Saturday, June 04, 2005

Should the Bible Be Taught in Public Schools?

By Alexander Samuels

Should the Bible be taught in public schools? More specifically: Should the Bible be taught in public schools as literature?

We live in a time when more and more children are growing up . . . Biblically illiterate. In an excellent article titled "Bible Illiteracy in America," which was published in the May 23 issue of The Weekly Standard, David Gelernter, a senior fellow in Jewish Thought at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem, and a contributing editor to the magazine, explains why the Bible should be taught in school. He states, "Scripture begins with God creating the world, but there is something these verses don't tell you: The Bible has itself created worlds. Wherever you stand on the spectrum from devout to atheist, you must acknowledge that the Bible has been a creative force without parallel in history."

I will not attempt to summarize the article here, but I strongly suggest you click the link above and read it for yourself. However, if you find the 11-page article too long for your interests, then at least read Chuck Colson's June 1 and 2 BreakPoint Commentaries on Gelernter's work: "Eroding Foundations" and "The Next Great Awakening."

Both Gelernter and Colson are advocates of the Bible Literacy Project. This organization promotes the concept that Bible-as-literature electives should be offered in every high school. The Bible Literacy Project is developing resources to provide teachers with the information they will need to make this goal a reality.

The question, however, remains: Should the Bible be taught as literature in the public schools? The ACLU and liberal media have blanketed the public with so much propaganda and disinformation on this topic that most teachers are afraid they will lose their jobs if they even mention the Bible in historical context to their classes. This is, of course, just what the ACLU wants educators to believe—even though it is a lie.

Again, legal issues aside: Should the Bible be taught as literature in the public schools? Can the Scriptures be presented in a dispassionate, objective manner that will do the Bible justice in the arena of public education? I'm certain that the Bible cannot really be taught without passion. Somehow, to do so seems to lower it to the level of some lesser human author. Will public-school teachers of the Bible as literature teach with a passion that only the Holy Spirit can inspire? I worry about these classes being in the hands of bureaucrats who will make decisions about who teaches the Bible as literature. I also worry about who will decide if a teacher is being too passionate and may be influencing some young people to become Christians. Don't forget that a bureaucracy that has, philosophically, moved further and further away from Christian moral values during the last 100 years oversees our public schools.

What do you think? Should the Bible be taught as literature in our public schools? Does this do harm to the sacredness of God's Holy Word, or will even a dry presentation make a valuable contribution to the lives of many (this has happened before in history)? Do you think that Christians should get behind the Bible Literacy Project? We here at Carolina Christian Conservative would really like to know what you think. Please take a moment to let us and our readers know how you feel.


At Saturday, June 04, 2005 6:52:00 PM, Anonymous Ed Cone said...

It's hard to truly understand much of Western literature (not to mention idiomatic speech) without knowing the Bible. Any serious reading of the canon leads scholars to the Bible, and any serious literature class (at a certain level, to be sure) should allow for discussion of the text in question.

Now let me turn your question around, and please know that I ask this without rancor or suspicion, just to move the debate forward: can Biblical literalists and Christian exclusivists stand for actually teaching the Bible as literature?

Will everyone be able to sit still as things they believe to be literally true are used as examples of allegory and metaphor? Will the racier readings of the Song of Solomon pass muster? Will historical analysis of the Gospels, which may differ from the version taught at a given church, make some people uncomfortable?

It's a big old issue you raise, and I appreciate the conversation.

At Sunday, June 05, 2005 3:20:00 AM, Anonymous Tim in VT said...

I agree that there is a woeful lack of literacy when it comes to the Bible. There is also a serious lack of respect for the Holy Word. I am particularly struck by the reaction to alleged mistreatment of the Quran, but no similar concern for the Bible. However, I dread the thought of the Bible being taught in public schools by public school teachers who have no understanding of the Scriptures. Attempting to teach the Bible as literature, seperated from the foundational element that it is literally God speaking to man, is like a paint-by-numbers rendition of the Mona Lisa without any of the colors applied. You can tell what the picture is, but it lacks the depth, beauty and soul that the artist intended. Also (and more importantly), a teacher who is not a Christian cannot draw out the meaning and applications. Nor can he or she address the questions that are guaranteed to arise. Consider, do you really want most public school teachers answering questions about why God ordered the Jewish people to destroy, without exception, all of their enemies, their goods and their cattle (as they were instructed in some instances)? Do you think that the average public school teacher is likely to understand the complexities of salvation by grace through faith?
I would rather allow qualified Christian adults to conduct Bible classes in clubs after school, or keep the Bible teaching in church, until such time as we can be assured that it will be handled as reverently as it deserves. I do not believe we are near that time in todays' society.

At Sunday, June 05, 2005 8:22:00 AM, Anonymous Ed Cone said...

Tim suggests only certain Christians are qualified to teach the Bible and the expectation is that it is only understood literally. In that case, public school Bible-as-literature classes would not be possible.

At Monday, June 06, 2005 1:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At Monday, June 06, 2005 5:26:00 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

What would be the purpose of teaching the Bible as literature in high school? The students would have more Biblical knowledge (in case they get in a heated game of Bible Trivia Pursuit...Hint: If you don't know an answer ALWAYS guess Jesus.) Still, if we feel like we need to teach the Bible as here is a list of 10 Holy Books of the world that might need to be included in the couse. You just can't pick out one religious text without including the others, which I don't think is real purpose of wanting to teach the Bible in high school.

At Monday, June 06, 2005 6:30:00 PM, Anonymous Alex Samuels said...

My thanks to Ed, Tim, Jamie, and Anonymous for keeping the converstaion going.

Ed, I will grant you that Christianity is an exclusivistic religion. I believe there is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ.

When you mention "Biblical literalist," do you mean people who interpret the Bible without using a grammatical-historical perspective? In other words, they read the Bible as if it were a modern newspaper (such as many do with Revelation having no understanding of Biblical apocalyptic literature) or do you define a "Biblical literalist" as someone who believes that the Bible is absolutely true?

Tim, I must agree with Ed on at least this point: It is almost impossible to understand much of western literature and thought (and may I also add history) without a reasonable knowledge of the Bible. Perhaps teaching the Bible as an elective in high school has merit even if it is served on a cold plate by an unbeliever.

Thanks for responding and we would like to hear more on this subject. I'm sure there is a lot more to be said.

At Monday, June 06, 2005 8:16:00 PM, Anonymous Ed Cone said...

Not all Christians are exclusivist. To tie it back to literature...look at the message CS Lewis sends in the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, when Aslan allows the Tash-worshipping Calormene to enter heaven.

For the purposes of this conversation, I would define literalist as someone who is going to be offended if, say, the story of Noah is referenced as less than historical fact, or Genesis is equated with other creation stories from different traditions.

At Tuesday, June 07, 2005 7:52:00 PM, Anonymous Alex Samuels said...

As much as C. S. Lewis is to be admired as a brilliant Christian author, I would not advise anyone to use a work of fiction to build their theology on. I also have met people who said they were Christians but also believed there are many ways to Salvation, Heaven, or God.

When, however, I read John 14:6 I find Jesus saying, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." When I read John 10:9, Jesus says, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved." The teaching context from which these quotes are taken indicates to me, in spite of some "Christians" not being exclusivist, that Christianity is an exclusivistic religion. Jesus is teaching that He is the ONLY WAY to Salvation, Heaven, and God.

Now, back to our subject. I have heard many Christians, who some would call "literalist," say that what they want is fair treatment from the educational system. They believe that their children are being indoctrinated into believing that evolution is absolutely true when it is only an unproven theory. They believe that creation theory should be given an equal platform to speak from in the education community. Please understand that creation theory is not the only reason for wanting a place at the podium, but it is certainly one of them.

At Tuesday, June 07, 2005 11:08:00 PM, Anonymous Ed Cone said...

I'm certainly not here to argue Christian practice, but it remains a fact that many people who call themselves Christians and believe themselves to be Christians are not exclusivists. This again raises the question of teaching the Bible as literature: could you agree on a curriculum with those other Christians, much less people of other faiths?

Re creationism: if one group expects teaching the Bible to reinforce a literal reading of creation, and another group wants to teach Genesis as literature alongside creation stories from other faiths and traditions, there might be some problems. And if one reason for teaching the Bible as literture is to offer an alternative to science class, then the project of teaching it as literature is compromised from the start.

At Wednesday, June 08, 2005 12:50:00 PM, Anonymous Alex Samuels said...

Teaching the Bible-as-literature in our nation’s high schools is certainly not going to be an easy goal to achieve. We have covered only a few of the issues in the discussion that has taken place here. I would like to go on record to make it clear that I do support the Bible Literacy Project. I do agree with David Gelernter (senior fellow in Jewish Thought at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem) that, “the Bible has been a creative force without parallel in history.” In terms of literature or spiritual thought, it is a shame that so many people living today have very little, if any, knowledge of the Bible. The Bible-as-literature should be offered as an elective in our high schools.

What happens in the meantime as we work to make this possible? Quoting David Gelernter again, “Our churches, our synagogues, and all other institutions that revere the Bible must do better.” I agree.

Speaking as a Christian, our churches need to refocus on their Biblically-historic mandate of preaching and teaching the Word of God. So many churches today seem lost in the fog of trying to meet all of people’s felt needs (what a bottomless pit this is) and putting on “dog and pony” shows to increase attendance numbers. Pastors, elders, deacons, and other fellow Christians, I have news for you. If you passionately preach and teach the Word of God, you will grow spiritually and maybe your numbers will even increase with new members who really are sincere believers. I think that it is a travesty, that if the Bible were being taught in high schools today, that many Christian teen-agers would probably learn more about the Bible there, than in their own churches. Enough said.

I would like to thank everyone who has participated in this discussion. My special thanks to Ed Cone who most consistently raised relevant questions and issues important to understanding our topic. Ed, feel free to make a final comment.

At Wednesday, June 08, 2005 1:18:00 PM, Blogger Mickey McLean said...

For more on this topic, see the "Should the Bible Be Taught in Public Schools?—Update" I just posted.

At Wednesday, June 08, 2005 3:50:00 PM, Anonymous ed cone said...

Appreciate a shot at the last word, I'll just make that word "thanks."

At Friday, June 10, 2005 10:53:00 AM, Blogger Toad734 said...

Not unless evolution is taught in church.

At Wednesday, February 27, 2008 10:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I'm leaving a comment two years later...Well, my younger brother took a Bible-as-literature course recently, just in his english class. No one had problems. They just talked about some Bible stories and allusions. The course was short and was meant to prepare the students for books in higher grades that would allude to the Bible, he told me.

At Monday, December 01, 2008 6:48:00 PM, Blogger Jonas said...

Yes i think that the bible should be taught in public schools becuse it would build up your life for the life after this life that we have on earth in other words it would save your souls from Hell and it would show you the light and the path to follow Jesus and what He has for offer for us. the Bible does not only talk about the past but it also talks about the futuer and it shows how life is going to be when you are chistian that it's not going to be purfict and smooth but it is going to be very hard and difficalt. The reson i'm saying this is that every buddy should learn about this Jesus and what He has to offer. Just Read the new Testament and ask Jesus to speak life into you and you will be differnt from the world Just what the Bible says. some of you guys say the the Bible is just a story gess what your wrong in Jesus Name i speak Truth and not a lie...

At Thursday, January 22, 2009 10:02:00 PM, Blogger John said...

I thing that Bible should be taught as a christan focused class as well as a literature. I belive that many students are christians and/or are willing to study Bible and learn it in religion course. We should all fight in order to win and iproove morality. Dr. Kent Hovind is a great proffesor who talks about creation and shows evidence that evolution is LIE. Here is the link to his speaches, you can download them, enjoy watching, and have a knowlege how to resist attacks of evolutionists. Ok, here it is:
it worth spending time, you wont regret about it.

At Monday, April 13, 2009 11:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i believe it should be taught in schools because they teach evolution to Christians who believe in creation.... so the bible should be taught to non-believers. whether as literature or just a class

At Wednesday, February 13, 2013 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Brielle Franklin said...

I think it should. It should just not be mandatory. As we all know kids won't pay attention if it is not interesting. If they were not brought up with religion they will probably not pay attention and may become lost. This of course is just my opinion. I was just looking up information on online Bible classes for myself while my kids are in bible school. I think it's a great family bonding experience. But one that will not be forced on them.
Thanks so much for your post.


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