Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Teach the Bible at School?

The Wilson County Board of Education will consider a request to add a course on the Bible as an elective in its high school curriculum, The Tennessean reports. Terry Redmon, who runs an organization called "Reclaiming the Land with Christ Inc.," initiated the proposal.

While many on the left will immediately reject such an idea on what they suppose to be first amendment grounds, the question of the advisability of a Bible elective is actually much more complicated than that. The Bible is, in fact, in addition to being a religious text, a book of significant historical and literary importance for much of the world. This writer is currently reading the American classic Moby Dick and in so doing has noted that the novel is inundated with biblical references that make it hardly comprehensible to someone without at least a broad knowledge of scriptural references and themes. Historically, the Bible has played a prominent role in both American literature and other forms of public discourse and culture.

In addition, the fact that the Middle East has become a region of such importance to American life makes it important that Americans better understand that part of the world. The Bible provides much information of value to anyone that would understand the history of the area. In fact, one might criticize Christians on this score: at a time when the public needs to understand a part of the world about which Christians should have some expertise, the church has by and large not provided it. Instead of offering perspectives on Middle East history and culture, the church has more noticeably put forth spurious works of negligible value on apocalyptic themes.

Nonetheless, a look at both the proposal and the proposer does not encourage one that the purpose of the course would be historical and literary understanding. Redmon's organization has the stated purpose of "reclaim[ing] the land with Christ by involving the universal church in a grassroots effort to fulfill the Reclaiming The Land With Christ Vision and Mission Statements...."

In addition, Redmon is proposing that the Board take up the curriculum of the National Council on Bible Curriculum, whose president describes its goals as follows:

The curriculum for the program shows a concern to convey the content of the Bible as compared to literature and history.... The central approach of the class is simply to study the Bible as a foundation document of society....

One might ask which of the statements is actually the objective of the course: to convey the Bible's content in terms of its literature and history (I have not yet figured out what the "compared to" phrase means), or to approach it as a foundational document for society? Either approach could theoretically be appropriate, but the two concepts are quite different: the first would place an emphasis on the Bible as a Middle Eastern text; the second would focus on its western influence.

That apparent contradiction, which is admittedly reconcilable since a course can have more than one orientation, along with the orientation of Redmon's organization, raises the likelihood that the real goal is to create opportunities for evangelization. It is regrettable, even pathetic, that Christians fail to see the mistake here of asking public schools to do that which they are failing to do themselves: to convey the content of the Bible to the next generation. Churches and Christian parents are not doing a terribly good job, as a whole, of teaching their own children the Bible. That might perhaps be a better focus than one that looks on the public school system as a surrogate.


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