Is Your Child’s Textbook Christian or Secular?

 

By Dr. Bryan Smith

Many years ago I sat in Bill Apelian’s office. As the director of BJU Press, Bill had a keen interest in making regular improvements to the organization, and he thought I could help. “I’d like to offer you the position of Bible Integration Coordinator,” he told me. “You would review all of our materials and make sure they include biblical teaching.” As a freshly minted Ph.D. in Old Testament interpretation, I was dismissive of his offer. My specialty was the study of the Old Testament. I thought the Lord was directing me to teach Bible courses at a college or a seminary. “BJU Press is a Christian textbook publisher,” I told myself. “This job is for someone else.”

But I was wrong. Through a series of remarkable events, God made it clear that this position was the place that He had prepared for me. Within a few weeks, I was up to my eyeballs in doing research, evaluating manuscripts headed for publication, and conversing with Christian educators from around the country.

As I spoke with teachers and parents, I noticed a common problem emerging. Christian schools and homeschools were focusing on integrating biblical thinking into character development but not on integrating such thinking into the subjects themselves. If a Bible verse was referenced, it was likely to be used to correct student behavior not to help the student understand math, science, language arts, or history. I found that the Bible was included primarily to create a Christian environment for learning—not to create Christian learning.

Why was this the case? Two main reasons. First, constructing distinctively Christian learning is very difficult. For a teacher to do this well in, say, sixth-grade world history, she needs to be a specialist in ancient history, biblical theology and exegesis, and classroom instruction. Second, Christian schools in huge numbers were using secular textbooks—the same books used in public schools across the country. I also found that these two reasons were involved with one another in a spiral-like relationship. As teachers who felt uncertain about biblical integration used textbooks that had stripped religious faith from the learning, they felt even more uncertain about trying to do biblical integration. The one area where these teachers had confidence was in the shaping of character. In the end students were given a vision of the world that was segmented and divided, rather than unified and whole. When it came to learning about good behavior, they were to think like Christians. But when it came to learning facts about their world, they were to think like secularists.

When I realized how serious and widespread this problem was, I was staggered. “O God,” I prayed, “how can I help Christian educators understand how to teach Christianly?” The beginning of the answer came when I realized the power of the term worldview. Integration, I learned, suggested to many that the Bible just needs to be added to the learning—something that can be easily done with secular textbooks. Worldview, however, suggested that we teach Christianly only as we shape the students perspective on math, science, language arts, and history. In public schools, all of these subjects are taught from the storyline of secularism—or from the perspective provided by the story of evolution. In Christian schools, we are to teach all these subjects from the storyline of Scripture—or from the perspective provided by Creation, Fall, and Redemption. To do this well requires a distinctive approach to each subject, an approach requiring textbooks that are on the teacher’s side.

Talking to teachers about the importance of Christian worldview shaping was one thing. Organizing a vigorous approach to author training back at BJU Press was another. The Press had always had a strong commitment to biblical integration and Christian worldview. But this commitment needed to be clarified and updated. In particular I tried to find a way to take the biblical themes of Creation, Fall, and Redemption and apply them to the writing and publication of our materials. According to the Bible, the thing that gives meaning to all of life is the story that God made everything for His glory, that everything has become fallen because of human sin, and that God is working to redeem this world to Himself. If this story gives meaning to all of life, it must also give meaning to school and the subjects taught in school.

I began to organize meetings with authors called “Golden Rules” meetings. The purpose of these meetings was to produce a white paper that would guide the Christian worldview component of an upcoming revision. Each white paper included a list of rules that expressed the key ways in which the new textbook would connect Creation, Fall, and Redemption to the main objectives of the course. So, for example, one of the rules from our Algebra 1 book stated, “Present algebra as a powerful tool for obeying the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28.” A rule from our Earth Science book was “Emphasize geological formations as a testimony of God’s judgment in the Great Flood.” And a rule from our third-grade social studies book stated, “Present skill in civics as a tool for obeying Christ’s command to live lives of good works in a broken world.” Once one of these papers was crafted, I focused on quality control. As new chapters were written, I would review them to make sure they were living out the worldview vision stated in the golden rules. Through the years I have watched this process guide us to producing textbooks that help to produce learning that is rigorous and distinctively Christian.

Over the past decade, I have seen the Lord repeatedly confirm His call on my life here at BJU Press. But that doesn’t mean that the past ten years have been easy. I have learned that doing Christian worldview shaping is a lot of work—work that requires knowledge and skill. At BJU Press, the job of the Bible Integration Coordinator has become the task of the Bible Integration team—a team of four people, three of whom have Ph.D. degrees. Why so many advanced degrees? We have learned that doing worldview shaping requires extensive knowledge and experience. So when a teacher tells me that he uses secular textbooks and does biblical integration spontaneously in the classroom, I’m suspicious. I’ve learned that he is probably using the Bible to develop character, but he’s using the secular textbook to develop the student’s’ worldview. Students need to be taught from a Christian worldview, and the best way to ensure that this is happening is to use textbooks written by people who are skilled in the work of Christian worldview formation.


Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for over twenty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Bible Integration Coordinator. In this position he assists authors and teachers in the work of integrating faith and learning in the classroom. Bryan holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.

This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review® magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Renewanation. For more information regarding Renewanation, visit renewanation.org.