A Personal Narrative
When I entered a Christian school in 1985, the movement it was part of was still young and full of excitement. The generation of teachers, principals, and pastors which began the several Christian schools I eventually attended was dedicated and deeply self-sacrificial. I praise their memory. And many of them are still around 30 years on.
But today, I gather (somewhat unscientifically), the picture is a little different. There are still thousands of Christian workers who are highly motivated, gladly spending all their energies on educating Christian young people, but some jadedness has set in, too.
Many Christian school grads—including a not insignificant percentage of my own small class—show little evidence that they spent 13 years memorizing Bible verses, attending weekly chapels, and using up their parents’ hard-earned money in a safe Christian environment that was supposed to guarantee their future holiness.
My good principal from my high school years was planning, last I knew, to write an Ed.D. dissertation on what the movement can do to keep those kids from dropping off the face of the church, but drop they have. Their Facebook pages tell the story.
Many schools have shut down; others are shrinking. Rumors of the movement’s death may be greatly exaggerated, but there are certainly signs of ill health.
There’s no silver bullet for the problems among Christian schools, because no human can regenerate another one. But I love this little phrase from Jonathan Edwards: “[God’s] grace is not to be limited, nor means to be neglected.” God can save the Christian school movement, and there are things we can do about it as His agents.
Means to the End
One of the main things we can do is make sure that Christian schools are truly Christian. That is, we can put the hard mental work into teaching all disciplines from a truly Christian perspective. The nomenclature in the biz is “Bible Integration.”
Integrating the Bible doesn’t mean taking what is perceived to be a secular subject and adding some Bible verses. When that happens, our poor students often end up memorizing Bible statements that have little truly to do with what they’re studying (and what verse do you choose for dodge-ball instruction in PE—perhaps the one about God “hurling a storm” against Jonah’s ship?).
No, Bible Integration starts from the other side; it starts with God’s divine Word. Bible Integration means finding out what the Bible really has to say about why we should study our world—and then working out the implications for the various academic disciplines.
Levels of Bible Integration
Some years ago, a few educator–theologians at my employer, BJU Press, developed a tri-level schema by which we can evaluate the Bible Integration in our textbooks. The purpose of the schema is not to encourage teachers to spend all their time at the highest level; that would be impossible and undesirable. But, as with Bloom’s taxonomy, teachers who never lead their students away from the lowest levels are doing their students a disservice. They are not showing them how to “think Christianly.” They are also guilty of what Francis Schaeffer called the “Two-Story View,” dividing life into upper (spiritual) and lower (earthly) stories which have little to do with one another.
The levels are a way of gauging how well we are obeying God’s never-abrogated command to fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it (Gen. 1:26-28). As soon as you start trying to obey that command, you run into the domains of culture and the academic disciplines. Are we prepared to say that God doesn’t care how we subdue, or that He doesn’t have any structures set up in creation which should guide our dominion? If Math and History—and Linguistics and Sociology and Geology and even the much-maligned field of Entomology—are just means to the end of making a living, not of obeying the God of the universe, they’re only worth what they pay.
Level 0—No Bible Integration.
The first level of Bible Integration is not a level, but Level 0 is all too common among Christian educators. It relegates the Bible to devotionals, prayer requests, and non-academic counseling. There are no clear connections between Bible statements and the academic matter at hand. The Bible is sealed in a separate tupperware and stacked ceremonially on top of the math, history, English, and science containers. The main difference between a school with no Bible Integration and the much larger and dirtier publicly-funded school down the street is the existence of Bible class.
Bible class, chapel, devotionals, and personal counseling are good things which have an important place in a Christian school helping parents train the whole person (I write Bible textbooks, so of course I believe this!). But surely we can do better than staple Bible verses onto a public school. Adding Bible class is not enough, nor is stressing character. There’s got to be more to a truly Christian view of education. The Bible has got to make a substantive difference in math class, or math class is not worth having.
Read all the posts in this series: