The following entry is something I wrote two years ago… I do not know whether I would say all of this exactly the same way now. But this makes for a way to put a quick and ready entry in here under my “Education” category.
June 26, 2007
Some Thoughts on Several Critical Tensions
in the Bible Program of a Christian School
As in all of life, there are certain tensions inherent in the endeavor to offer a quality Bible program. In the text below, I mean to draw out a few of the key tensions that I have found to be very important. And in each case, I hope to move toward a helpful way of thinking about the tension.
Faculty Unity vs. Faculty Diversity
It is clear that the school community should see the unity of the body of Christ modeled in the Bible department[*], as well as among the whole faculty and staff. The question is how that unity is to be modeled.
If all of our Bible teachers are of similar theological convictions, our students will receive a clear, univocal education in Bible. But it is likely to be stultified and will probably end up misleading students to believe that there is really less (or less significant) diversity in the church than there really is. But of course, if all that is shown is that the Bible teachers are diverse, we end up with a theological mess.
It is important, then, that we model unity at the core, and diversity throughout the periphery. And the key to this is love. Let our students see their various teachers disagreeing with one another on all sorts of issues of theology, church practice, biblical interpretation, and so forth. But let them also see that we are in steadfast agreement on the essential core of our faith: the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that which unites us to one another in Him, despite all our other differences. And above all, let them see us love one another!
It is also true that students get the most out of their classes when their teachers are the most free to approach their classes from the depth of their own style and tastes. This, of course, presupposes that we have good teachers who are both experts at their craft and are trustworthy to take the helm of a given course of study. Obviously, there must be some clearly identified parameters for each course. But each teacher could be given a wide berth in deciding how he or she wants to achieve the course goals.
Consider, as an example, a Bible course which covers the Pentateuch. The course goals could be: that the students will read (and be assessed in reading) the entire Pentateuch, and that the students will learn (and be assessed in learning) the structure, major themes, and basic content of each of the five books of the Pentateuch. Then the teacher who is given this ‘Pentateuch’ class would be free to accomplish these goals in his or her own way. (It would then be the job of the administration or a Bible department head to see that there is appropriate guidance, assistance and oversight.)
Biblical Expertise vs. Accessibility of Scripture
It is important that we treat Bible classes in such a way as to show our students that we are serious about them. The worst mistake we can make is to force our students to attend “Bible” classes which are little more than cute little Sunday School lessons for which they receive academic credit.
If the teacher of a given Bible class is a true biblical scholar, someone competent to take the students on a journey into Scripture worthy of their intelligence, then we have given our Bible classes an important level of gravitas. We have shown our students that the Bible is to be taken seriously.
On the other hand, we do not want to send the message that studying the Bible is really only for experts. It is important that students see the serious study of Scripture as being for all Christians – not just experts.
A concrete example of where this issue plays out before the whole school community is in the apportioning of Bible classes. If the Bible classes are all given to one teacher, he will tend to be seen in the school community as ‘the Bible guy,’ in other words, the resident Bible expert. If, however, the Bible classes can be taught by a number of faculty members, the message is that Bible is for everyone. This is not to say that the school should not have one person who oversees the Bible department and provides guidance for it. Such a person may even teach more Bible classes than other teachers. But he would not be seen as the one and only ‘Bible guy.’
An important qualification needs to be mentioned here. To say that Bible classes should be spread out across several faculty members is not to say that those classes should be given to just anyone. The teacher of a Bible class must be competent to teach Bible and to do so with excellence.
There are several ancillary benefits to sharing the Bible classes across a selection of faculty. First, it helps to keep the Bible education fresh for the students. When students have the same Bible teacher – even an excellent Bible teacher – year after year, it tends to have a numbing effect. Bible becomes stale. Variety is the spice of a Bible program.
Also, we teachers are always finding connections across the subjects we teach. If Bible courses are shared across the faculty, we would be harnessing this natural energy as a powerful aid to biblical integration.
Additionally, this helps those of us whose primary focus is in the area of Bible to be challenged and stretched. How tempting it is to settle into the role of the Bible guy and to focus only in the area of our greatest passion and proficiency. But how much better for me for me to be stretched in areas outside my main focus. And how good it is for my students to see me being stretched in this way!
Academic Rigor vs. Spiritual Devotion
This is one of the most difficult balances of all. On the one hand, we must be careful not to make the study of Scripture an academic chore. On the other, we must not let the Scriptures be reduced to mere devotional fluff.
This is a crucial question which must be faced by every Christian school. We know we want to have required Bible classes; that much is certain. But since we do not want to turn spiritual life into homework, perhaps we should take a softer, more devotional approach to our Bible classes. And some schools have done just that. Some, for example, have made the administrative decision that the Bible courses will not assign homework outside of class. Yet with this approach, we run the risk of teaching our students not to respect the Bible as having a real place in life of the mind. If we are going to have Bible classes, and we want our students to take the study of Scripture seriously, then we had better treat them as serious academic classes.
In connection with this is the fact that we must never, never be seen as giving academic credit for a student’s actual application of Scripture. To grade someone on the quality of his or her spiritual devotion to the Lord is to commit the error of the Pharisees. It is God’s place to judge the hearts of student and teacher alike. At the same time, if we teach our students merely to study Scripture for the sake of mastering certain Bible data and Bible study skills, without having life application always in view, we will violate the very intent of God in giving us His word in the first place.
But perhaps we are missing the point. Perhaps the question is not one of whether the Bible class will be academically rigorous or spiritually devotional. Perhaps we could take a decidedly academic approach to the Bible class and let the spiritual, devotional connection to the hearts of the students be made in other areas. First of all, if the teacher has a vital, growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, this will inevitably shine in his teaching of any subject, Bible not the least. Also, it is in relationship – not course curriculum – where teachers connect spiritually to their students.
If this thinking is correct, a very good way of clarifying it would be to make sure that the content of the Bible courses is actually Bible (or theology), rather than Christian discipleship. The best way to instill a biblical worldview is to know Scripture, to have a picture of the panorama of the over all story of the Bible. And such knowledge of Scripture does not come from piece-meal studies of scattered passages encountered in the course of topical instruction.
With all the foregoing thoughts in mind, I offer the following as central components to what might be offered to students in a Christian school:
▪ Introduction to Bible Study (1-2 semesters)
Students learn the basic tools they need to study Scripture for themselves.
▪ Bible Survey (2-3 years)
Students learn an overview of the whole story of the Bible, the basis for a biblical worldview.
▪ Introduction to Christian Theology (1-2 semesters)
Students learn to participate in the discussion of the church over what Christian teaching is and should entail.
▪ Worldview (1-2 semesters)
Students learn the basics of philosophic inquiry; and then the basics, including the strengths and the weaknesses, of various worldviews competing for their hearts.
In addition to these, if feasible, a great asset would be:
▪ History of the Faith
Students learn the story of the church from the time of the Lord and His apostles to the present setting of post-fundamental evangelicalism, gaining an appreciation along the way for the various expressions of Christian tradition which have come to be.
[*] I use the word “department” here (and throughout this document) loosely. The thoughts in this document do not depend on there being an actual Bible department, per se. It is assumed, however, that the Christian school would want to have a Bible program which is well-integrated and cohesive across grade levels.