A Biblical Case for Inclusive Christian Schools: Ten Pillars to Build On

This article is a revised version of an article published by ASCI in Leading Insights that applied nine pillars of disability theology to make a biblical case for inclusive Christian schooling. This updated version contains a new preamble, updated biblical summaries with biblical citations at the end of each, and an additional pillar addressing suffering. This biblical theology of disability, along with additional foundational resources, can be found on the Wheaton Center for Faith and Disability website.

Since 1975, public schools in the United States have been mandated to serve students with disabilities through what is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Christian schools, however, are not under a legal mandate to serve students with disabilities. How then should Christian schools respond to the needs of students with disabilities? Should they avoid them as a burden too heavy to address in the midst of limited financial and personnel resources? While Christian schools may not be under a legal mandate to serve students with disabilities, they are under a higher mandate. This article attempts to frame this mandate to serve students with disabilities within a biblical context by presenting a concise theology of disability. Following a brief preamble below, I present ten pillars of scriptural wisdom from Genesis to Revelation that offer a solid rationale and foundation upon which to build your capacity to enroll and support students with disabilities. Each section begins with a brief biblical summary, followed by a concise application statement for inclusive Christian schools that is further developed in the remainder of the section.

This article attempts to frame this mandate to serve students with disabilities within a biblical context by presenting a concise theology of disability.


Though disability affects every race/ethnicity, religion, age, sex, and socio-economic class, what is perceived as a disability and who gets labeled accordingly varies from culture to culture. When measured against some level of minimal or average performance or standing, we must acknowledge the arbitrariness of such standards. Given the prevalence of disability in society, even those whose loved ones have not yet been touched by disability (whether physical, intellectual, developmental, or neuro-atypical), or by mental illness, will likely be impacted on some level eventually.

Pillar 1: God’s Image Bearers—A Glorious Reflection

We read in Genesis that as the pinnacle act of creation, all people are made in the image of God and are designed for intimate relationship with him and others. No matter our capacities, we each bear God’s image individually as integrated persons of body and soul/spirit. We also image God collectively. Our glorious purpose as image bearers is to reflect God’s character into the world individually, as families, and as communities (Gen. 1:26–27; 2 Cor. 3:18).

[A]ll students, including those with disabilities, uniquely represent God in some way.

Application: Inclusive Christian schools are open to serving students with disabilities because they are fellow image bearers of God.

All people, including those with disabilities, are created in God’s image. Thus, all students, including those with disabilities, uniquely represent God in some way. This creative act of God bestows a primary identity upon all people as glorious reflections of God. Christians fulfill—in Christ—this primary identity as God’s image bearers. 

We reflect God’s image both individually and collectively. Each student with a disability bears God’s image and is worthy of consideration for enrollment and ongoing support in your school. Your school also bears an image collectively. The choices you make to include or exclude certain students will bear upon this image. Inclusive school communities are open to serving all students as image bearers and glorious reflections of God.

Pillar 2: God’s Image Bearers—A Distorted Reflection

Since creation’s corruption, our ability to reflect God accurately has been fractured. Though as humans we still image our Creator, this reflection is now cast in distorted ways. We have all been alienated from God through rebellion. Our hearts have become bent toward our own wills, and our purposes have become focused on glorifying ourselves. We experience elements of brokenness in every aspect of our lives—in our bodies, minds, emotions, and our relationships—as well as externally, as we live in a world that groans to be freed from the bondage of sin and decay. While brokenness is now inherent to the human condition, disability often draws unique attention to our difficulties. Disability is experienced both functionally, through bodies that do not work as some might expect, and socially, through relationships that do not respect, support, and affirm (Genesis 3; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:19–23).

Application: Inclusive Christian schools guard against reflecting the brokenness of the world by including students with disabilities and excluding unbiblical values.

The first pillar of disability theology calls Christian schools to strive for inclusionary practices that enroll and support students with disabilities. The second pillar calls Christian schools to also strive for exclusionary practices—just not against students. Your particular school distinctives should reflect the beauty of God and the diversity of his people while guarding against reflecting the brokenness of the world. In other words, your school should strive to create an inclusive learning community that is in the world but not of the world. Christian schools offer families an alternative to public schooling. While schools should be responsive to the pain and brokenness of the world, they should not reflect nor perpetuate it by excluding students with disabilities. Embracing students with disabilities is a commitment that can help ground biblical values and guard against ungodly ones.

Pillar 3: God’s Promise to Remedy the Effects of the Fall

God does not leave us without hope. Even in the garden after the fall, God proclaimed that a woman would bear a seed who would crush Satan’s head, overcoming all alienation that separates us from God and each other, and bringing restoration to the brokenness and difficulty experienced in this age. Building on this promise, Isaiah prophesied that when this seed came, he would have no beauty or majesty that we should desire him. He would be despised and rejected; a man of sorrows acquainted with the deepest grief. The one who would crush Satan’s head would himself be crushed to redeem us from our sin and to heal our brokenness. He would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Gen. 3:15; Isaiah 53; Matt. 25:31; Rom. 16:20).

God has a good purpose in mind when he brings students with disabilities to your school. The question is whether you will trust and obey in faith.

Application: Inclusive Christian schools should incubate and promote biblical faith that helps students know and trust God’s wisdom and his ways. 

God’s plans will not be thwarted. His promises are sure. While disability presents challenges to families and schools, they are not tragedies to be avoided but opportunities to embrace. God’s ways are higher than our ability to fully understand. Proverbs 3:5–6 exhorts us to “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV). God has a good purpose in mind when he brings students with disabilities to your school. The question is whether you will trust and obey in faith. Just as the fall has a remedy in God’s Righteous One coming to crush all enemies, so too is God trustworthy to provide and equip you for everything to which he has called you and your school. School leaders are seldom fully equipped in advance to do what they are called to pursue. Doing it anyway is a mark of strong leadership. When we take steps out in faith and work hard to make them successful, we often discover God has been working in advance to make those steps solid in his ways. Everyone in your school community—students, staff, and families—all need to learn to trust God with the faith of Abraham, who trusted and obeyed even though he did not have a full picture of where he was going. Like Abraham, we need to walk by faith in the good promises and pathways of God, even and especially when they are difficult.

Pillar 4: God’s Remedy Is Jesus

The Gospels tell of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension as the initial installment of God’s promise of full restoration in his future return. In the testimony of the apostles and prophets, we see Jesus as the Messianic Seed, a resurrected Jewish God-man, who opened the door to both Jews and Gentiles, including the “poor, crippled, blind, and lame,” for salvation, adoption, and ultimately, the redemption of our earthly bodies (Job 19:25–27; Luke 14:12–23; Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 15).

Application: Inclusive Christian schools exercise their faith by using existing resources and looking for ways God is leading to grow and build the school as a unique expression of himself.

The general education curriculum bears witness to various aspects of natural wisdom. God’s Word bears witness to a higher wisdom. The Messiah’s first coming decisively began restoring what was lost in the fall. While the fullness of this kingdom is still not yet, there is still something possible in the now. The testimony of Jesus disrupts the natural order of things in service of restoring all people, and all creation, to God’s holy purposes of bearing witness to his goodness and glory. Your curriculum may be more or less explicit about studying the Bible, but how you respond to the vulnerable members of your community will instruct and model the wisdom of your curriculum. This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print or digital edition of Christian Educators Journal.

Thomas L. Boehm, MDiv, PhD, is the Founding Director of the Wheaton College Center for Faith and Disability focused on making disability engagement more biblical, normative, and transformative for all. His research and writing focus on building inclusive community within schools and congregations to improve family quality of life for both people with and without disability. He also serves at Wheaton College as the Ann Haskins Associate Professor of Special Education, Chair of the Department of Education, Coordinator of the Special Education Program, and is the founder of the nonprofit Faith for ALL. To learn more or connect with Dr. Boehm and his various initiatives, go to his personal website, www.tlboehm.com.