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March 26, 2007

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More information is generally good. To have an ever fuller picture of reality is advantageous in real life. Schools should do whatever possible to confer advantage to students through education. An understanding of religion and the interplay that it has had with society through history, literature, art, science and so forth can be of great value to students, both for their personal sake and their interaction with the world at large.

I've read the article in Time magazine and I believe in the legitimacy of the claim that the Bible can be taught in a secular fashion to show just how culturally relevant it has been throughout the centuries as well as in the constitutionality of the proposal so long as the class is an elective. In theory, the author's proposal can be achieved and to good results for students of Christian upbringing as well as those who are of a different upbringing. In practice, I have to stress that this is an idea that can go seriously wrong; the benefits are great but so are the risks.

I would have to ask people not to jump on the bandwagon with this proposal and immediately demand such changes of the local school system. Popularity for this idea actually can grow too fast.

Now that I have expressed my reservations about teaching the Bible in public schools, I will pose a few questions for the sake of promoting dialogue.

What are some of the pitfalls to steer away from in teaching the Bible in public schools?

What can history teach us about using the Bible as a subject of study? Does this take us back to the roots of American education in the day of the one room school house?

How had using the Bible in Public education faded out?

What should the social contract between community and school be in regards to religious subject matter? What say should parents have with regard to curriculum?

At my computer all this week,
Alvin

I completely agree with Chuck Colson that the Bible should be taught in the public schools sector and that all students should be given the chance to understand about one of the most powerful and persuasive books ever written. I believe it is high time that students be given an understanding of what a central role the Bible played in the founding fathers creation of a new country and a new constitution and a system of courts and justice. I welcome the introduction of courses that teach about the old and new Testaments of the Bible and am in agreement with Mr. Colson. Then allow the Holy Spirit to do its work in bringing in people into the faith. I just think it would be very amazing if a public school were allowed to teach on these matters that have shaped this country and every major leader that has ever filled our history books. How can you not understand the Bible as it relates to government and how will our founding fathers and other presidents have been led by it, taught by at and guided by it for a as long as this country has been in existence. The next great challenge will be for those student Christians to be capable of assisting in helping other students with a matter of faith and the other aspect that is not permitted to be taught in school and that's learning who God is. Can you imagine a wonderfully trained group of students who emulate "Christ centeredness" and have them lead and guide other students outside of class into a statement of faith? What a wonderful scenario this would bring!

Should the influence on or interpretation of the Bible with regard to political leaders in American history be the emphasis of a class teaching the Bible in public schools?

Consider the quote from President Lincoln in the excerpt above from the Time magazine article that the initial post by Melinda is about. How do you see this? What is your take on President Lincoln's observation and how might that shed light on the interplay between politics and religion in America?

Being a layman, I think I have a good grasp of the bible. I can find agreement with all but one part of its teachings; that is, 1 Peter (can you guess) 2:18. "Slaves, submit yourselves to our masters with all rspect, not only to those who are good and considerate but also to those who are harsh."

Now how does this stay in conformity with our a priori understanding of mercy, love, and justice? All of these virtues are in the bible as cardinal virtues. Does this verse not conflict with the balance of the bible? How should one respond if he is a slave to a person who is physically raping him daily? Is he to submit to this master? Was Wilberfource wrong? Was Martin Luther wrong? Was this country wrong when it succeeded from England? I understand that I am to be of a submissive heart and that there is an order to the universe and society that says that, "those above must given respect and we must be submissive to them in order to give society a chance and God His requirement." But an unjust,vicious vile leader doesn't he demand a response; "When in the course of human events....."

David,

These are the kind of questions a class about the Bible should evoke. Focusing on just a narrow passage should one hopes be advised against in such a class, but it does make a fine conversation starter especially given its abuse in the US prior to the Civil War. (By the way, we are blessed to be able to say "the Civil War," and have everyone know which one we are talking about.)

Personally, I put this teaching along side Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:38:42 which is another misunderstood passage of scripture and coincidentally mentioned in the Time magazine article. This is the passage where Jesus mentions that one should "turn the other cheek." In the most original sense, the sense with which Jesus was teaching his listeners, turning the other cheek when struck on the right, offering one's cloak when sued for ones tunic, and going an extra mile when forced to go one are all means of claiming one's dignity as a human being by turning the tables on a situation even though one is the less powerful of two parties by creatively taking an alternative to just being degraded or reacting violently. Likewise, though the words "obey" or "submit" might sound like passive terms, Paul is advocating that slaves take action and flip the situation by being kind*.

Also worth noting, is how in the past pulling these verses out of the social and historical context in which the were originally spoken led to such corruption.

David, I don't know what history your family may have had with state sanctioned slavery in the US, my family has none we arrived here in the 1960s so I don't speak with the fullest ability to empathize, but historians generally agree that the character of slavery in America was much nastier and crueler than the slavery of the ancient world around the Mediterranean and Middle East. Do some research on slavery in the Roman empire. And to be fair about the subject of slavery in America and what the Bible says the following verse, "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him." Ephesians 6:9 has to be taken into consideration as it is part of the same letter just four verses after Paul writes about slaves obeying their masters. Obviously, American slavemasters purposely neglected and disregarded this verse. Rape and beating or flogging are certainly prohibited. Moreover, Ephesians 6:9 is part of the basis on which slavery was argued against#. Famous abolitionists were not wrong to argue that the Bible was against such abuse of human beings.

*For more on this idea of creative alternatives, listen to Calling all Peacemakers III: A Brief History of Non-Violence a message by Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church which can be downloaded as a free Podcast on iTunes.

#See the autobiography Frederick Douglass who had been a slave and an abolitionist.

Alvin wrote:

"Should the influence on or interpretation of the Bible with regard to political leaders in American history be the emphasis of a class teaching the Bible in public schools?"

I don't think that should be the emphasis of the course. Although the history of the bible throughout American history should be worked into the lesson outline in some respect. What degree do you think is appropriate Alvin?

Alvin also wrote: "Consider the quote from President Lincoln in the excerpt above from the Time magazine article that the initial post by Melinda is about. How do you see this? What is your take on President Lincoln's observation and how might that shed light on the interplay between politics and religion in America?"

Do we know that Lincoln's quote is not taken out of context? I understand he was also quoted as saying, "we should not be claiming God is on our side, but seeking to be on His side (paraphrase)".... which I think more accurately describes the reality of the situation if we're talking about the God of the bible.

Can the bible be misinterpreted?...can it be misused?....has it been misused? Clearly it has and will continue to be. I don't think that should preclude it though from being taught in our public schools. In fact, if taught properly this may correct the problem.

And that's where I am most concerned and why your question about the content of the course is interesting Alvin.

Do we teach moral lessons?....just historical ones?....only in the context of history of western thought? A lesson plan worth it's salt would have to encompass all of them wouldn't it?

In our post-modern, moral relativistic culture, clearly the strongest objection will be towards teaching moral lessons. As our mainstream culture has bought the false "upper/lower story" view of humanity as taught by F. Schaeffer, the realm of values and morals is relegated to the lower story. Given this view, moral lessons are professed to amount to a little more then "useful fiction". While the upper story of history deals with facts and what can be known.

But consider the following from the Time magazine article:

"....In 1995 a federal appeals court upheld the overturn of a death sentence in a Colorado kidnap-rape-murder case because jurors had inappropriately brought in extraneous material--Bibles--for an unsanctioned discussion of the Exodus verse "an eye for eye, tooth for tooth ... whoever ... kills a man shall be put to death." The Christian group Focus on the Family complained, "It is a sad day when the Bible is banned from the jury room." Who's most at fault here? The jurors, who perhaps hadn't noticed that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus rejects the eye-for-an-eye rule, word for word, in favor of turning the other cheek? The Focus spokesman, who may well have known of Jesus' repudiation of the old law but chose to ignore it? Or any liberal who didn't know enough to bring it up?"

Did you see that? Human beings do make moral decisions as we deliberate as jury members..painstakingly as another's life is on the dock. Values and issues of justice, life and death are part of our reality. But more to the point, Time Magazine, (or more, directly Stephen Prothero) thinks that the bible actually does not teach justice!...that Jesus was anti-capital punishment.

Now, I don't think that's the case because the "pacifist Jesus argument" doesn't gets much further then out of the gate.
Time is obviously wrong about Jesus repealing any law. In fact He says this...."I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it".

I bring up this example because it brings to light an important point: the argument that moral lessons or values, or even theology should not be taught from the bible is short sighted because it ignores the reality of our human experience. Human beings do make moral and value judgements!...just like the jurors deliberating the murder case. Prothero's argument was that they were misinterpreting the bible's teaching on justice and capital punishment.

Now I think he's wrong, but I think this brings up the issue you're hinting at Alvin. If it's a bible literacy class what is the appropriate scope? What does the teacher say, when a student asks....what did Jesus mean by "And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell"? (Ref:Matt 10:28)

Hi John,
I remember that case (vaguely), and thought their (the appeals court) conclusion was odd. What if the jurors hadn't brought in physical Bibles, but had memorized the very same passages, and used them as a basis for their decisions? As a juror, must I discard any notion learned from the Bible?

John, entirely with you on the nature of worthwhile Bible study being all-encompassing.

As for how I might teach a course, I would certainly have a hard time keeping the theology out of it. I am a Bible study teacher and wouldn't appreciate being told to do thing differently, but I suppose if I had to I could just settle for as little as just getting students to actually read it, knowing that God grants understanding.

As for lesson plans, I wouldn't like to focus the entire course on the Bible's role in the inception of this nation although this is something which students might easily relate to, so it should receive some attention. I suppose I'd like to capture more of Christian history as a whole. As for its role in Western history, I would not like that to be the only focus although it would be where there is most information available. Christianity is not the religion of the white man alone, India and China also have a great history with it. Telling of the persecution and the martydom of Christians throughout the world would be more true to reality and we should seek to offer students a truthful and unequivocated portrayal of history. If students could only know more of early church leaders like: the Apostles, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustin, and the like in addition to the leaders of the reformation the average student might be able to thwart attempts at undermining the validity of the Gospel.

As for:
What does the teacher say, when a student asks....what did Jesus mean by "And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell"?

Good question John and good point.

Morality is part of the Bible message and so is theology, so what should teachers be expected to do in a situation where a student has such a concern? To try and filter out the moral stance or the theology of the Bible would ill serve the subject matter. Teachers are expected to instill some sense of morality in students. If they aren't, then I and any other sometime delinquent student should have the right to sue over having received detention.

I would, as I am guessing you also would, favor the Bible as a source of morality. However, for the sake of remaining as seemingly politically correct as possible, Bible courses taught in public schools should focus more on cultivating critical thinking skills in such areas as morality.

I agree with you about Prothero offering a mistaken interpretation of Jesus' teaching and this is exactly why Bible courses in public schools should stay away from offering a teacher's or textbook author's interpretation and instead offer a more raw version of the Bible challenging students to bring everything they have in order to understand it.

In light of the mistaken interpretation both of us find to be offered in the article as true by an advocate of teaching Bible courses in public schools, I now have to ask:

Might there be those who are pushing for the teaching of the Bible in public schools who are seeking to mainstream false interpretations? Might there be those who are honestly mistaken?

Switching now to one individual,what are Prothero's motivations aside from wanting to sell many more copies of the book he has written?

Alvin - thanks for your reply my friend.

You raise another important question....: "Might there be those who are pushing for the teaching of the Bible in public schools who are seeking to mainstream false interpretations? Might there be those who are honestly mistaken?"

My personal hope is that with a good teacher, following some basic heremenutics, that the scripture would speak for itself and could actually correct honest misunderstandings. As for the individual who has an "agenda" to push in spite of a clear reading of the text, I do not hold the same hope.

I'm in agreement with your earlier point about God granting understanding and giving more light to those who respond to the light they are given. So, just like the other recent challenges to what we believe in the public square by those who are either honestly mistaken or purposefully driven, we will be blessed with more opputunities to respectfully, but decisively correct falsehoods!...knowing the Lord will bless and use our faithful efforts to His ends.

Is it risky? You bet. Might we fail in delivering an effective, gentle and reasonsed response to those pushing false interpretations? I'm fairly certain all of have already done this! (at least once or twice this week for me). I think the key is something Greg teaches....."don't get stumped by the same question (or issue) twice". (paraphrase)

Perhaps this is too tidy a conclusion given the complexities and nuances raised by this issue, but could we possibly apply a marketing maxim from Hollywood...."there is no such thing as bad press"?

Hey Paul!

This is crux of the matter isn't it?....

"What if the jurors hadn't brought in physical Bibles, but had memorized the very same passages, and used them as a basis for their decisions? As a juror, must I discard any notion learned from the Bible?"

What's behind this thinking from our culture? Moral neutrality right?...that somehow the atheist or the secular agnostic sits in a more objective or morally neutral position because his thinking has not been influenced by a "religious text". This wrongly assumes the skeptic or agnostic is a blank slate...as though he brings no moral opinions to bear on his thinking in deliberating a judgement. This is just a dodge of the real question - whose moral opinion is true? Which one is right?

Scripture is helpful in reminding us whose is behind this "slight of hand" tactic....we are not fighting against flesh and bone, but powers and principalities. (paraphrase).

John,

Your "marketing maxim from Hollywood" instantly reminded me of the following:

Philippians 1:18
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

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