Teaching the Bible in Schools: A Radical Proposal

Teaching the Bible in Schools: A Radical Proposal

Teaching the Bible in Schools: A Radical Proposal.

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (St. Jerome).

Integrate the Bible. A case can be made that it is unbiblical to have a Bible Department, and unfaithful to have a Religion Department. When the Bible is seen as just another area of study, like Algebra or Chemistry, then the students are practically invited to question its personal relevance. If the Bible is offered as just another class, the students will treat it as just another class. Instead, what might happen if, instead of having Bible classes, the Bible was skillfully woven into all the coursework by the teacher in the classroom? What if students experienced the natural relevance of Scripture in all their areas of study? If the Bible is taught as a self-contained unit, it will be seen as disconnected from that which is important to their personal life. When the Bible is accepted as just another textbook, it will merely be a competitor to all the other textbooks. When the Bible is engagingly coherent in all the courses, the students will be more likely to connect with it, to bring it from the intellect to the heart and will. When the Bible is pursued as the North Star of the curriculum, the guiding light of Scripture will shine forth as relevant and vital. Perhaps that should be one of the key qualifications of a teacher: the ability to effectively integrate Scripture into classroom teaching. If academic rigor is seen as mental weight-lifting, and if Bible class is centered on grades and test scores, what does that reduce the Bible to? Mere intellectual exercise? Perhaps the best way to achieve academic integrity with the Bible is to prove its relevance across the curriculum. Maybe the Bible should not have its own department, and instead be a natural part of every other department, like real life.

Experience the Bible. The vast majority of students these days are not auditory learners, in which they learn best through lecture and note-taking. In our era, most students are visual and kinesthetic, seeing and doing. Music also aids learning in many students. In other words, most students now are experiential learners. They learn best through full-bodied, multisensory, imaginative experience. Giving mini-sermons without interaction is not teaching Scripture. Filling the students with tedious factual data in the Bible is not teaching Scripture. Limiting Biblical content to rigid principles, rules and abstract concepts is not teaching Scripture. Reducing Bible study to Trivial Pursuits is not teaching Scripture. Limiting Bible study to the intellectually gifted is not teaching Scripture. Authentic Bible study will include story-telling, drama, cooperative discussions, hands-on projects, sacred history with saints and sinners, cultural observations, creative expression, critical thinking, field trips, and moments of personal application. Methods like Godly Play are effective, as well as Biblical reenactments from the Hebrew Bible like Sabbath, Passover, Tashlich, and Succoth. Those biblical feasts and liturgies from the Old Testament point directly to Christ. When students are given winsome opportunities to live the Bible, they will learn how to love the Bible. Personal connections will be made when experienced at the personal level. Engage the student’s imagination, and the rest of the student will follow. The minute the Bible becomes mere drudgery, or overly academic, or rigid, or tedious, the students just might become disengaged, and that would be a shame. Apathy easily becomes a mental habit.

Incarnate the Bible. In terms of teaching the Faith to young people, seeing is believing. The teacher needs to be someone who daily models the Faith and fleshes out Scripture. The students need to see the teacher as a lover of God and all things godly. Teachers need to see themselves as followers of Jesus who practice what they preach, who treat the students with love and respect and dignity. The student’s heart can be won by establishing a relationship with a kind-hearted adult believer. Teachers who are competent and inspiring in their own unique way have tremendous, far-reaching influence. So if students wonder what a real Christian looks like, they need look no further than their teacher. If a student is being taught the Bible and wonders what all the fuss is about, they need only refer to their teacher who winsomely represents the Scripture in all the different circumstances during the day. The extended community of the student is vitally important too, of course. At home with the parents and siblings, at church with pastors and leaders, at the parties with friends and acquaintances. The student’s personal life outside the school’s influence is a fierce competitor with what was learned at school. Consider the competition… entertainment, athletics, social media, smart phone usage, cultural values pressing against Christian values.  A community of true blue believers is sometimes the last vestige of hope as a young person tries to swim against the tide. To avoid the undertow, young people need to have the Faith confirmed, encouraged and inspired as much as possible during the school day. When the Faith begins to form a lifestyle, the competition becomes less fearsome and more manageable.

Love the Gospels. For school-age children, the Gospels are the starting point. If the Bible is the North Star of the curriculum, the Gospels are the Big Dipper. The imagination of the students needs to be captured by the Person of Jesus… His Spirit, His personality, His character, His friends, His choices, His upbringing, His priorities. The only way we can learn all there is to know about Jesus is through the Gospels. Students often learn best through stories, and the Gospels are basically comprised of one story after another. Gospel values inform and shape the Christian school environment, the classroom culture. In a Christ-centered school, the Gospels are a vital reference point. The words and deeds of Jesus trump theology if there seems to be a conflict between the two. If there is a point in some theology that seems to be in conflict with what we see in the Gospels, stick with the Gospels. Maybe the theological assertion will make sense down the line. Study theology in light of the Gospels, not the other way around. As students grow to love the Gospels, in simply loving the story of Jesus, a Christian world view is being formed. We love the Gospels, but we do not worship the Gospels. George MacDonald once commented that Scripture is our moon in the darkness. We can walk in its light, but the moon is only a reflection of the sun. The moon is Scripture, the sun is Christ. The original light source is Jesus, and that is Who we worship. Christians love the written Word, and we worship the Living Word. The Gospels are the centerpiece of the Bible. And Jesus is the centerpiece of the Gospels.


“I read my Bible often, I try to read it right. Least to my understandin’, it’s nothing but a burning light.”  (lyrics from What Is the Soul of A Man, by Blind Willie Johnson).

“The main purpose of our teaching is to produce Love, which springs from a single-minded heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5).

“Because you do not live your faith, your faith has ceased to be a living thing. It has become abstract – bodiless. Perhaps we shall find that the dis-incarnation of the Word of God is the real cause of all our misfortunes.”  (George Bernanos).

“The Bible is holiness in words. The words of the Bible are like dwellings made with rock. The Bible is the light of God given in the form of language. How is it conceivable that the Divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels? It is as if God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wire charged with His spirit. Just as it is impossible to conceive of God without the world, so is it impossible to conceive of His concern without the Bible. If God is alive, then the Bible is His voice. There is no other mirror in the world where His will and spiritual guidance is as unmistakably reflected.”  (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, 1955).

“Always read the Bible with an eye for what would draw you to Christ.” (Martin Luther).

“It is the man Christ Jesus we have to know, and the Bible we must use to that end – not for theory or dogma. In that light, it is the most practical and useful book in the world.”  (George MacDonald).

“Whenever the content of Christianity is presented as factual or intellectual data without an accompanying call to commitment and change of life, Christian education loses its power to form character in the student.”  (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith).

“His word is in my heart like a fire, like a fire shut up in my bones.”  (Jeremiah 20:9).

“For above all else, the Christian life is a love affair of the heart. It cannot be lived primarily as a set of principles or ethics. It cannot be managed with steps and programs. It cannot be lived exclusively as a moral code leading to righteousness. The religious technocrats of Jesus’ day confronted Him with what they believed were the standards of a life pleasing to God. The external life, they argued, the life of ought and duty and service, was what mattered. ‘You’re dead wrong,’ Jesus said. ‘In fact, you’re just plain dead… whitewashed tombs.’ What God cares about is the inner life, the life of the heart.”  (John Eldridge and Brent Curtis, The Sacred Romance).

“The truth about God without love for God quickly becomes oppression.” (Eugene Peterson).

“To reduce Revelation to principles or concepts is to suppress the element of mystery, holiness and wonder to God’s self-disclosure. ‘First principles’ may enlighten and inform; they do not force us to our knees in reverence and awe.”  (Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth).

“The Scriptures are seen within the believing Church as being like a long love letter sent from heaven to His Bride, the Church, by the Bridegroom, the exalted Lord Jesus. A lover is not interested in grammar or syntax; she is only interested in the beloved, in what He says, reveals, promises. She savours the letter with tenderness and with expectancy. She will recognize meanings and intimations in the words which others could never do, for love has special qualities as an interpreter.”  (Peter Toon, Meditating as A Christian).

(a prayer before reading the Word). “God of truth, I ask that I may receive, so that my joy may be full. Meanwhile let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak of it, let my heart love it, let my mouth preach it, let my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God one and triune, blessed forever. Amen.”  (St. Anselm, Proslogion).

“Nobody’s fault but mine, ain’t nobody’s fault but mine. If I die and my soul be lost, ain’t nobody’s fault but mine. I have a Bible in my home, I’ve got a Bible in my home. If I don’t read and my soul be lost, ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.”  (lyrics from Nobody’s Fault But Mine, by Blind Willie Johnson).

One Reply to “Teaching the Bible in Schools: A Radical Proposal”

  1. Love this Steve! I sure miss the days of sitting around Susan and joy’s living room or the library table at Rivendell and reading your reflections together. But even more so, I miss seeing you incarnate your ideas. Thank you!