Curriculum Trak is happy to welcome to The Teacher’s Lounge podcast guest presenters,Tripp and Megan Almon, who would like to share some of the characteristics and qualities that they find in students who are able to resiliently face views that are antithetical to a biblical worldview. In addition to doing quite a bit of public speaking in a variety of settings, both together and separately,Tripp and Megan are both actively engaged in helping high school and college students become better equipped to embrace a biblical worldview in the face of opposing culture.

Tripp is director of student ministries at Summit Ministries, and Megan is part of the Life Training Institute team, which is engaged in making the case for embracing life based on science and philosophy. They both have a background as elite gymnasts and Tripp, along with his brothers, enjoys racing, and won the 2017 NASA Rally Atlantic Cup Series. Megan was on the University of Georgia’s 2002 SEC Championship Team, and was also an award winning journalist before pursuing a speaking and teaching career in Christian apologetics. Tripp and Megan have been married since 2003 and have two children.

Thank you so much for having us. You are our heroes. You are in the trenches with young people day in and day out. And as much joy as I’m sure it brings you, it’s hard. It’s really hard. We get to have high school and college students for two weeks at a time during the summer. We live with college students. I run our gap year program, so we educate college students for a year at a time, but we only have to put up with them for a year.

TRIPP: My hope is that we can share some things from our perspective. Just because we work with college students, we have been around students for most of our lives, whether it was coaching gymnastics, pastoring, teaching, homeschooling, or now working with college students. But you are the ones who really know your students and you know your classroom. So hopefully you can take some of the things that we see from our perspective and be able to implement them in your classrooms.

If you have been around with some of these trainings previously this year or if you haven’t, two of my colleagues have spoken to you guys, Dr. Roger Erdvig and then Dustin Jizmejian. And what we’re going to do today really piggybacks off of some of the content they delivered to you. And so I would encourage you to listen to those recordings.

As a quick recap, Dr. Erdvig wrote a book called Beyond Biblical Integration. Part of his doctoral dissertation was just noticing that in our modern day Christian education, the idea of integration is good, but sometimes that comes with sprinkling of a Bible verse here and there, and then transitioning to your subject. And what he wants to push educators to do is really immerse students. This should be woven into everything that we do, every subject that we teach. And the way that he really focused on doing that, he used the word pedagogium, creating an environment of learning that’s holistic in nature. So, not just information-driven, but education that really encourages students to be critical thinkers, to be reflective, in an environment that also engages them on a relational level as well as a physical level.

Dr. Erdvig walked through some practical ways in which that could take place. He says the way that we need to think about going beyond integration is making sure that we understand the biblical worldview, not as a series of propositions, not as separated moralistic sort of stories, but as one big story of reality. And he gave us four parts of the Story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. He demonstrated how, in all of the subjects that we’re teaching, at all the different grade levels that we are teaching, we have opportunities to connect those subjects to the various parts of the Story, whether it’s how things ought to be in creation, how things are now in this fallen and broken world, how things can be because we contribute as we join in with the life of God in this part of redemption, and how eventually things will be.

I want us to hold that in the back of our mind, combined with when Dustin Jizmejian talked to you. He really dove into the work of one of his professors, Dr. Stephen Garber, who asked the question, What is it about college students who are thriving? We know that so many students that have grown up in the church walk away from the church. We know that it’s dismal, but are there any commonalities that college students have that are really thriving in their Christian faith?

And he put them in the three categories of conviction, character, and community. With conviction, they had a big enough worldview, Christian worldview. It’s robust enough. They understood this story of reality enough that it impacted not just the way that they thought, but the way that they interact and the way that they live and behave. They did this in the setting of mentors, people who were further ahead in life than them, who pour into them, and they do this in a community of peers who encourage each other along. And then Dustin shared lots of stories about how we try to get at this in our unique two-week setting and in our gap year setting, and he encouraged you guys to think about what this might look like in your own setting.

So if I take both of those guys and boil everything down, I think really it comes down to three words:head, heart, hands. If Christianity is true, our ultimate purpose as human beings is to glorify God with everything that we are. Education then ought to be ultimately to that end. We have to keep that in mind with whatever subjects we’re teaching. The bigger goal of education is we want to train students to glorify God holistically.

And that’s where I use the head, heart, hands language. And if I take Dr. Erdvig’s work as well as Dr. Stephen Garber’s work, I think this really incorporates what they’re getting at, what education needs to incorporate, and the way that we see college students thriving. The head is the intellectual side, with more than just information, but also critical thinking, being reflective in nature. The heart is the relational component. We are relational creatures. We must learn relationally. There’s a flow here. When we understand truth more clearly, it informs our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others, Christians and nonChristians, with creation in general. And then hands: we are physical creatures in a physical world. And part of the Imago Dei seems to be our role of having dominion and rulership in this physical world and simply enjoying God through His creation.

Education has to involve our physical bodies, our behaviors and how we interact with those relationships. So there’s a flow to it, like a head, heart, hands flow, but the flow goes all ways at all times. There’s a logical flow, but then there’s a real life flow that each feeds one another. Students that are thriving in college are thriving in each of these categories. Education works better when we are intentional about engaging students in all of these categories.

That is hard to do especially in modern educational settings. But even if we feel like we’re not getting all of the curriculum checked off, we find that students embrace what they’re learning at a deeper level. It hits them holistically, it transforms them.

When we look at the challenges that students are facing in college, I can pinpoint these three categories, and see that college students are having a really hard time in each of them. Sometimes it depends on how they’re wired. Each of us probably tend to more of the head or the heart or the hands. Do you tend to be more of a Head person, like you find yourself worshiping God when you’re getting the facts, when you’re understanding, when you’re studying the Bible, when you’re understanding how it all fits together? Or are you a Heart person–are you worshiping God more when you’re thriving in relationships? You feel the emotional connection with God and with others and maybe in your church community. Are you more of a Hands person, in that you’re worshiping God when you’re doing something, when you’re getting things accomplished?

Students in college, they need to know the truth. They need to be practicing the kinds of relationships that will allow them to survive and to thrive. And they need to understand how to embrace friends and not necessarily all their friends’ ideas. They need to have experience navigating relationships and the battles and temptations that they’re going to be facing, and I think they need to be engaging physically with their learning.

So that’s the head, heart, hands. It seems like a lot of teachers that I run into love teaching. We love getting the information out there. And so for me, I have to simply be more intentional with the heart and the hands aspect of education, because I know as much as I want to get the critical thinking skills and the information into the students, it won’t really sink in unless I’m doing it in a relational and physical sort of way also.

When we’re looking at students on the college campus that have left high school and their Christian bubble, they struggle. I’m sure you can remember your own college experience and you know what it’s like the moment you step out of your parents home and now you have all of this freedom. People are living in a way that’s totally different than you were brought up living. They’re saying things or dismissing things that you thought were just the case. They are behaving in ways that you would have shunned, thinking, Oh, I would never do something like that. And they’re just living that way as if it’s normal life. Our current students are seeing the same sort of things and maybe even at deeper levels.

Let me just walk through those categories and I’ll tell you where I think the biggest struggles are. So, in the Head category, I see that students struggle intellectually as they leave their Christian bubble and step onto a university campus, where they face challenges that maybe they’ve only heard at a distance. Oftentimes it’s because they haven’t really developed an understanding of the Christian worldview that connects to all of life. They’re not grounded enough to see that Christianity can stand up to the toughest questions, even when they don’t have the answers to the toughest questions. It can actually make the most sense of reality better than any other worldview can possibly do.

I’ll visit high schools, and I’m invited to come in and role play either an atheist or someone who is deconstructed from Christianity. And the schools that do this are being intentional to expose their students to the war that’s raging in the realm of ideas, So they see this as embodied and they don’t know that I’m a Christian. I just role play. I challenge their faith, and over and over again it rocks their world because they just haven’t been exposed, oftentimes because we want to protect our students so much. We don’t let them into the real challenges that are out there.

In the Heart arena, there are two aspects that I see where students are struggling. As students leave home and they begin to experience the real world, they begin to either walk through or see suffering in their relationships for the first time and part of their worldview doesn’t seem to allow them to make sense of it. Why would God allow this kind of thing to happen? There’s an intellectual and an emotional part. All of these are connected.

The second aspect comes from our friend, Dr. Kathy Cook. In the previous generation we formed our relationships around our beliefs, primarily. If you can count on one hand the friends who will tell you the truth about yourself and with whom you can trust your deepest, darkest secrets, those friends believe like you do. Statistically, this has changed. And in large part, Dr. Kathy relates it to just the smartphone and social media and connectedness, apart from just our little circles. Students now have much more relationship based beliefs. So the people that they are in relationship with have more influence on their beliefs than the previous generation when the beliefs influenced the relationships. Now it’s the relationships that are influencing the beliefs.

The final category, the Hands: When students do experience a freedom from the pressure to maintain the habits of life that parents and teachers have tried to instill in them, they fall into some bad habits and temptations. In fact, what we would say are bad habits and temptations are often championed on the university campus and encouraged. So there is a sinful rebellion, even within their bodies and their actions and their behaviors. They prefer to be their own god, which we all do at times. And we need other people to hold us in check. But this influences every other aspect of them. They want to have life their own way. It’s something willful. They’re doing it.

I think that it was Plato who said that education is learning to love that which is beautiful. Some of you have the classical tradition that teaches the trivium–goodness, truth, and beauty, the transcendentals. And these are the three that are lifted up and I think Plato was onto something when he talked about loving what is beautiful. Many would describe truth and goodness as the windows through which we see that which is beautiful, and a lot of what I teach on these very tough issues comes down to the fact that Christianity is true, and because it is true, it is good. It is the best explanation of the way the world really is and the best way to live in terms of our moral goodness for our flourishing, but it is also the most beautiful. Christianity is stunningly beautiful when we get into it, when we begin to make those connections, when we begin to see that it all just makes sense. As C. S. Lewis would say, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen–not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” So in that integrative sense, it just makes sense of the world for us in a way that is beautiful.

Megan: So what I want to do in the next little bit is take those categories, Head, Heart, and Hands. Tripp described some of the internal conflicts that the students experience, right? This is why they’re struggling when they leave and they go to college. This is why they’re struggling when they’re with you.

But I want to talk a little bit about the external struggle and where this is coming from. And that will help us wrap our heads around what we can then do with it, whether it’s by making a different plan in the classroom, implementing new habits, asking different kinds of questions, whatever that is.

When we look at the head level, where they are struggling with intellectual doubt on the inside, they have questions that they don’t have answers to and they think that’s enough to walk away. Everyone is struggling with these questions, keep in mind, because everyone holds to a worldview, but the outside attack coming in for our students is on two levels. One is very obvious to you all, it is the information age in which we live. They are inundated with information. It’s like the verse in 2 Timothy chapter 4, where Paul is teaching Timothy and he warns him, Listen, there’s going to come a time where they have all of the information but no knowledge of the truth. There is no wisdom there, and that’s where we are. They are inundated with it. They have facts coming at them every which way, all day long.

There’s a difference between information and wisdom. My mama always said–we’re from the south, so she’d say, “Honey, consider the source.” This is something that we can teach all of our students to do. You as their teacher should be a trusted source of information in their lives.

The second exterior attack on the head is that we live in an age where there has been an outright attack on knowledge that has happened for the last few centuries. This is not something new, but we feel the effects more strongly now than maybe our grandparents did. This can date all the way back to the Garden of Eden with the entrance of sin where Satan’s temptation was one of doubt. Is God really good? Does He not want you to eat from that tree? So it was an attack not on whether or not God is real. It was an attack on the knowledge of God.

When we move forward in history from that, the biggest thing I can talk about would be the huge break in the 16th century during the enlightenment that happened with thinkers like David Hume and Thomas Hobbes. These were atheist thinkers. David Hume posited a view that was called empiricism. The science teachers will know what that is right away. Empiricism, the understanding that what we can know, what counts as true knowledge, is that which we can study empirically–if you can touch it, taste it, see it, sense it, or smell it. If you cannot study it empirically, said David Hume, then it does not count as true knowledge. Now, this was back in the 16th century, and it was a terrible idea. But the idea did take root, and ideas have consequences. That’s rule number one of Christian apologetics, or any rational thinking: ideas have consequences. It did take root and it caused this massive break to which we had two realms of what we could understand as knowledge.
We had this base realm in which the assumption was that everything that counts as true knowledge, all that we can know, all that is real, therefore, comes from the sciences, the hard sciences.

So now we live in a world that is divided and that divide runs right down the middle of us. It’s that divide that caused the uni to leave university, right? Theology is the queen of the sciences no longer. Science counts as true knowledge, and all those other things, we’ll just stick over here in the fine arts. Which is why the literature department and the science department don’t talk to each other. Or the math department and the art department won’t be sitting at the same lunch table. Drama and chemistry, they don’t even like each other.

But if God is the author of all that is true, then anything that you teach that is true at all, helps us learn more of who He is. And since truth resides in a person and flows from a person, ultimate truth gets us to the Person of truth. And that’s Jesus.

When our students leave home and go to the university campuses, they’ll start to have a conversation about something. They’ll bring up their faith because they have been taught their whole lives that their faith is true. And the people that they’re talking to, whether it’s their professor or their classmates, will suddenly stop the conversation and say, “That is out of bounds.What you’re talking about is not part of rational discourse. It is not true knowledge. We can’t know that. It is relative.”

So that relativism creeps in there and they are thrown for a loop. One assumption that is going on there is that religious discourse is not rational. That is an assumption that is false.What you’re doing in your classrooms, as you integrate the Christian worldview into your subjects is demonstrating its rationality.

The second assumption there is about what counts as true knowledge. And we just talked about where these ideas have come from. And your students, once they understand this and know this, it grounds them in a different way. So they’re not as shaken when those things come at them, even if they can’t jump into a debate right then, or they don’t really know how to respond, they do know to stop and wait a minute,.
When we see Christianity as that story of reality, we’re equipping them to be able to notice when they’re missing people on conversations and we’re giving them the tools to have confidence for themselves when they hear it coming at them and equipping them not just to survive those kinds of attacks, but to engage it in a helpful way to make a difference.

The second realm: the heart. It’s going to flow right from the head here. Our students have relationship based beliefs. When things happen in their relationships, because of their boundless compassion, they tend to start shifting and accepting and moving on moral issues. Their moral choices typically come from their feelings. If morality doesn’t count as true knowledge, and religion is not part of rational discourse, then all that’s left for morality is that it’s up to you or me to decide for ourselves. It is a form of relativism that says you can’t understand me. It attacks at the very heart of what it means to be human, as if we have no shared humanity or imagination. It’s not good and it’s not humble.

I’d say with students, just ask good questions to challenge them on this. Talk about those moral reactions when it comes to issues that are framed subjectively. We’ll take abortion as an example. I don’t know how often I hear, I would never have an abortion but I cannot tell someone else what is right or wrong for them. This approach says that abortion is not really right or wrong, it’s only right or wrong according to the individual, but that’s not how abortion, a moral issue, works, any more than it’s how slavery works or human trafficking works. And these are issues that your students do care about and rightly so. They should because they need to end. But if they’re going to say that abortion is up to you or me to decide, then in the matter of consistency, they ought to be able to say sex trafficking is up to the individual. I don’t like it, but if you want to own a slave, that’s up to you. Challenge your students on consistency on these things.

Finally, the hands realm, which flows from the other two as well. Our culture is not operating on any kind of Christian understanding of what it means to be human. Coming right out of that split that we talked about earlier, all that is real is according to science. Or, all that is real is according to subjective values. It was inevitable that out of these views would flow particular understandings of what we are and why we are valuable. That bottom realm is pretty easy to see, because it only deals with the material world. These are going to be physicalist. In other words, you’re nothing but a body. You’re just physical and that’s all there is to you, as if your feelings, your thoughts, your memories, are just reduced to molecules that collide. They can be explained by accidental cause and effect reactions, and that’s all there is to you. There is more to you than just your body that maintains your identity through time and change. That’s one view.

The larger view of what it means to be human is that, yes, you have a body, but your body is not essentially part of who you are. Your body is simply a machine. The real you is your psyche, some might say your heart, some might say your mind, your memories, your thoughts– the immaterial part. Your body is something that the real you uses to satisfy the self. It’s nothing but a machine. And so what you do to your body doesn’t really matter. This is the view that has swept our culture in every movie that you watch with few exceptions, every TV show you see. It was the battle cry of Disney to say, Follow your heart. Which is terrible advice for Tarzan. A little boy in the jungle following his heart? It’s not going to go well for him. And you can make a joke about this with your students to get to the point. This is a terrible way of thinking. But not only that, it’s false.

Christianity has said all along that this split never should have happened. These things were never separated by Christianity. Never. Which is why Math and music work together, why Bach’s music is so beautiful. It will make you cry and you can’t explain why. It is also so mathematically perfect that computer programmers use it to write code. Students are flabbergasted when they learn that, if they’ve never studied music theory or something like that.

These are things you can talk about in the classroom, things you can coach them through if they’re struggling. Even with your younger students, celebrate their bodies as wonderful things that God gave them, male and female. These are good, beautiful things, but we see this even in the secular studies, which is why in all the demand, remember the upper realm. My subjective values define what is real. Therefore, I define what is real, meaning that I can redefine even my own biology. I can have an abortion if I deem that what’s inside of me is not valuable. I can engage in same sex relationships if I define or redefine biology altogether. The only way that someone could claim to be trapped in the wrong body of the wrong gender is if the body is not essentially part of who you are and you can change it according to your values.

It comes from ideas that are, of course, deeply rooted in the confusion that sin brings to us in our broken world. We can recapture the understanding that your students are embodied beings, even just through suggesting, through asking questions–for instance, when they don’t get enough sleep, their minds don’t work well. When they’re not eating right, their bodies don’t perform. When they have soul level pain because of something that’s happened, this is the other way. Their bodies grow tired. We are integrated at such a deep level that we cannot separate those two.

Our body is a good thing that must be stewarded and celebrated. And in the classroom, there are a million and one ways to do that. Even through the teaching of your subjects. If you are thinking of these things as educators and you embody them, your students will catch more from you than you will ever teach them with your words and with the board and with the books. So much more in our program is caught rather than taught. Remember as the teacher, have confidence that this is true and real, confidence that stands up to hard questions, even when you don’t know the answer, and hand in hand with that confidence comes the humility to say, you know what? I don’t have any idea what the answer to that question is, but what a great question. Let’s keep asking it.

When a student comes to you with a tough question or tough situation and you don’t freak out because of the confidence, that does way more benefit than you can ever imagine. When you freak out, that sends students reeling. But the confidence leads to the character, and that’s where they grow trust in you. Your character is one that proves that you are a trustworthy person for them to come and talk about whatever it is they need to talk to you about. People of character display that humility regularly in their knowledge, but also in their manner.

You are our heroes. We’re cheering for you. We love to support you.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash