Integrating the Sacred and the Secular
By Andy Doman
After teaching sociology for 10 years in a public school, I’ve often wondered how to integrate Biblical truth into the secular educational setting. There are a lot of interesting and controversial topics to teach in sociology, so I often look for ways to incorporate Biblical truth into my lessons. The Bible has a lot to say about relationships, so I was able to find research that supports the Bible and even a reference to scripture by a secular researcher!
Throughout the Bible, we are encouraged to foster a relationship with God and with others. The Psalms (86, 139) focus on teaching us how to relate with God. The Proverbs (3:30, 11:17, 15:18) focus on teaching us how to relate with each other. Countless other passages in the Old and New Testaments speak to how we should relate with and treat other people (Mark 12:31, Ephesians 4:25-29, 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14). Since God ultimately has the best relationship advice, it naturally follows that research would back up the instruction of the Bible!
For example, the research of Hannah Fry and John Gottman on the topic of relating in marriage intersects Ephesians 4:26 to the point where even in a secular TED Talk, entitled “The Mathematics of Love,” Fry alluded to the verse: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”
Drawing on Gottman’s research, Fry discussed the negativity threshold: “The most successful relationships are the ones with a really low negativity threshold” (The Mathematics of Love, p. 107). In those relationships, couples can freely complain about issues that are seemingly trivial and work through them instead of bottling up issues. It may seem counterintuitive to think that bringing up smaller issues instead of “forgiving and forgetting” is beneficial to a marriage because it involves negative interaction. However, if the issues are bottled up, explosions of anger can occur. Instead, couples benefit from working out issues frequently. Fry states, “I think that it’s quite interesting to know that there is really mathematical evidence to say that you should never let the sun go down on your anger.”
This is an interesting way to harmonize scientific findings and the reliability and relatability of the Bible, so it is a great lesson to give to students not only in the sociology classroom, but in other classrooms as well. It has valuable and practical information that can help anyone with their relationships. Although perhaps sociology lends itself better to presenting findings like this one than some other subjects, I encourage teachers to be on the lookout for secular news stories and academic studies that support the wisdom of the Bible. They pop up every so often!
Another example is the issue of cohabitation. According to Psychology Today, “Many studies have found that premarital cohabitation is associated with increased risk of divorce, a lower quality of marriage, poorer marital communication, and higher levels of domestic violence.” God’s design for marriage is supported by secular data. The National Marriage Project states, “There is no evidence that if you decide to cohabit before marriage you will have a stronger marriage than those who don’t live together, and some evidence to suggest that if you live together before marriage, you are more likely to break up after marriage.” Maybe you can find a Bible verse being used in this secular context!
- I encourage you to prayerfully consider your own subject matter, asking questions like these to the Lord: Where in Your Word have you already provided timeless wisdom for my subject matter? How can this Biblical wisdom be appropriately embedded into my subject matter?
- Where have secular writers quoted from the Old and New Testaments? How might I quote these writers within my teaching?
- Where do science, secular research, and current events confirm content within Scripture as it relates to my subject matter? Please guide me to applicable resources.
- Please open my spiritual eyes to what my students need, the topic at hand, and the wisdom that You already provide in this area.
Close your time in prayer and listen to what the Lord might reveal, and watch and pay attention as the Lord shows you how to connect the sacred and secular within your daily work.
Andy Doman is a high school sociology teacher in Ohio. He has been teaching sociology to high school students for 10 years. He holds a B.A. in history and geography and an M.A.T. in secondary social studies education from Kent State University, a Gifted & Talented Education endorsement from the University of Cincinnati, and a Curriculum & Instruction Certificate from Biola University.