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.”

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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).

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 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.

The Power of Out-of-Class Interaction: Biblical Integration

In Every Bush is Burning, I make the case the biblical integrators should be “incarnational, intentional instigators.” The idea is that Christian educators should model a life of discipleship on purpose while showing conflict between a Christian worldview and others ways of understanding life. While much of this takes place in the classroom, biblical integration must not be caged up there.

Christian educators can show students an important picture of Christianity in the real world at lunch, in meetings, during ceremonies and chapel, in sports or clubs, and wherever else students and teachers interact. And there is inherent power in this out-of-class connection. This power shows up in what I will call the ACDs: application, credibility, and definition (I know, it’s not as good as the ABCs).

In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, we read, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This passage helps us see the need for ACDs. It shows that teaching must happen at home (the usual confines of learning) and on the road (outside of the regular instructional location). Why? Because the rubber always meets the road on the road.

Application – How does this play out in real life?

It is valuable for a parent (or teacher) to instruct a student in the classroom to love God. However, when you speak about these instructions at home and on the road, the student is able to see how these commands look in the world. The teacher who engages with students at lunch, on the playground, before or after classes, and in the halls has the chance to show the intersection of biblical teaching and biblical living.

Credibility – Do you really believe what you say?

Students can spot an artificial person. They have a radar for the fake. When we show them that we believe what we teach through our actions, they will be more invested in listening to us. In other words, if what we teach in the class doesn’t line up with what we are like out of class, it is a problem. But when it does line up, it is beautiful.

Definition – What does a clear picture of your teaching look like?

In Deuteronomy 6, the call is to impress the teachings of God on our children. They need more than vague ideas. This is one of the reasons why Jesus did not just come out of a hidden cave to teach before disappearing. He taught often, but he married his teachings to his actions and called his disciples, “follow me.” It was not enough for Him to say, “You have heard it said… but I say…” His students needed to hear Him speak and watch his life. He said, “Love your neighbor,” and then He showed that command by laying down his life.

So in order to impress God’s teaching on our students, they need the ACDs. They need to see us in our regular instructional areas, but they also need to see that instruction playing out in our lives. Maybe think of it like this: if your classroom interaction is the text, let your out-of-class interaction be the illustration. Together those two things can form an engaging and persuasive textbook for students to learn from.

“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.

Hearing the Voice of God: Biblical Integration and Listening to the Spirit

After reading the recent LeadLikeThis article on prayer, a few people came to me saying something like, “Your article helped me to better understand how to speak to God and how to help students do that… but how can I hear Him speaking to me?” This is an important question, so I wanted to answer thoroughly and biblically. If we are followers of Christ, it is necessary that we are able to confidently hear his voice so that we can know Him, love Him, and follow his direction. So where can we turn to hear God’s voice? The first place we go should be Scripture.

Scripture is God’s words (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, anyone who wants to hear God speak should open up the Bible and read. While popular pastors like Andy Stanley may be telling us to unhitch from parts of the Bible, we recognize that Scripture is filled with God’s own endorsement of his written Word. Psalm 1 says it brings joy. Psalm 18 calls it flawless. Psalm 19 says it is perfect. Psalm 119 says it is a light for our path and the way to purity. Isaiah 40 testifies that it lasts forever. 1 Peter 1 calls it living. And the list could go on and on.

The Bible is only place that a person can go to be 100% sure that he is hearing from God. While the Spirit of God can and does actively lead us, there are others who would as well. Scripture is the key in knowing the voice of God as He leads us. The sheep know the Shepherd’s voice to us (John 10:4) because it is always consistent with his Word to others (Titus 1:2). His voice is always calling us to “crucify the flesh” so that we can walk “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). We know we are in step with the desires of the Spirit when we live according to the Word of the Spirit. The Bereans pleased God and were called noble because they tested Paul’s preaching against Scripture (Acts 17:11). As a result of their use of the Word, many believed (Acts 17:12).

As evangelical Christians, we call this trust in God’s Word the sufficiency of Scripture: that everything we need to know in order to follow God in this life is found in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:17 says that Scripture thoroughly equips God’s servants for every good work. “Every good work” includes your work as a biblically integrating teacher. The Bible is sufficient for leading you because it is God’s own words.

What about the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t He speak today? Yes… notably through the Bible. Look at 2 Peter 1:20-21:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Author and Originator of the Bible. Those who want to hear the Spirit’s voice need only open his book. He has given it to us. And He wants us to go to the Word since it is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). There is no distinction between the words of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and active, and that Word is the Spirit’s Word.

So how does the Bible lead the Christian teacher? Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Not only did the Spirit of God inspire the text of Scripture, He also applies it to us. He reminds God’s people about the Person and work of Jesus (John 14:26). In that way, the Holy Spirit points away from Himself and to the glory of Christ (John 16:14). This is not because He is lower or less than Christ (He is not), but because each Member of the Trinity has different roles. We see these differentiated roles in the gospel: the Father sent the Son (John 3:16), the Son lived and died (Romans 5:8), the Spirit raised the Son from the dead (Romans 8:11). We can also clearly see the roles of the Trinity in creation, in Jesus’ baptism, and in God’s work of drawing us to Himself. Likewise, each Member of the Trinity has a different role in speaking to us. The Spirit “carried along” human writers as He authored Scripture through them. But the Bible is complete (Revelation 22:18-19), so what does the Spirit do now that his canon is closed? One pastor sums it up well:

“The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower us as we preach, teach, write, talk, witness, think, serve, and live. He does lead us into God’s truth and direct us into God’s will for our lives. But He does it through God’s Word, never apart from it.”

The Spirit works all the time in our world in real ways. He guides us. He convicts us. He reminds us. He encourages us. He is alive and active. And He does all of those things in conjunction with his perfect Word. The Spirit has said all that need be said in his Word, and the complete faith has been handed down once and for all in the Bible (Jude 3). Thank the Spirit for that! And ask Him to bring his own words to bear on our lives through his active ministry.

And, of course, a strong belief in the sufficiency of Scripture does not in any way diminish our confidence in the supernatural God’s ability to do supernatural things. The message of the Good News is a perfect picture of the supernatural Word in action since the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). Faith is a supernatural gift that the Spirit gives through the hearing of the Word about Christ (Romans 10:17). Our God works in wondrous ways and He does as He pleases. But any miraculous works we see are servants of the miraculous Word since Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), and God does not contradict Himself. Those who love to please the Spirit should love to honor his priority on the Word.

The Spirit may use any number of means to illuminate and apply the Scripture to our lives as He pleases. Through the Word, the Spirit tells us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). He then shows us how to love our neighbor, convicts us when we don’t, and gives us the power to love like He does. Therefore, we must recognize that all of God’s supernatural works are meant to point us back to his voice as revealed in the Bible. The Bible is the Spirit’s voice and He is invested in letting it ring out clearly in our minds and hearts.

So to close: What kind of person pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word (Isaiah 66:2). What kind of teacher pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word and rightly handles that Word (2 Timothy 2:15). If you want to hear God speak, look to his Word and tremble. The Spirit of God will work through his Word in you and in your class. If you want to lead your students to hear God’s voice, call them to tremble at his Word as well. How do we hear his voice? We go to his Word.