Biblical Integrators Must Be Ever-Improving Educators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaches to Integration: Wisdom

The Wisdom Approach to biblical integration is more about how to think rather than what to think. It is more of an attitude than a singular approach. And anyone can use it seamlessly with the methods they are already employing in the classroom. This attitude/approach is unique because it can be implemented in conjunction with all the other approaches. The idea is to consider the perspective from which content is presented and the directions in which it might go. The goal is not that students would know certain things, but be a certain way: wise. Wisdom is key to living a life that is honorable in the eyes of God and fruitful for his kingdom (2 Tim 3:15, Jas 1:5). Those who exercise the wisdom approach think about things like: 

1) What is the worldview/agenda of those sharing info? People write, speak, and share content for a reason. This means students should be exploring the differences in the missions of info-sources. For example, World Magazine is coming from a fundamentally different place than the New York Times. While it can be easy to find daylight between news sources, students also need to learn how to understand the agendas of textbook publishers, ministries, academic journals, popular authors, and more. We live in an age where an avalanche of information is being delivered to us daily. Therefore, students must learn to wisely examine why content creators are motivated to share. They must also determine what aligns with a biblical worldview, a gospel-centered agenda, and Christian ethics.

2) Now that I know ________, how can it be leveraged for God’s glory and kingdom? Everyone lives for something. Many students hope to leverage skills for wealth, fame, attention, comfort, etc. And none of those things are innately bad. However, we know that if God made all things for his glory, we should work to aim all things toward his glory. To illustrate, when students learn to speak publicly, we want them to consider how they might share the Good News publicly. When students learn to understand cells, energy, or the parts of the body, we want them to intuitively lean into using that scientific knowledge to show love and make a difference. Students should not only learn about any specific thing, but must also learn how to orient and use that thing for God and godliness

3) How should this information change me? How can this form me more into the image of Christ? As we learn anything, wisdom compels us to become more like Christ. If we see big demographic problems in the world (poverty, disease, etc.), we should become more grateful for God’s grace to us, more prayerful that God would use his church to serve those in need. If we learn about history, we can see the successes/mistakes of those in the past and, then, consider how we can learn from them. If we learn to count, we should become awed at the number of things, both big and small, that God has made in his wisdom and power. If we read a novel about forgiveness, we should consider who and how God might call us to forgive. If we sing in the choir, we can think about how we can partner  and unite with others in other ways for God’s glory. The wise person learns about God by learning about God’s world, but he also learns how to live more faithfully for God in the world. 

There are many other questions and ideas that could come from integrating using this attitude, but this is a start. 

Key Resource Wisdom and Curriculum: Christian Schooling After Postmodernity by Doug Blomberg. This book is a deep-dive into some of these concepts. 

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Story Approach to Biblical Integration.

Approaches to Integration: Worldview

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

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The Worldview Approach to biblical integration is similar in many ways to the Biblical-Theology Approach. They are both versatile and helpful in all subject areas. However, rather than taking cues from the overarching meta-narrative of Scripture, the Worldview Approach uses worldview questions to better understand what a particular area of academic content teaches about God, ourselves, the world, and life in general. 

Personally, I think that James Sire’s list of eight worldview questions may be the most comprehensive toolbox of worldview questions. But they may be overwhelming to many teachers. Therefore, I recommend that those using this approach to integration lean on four questions from Ravi Zacharias instead. They are:

Origin  – Where do we come from?

Meaning – Why are we here?

Morality – What’s right and what’s wrong?

Destiny – Where are we going?

For example, an art teacher might point out that God is the origin of art — He is the ultimate Artist that all others strive to imitate when they create. He is also the definition of the beauty and wonder that art tries to convey. The teacher might also explain our response to, and desire for, beauty demonstrates that we were made to experience the beauty of holiness (Ps 96:9). We find our meaning in the One who defines beauty. We were made to be satisfied by his glory. 

Art also allows us to explore and express morality. It can point to the tragedy of sin. It can illustrate the treasure of kindness, bravery, self-sacrifice. It can help us see that true morality is loving God and others. To that end, one famous artist said, “My paintings are messengers of God’s love.” Our subjects are not only subjects to study, but to use to share and teach and explain the Good News. And art can also speak to destiny. From stained-glass to film, art can express things and ask questions that ordinary means cannot. It can show that life is a vapor, that we long for something beyond this world, and much more. Even more, students can lean into their destiny as imagers of God by creating art that reflects God’s glory, nature, and character. 

Key ResourceRZIM Ministries: What is a Worldview? from Ravi Zacharias 

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Contributor Approach to Biblical Integration.

Approaches to Integration: Biblical Theology

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements.

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The Biblical-Theology Approach is one of the more common frameworks for structuring integration. It’s particularly helpful because of the way that it leans on large biblical themes, can be applied to every subject well, and allows room for creativity. The idea is to consider your class’s material through the lenses of Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

  • Creation: God has made all things. And He made them for his glory. So how does your topic/lesson/unit point to a wise, powerful, kind Creator?
  • Fall: All created things have been broken by sin. Where and how do you see the marring of sin in your material?
  • Redemption: Believers are called represent the Redeemer. So how can you and your students use class-content to help, serve, build up, or make wrong-things right?

A biology teacher might say, “Look at the way that God created cells. They demonstrate wisdom and power. But we can also see the effects of the Fall. Cancer, for instance, shows that sometimes cells are broken. But, doctors and researchers are trying to bring redemption into the situation when they love and serve others by treating and healing those with cancer.

Key ResourceBiblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption by Mark Ward

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Worldview Approach to Biblical Integration. 

9 Integration Lessons that Can Be Learned Through Sports

Sometimes my writing about biblical integration can focus more on classroom activities than co-curricular ones. However, most Christian schools also teach students outside of the classroom — often through sports. Here is a list of nine truths that can be easily taught in the context of sports. I hope that you find it helpful!

1) Treat others as more important than self. 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Phil 2:3-4

When you are on a team, you have to look out for one another. Each team member is meant to serve the others. In football, linemen block for those with the ball. In basketball, players might give up their own shot in order to get the ball to a player in a better position. This teaches us big lessons about life. In our churches, neighborhoods, families, and workplaces, we are to always treat others as more important than ourselves. 

2) Hard work makes a difference.

A sluggard’s appetite is never filled,  but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. – Prov 13:4

Who ends up satisfied? The hard worker. In the end, we will not see the most talented individuals holding gold medals. No, we’ll see the hardest workers. This doesn’t mean that talent is meaningless. But it does mean that it is not enough. Hard work will also pay off in future marriages, in evangelism, in giving, in serving. 

3) Preparation pays off.

Go to the ant, you sluggard;  consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. – Prov 6:6-8

The ant works in the summer so that it will be ready in winter. When you lift weights, work on conditioning, or cross-train out of season, it pays off in-season. This truth helps in every area of life. Preparation pays off. Want to be a missionary? Prepare by not accumulating student-loan debt. Want to be a doctor? Start working on science-knowledge and people skills now. Want to be able to retire? Start saving and investing now.

4) Each role is important.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts,according to the grace given to each of us. – Rom 12:4-6

The quarterback might be the star, but, in the NFL, the left-tackle has become the second highest-paid position. Not receiver. Not running back. Left tackle. The left tackle should never touch the ball, should never make a tackle, should never run a route, but is very highly paid. Why? Because team-success requires that this player be there to protect and block. This isn’t a headline-grabbing role, but it is one that results in wins. In other words, each member of a team plays an important (but different) role. Some might get more attention, but all are important.

5) Doing hard things can be satisfying.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. – Eph 6:11

Success in life often relates to standing against the devil’s schemes. The devil is power and smart and active. It is hard to stand against him. But it is worth it. We see this in sports too — cutting a minute off of a 5k time is hard, but satisfying. 

6) We must respect authority.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. – Rom 13:1-2

Referees, umpires, judges, and committees have authority in sports. We must respect them even when we disagree. We also have authority-figures in our coaches and captains. Athletes can learn to respect authority in sports. This understanding will pay off throughout life. And will help them respect the ultimate authority — God Himself. 

7) Disqualification is a real threat.

I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1 Cor 9:27

Lance Armstrong. Barry Bonds. SMU. UNLV. Maria Sharapova. This is a tiny list of the many famous athletes or organizations that have felt the string of disqualification in one way or another. These were all greats, but they’ll be remembered by many for what they did wrong. Sports can teach athletes the importance of remaining eligible. Other things can disqualify us from more important things in life. People can be disqualified from ministry, certain jobs, military service, relationships, etc. from not living rightly. 

8) Life is made up of many individual matches.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. – Heb 3:13

A team can lose a game, but still win a championship. A team might even lose a conference, but still win a championship. Life is not defined by any one day (although, one day could disqualify us). Therefore, when we fail, we need to learn to get up, grow, and keep going. 

9) My mistakes can hurt others.

If you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the Lord’s flock will be taken captive. – Jer 13:17

If a player doesn’t run out a ground-ball, it can hurt the whole team. If a player gives up on his blocking assignment, it can hurt the whole team. This teaches important lessons. The sins of a father can hurt his kids and spouse. 

Sports are powerful tools for biblical integration. Don’t waste the opportunities that they provide. 

You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel: Resources for Biblical Integration

As you are getting ready for the upcoming school-year, I want to take a big burden off of you: you don’t need to come up with all-new, original material for your biblical integration. Just as you don’t need to start from scratch in your content (you might use a pre-written curriculum, for example), you don’t need to start from scratch for your integration. Here are four simple tools that you can use to resource your well-integrated course.**

1) Subject Specific Books

I recommend the “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition” series. There is something there for nearly everyone. They have low-cost, biblically-faithful books on most subjects. There is, without question, enough material in each of these books to engage a class for a year (or more). 

You might also enjoy other books that relate to your topics. For example,I have been reading Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition that Life is Designed by Douglas Axe. I could see it being helpful as a resource in high school biology classes — the teacher could quote from it to begin discussions, or assign different chapters to different students to present on, or simply read to privately help build up a more cohesive worldview. 

2) Podcasts

There are numerous options out there in this category. If you search, you can probably find almost anything. But here are some that I engage with regularly:

The Briefing from Albert Mohler – daily news and events from a Christian worldview. 

Help Me Teach the Bible from The Gospel Coalition – valuable interaction with numerous biblical topics

The Great Books Podcast from National Review– not explicitly Christian, but helps me regularly engage with great literature.

The World and Everything In It  from World Magazine – a Christian news and society show. 

Marketplace Tech from American Public Media – not Christian, but helps me understand what the world is thinking concerning digital and technological ideas. 

One of the great things about a podcast is that there is a pipeline of new material. You can get to the end of a book, but many podcasts just keep going and going. 

3) Magazines

Books take a long time to write, edit, and publish. Magazines, on the other hand, are much more current and quick to press. Therefore, they can help us stay connected to current ideas, news, and questions in a helpful fashion.

World magazine stands alone (as far as I know) in terms of quality concerning biblical-worldview thinking. A subscription is worth getting, but it also has wonderful “Science and Tech”  and “Business and Economy” sections online for free. 

Christianity Today has a good topic list that can help you find Christian material in any number of areas. 

4) Interaction with Experts

Have you seen elementary school kids get excited when the fire-truck visits the school? Well, this kind of thing can happen in other areas too. And it can make biblical integration come to life. Do you know Christian business-person that could visit your business class? What about a Christian engineer for physics, a writer/journalist for English, an immigrant or missionary for Spanish, or a musician for music? You don’t have to always be the expert. There is massive power in connecting students to people who are using the skills they are working on in class. There is even more power in showing students how an area of work is unique or important from a Christian worldview in real life. 

I can foresee times where Christian experts and professionals share their testimonies, or do demonstrations, or engage in Q&As, or judge a competition, or lead a masterclass. All this to say: Why not bring in someone who lives out biblical integration in life? You and your class will benefit from their expertise. 

So, what should you do now to help you develop a great class for this year?

First, explore a little bit. Next, pick a resource or two to use. Don’t try to do too much. Then, look at its contents and figure out how/when/what you will include in your class. Finally, note that in your syllabus or unit plans. This will help you in many ways. You’ll have an idea of what integration ideas to use, you’ll have a concrete plan for how to use them, and you’ll be free of the pressure of needing to come up with all of your own ideas.

**Please note that while I am pointing to what I believe are powerful resources, I am not endorsing all of the content you might find in each area. 

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.