“Microscopes, telescopes, binoculars, sighting scopes, and eyeglasses help us see something more clearly—magnified and focused for a purpose” (Reel, 2016, p. 136).
In a previous blog, I introduced the concept of an innovation cascade. An innovation cascade is the premise that educational innovation must begin at the top of an organization and filter organically through the entire organization. The concept, inspired by biology and ecology, came from watching a video on a trophic cascade in Yellowstone National Park. In watching the video, you will notice that the behavior of the rivers changed as a result of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. It is particularly amazing that a seemingly small ecological change could have such dramatic effects on the landscape of a region. Yet, the wolves literally changed the behavior of the rivers. Astonishing.
Keeping with this reasoning, I would like to introduce a potential “wolf” into the Christian school educational landscape. I believe this wolf has the potential to dramatically alter the behavior of teaching and learning in Christian schools. Much like the wolves in Yellowstone, this wolf idea will also have a cascading effect on the ecological landscape of Christian education. In so doing, the changes that will occur are natural and positive.
About a year ago, I read an interesting article by Derek Schuurman on the Center for the Advancement of Christian Education (CACE) website. It was a reprint of his original article in the Christian Courier (p. 15). In the article, Mr. Schuurman suggested six models of Christian education. In his comments, he rightly warns against the dual errors of biblicalism and dualism and invites his readers to consider the difference between “integrating” scripture into education and ensuring that scripture is “integral” in Christian education.
I concur with Mr. Schuurman and want to extend his work by suggesting a means of centralizing (making “integral”) scripture. If you have spent any time as an administrator, faculty member, staff member, student, or parent in a Christian school, you have heard the phrase “Biblical integration” ad nauseum. Changing our language and our idea of the relationship between faith and learning, scripture and content, and Jesus and Christian education could yield dramatic shifts in the behavior of faculty and students. It has the potential to literally begin an innovation cascade in Christian schools.
The Problem with Biblical Integration
Before we discuss a new approach, it is imperative to analyze our current position. First, the concept of Biblical integration hinges on the meaning and connotation of the word integrate. Integration presupposes the unity of at least two disparate ideas or things. This means that the foundation of the entire concept of Biblical integration is antithetical to scripture from the outset. When we champion Biblical integration, we are inviting faculty and students to unite or connect secular thought with Biblical thought. We are, in every way, encouraging dualistic thinking by presupposing the need for integration.
In his article, Mr. Schuurman coins the term “discipline frosting.” I would take his idea a bit further. I would suggest that what many consider “Christian” education is simply a vane attempt to sprinkle a little Jesus on our content and call it “Christian.” In other words, we use Jesus much like we use salt and pepper. We add just enough Jesus to our science, mathematics, literature, and social studies to provide enough Christian flavor. Much like with food, we certainly don’t want to add too much. This would ruin the integrity of the original idea. We don’t want to eat a meal of only salt and pepper. We simply need a little flavoring. Jesus provides the seasoning in Christian education.
The second problem with Biblical integration is in our attempts to integrate, we are integrating the wrong things. As mentioned, we feel compelled to integrate content and faith. These two do not need to be integrated. They were never separated. True integration does need to occur between various knowledge bases. At the fall, when Adam and Eve sinned, the world was ripped into pieces. Literally everything began to fall apart. Sin “disintegrated” the world! Our role in Christian education, then, is to integrate the fragmented pieces of knowledge through Christ Jesus. Through the cross He provides restoration and integration. This is the true and proper meaning of Biblical integration. On this side of heaven, we are invited to participate in Christ’s restoration work. While we will not see full restoration on this side of heaven, we are promised, in the end, that all things will be restored and there will be a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21).
Integral Rather than Integration
Mr. Schuurman, at the end of his article, rightly suggests a proper model for Christian education. He suggests that Christian educators need to think in terms of “integral” rather than “integration.” The term “integral” is preferable for several reasons. First, the word “integral” has a significantly different meaning and connotation than “integrated” or “integration.” Integral means essential, fundamental, inherent, or innate. It gives the connotation that something is necessary or unable to be removed. The identity of things rests on that which is integral. This is exactly what we mean when we approach content from a Biblical perspective. Jesus is essential, fundamental, inherent, and innate. He is the center, the first, the last. Jesus is integral.
Second, it rightly positions Scripture in relation to content. Scripture does not need to be integrated into content. Or to say it a different way, we do not need to sprinkle Jesus on our content to make it Christian. Rather, Jesus is integral to content. He is Truth; therefore, He is content. All content hinges on Jesus. He holds it all together (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). As we have seen, starting from a position of integration immediately forces us to combine or join two ideas. Scripture, then, is always looked to as an addition. Beginning with integral, however, encourages, no mandates, us to search for that which is integral. We are not bringing one thing to another; we are seeking that which is essential, fundamental, foundational, and inherent.
In changing our language from “integration” to “integral,” Christian schools are inviting administration, faculty, staff, students, and parents into a different conversation, a discovery of the One, Jesus Christ, who is integral to all knowledge. This exploration is exhilarating. It is fantastic. It is supernatural. Our goal in teaching science, mathematics, literature, and social studies is not to simply learn those subjects but to discover Jesus. We are seeking the One at the center of each of those content areas.
Further, in focusing on “integral” rather than “integration,” we now have the perspective and tools to begin the restoration process. In other words, we are now free to begin the true integration process by reversing the “disintegration” that occurred at the Fall. Because we are seeking the integral One, Jesus Christ, unity between science, mathematics, literature, and social studies is possible. Without Jesus, unity (integration) is not possible.
The historical concept of Biblical Integration has served the Christian school movement well but has become common language. In fact, one of its key weaknesses is the commonness of its use. Todd Williams, in an address on Biblical Integration, suggests that the more familiar a term is the more difficult it is to come to a shared meaning of the term. I concur; therefore, rather than trying to provide another definition for Biblical Integration, I am suggesting and introducing a new term, “Biblical magnification.” The purpose of the new term is more than mere semantics and is intended to build on and enrich the current understanding and, most importantly, the application of the current idea of Biblical Integration. Biblical magnification is the means to viewing, understanding, and studying that which is integral.
Biblical magnification is the idea that our role as seekers is to increase in value that which is important or integral to every subject. Magnification is a wonderful word that connotates increasing, intensifying, or enlarging something to make it easier to see and explore. A common use of the word is in biology. We use microscopes to allow us to see the essential pieces of life. Without the microscope’s magnification, we would not see the inner workings of cells. Another example is binoculars. On a recent trip to Alaska, we went to Denali National Park, and I observed another example of magnification. While there, we were encouraged to look for wildlife. While possible to see wildlife with the naked eye, binoculars magnify the surroundings making it possible to view animals that are not visible with the naked eye. This is precisely what Biblical magnification is about. With magnification, Jesus might be overlooked or not seen. However, with proper magnification, He is visible! Much like cells and wildlife in Alaska, He is more than visible; He is integral. He is essential. He is fundamental. He is foundational.
In Psalm 34:3 we read, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” The psalmist is inviting us to increase the Lord, to focus on Him. This is the proper posture for Christian education. We should be magnifying the Lord together. Furthermore, in Hebrews 12:2, the writer, encourages us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Why? Because when we are focused on the integral One, we are able to “run the race that is before us.” Biblical magnification is so much richer and deeper than Biblical integration. We are not called to bring Jesus to content. We are called to find Jesus in our content. We are to magnify the Lord and to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Do we need another term? Is it helpful to change language rather than simply clearly define the old term? I believe the answer to both questions is yes. As I have interacted with Christian educators around the country, I have experienced the ambiguity of the term “integration.” At a recent Christian education conference, I had a conversation with a gentleman who desperately wanted to improve his faculty’s ability to “Biblically integrate.” As the conversation progressed, it was clear, that while his motivation was pure, the process and training were limited. Why? Because the term integration led this administrator to teach faculty to integrate by integrating. His method of improving integration was to try to provide examples of how scripture and content related to each other. Therefore, the faculty were limited by their knowledge and ability to bring Jesus to their content and often avoided the process altogether.
Adjusting our perspective (no pun intended) and using a new term, focuses Christian educational leaders and faculty on the proper understanding and application. When we understand and apply the concept of Biblical magnification, we embark on a different journey. Our training and preparation should be different. We are not simply adding Biblical concepts to our content, we are diving into our content intently focused on finding Jesus. In order to accomplish this task we need to hire and develop individuals to “see” the world differently. We need people who magnify Jesus and His word.
Training faculty, then, is not about teaching every connection between scripture and content, it is about inviting faculty into a process of discovery. It is providing faculty with the permission, freedom, and expectation to find Jesus in their content. Much like using a microscope or binoculars, our faculty and students should be searching for Jesus as they teach and learn.
In order to unleash a potential innovation cascade, Christian schools need to introduce and practice “Biblical magnification.” Just like the trophic cascade begins at the top of the food chain, the innovation cascade within Christian education must begin at the top of the organization. Board members, heads of school, and administrators need to change the vocabulary to begin to change the culture to focus on “integral” rather than “integration” and leaders need to practice Biblical magnification. We need to become experts in Biblical magnification!
For some this will be frightening. The language of Biblical integration has been common in Christian education for many years. Likewise, I am certain those that re-introduced the wolf into Yellowstone were scared that the wolves might eat all of the deer and that the whole process would be a failure. Yet, in the end, the wolves changed the behavior of the river. We know what happens when we focus on Biblical integration. We know its potential to lead to dualistic thinking. We know its potential to lead to Jesus seasoning. We know it does not work. It is time to change course. It is time to introduce a wolf. It is time to begin Biblical magnification. It is time to make Jesus integral.
Reel, S., (2015). Clear Focus. Bloomington, Indiana: WestBow Press.