Saturday, April 28, 2007

Should We Teach The Bible In Public Schools?

I was blogging at a local coffee shop, and the cover story on Time magazine caught my eye, "Why We Should Teach The Bible In Public School. (But very, very carefully)" (April 2, 2007) Now although I am a Christian, I cannot say I've ever been wild about putting religion in school. So what are the grounds of concern for the Christian, and under what circumstances should we support such a policy?First of all, just as secularists fear that these classes will end up in the hands of Christian teachers, I fear undoubtedly many of these classes would end up in the hands of nonbelievers, and what is taught here could be damaging. I can see it now being taught, the JEPD theory, that Genesis through Deuteronomy was originally four different documents carefully weaved together by a redactor. (Those supposed documents being known as Jehovah, Elohim, Priestly, and Deuteronomy) How many young folk would be led astray by liberal teachings such as this one?

Then Christians, from denomination to denomination, from conservative evangelical Christians to liberals, differ on the interpretation of the Bible. Who is going to determine whose view is presented? (Don't get me wrong. There is a right interpretation of the Bible, it is not up to the individual to create their own. But people can and do err.) Will a conservative Christian’s understanding be taught or will a liberal view be taught? (which one could make the case that liberal Christianity becomes a different religion altogether) Between secularists and people of different denominations, can politically correct curriculum that offends no one be created without watering the Bible down to the point that the class becomes a waste of time entirely?

The author talks about the 1995 federal appeals court upholding of a death sentence in because jurors had brought in bibles for an "unsanctified discussion of the Exodus verse 'an eye for eye, tooth for tooth... whoever... kills a man shall be out to death.'" Focus on the Family complained "Its 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 of 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?" Now I cringe at "Jesus' repudiation of the old law." If the author was biblically literate, he'd know that Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17) Jesus never repudiates the Law of the Old Testament. He repudiates the Pharisees for their traditions, but never the law. Not that the point of this blog is to discuss these passages, but Jesus wasn't talking about the state's administration of justice, which is right, the state bears a sword for the reason. Now how many Bible classes taught in public schools will teach the Bible as rightly seen, reconciling the Old Covenant found in the Old Testament with the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus? I think not many. Will these classes teach the Bible haphazardly, looking at passages out of context, or will they teach how to read the Bible properly, examining passages of scripture in the context of the rest of scripture? And will it look just at “key passages” or will they teach the overarching themes of the Bible and give a good understanding of Biblical theology? Will they give a right understanding of what Christians believe? Will it teach the foundations of Christianity, the Gospel, that Christ died for the sins of those who believe in him, or just bits and pieces of the Bible, allowing a student to recognize that when a politician in a speech says "city on a shining hill" that it comes from the gospel of Matthew, and not originally the Puritan leader John Winthrop? And even if it allows students to recognize Biblical language in speeches, will they be taught to know for example, that when Abraham Lincoln said a house divided against itself cannot stand, he was using Biblical language, but when Jesus said that he was referring to the Devil? I doubt that a class that does teach what Christian doctrine actually is, which is not simply obeying the Ten Commandments and being a moral self-righteous person as many believe, would be found unacceptable by secularists. If the curriculum doesn't offend though, I again doubt it is doing its job of teaching the Bible.

Of course having a mere intellectual understanding of the beliefs of Christianity, without believing them doesn't do much good in the end when you reach the judgment seat of God. Although I would say temporally, teaching what these beliefs are would be better than teaching a fragmented view of Christianity. If the class teaches that if Jesus hadn't been crucified, hadn't been resurrected, and hadn't ascended that whole of Christianity falls apart, perhaps I would support it. Then hopefully it would put to silence all this Da Vinci code and the Lost Tomb of Jesus nonsense and whatever will undoubtedly come next. I think we could all go for that. And to you who would object to that I say this, its not that the student has to accept Christianity, its just they know that they either accept Christianity and all its historical claims as true, or they reject the whole thing. There is no middle ground. The resurrection wasn't a spiritual resurrection, the ascension wasn't a spiritual ascension, they were both physical.The author states that "simply put, the Bible is the most influential book ever written." I certainly do not disagree with this statement. But he argues to teach the Bible as literature. I'm not thrilled over teaching the Bible as mere piece of literature, albeit one that is useful to know when reading much other literature, or in listening to many politicians speak. In high school English class I was many times aided with my knowledge of the Bible when reading books, writing papers, and participating in class discussions; but I never read the Bible for that purpose, and would not urge others to do so on that ground either. To put the Bible on the level of Shakespeare, as great an author that he was, would to present the Bible as mere work of human hands, and not the inspiration of God that it is. It would be a lie I believe for Christians to say they want the Bible taught in schools just for cultural and literary analysis when in fact they want it to be used as a tool to convert.

As far as Christians go, we should not so much push for teaching the Bible in public schools, but we should increase our effort of teaching the Bible to our children and ourselves. Far too many Christians don't know the word as they should. How many Christians have read the Bible all the way through, from Genesis to Exodus? We should revamp our efforts of giving our children, and ourselves, a strong foundation in Biblical truth before we should pursue teaching the Bible as public policy.

So I would support such classes on the Bible only if they teach the foundations of Christianity, only if it teaches a correct understanding of the Bible, only if it teaches to take passages in context of the whole of scripture, only if it teaches not just individual passages but also the overarching themes of the Bible, and only if it teaches the Old Testament as viewed in light of the New Testament. This may seem like a lot of requirements for these classes. I should stress at this point these are all intertwined and you cannot truly teach any of these without teaching the others. That said, I doubt I will be supporting too many of these classes. That said, when and where they do take place, I hope and pray and know that God can and will work through his Word despite what any politically correct or incorrect textbook or teacher may say to the contrary of the Truth about the Word of God.