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Bible Classes in the Public Schools

March 28, 2007
Time Magazine recently put out an article by David Van Biema entitled The Case for Teaching the Bible, that argues for teaching Bible classes, Old and New Testament, in public schools. His reasons are not religious, but academic. Van Biema says, “Its hard to call someone educated if they haven’t at least given some thought to its key passages.” Why? Basically, he argues, because the Bible has shaped much of the Western Culture, our Declaration of Independence was based on it, and democracy itself is based on it (or at least its founders based democracy upon it). Much of pop-culture and historical literature makes references to the Bible that makes absolutely no sense unless the audience is some-what Bible-literate (Van Biema refers to Shakespeare, The Old Man and the Sea, contemporary movies like Babel, and Pulp Fiction). Finally, he argues, that being Bible-literate is “essential to being a full-fledged, well rounded citizen.” John Hagee and Chuck Colson were quoted. Hagee opposed public school education of the bible saying that the teachers would mis-represent Scripture and obscure the meaning. While Colson is in support of it hoping that they would introduce the impact the Bible has had on individuals and history and let God do the work of enlightenment.
Should there be public school education of the Bible? In trying to answer this, one thing that might be important in attempting to think through this is the effect our nation’s “mass biblical illiteracy” has on how we do evangelism. We cannot start out with using biblical terms right out of the box like sin, judgment, abundant life, eternal life, or crucifixion. These terms have been either massively obscured by secular culture or has left their vocabulary entirely – in other words you are speaking in terms they don’t even comprehend. We are talking to people who have long lost the Judea-Christian heritage. So we must go back as if we are talking to people who have absolutely no spiritual or biblical language, because we are, so that when we do end up using biblical terms (and we should), like sin, judgment, justification by faith, sanctification, they have actual meaning to them (a good model for evangelism prepared by Don Carson is called Two Ways to Live ). But, providing biblical classes for them may start to change things drastically in college ministries and personal evangelism, maybe for good or bad. One thing that may be helpful is try to think about or come up with a model for a society that is still largely post-modern (or post-post-modern – whatever that means) but now somewhat biblically literate from an academic setting rather than devotional, and then think about ‘what does evangelism look like?’ Hopefully greater minds than mine will think about this and articulate for us what this may or even may not look like.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    March 30, 2007 12:23 pm

    The more dialogue about religion that can happen in the public square, the better. Surely when taught in the public schools the Bible will be misappropriated and mistaught. But so is the Bible misappropriated and taught from the pulpits of innumerable churches today. But to actually have students pick up the Bible and read it for themselves means unleashing the possibility of a great work of the Spirit in their lives.

    Let’s hope that schools take up the challenge and allow for some very basic education to take place in their walls: education about the most widely read book in the history of the world.

    jb

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