(The following is a talk I had the honor of presenting to the excellent faculty of Trinity Christian School, Lubbock, TX.)
Of all our core values, the Bible is the most important and certainly foundational to the other seven. Without the Bible as source and foundation, leadership, education, family, church and the rest have no transformational value.
We know this to be true. Yet there is a difference between knowing and doing. As a school we are every day about the “doing” of Christian education. There are many aspects to the conversation of Bible as core value. Let us consider a couple.
All I can offer is what I see with my one good eye. This is my third year at TCS. Something I continue to appreciate about our team is the deep and varied life experience each one of us brings to this place and to our students. We all come from somewhere and we all have our stories. That is part of God’s plan, as we will talk about in a bit.
I’ve been in ministry for 28 years. During that time I’ve been blessed with the experience of working on the inside, serving as a leader, teaching pastor, and now Christian school teacher. I have also worked and continue to work on the outside. 16 of those 28 years were spent purposely using my Master of Divinity degree in the workplace, talking God and theology with those who, for whatever reason, have nothing to do with God and His church. I continue to have a career in the marketplace as a writer. That’s the background I show up with every day.
Having been on both sides of the ministry line, I can affirm what you already know. Our students are graduating into a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. In some ways, exponentially so. As I tell my students, we their teachers and parents know what it’s like to be teenagers. We don’t know what it’s like to be teenagers in 2017. That’s the rub. It’s a different world for which we are desperately trying to prepare them.
My observation, which has been confirmed by many of you who’ve been at TCS much longer than I, is that we are witnessing a negative trend. Our students are increasingly Biblically illiterate. Even in my short tenure here, I’ve seen the decrease of Biblical knowledge in my classes. Verses like Romans 3:23, John 3:16, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 1:6, verses that you and I have known since we were chewing Flintstone vitamins and drinking Chocolate Quik, draw blank stares from too many students.
While there is plenty of blame to spread around, my belief is one of the biggest culprits is the church. Over the past 20 years the church on a macro level has bent toward cultural relevancy and away from traditional Sunday School. Instead of lessons about Noah, Moses, David, Paul, and even Jesus, we’ve turned it into a happy, happy fun time hour with a Bible verse attached.
The ripple effect is inevitable and significant. Right or wrong, parents have always leaned on the church to, in total or in part, teach the Bible to their children. When the church fails in their role as Biblical educators and parents aren’t teaching children, the logical result is students showing up at our door without the Biblical knowledge we used to take for granted.
The question of how we as a school attack this problem is an ongoing conversation. Do we adjust our curriculum to accommodate and hopefully make up the difference? Or is our role as educators something different? These and other questions are and will be discussed and debated among all of us in the months to come.
For our purposes today I will argue our students need more Bible, not less.
One of my college classmates worked his way up the law enforcement ranks to become a member of the US Secret Service. When we think Secret Service we think Presidential protection. Yet protection is a side job for them. They are in reality the investigative branch of the Department of the Treasury. They investigate bank fraud, wire fraud, computer fraud and counterfeiting.
I had opportunity to visit with him and ask how they went about the problem of counterfeiting. He said, “Conventional thought would be that we’d spend hours studying the counterfeit bills that we confiscate as a way of training us on what’s out there. To the contrary, we spend our time becoming intimately familiar with the genuine article. When we know every detail of a real $100 bill, the phony ones are easy to spot.”
Our students are graduating into a culture full of counterfeit world views. In the current zeitgeist of Christian education, “world view” is all the rage. It is the method du jour. Perhaps rightly so. World view is important. Yet when paired with increasing levels of Biblical illiteracy, even among those students I call “lifers” who’ve been at Trinity Christian since before in utero, a deeper understanding of world views is not enough. Because without an intimate knowledge of the genuine article, the best we will be able to do is supply our students with intelligent talking points that have no distinction.
Please hear my heart. I love what we are doing at Trinity Christian. Yet our students need to leave this place with something more than an understanding of world views. Coach Gilbert teaches our senior World View class and he will be the first to tell you that if they understand all the world views but don’t have a transforming relationship with Jesus, then we’ve failed.
So here’s a question for us: How are we communicating Jesus to our students? Is it a textbook lesson? A worksheet they do twice a week? Chapel? Mission trips? Intelligent discussions?
In August of 1993 just before leaving Iowa for Arizona to attend graduate school an elderly man in my church, for whom I had a great deal of respect, pulled me aside and said, “Don’t let seminary ruin you.” In the moment, it didn’t make sense. Ruin me? This was going to make me into the ministry person I needed to be. A couple years into the program and his words began to make sense. I was in danger of turning the Bible into an academic book.
Mr. Halady often speaks to this. The danger, especially here at a Christian school, is the Bible becoming just another textbook instead of the life changing Word of God. How about us? Are we speaking God’s biblical truth into our students in the hope and prayer it will be transformational? Or will they leave this place viewing Bible as just another class they took?
Given that I teach Bible, you better know I’m preaching to myself.
Colossians 1 teaches, “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, things in heaven and earth, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through Him and for Him and in Him all things hold together.”
At the core of Christian education is the centrality of Christ; His birth, life, death and resurrection. Jesus is everything. The creation and all that is in it belongs to Him. Life and purpose flow from Christ.
Which brings us to that section of our lesson plans labeled “Biblical integration”. We teachers are sometimes rightly frustrated when trying to integrate the Bible into our lesson plans because we are, in essence, trying to put 10 pounds of potatoes into a 5-pound sack. It’s impossible to make Creator God fit into a subset of His creation. The creation is subject to God, not the other way around. Too often in lesson planning we teachers try to make the Bible fit, like an oversized puzzle piece we try to jam in the gap. Then we wonder why it feels awkward.
It’s more than semantics. When we try to make the Bible subject to a component of itself, we are, among other things, playing into our culture’s fondness for formulas. For decades now we’ve been programmed for “the ABC’s” of this and “7 Easy Steps” of that. We Americans, including American Christians, are uncomfortable with process. We want the short cut, not the long road. We’d rather follow a formula or a paperback theory than critically think through a process. Our students do this daily. They want to know, “will this be on the test?” as if there is no reason to consider any topic that isn’t on a test.
We need our students to wrestle with truths beyond their comprehension. We need students to see the impossible infinite bigness of God. If they graduate with the false idea that God and His perfections can be carried around and contained in the backpacks they lug through these halls, then we will have failed them. More of our lessons, in every subject area, should begin with, “Students, our minds can’t comprehend today’s topic. But we are going to try!”
Because if they don’t graduate TCS in awe of God’s infinite everything, their faith is in danger of being reduced to the level of all the other world views. A few spiritual sounding talking points. $3 dollars worth of God they can carry around in their pocket and pull out when they need it. The world has enough Christians who think they have a handle on God. We don’t need to contribute to that number.
If students graduate TCS thinking they have a handle on Who God is, we’ve failed. Faith is not a formula to be followed. It’s an adventure to be lived. Psalm 34 says we are to “magnify the name of the Lord”. We need to “make big” the name of the Lord. I want my students to know the God of Isaiah 40. The One who spreads out the heavens like a tent and uses the earth for a place to rest His feet. We accomplish that when our respective subjects flow from their Source.
So…here’s my conviction on the most important ingredient to Biblical integration.
It’s you. And me.
I routinely ask this question of myself. I’ll ask it of you.
What are you teaching your students today that they can’t get on a Google search?
Put another way, what are they learning about God from your life that can’t be expressed by any other person?
I’m huge on the sovereignty of God. Psalm 139 says all our days were written in God’s book before there was one of them. That means the perfect, omniscient, sovereign Creator God of the universe determined that the students in your class today are put in front of you by His design. He wrote this day down for them and he wrote it down for you. And in His sovereignty, God put you both on the same page.
Think about that. Do not let that truth roll off your back like water off a duck’s butt. Let that sink in. You, as do I, come to your classroom with your unique life experiences. God is and has been at work in you for His good pleasure. Why are we here if not to teach from our expertise and our life experience? What are we giving them that they can’t get from a Google search? Can we not see that God has purposely placed us here as teachers and mentors to our students?
I hate to break it to us, but there are many other places in town that know how to teach math and science and English and Bible. You and I have to be more than conduits for content. We need to be a walking, talking, living, breathing Biblical integration for our students. Jayna Sheets…you are not a math teacher. You are a Christ follower who teaches math. Michelle Baxter…you’re not a science teacher. You’re a Christ follower who teaches science. Our students need to see us as Biblically integrated.
In light of Psalm 139 I would argue that in God’s plan it’s not significant our students learn Shakespeare. It’s significant to God they learn Shakespeare from Ms. Garrett. It’s not significant that students learn physics. In God’s plan it’s significant they are learning it from Dr. Hickey. They can YouTube equations. They can’t YouTube Dr. Hickey’s experience and walk with God over many years.
Because whatever our students will reminisce about at their 20-year reunion when they’re standing around with swizzle sticks in their adult beverages and Cohiba cigars, they’re not going to say, “Connie Wolcott’s lesson plans were a thing of beauty.” They won’t say, “Nobody supervised a lunch room like Coach Neil”. But they will remember us if we are real with them. They will remember us if they see us unafraid to take the long road of process as we walk with God.
Yes, we have to do our lesson plans. But we can’t lesson plan our way into genuine Biblical integration. The best and most genuine Biblical integration is us. But we have to be willing to open up our lives and say, “Let me tell you a story”. Then tell them the story. How has God shown Himself faithful? How has God been with you during your dark night of the soul? How has God walked with you through periods of uncertainty? How has God orchestrated the details of your life when your world has exploded into a million pieces? How did God raise you into a beautiful present from the ashes of the past?
We need to be willing to take off the mask. To give up the facade. Growing up, my daughter’s favorite stories were the ones where Daddy learned his lesson the hard way. Students want, no, students need to see us as people in process. They need to see us as growing and learning, people in process taking the long road in Christ. All while pointing them to the infinite bigness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
What are we teaching our students that they can’t get on a Google search?
It’s your story.
Tell your story.
Todd A. Thompson – toddthompson.net