Christianity and Christian Schooling in America: Part One

The summary data from a fascinating research project conducted by George Barna were recently published by Arizona Christian University’s Cultural Research Center. The findings are worthy of consideration and discussion. Therefore, I will be devoting the next few posts to reflections on this study. Some topics will include:

1. Biblical beliefs are unusual in American culture.
2. The biblical worldview doesn’t stay biblical without the Bible.
3. Self-identification is often an exercise in self-deception.
4. Taking away from the teachings of the Bible is dangerous.
5. Adding to the teachings of the Bible is dangerous. 

Let’s start by looking at #1 this week. Only 6% of American adults belong to a group that uniformly believes that the Bible is the true, accurate Word of God. Only 6% belong to a group that is uniformly confident that God is the perfect, just, all-powerful, ruling Creator. Only 6% percent belong to a group that almost unanimously holds that salvation is not contingent on people doing enough good things to earn eternal life.

What do these facts say about you and your school?

If you believe the Bible is true, you are in the minority. If you believe in the biblical view of God’s nature and character, please know that many, even some who call themselves “Christians,” disagree with you. Works-based false gospels have been prevalent since the birth of the church. Paul battled them in Galatia. We battle them in the USA. 

Biblical beliefs are unusual in American culture. In ACU’s summary, Barna notes, “‘Christian’ has become somewhat of a generic term rather than a name that reflects a deep commitment to passionately pursuing and being like Jesus Christ.” Generic Christian-ish ideals and sentiments are common. But specific, concrete commitments stemming from the Bible are not not.

How does your Christian school communicate what it believes about God, Bible, and salvation? How well do your students understand those things? Is your school “Christian” or is it Christian? What about your specific classroom? How can you tell?

Next time, we will take a look at the role of the Bible in shaping the biblical worldview.

Knowing About God is Not Enough: Biblical Integration

In his classic book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer offers the following reminder:

If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens.

(Packer, 21)

Knowing about God is essential, but it is not enough. There was a certain group of knowledgeable people in Jesus’ day, but they had a problem: they saw the knowledge as the end rather than the means. Here is Jesus’ response to this group:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?

(John 5:39-40, 46-47)

As academic disciple-makers, we want to make sure that our students know about God. But we don’t want to stop there. We want our biblical integration to show that Word and the world testify about Christ. And He is not a mere fact to be downloaded, but a Person to be honored, treasured, worshiped, and pursued. One goal of our work is to help students to know about God. But that goal serves a greater goal. 

Knowledge about God is meant to help people live well in relationship with Him. When we know that He is faithful, we can live in faith. When we know that He is strong, we can trust Him to handle the things that are too big for us. When we know that He is kind, we can approach Him in repentance. 

In other words, knowledge is meant to be fuel for worship. When you serve your students through biblical integration, remember that all the knowledge you teach your students about God is meant to help them know and rightly respond to Him. Part of your role as an academic disciple-maker is to be an academic worship-leader. As your students gain knowledge about God, give them the opportunity to respond to that knowledge in praise, wonder, repentance, fear, joy, and love. 

High-Pressure Testing: Biblical Integration and Calling Students to Examination

Testing is a hot-topic for teachers. What kinds of tests are best? How should tests be constructed? What are the outcomes that we are looking for? What do test-results really mean?

Tests are often on the minds of students as well. They can sometimes be opportunities to shine. But they can also be stressful. This is especially true of high-leverage tests like the ACT/SAT or other standardized tests. Graduation could be on the line. Acceptance could be on the line. Scholarships could be on the line. Tests, especially in academic settings, can be high-pressure activities. However, they can also be quite valuable. This is also true in our spiritual lives. 

Recently, our school devoted time in MS/HS chapel to interact with the question, “How can I know for sure that I am saved?” This is an important test: a probing question. And it is one that many students were asking. Thankfully, it is also a biblical question. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul challenges the church there, saying, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” There is a way to test ourselves. And it is possible to fail.

Self-examination is a crucial part of following Jesus. And the test-results should lead people to know where they actually stand. In 1 John 5:13, the motivation of John’s writing is clear: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Believers should test themselves. And they should know if they pass the test. 

So what does this examination look like? How can we examine ourselves? How do we really test ourselves so that we can know for sure that we have eternal life?

One of our chapel-speakers pointed out that one evidence of salvation is change: Have you been changed by the gospel? Is your life becoming more Christlike? Are you hating and battling sin? That is in line with what John says just a few verses later: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them,” (1 John 5:18).

A famous Reformation line is something like, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone.” We can test if our belief is real by the impact it has on our living. Good faith will be joined by good works. Are we being changed? Are we growing? Do we keep fighting?

At the close of this article, let me take a turn toward academic discipleship in particular. As a teacher, you likely test your students. You probably also teach them to self-assess. They may learn to do study guides, reviews, practice activities, ungraded quizzes, and more. But are you teaching them to examine themselves to see whether or not they are in the faith? 

I am burdened that there are many non-Christian students populating Christian schools. There will come a day when they face the true final exam. Standing before the Lord Himself, will they hear, “Well done!” or “I never knew you,”? Perhaps practicing some self-examination now will put them in position to prepare for that final exam.   

If you speak of God in your integration (and I am confident that you do), consider helping students test where they stand with that God. The final exam is coming for all of us: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.,” (Heb 9:27-28).

Teaching Students to Think Wisely: Biblical Integration

Time with students is limited. They will graduate. They will move on. And the Christian school strives to make an impact on them before they go. But what mark are we trying to leave? Well, we want them to have necessary knowledge; they need truth. However, they also need the skill of biblical thinking. We don’t want them to leave without the skill of properly weighing all things against the Word of God. We want them to be wise.

Wise choices are godly choices. Therefore, we want our students to learn to think wisely. Proverbs 4:7 makes the priority of wisdom clear, saying, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Therefore, the Christian school’s goal is to help students get wisdom; though it cost all we have, we must give understanding. Dr. Matthew Hall says that the Christian school should “mobilize its curriculum, faculty, and programming to help students develop the skill of thinking critically according to God’s revelation.” In other words, everything the Christian school does should help students become wise. 

We are not primarily invested in what students know, but in how they think. However, the Bible actually makes an amazing connection between knowledge and wisdom: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both (Prov 1:7, 9:10). Therefore, knowledge and wisdom are bound together. Those who know the truth about God are in position to honor Him with their lives by fearing Him. If wisdom and understanding are worth paying any price, we should give our all to teach our students to fear God. 

If we graduate God-fearers, we are largely successful. I think a large portion of our work may boil down to that. And if I am measuring the efficacy of my teaching, I can ask myself: Are my students trembling at his Word more because of my class? (Isaiah 66:2). Are they growing in fear of the One who can kill the soul rather than those who can only harm the body? (Matt 10:28). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. If I am teaching my students to fear God, I am teaching them to think wisely. In light of this, let me encourage you to consider developing and implementing biblical integration that shows your students God’s glory. Help them to see Him for who He is: worthy of awe and worship. This will equip them to live lives that are worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1). This will help them to think wisely.