This year the 8th grade team challenged the 8th grade students to find themselves in the Story – God’s Story from Genesis to Revelation. In Bible class, everyday students begin with the same foundational refrain from our school’s Biblical Worldview Statement: “You are in God’s Story. Here, God created us for relationships with God, each other, and creation; We are fallen in these relationships because of sin.; We are redeemed in these relationships through Jesus Christ.; We will be fully restored to these relationships when Christ returns.” As James K.A. Smith puts it, “Stories that sink into our bones are the stories that reach us at the level of the imagination. Our imaginations are captured poetically, not didactically. We’re hooked by stories, not bullet points.”2
As teachers, we long for our students to be hooked by the Story. Everyday our students come to the classroom to draw water and what we do in these moments define who we are as teachers, a school and whether or not we sowing and reaping crops of believers who one day will be gathered into God’s kingdom. Our work is eternal, heady and demands our pedagogies be consistent with the One who came to save the lost. When the woman of Samaria came to draw water at the well she met the Christ. We want the same for our students: We want our students to graduate and give thanks on that final day to the Lord and “Call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted” as each one enters the world. (Isaiah 12:3-4) We want our work in the classrooms – our fields – to be free from the curse and for each student to enjoy richly the endless supply of salvation.
Stanley Hauerwas said “All education, whether acknowledged or not, is moral formation.”3 At AACS, our mission and culture is our distinctive. We teach to the whole child. Our Biblical Worldview Statement is the result of our strategic school-wide plan: five core principles (foundational values and strategies) developed as part of our vision for holistic Christian education. Ours is not mere moral formation, but moral transformation. Our mission is to engage students in an education of excellence enabling them to impact the world through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. “A holistic Christian learning environment doesn’t just fill the intellect; it fuels the imagination. This requires serious intentionality not just about curriculum and content but about pedagogy and teaching strategy.”4
Being serious not just about curriculum and content but about pedagogy and teaching strategy means that we seek transformation and teach from a biblical worldview to our students, or in other words we get students to think biblically about everything in their lives. Moreso, it means that we impart a knowledge about the Gospel that students “carry in their bones.”5
In “Teaching and Learning from a Christian Worldview— A proposal for the next step,” Kori Hockett, history teacher and curriculum coordinator at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago, Illinois, says that one way to get students to think biblically is to frame instruction at the macro level in the Bible Department. The Bible Department then becomes the “overarching structure” to teach the four chapters of God’s Story and “principles like creation, the fallenness of man, redemption, the primacy of Scripture, the notion of reality, and the ultimate purpose of all people.” From here, she recommends applying this teaching in all disciplines, from science to math to fine arts. 6
We framed the school year for our students in the narrative arc of God’s Story in Bible Class on Day One in part due to the Christian Schools International Curriculum. The CSI Bible Curriculum “Walking With God and His People” begins with the Unit “Why A New Testament” and this essential question: “What is God doing as the plan of salvation unfolds throughout the course of both Testaments?” In notes to the teacher, it says, “This lesson concludes with students asking themselves how they fit into the story of salvation, especially as it pertains to God’s interaction with his people.” Students learn the relationship between the Old and New Testaments “in a new way” and are tasked with making a Bible timeline of the story of salvation that “places you – the student – in the story.”
Now our own hallways are reminders that we are written into God’s unfolding drama filled with artwork that depicts biblical scenes from Creation to Restoration. In the classroom, students recite passages from the Psalter – our ancient and present reminders of a God who is Sovereign and interacts with his people. We read one Psalm each day tied to the number of days we’ve been in school. A few months ago, one student raised her hand and said, “I didn’t realize you could go to God for things like this” and another “I’m amazed at how these people trusted God.” Michael Horton says the Psalms “define who God is, who we are and why we should trust him.”7 In “Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story,” Horton explains: “The laments, praise, wonder and worship [in the psalms] are all tied to God’s words (the drama) as he interprets them. And they lead to a new way of living in the world.” Daily liturgical readings from the Psalter supplement the Bible curriculum in this way: Students are charged not only with the CSI essential question “What is God doing as the plan of salvation unfolds throughout the course of both Testaments?” but another, more personal one: “What is God doing as the plan of salvation unfolds throughout the course of my own life?”
In English class we apply this teaching through “The Julian Chapter,” a sequel to their summer reading of the novel “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio. In “Wonder” Julian transforms hearing a story and chooses to be kind. The Bible teaches kindness can not be willed but is a response to our knowing, following and loving God. In a final essay, students are asked to write on transformation. Students pair the biblical language of repentance in God’s Story with this story and learn that even conceptions and interpretations of morality are influenced by language and the power of the word and Word. In Math, students focus on absolute truth and God’s created order; in Science, the focus is on the implications of Psalm 24:1-2, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (all Hockett’s recommendations). A final research project for the year is titled “GENZ” and asks students to find a problem in the world and a solution. Students are reminded we live in the “already but not yet” and asked to consider our school’s response to our Biblical Worldview Statement in their proposal: “Therefore, we respond in worship, love and obedience by seeking truth, serving others and stewarding creation.”
One month into the school year at an off-campus retreat, we guided our guest speakers to help our students apply our biblical worldview statement to their lives and we watched as students transformed into disciples. No longer were students like Nicodemus hearing the Word literally and asking questions like “How can a man be born when he is old?” Instead, the wind began to blow where it wished and students heard the sound and knew who it was. Three months into the school year our students planned a worship service and decided to tell the story of their retreat to the Middle School community as part of the Story. This was the first time students asked to liturgically frame student-led worship in this way. They read passages from Genesis and said in the beginning of the retreat “none of us wanted to go.” Next, they read Genesis 3:5 and told of their own fall from grace and how they lost their patience with each other. They read John 1:14 and talked about redemption and how the Holy Spirit called them to follow Christ. They read Revelation 21:1-5 and said one day Christ will return and restore our relationships. Until then, they charged each other to use right language and resolve conflicts biblically. Our students knew the Story and how to find themselves in it.
Why not simply transfer content in purely didactic ways? Why bother with biblical worldview in other disciplines? Why use story and seek to transform? Because our post-Christian, post-modern times demand it. According to Barna Research, the current generation known as “GEN Z” is a generation that is spiritual but doesn’t go to church (yes, even Christian school students.) Truth is no longer viewed as rational, but relational; Morality is not propositional but personal.9 This generation distrusts authority and as parents and teachers we need to wake up: We are the authority.
James Emery White in “Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World” helps us to understand the current research and this generation. He says this:
“Paul surveyed the cultural landscape found a touchstone–an altar to an unknown God. The culture was so pluralistic that the only thing people could agree on was that you couldn’t know anything for sure. ‘What if I could tell you that God’s name? Would that be of interest?’ Paul began. He then went all the way back to creation and began to work his way forward–laying a foundation for an understanding and acceptance of the gospel. Different culture, different approach. This is precisely where we find ourselves today. We are not speaking to the God-fearing Jews in Jerusalem. We are standing on Mars Hill and need an Acts 17 mindset with an Acts 17 strategy. Which means our primary cultural currency is going to need to be explanation. It’s not enough to move from a King James Version of the Bible to Eugene Peterson’s uber-contemporary paraphrase The Message in our speaking. We have to begin by saying, ‘This is a Bible. It has sixty-six books. There’s an Old Testament and a New Testament. It tells the story of us and God.’ And then we need to explain that story.”
Why are we not reaching this generation? Because White says, “Much of the problem rests with what has been called the curse of knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Have you forgotten what it’s like to be apart from Christ? The world needs you to remember.”10
Do you remember what it’s like to draw water from empty wells and be thirsty? I do. The Gospel of John doesn’t tell us what happened to the woman of Samaria. All we know is that she left her water jar at the well, and “went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” When I find myself in the Story, I find myself in this one. I think about a woman who like me met the Son of God when she least expected it. I read the story from time to time and I play the story out for myself not with my intellect but with my imagination. I believe the woman of Samaria went back again and again to that well, but not to get water or reclaim her jar. She didn’t need water anymore. She’d found the wellspring of life. What she wanted was to see Him again. She wanted to remember what it was like to stand in front of the one who gave her Life and gave her her life back. I imagine she stayed there and wept and filled the well with her own tears. The risen Jesus met her there each time and restored her. Once restored, she got up and went back to teach and found Him in her students and the Greatest Joy: Seeing others come to faith.
Jillian N. Lederhouse, professor of education at Wheaton College, in “What Does It Mean to Teach Like a Disciple?” says, “We are called by God to instruct and encourage students in the ways He has called them to live. You can’t find more significant work than this profession. You never know when you might have a Mary Magdalene, a Peter, a Martha, a rich young ruler, or even a Saul sitting in front of you.”11
May we leave our old pedagogies and practices behind – our water jars – and help our students and children find themselves in the Story so that God Himself will water the fields where we labor, our churches, classrooms and homes, as we help him to make disciples for the new temple where God Himself dwells. “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.” Maybe one student or child, yours or mine, is a Mary Magdalene, a Peter, a Martha, a rich young ruler or even a Saul sitting in front of you and with our help and God’s will learn how to carry the Gospel in their bones and “This one will say, “I am the Lord’s.” (Isaiah 44:3-5)
1AACS Biblical Worldview Statement from our school’s beliefs. http://www.aacsonline.org/foundation_beliefs.
2 Smith, James K.A. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2016. Print. 107.
3 Stanley Hauerwas, State of the University (Oxford: Wiley, 2007) 46.
4 Smith, James K.A. Ibid. 155. Smith argues, “What difference does this make for how we teach? There is no compromise on content or curriculum. Instead, the content is reframed by being embedded in this narrative framework that invites students to connect their learning with living out the character that God has called them to be.”
5 Smith, James K.A. Ibid. 142.
6 Frost, Gene. Learning from the Best: Growing Greatness in the Christian School 2010 CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERNATIONAL (CSI) Grand Rapids, MI and ASSOCIATION OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERNATIONAL (ACSI); Hockett, Kori “Teaching and Learning from a Christian Worldview— A proposal for the next step.” Kindle Locations 1624-1625
7 Horton, Michael. Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2006. Print. 18-19.
8 White, James Emery. Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Print. 111-112.
9 Barna Group. Meet the “Spiritual but Not Religious:” Research Releases in Faith & Christianity • April 6, 2017 http://www.barna.com 10 White, James Emery. Ibid.
11 What Does It Mean to Teach Like a Disciple? Jillian N. Lederhouse, PhD. ACSI Blog | December 20, 2017