Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bible 101

I have taught Sunday School for over 30 years now, mainly to children in grades 4-6. Curriculum and Bible translations have changed and the lessons have shifted somewhat away from Bible stories to a more a general and topical emphasis. Each year I notice that the children entering my class are less and less biblically literate. I generally start the year with a little quiz to get an idea of the knowledge level of the class. This year I was greeted my blank stares when I asked simple questions about the most familiar stories. A couple of times someone said, "Oh yes, I heard that story on Veggie Tales!" This is the series that retells the story of David and Bathsheba as King George and the Rubber Ducky and the story of David and Goliath as Dave and the Giant Pickle.

I always attended secular public schools but we did say the Lord's Prayer each morning and every Friday morning we had a non-doctrinal religion class based on the Christian Bible. We studied biblical history and read the Bible as literature. Children were allowed to opt out of the class, but few did. We all knew who Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Jesus and the disciples were.

A couple of years ago as I was telling a story to my class, a young girl who was visiting the church raised her hand and asked,

"What is a god?"

I was almost speechless at hearing this very sincere question. How could a child reach the age of ten and not have a god-concept? I thought that all people, religious or not had some form of god-consciousness.

I read an interesting article on CBS News from April 16, 2006. Lee Cowan quotes University of North Carolina professor, Bart Ehrman who says,

"I think for any educated person, it's absolutely essential to know something about the Bible. Whether a person is a believer or not, the Bible stands at the foundation of our form of civilization," he adds. The Bible's influence is impossible to ignore. There are more than a thousand biblical references in the works of Shakespeare alone. John Milton, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway all drew on the Bible, too. Then there's Rembrandt, Chagall and Da Vinci, who all put the Bible on canvas. Even the Declaration of Independence alludes to the Bible. But it's not just history -- the Bible is in pop culture as well. The movie "The Matrix" is so full of Biblical references people have written entire books about it. In the music world Kanye West raps about wanting to "see thee more clearly" in his hit, "Jesus Walks." It's even in sitcoms like "Desperate Housewives." No matter what you think of the show, Adam and Eve and the Biblical story of temptation comes into the nation's living rooms on the first school night of the week."

Author Chuck Stetson, who has written a textbook The Bible and its Influence, says,

"We are the first English speaking generation to have lost the biblical narrative. And that's amazing. And that's not right,"

Is it possible to lose knowledge this quickly? Judges 2:10 tell us that this very thing happened to the Israelites after they left Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The Message says it like this.

Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn't know anything of GOD or the work he had done for Israel.

The Lord's Prayer is not repeated in schools and scripture memorization is a thing of the past. There are no religion classes in public schools any more. People are so concerned about separation of church and state that the Bible, the best selling book in history, is not even taught from a literary perspective. Can I teach a child enough about the Bible in 30 minutes a week that they will have a good grasp of its content and impact? Not likely, especially if what I say is not reinforced in their homes. One of my fondest childhood memories is of my father reading to the five of us from the book The Bible In Pictures for Little Eyes. He would read a couple of stories (with his added commentary) and we would beg him to read us another one and another one. I read the same book to our daughters.

It only takes one generation to lose the lessons of the past.

(I have read the Bible through many times and my favourite version is called The Narrated Bible (NIV) with narration by F. LeGard Smith. In this book the Bible is presented in chronological order with historical helps and references.)


  1. What an interesting, and frightening, post. I teach in a Christian school, so the majority of our students are knowledgeable about the Bible. But this year we've been surprised by some of the students coming in from public school who have little knowledge and understanding of the Bible. It's making our religion teachers rethink their assumptions.

  2. I taught Sunday School for years myself ... mostly Grade 1's though I have had a hand at all ages. (Your approach into "late bloomers" spoke of object lesson! ... one can spot a fellow Sunday School teacher a mile away!) I haven't taught for about 5 years now.

    The last few years I worked as an assistant to another excellent teacher. My job was the memory verse and making that verse relevant to the children. I took the challenge seriously ... hopefully to good effect. I also taught the main lesson when the regular teacher was away. We would have up to 40 children.

    I think the most discouraging thing for me as a teacher was, the parents expected you to teach their children about God. Gone the concept of teaching children "in the way", as one goes about their daily tasks, capitalizing on the events of the moment. An abdication of responsibility ... seen on many levels in our present society!

    I gave our youngest nephew a book last year ... sadly the mother missed the message completely ... when the child (then 3) asked the questions she didn't know how to take "the opportunity to teach him in the way". He has no God awareness. So sad. One worries for this next generation and where it will lead the world we live in. (The nephew is an adopted child being raised by a single, never married, woman ... she adopted him at 49! ... wouldn't have been my recommendation).

    The Bible is so relevant! Many people will reject scripture because of some abuse of scripture in their past. My Dad rejected "the church" for perceived abuses, but the Biblical principles he was raised with never did leave him and he in turn imparted scriptural values to us. The principles of the scripture WORK even if some of the "trappings" of the church are man made.

    I'm rambling, probably not making much sense so I'll sign off. ... But I know what you are talking about!


  3. Rondi- Two of our girls attended a Lutheran parochial school and I am happy with the biblical education they received. However, if the parents are not interested in the Bible, the children likely won't be either.

    Cis- Ha! so you had me labelled. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Memorization of any type is not done anymore. I remember having to memorize 200 lines of poetry a year at school. Your part in making the memory verse relevant was so important. I like your reference to "in the way", so much that I will quote a section from Deuteronomy 6:6-9

    Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

  4. I remember singing hymns and saying the prayer in elementary school, but I can't say that I feel that I learned much there. I learned a lot both at Sunday School and at home, however. While I remain unconvinced that this is a job for the schools, I do take your point that basic knowledge is sadly lacking.

  5. AC- I do not think it is the responsibility of the school to provide religious education. It is the responsibility of the parents. But the Bible in literature and culture can be taught at school, especially as many children will have no exposure to it in the home or church. At least, it shouldn't be ignored at school.

  6. I've grown to hate Veggie Tales over the years....someone should eat Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber already!!!

  7. Anonymous6:16 pm GMT-4

    Your brother Stephen uses the Bible to restore the minds of youth in Mexico that have literally blown their minds on drugs. He makes then memorize from the book of Proverbs, At first it takes perhaps a week for one verse but quickly that time is shorter. By the time they conquer the whole book, they are ready for school work. Some are now in University. They then continue with the book of James.
    Mexico Mom

  8. Anonymous7:12 pm GMT-4

    Time for my two cents! :)

    Religion is a person choice and because of that I feel it has no place in public schools. If someone should receive the blame of a church going child not knowing simple bible concepts (I am not saying you are placing blame) it is not the schools, it is the parents.

    The only time I feel religion has a place in school is in a class that includes many religious teachings, not just Christians.

    Great post!

  9. Becka- Bob and Larry do a good job with silly songs. You have just grown out of silly.

    Mom- Interesting comment about Stephen's work in Mexico.

    Jaspenelle- I agree that secular schools shouldn't be teaching religious doctrine. But it is wrong to be so afraid of referring to the Bible that it is not mentioned at all as an influential book.
    Thanks for your 2 cents worth!

  10. Great post Ruth.
    I read a Bible story to Samuel and Jesse every morning before I send them to school. I find when I spend this time with the boys they will cuddle right in beside me and listen with all their heart. To me it is the most special time of the day.

  11. Michele- Your boys are so fortunate, and your investment in them is already paying off. Consistent habits like you describe really make good childhood memories and build good characters.

  12. I din't grow up going to church except when I visited my grandparents.-I have started to read the bible, and find much of it interesting.-Sometimes I find it too much to digest and don't go back to it for a long time.-I do agree that it should be presented in some form to children.-Many basic principles are based on the bible even if you don't believe that it is entirely based on fact.

  13. Larry- Many people who go to church don't read the Bible. How can you understand it if you don't check it out for yourself? It is an interesting book to read, minus some of the long census lists.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.