-work, or test, you should try to include elements of biblical integration as a part of the assessment. This means that it should be mentioned through integration clauses in your rubrics, study guides, and assignment instructions.

Here are a few examples of integration clauses in contracts (assignments):

  • Math Quiz: In 1 Kings 3, Solomon was faced with a problem. While we have to solve problems to find x in this class, he had to solve a problem to find a mom. He was able to use his wisdom and problem-solving skills to find the truth and serve justice. What is one way that you can use your problem-solving skills to help others?
  • History Essay: In our study on the American Revolution, we investigated the lives of many leaders. List 3 examples of Christian characteristics that you saw in them.
  • Science Project/Lab Report: After completing the report, include one sentence on what the results of the experiment tell us about God, God’s design, or ourselves.

Strategies for Implementing Biblical Integration

This post is a simple list of ideas for implementing biblical integration in your classroom. The idea is to help you bring the great ideas that you have developed in your syllabus to life. These are just starting points for acting on your plans. Each idea begins with a prompt that you might use to introduce your integration to students. Feel free to tweak them to work best in your class.

The Partnership: “I need you to help me understand how to help young people understand how [insert lesson content] relates to God/Christian-living/worldview/etc.”

The key here is that you are asking for your students to help you by sharing their expertise. They are youth-culture experts. Why engage their expertise and understanding in integration?

  • Example: I need you to help me understand how to help people your age understand that the laws of physics show that God is the powerful Law-maker.

The Pitch: What if I told you that [insert lesson content] helps us see the reality/goodness/power/etc. of God in the world?

This type of implementation is excellent for starting a unit because it is promotional. You are asking students to evaluate the credibility of what you are saying. This invites students to judge your idea… and they often love judging. Use this to get them talking, assessing, improving, and otherwise engaging.

  • Example: What if I told you that the fact that humans like us can create and appreciate art shows us that God made human beings uniquely in his image?

The Question: “What does the Bible tell us about [lesson content]? Does the Bible help us understand [lesson content]?

When the Bible speaks clearly about a principle or idea, we can ask students to generate the integration themselves. This is an excellent idea for moving them up Bloom’s Taxonomy.

  • Example: What does the Bible us about the importance of words and language?

The Conflict: “[Non-Christian] says that [subject area] tells us that Christians are incorrect. What would you say in response?”

Some kids love to fight. Why not leverage that instinct to help them fight for good?

  • Example: Richard Dawkins says that God might be “the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.” What separates a hero and a villain in literature? How can we tell if God is a hero or villain?

The Explorer: “In your [research-paper/science-project/case-study/book-review] include one paragraph showing how [your topic] relates to biblical teaching and worldview.”

All students can use their own unique gifts to observe and note worldview issues. You might share an integrated rubric to help them know what you are looking for.

  • Example: Your interactive review of The Cosmos’s “Where did we come from?” should include one paragraph pointing out where the host denies the biblical worldview. Then write one paragraph with a biblical response.

The Shovel: “Now that we have started to understand that [insert unit title] supports a biblical understanding of the world, let’s dig deeper by [insert research activity.]

Students can often do self-guided work once they have been started off in a supported way.

  • Example: Now that we have seen that solving equations shows that God equipped is to be problem-solvers, let’s dig deeper by discussing how solving equations could honor God in the real world. [Ideas: stewardship in calculating interest; service in determining the right amount of paint to buy to do a service project; missions in determining the amount of gas needed for a mission trip.]

The Hammer: “Using [insert academic idea], how would you smash [insert anti-biblical idea]?”

Many students like the idea of tearing things down. Be careful with this one, but don’t be afraid to use it wisely.

  • Examples: Using this math concept, how would you smash the idea that taking on debt is not a big deal? Using the historical example of Hitler’s rise to power, how would you smash the idea that political engagement is not important? Using your persuasive speech-skills and body-language, how would smash the idea that Bible-studies must be boring.

The Screwdriver: “We loosely described how [content idea] relates to [Christian idea]. But how can we tighten it up?”

One key element of integration is taking the general and moving to the specific.

  • Example: We loosely discussed that many great books echo the story of Jesus, but how can we attach that idea more tightly to Mark Twain?

The Role-Switch: “Last week, I showed you how [academic content] demonstrates the glory/love/work/etc. of God. Now I want you to step up to the front and teach it back to me.”

We often learn more through teaching, so let the students teach.

  • Example: Last week, I demonstrated that the human eye’s irreducible complexity shows God’s design. Erica and Steve, can you come to the front and teach those ideas to me? I’ll take a seat at your desk.

The So-What: “We saw that [academic idea] is important in understanding [Christian worldview idea], but how does that affect our everyday lives?”

Abstract worldview concepts are important, but they need to touch our lives too.

  • Example: “We have talked about the fact that the moon is the perfect distance from the earth for many reasons. Clearly, this is evidence of God’s design. But how does understanding God’s design help me follow Him today?”

Of course, there are many other ways to jump into implementation, but I hope this list helps!

Biblical Integration Requires a Good Bible (or Two)

I have written previously about the importance of careful Bible reading. For many reasons, it can be easy to misunderstand what the text is saying. For that reason, I recommend that believers (especially teachers) take these five steps as they read. However, I need to state the obvious here: If you are reading a bad version of the Bible, your interpretation of the Bible will be bad too. The person who listens to the news on a static-filled, choppy radio station will likely miss out or misunderstand. With so many accurate and helpful translations of the Bible in English, there is no reason for us to settle for static. Here are two types of Bibles to avoid using for biblical integration followed by a quick recommendation:

1) Sectarian Versions

Some Bibles have been edited to promote a certain theological standpoint. They are not as interested in accurately transmitting the ancient text to the modern world as they are in promoting a certain type of belief. In essence, those behind these books alter the Bible to be what they want instead of what God wants. Two examples of these Bibles come immediately to mind: The Passion Translation and The New World Translation.

The Passion Translation was written/translated by Brian Simmons to help English speakers experience the passion and fire of the Bible. However, as Andrew G. Shead notes,

He achieves this by abandoning all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text that it is at least 50% longer than the original. The result is a strongly sectarian translation that no longer counts as Scripture; by masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.”

There are many issues with this book, but among the most serious is that the author adds his own content and re-words the Bible to promote a certain type of theology.  

The New World Translation is put out by the Watchtower Society and is the “translation” used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This version exists to promote an errant theology. Famously, undermining the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s deity, there are many changes made to what the text has stated historically. If a version of the Bible tries to change what the Bible says, we should avoid it.

2) Paraphrases

Some versions of the Bible are not translations, but paraphrases. There is nothing wrong with a paraphrase as a devotional aid. But there is a problem if we use a paraphrase in place of a translation. Why? When we go to the Bible, we want to hear God’s words. When we go to a paraphrase, we are getting a person’s version of God’s words. “The primary problem of any paraphrase of the Bible is that it inputs far too much of a person’s opinion of what the Bible says, instead of simply stating what the Bible says.” The most popular paraphrase is The Message by Eugene Peterson. I am a fan of this book and have learned much from Peterson, but The Message should not be used as a version of the Bible. Another popular paraphrase is The Living Bible.

So what Bible should you use? Well, there is a great book on the topic. This is a complex question, but I would quickly recommend that teachers use an easy-to-understand, but credible version with their classes. The NIV, CSB, or NLT could be good options. However, in your own study, it can be very helpful to compare one of these easy-to-read (dynamic) versions with more formal versions like the ESV, NASB, or KJV. You can often gain helpful insight and accuracy by comparing two different translations.

To sum up: If we want to have accurate biblical integration, let’s use accurate translations of the Bible.

 

Reflective Teaching and Biblical Integration

Yale University’s Center for Teaching and Learning states that reflective teaching is “a self-assessment of teaching, wherein an instructor examines their pedagogy, articulates reasons and strengths for their strategies, and identifies areas for revision or improvement.” As teachers, we are always looking to improve. We want students to learn and grow. We love it when things “click,” and when the “light bulb turns on.” We recognize that, even in areas of success, there is space for bettering our practices.

Since we are a few weeks into the new school year, I think that this is a great time to be reflective about our practice of biblical integration. If you can, carve out about ten minutes for a mini-reflection. I will guide you through it with three E’s–emotions, evidence, and encouragement.

First, concerning integration, examine your emotions: how do you feel integration has been going in your class so far this year? Have your students benefited from it? Have things fit well together? Is it rewarding to you? Has there been a moment or two that stand out in your mind as integration success-stories? The nature of your feelings about biblical integration this year should tell you something about how it is going in your classroom.

Next, let’s look to the evidence. Have your students engaged with biblical worldview concepts in your class? What types of integration have been the most thought-provoking, conversation-generating, or ongoing over time? Have you included biblical integration on any assessments (formal or informal)? If so, how have the students done with that? Has the Bible and its truth had a voice in your classroom on a regular basis? Or is integration only a once-in-a-while thing? If the evidence shows that students are engaging with biblical truth in your classroom regularly you are on a good track.

Lastly, let me offer you encouragement. When we reflect, it is important to let our reflection be broader than ourselves. We must note our situation, our task, and our King.

Teaching is hard. Christian education is hard. Biblical integration has challenges as well. However, Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is active and sharp. God has given you an effective tool to use in the classroom. You can’t change a heart, but his Word can. But He hasn’t stopped there. He has done even more than that. He has chosen you for this task of Christian ministry. I love Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” He can advance his gospel in any way He wants, and He chose you to do it. Why? Because it pleases Him. It pleases God when you make Him known through your subject. It pleases God when you represent Him through your attitude. It pleases God when use your classroom for his glory. Be encouraged if you identified areas of improvement in your biblical integration. Those improvements are simply future opportunities to worship God through our teaching. And they will please Him too.

The Class Rules/Guidelines: Integrating Course Tools

A teacher recently emailed me about integrating the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) into her class rules/guidelines. What a great idea! Rules and expectations  are powerful because they guide thinking and behavior throughout the whole year. Therefore, biblically integrated rules/guidelines will help be a constant way for us to point students toward Christ. So what does it look like for a teacher to integrate their class rules?

We must start by considering the purpose of biblical laws/rules. There are three uses of biblical rules: 1) Like a mirror, the law reflects the perfections of God and the brokenness of mankind. 2) Like a road-sign, the law commands against evil actions. It is a dam against our rushing inclination to evil. 3) Like a map, it shows believers how to live in ways that actively please God. In essence, biblically integrated rules should help the non-Christian student see the need to follow Christ and help the Christian student to see how to follow Christ. The rules should call both types of students to follow Christ in the way that is appropriate for where they are.

Biblically integrated classroom rules should accomplish all three uses aims listed above. Let’s look at the fruit of the Spirit to get a picture of how this might work.

Our key verses are Galatians 5:22-23:, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” As we read carefully, we should note some key things. How many fruits of the Spirit are there? One. This is an important fact: there are not fruits of the Spirit. There is only one fruit. The word “fruit” is singular. Love, joy, peace, etc. are all part of the same fruit. Why does this matter? Because there is only one type of life that comes from being filled with the Spirit–a life of godliness. Believers recognize that a person cannot be loving with also being kind, good, faithful, etc. 

And where does this fruit come from? The Spirit. These are not fruits of the Christian, but of the Spirit of Christ. We see this confirmed in Philippians 1:11 where Paul speaks of the “fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Where does our righteousness come from? Christ Jesus. We can live for Him only by the righteousness that is ours through his atonement for us. He is the One who makes his people godly. But that does not mean that He does not use our efforts.

If we rewind a little to look at Galatians 5:16-17, we hear Paul say, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” God commands that his people choose to walk by the Spirit. This means putting in effort to obey.

Now that we have a basic background study done on our passage, we can turn it into a set of rules. For example, you might write something like:

In this class, we are pursuing godly attitudes and actions that reflect Jesus’ perfect:
– Love.
– Joy.
– Peace.
– Patience.
– Kindness.
– Goodness.
– Faithfulness.
– Gentleness.
– Self-Control.
When we succeed, we thank God for helping us. When we fail, we look to Him for forgiveness.

Now, this might look like a simple list from the verses, but it is actually more than that. The introductory line points students to Christ as the perfect example. We try to reflect Him. The closing line shows that God is the One who empowers us to live in a way that pleases Him.

Ultimately, when students see this list of guidelines/rules, the lost see a wonderful picture of Christ. They are constantly reintroduced to the God who pursues his people. Those who know Jesus get a clear picture of what it looks like to honor Christ. All are called to the same standards of behavior. Therefore, this list based on the fruit of the Spirit fulfills all three uses of the law.

While I used Galatians 5:22-23 for this example of integrated rules, there are many ways that a teacher could go. There are are a million ways to integrate your class rules/guidelines. Other great passages that you might use are Colossians 3:12-14, Matthew 22:37-40, and a ton of others. I think that you will find integrating your guidelines/rules valuable. It will take a little work and creativity now, but it will pay dividends throughout your year to come.