What Does God Have to Say About 2+2=4?
Taking a Look at Biblical Integration
Dr. Lynn Swaner, Academic Dean
If you ask parents who have chosen Christian schooling why they made that decision for their children, you probably should sit down and get comfortable – because most parents will have a lot to say! They often start by explaining that their investment in Christian schooling is well worth the cost, given the long-term impact it will have on their children’s lives. And then they will give you a long list of the benefits they readily see in their children’s lives, most of which fall into two main categories:
1. The Christian environment of the school, which includes the hiring of Christian faculty and staff, admission of Christian students, exalting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and upholding of Biblical moral and behavioral standards. All of these elements help create a godly and nurturing atmosphere for learning.
2. The Christian disciplines, such as reading the Bible, memorizing scripture, learning to pray, worshipping corporately, and serving others. Parents recognize that the Christian disciplines they practice at home are reinforced – meaning taught, practiced, and encouraged – at Christian schools, whereas in many other settings, such disciplines are not welcomed or even permitted.
Each of these categories is critically important, and sets Christian schooling apart from many of the other educational choices parents have for their children.
However, neither one directly deals with what students learn academically. And ironically, isn’t that the central purpose of a school? As the saying goes, we send our children to school to learn their “Rs” – reading, writing, and arithmetic. And yet, Christian schools really do offer a unique benefit in this area as well, and one can argue that it has a profound impact on the rest of students’ lives. This benefit isn’t as readily obvious as #1 or #2 above, so it’s important to take some time to discuss what Christian schools do differently in terms of academics – which after all, is the main reason students go to school. This brings us to #3:
3. Biblical integration, which means the Bible is integrated (or woven) into every subject area that students learn. In other words, students learn every subject – math, science, literature, and so forth – from the perspective of God’s Word, which we hold as the ultimate source of truth.
While this may sound obvious, it is much harder to imagine what Biblical integration actually looks like in the classroom. Most of us can pretty readily imagine what it looks like for students to learn the Bible, and we can also imagine what it looks like for students to learn math, but what on earth does it look like when students learn math through the perspective of the Bible?
What Does Biblical Integration Look Like?
It’s helpful to use a visual to understand Biblical integration. Let’s represent education as students looking through a telescope. Specifically, students look through the telescope directly at whatever they are learning (see Figure 1). However, how they use this telescope determines whether their education is Biblically integrated or not. In Figure 1, students use their telescope to look at either the Bible (the top graphic on the right) or their academic subjects (the stack of books toward the bottom). In this figure, which shows us what Biblical integration isn’t, students must switch between the two – they can either look at the Bible, or they can look at their subjects (math, science, literature, etc.). They must make a choice, because they cannot look at both at the same time. This is exactly what a lack of Biblical integration looks like. This is the “default” situation for children who attend public school, as they cannot learn the Bible alongside the subjects they are learning in school (and it’s up to parents to make the connections at home, typically in those precious few hours in the evening after sports, music lessons, etc.). Or at a Christian school that doesn’t do Biblical integration well, students will typically have a period or time of the day “set aside” for Bible, but the Bible is not mentioned or discussing in any other subjects or times like math, science, and literature.the two – they can either look at the Bible, or they can look at their subjects (math, science, literature, etc.). They must make a choice, because they cannot look at both at the same time. This is exactly what a lack of Biblical integration looks like.
In contrast, when students’ education is Biblically integrated, they look first at the Bible and then through the Bible to examine their subjects. This is illustrated in Figure 2, where students begin with the Bible as the starting point for all of their learning, and it is from the perspective of the Bible that they continually look at their subject matter. The Bible becomes a kind of “holding tank” for all of the students’ subjects, as the Biblical perspective is regularly referenced and discussed. Along these lines, Christian educators will often explain that “God has something to say about every subject, and every subject has something to say about God.” Some examples of Biblical integration include:
In science, students begin with learning about the origin of the universe through studying the Genesis 1 account, and move from there to explore the different kinds of plants, animals, and physical elements that God created.
- In math, students learn that the laws of mathematics, which are orderly, elegant and perfect, are the design of a God who created all things (Colossians 1:16), who never changes (Hebrews 13:8), and in whom all things are held together (Colossians 1:17).
- In literature, students will examine the motives of main characters through what the Bible has to say about human desires and actions and the consequences of such; for example, in the classic tale of Moby Dick, students analyze the plot and main characters not solely as literary elements, but also in terms of what the Bible says regarding the destructive outcome of pride (Proverbs 11:2)and the futility of revenge (Romans 12:18-21).
How Does Biblical Integration Happen?
Unfortunately, Biblical integration doesn’t happen automatically, and Christian schools need to be intentional in a number of ways. This includes faculty training and evaluation, by regularly providing workshops for teachers and including Biblical integration in feedback on their teaching. But perhaps the most important thing a school can do is to select high-quality textbooks and curricula that are already Biblically integrated. Purchasing books from Christian publishers is sometimes the more expensive option, especially in places where public school textbooks are made available to private school students for free. However, just like Christian schooling itself, the benefit of textbooks and curricula that are already Biblically integrated far outweighs the cost.
The difference is that with Christian textbooks and curricula, teachers and students alike have Biblically-integrated subject material at their fingertips. This means that the Biblical perspective no longer is an “add-on,” which requires more work for already busy teachers, is awkward at best, and teaches students that the Bible is separate from the subjects they are learning (more on that in a minute). This holds true even if secular textbooks and curricula are values-neutral – and they aren’t (even a cursory glance at a secular science text, with its foundation in evolution, will reveal). As Proverbs 9:10 explains, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” It stands to reason that choosing educational resources that have their foundation in the fear and knowledge of the Lord will only benefit students’ attainment of wisdom and understanding in their studies.
Biblical integration can have a profound impact on how students view truth.
What are the Benefits of Biblical Integration?
The first benefit of Biblical integration is that students are presented with the Gospel throughout their day. In every subject area – whether math, science, literature, history, and so on – students are shown God’s purposes in creation, the corruption resulting from mankind’s fall, and the redemption of the cross. Science students, for example, will learn about caring for the environment (Biblical stewardship as commanded in Genesis), the human tendency to exploit natural resources (the corrupting effects of the fall), and how conservation efforts can mitigate environmental damage (which echoes Christ’s redemptive work). In this kind of learning environment, students don’t have to wait until their Bible class to hear the Gospel, because the Gospel is seamlessly presented throughout their day and in every subject.
Second, Biblical integration can have a profound impact on how students view truth. If their learning is not Biblically integrated, students learn that the Bible is separate from their academic studies – and they often infer that “truth” can exist apart from the Bible (e.g., the Bible as separate from, and equally true as, the equation 2+2=4). If students develop this view of truth, they are in for a world of trouble in the future, particularly if they attend a secular college. Such students (who believe the Bible has little or nothing to say about the subjects they study) often come to view the Gospel as a matter of personal belief or preference. Further, in the postmodern culture of today, it becomes difficult for a student who looks at the world and sees multiple, separate truths to argue that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, emphases added). In contrast, the student who has learned a subject like math (and the equation 2+2=4) in a Biblically integrated classroom understands the relationship between the Bible and math: math has its origin in the divine creation of an ordered and predictable universe, and the truth found in math emanates from its creator, who is Himself truth. In other words, the 2+2=4 is true precisely because God created it as such.
Finally, an education that is Biblically integrated can have a lasting and profound impact into adulthood. Because the connections between the Bible and the subjects they learn are continually placed before them, students can more easily see the connections between God’s Word and other areas of their lives (such as college, career, volunteering, etc.). The sacred/secular dichotomy – in which our work Monday through Friday is “secular” and has little to do with a “sacred” Sunday – is less likely to exist in their thinking, because they were never taught to think that way. Students who learn God’s Word only during Bible class or at home are more likely infer that most of their daily life has little to do with God, whereas students in a Biblically integrated environment readily learn that every part of their life has everything to do with God.
While providing a Christian environment for learning and nurturing the Christian disciplines are important components of Christian education, the hallmark of the academic enterprise of Christian schooling is undoubtedly Biblical integration.
We are most privileged to have our students learn from Christian teachers and develop their ability to worship God in various ways, but we would consider their education a failure if they didn’t thoroughly learn math, literature, science, history, and so forth. And it’s through a Biblically integrated Christian education that students learn not only their subject matter, but also that God has something to say about every part of their lives – and in turn, every part of students’ lives will have something to say about God.