In 2 Kings 22, the Bible speaks about a country that finds the Scriptures. The Word of God had been lost, but religious activity had continued without it. There was still a temple. There was still a high priest. But no Word. And then—one day—they found it and read it. What was King Josiah’s response? He tore his clothes in anguish because he understood something scary: “Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13b, emphasis mine). God was angry at the nation because they had neglected his Word. They didn’t reject it. They neglected it.
Upon renewing attention to the Word, things changed. 2 Kings 23:3 tells the next step in the story: “The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant” (emphasis mine).
What turned the nation around? Attention to the Book. If Barna did a survey of Judah while the Book was lost, I think it might have looked quite a bit like this one from ACU. So what role can Christian schooling play in turning our nation around? Well, we can’t change hearts. But we can direct people to the Book that does. Christian schools can play the role of Josiah by putting the Word back in the spotlight.
Tony Merida tells his high school students, “If you want to hear God speak, open the book. When you open the Word of God, you open the mouth of God” (The Christ-Centered Expositor, 50-52). Our schools should take this to heart. We must trust that God’s Word is God’s voice. And we must trust that his voice is powerful to change things.
So I must ask: Do we trust the Bible? When people say that we do, I think we usually mean that we trust that the Bible is true and authoritative. However, I am curious if we trust the effectiveness of the Bible. Do we trust the Bible to do its work in the lives of our students? Do we believe that the Word form worldview in the lives of our students?
Let’s get a tiny bit technical for a moment: The Word of God is living, active, and sharp (Heb 4:12). The biblical worldview is not. You can’t make someone a fisherman by giving that person a fish; you have to give them a fishing pole. You can’t form a biblical worldview by giving them worldview alone; you have to give them the Bible. The biblical worldview is an outcome. It is born when a person starts to see the world through the lens of Scripture. How does this worldview form? By interacting with the Scriptures. But do we trust the Bible to do what the Spirit who authored it says it will do?
Below are three truths about rightly interacting with the Bible. With those in mind, we will be in a good position to consider some potential ideas to adjust Bible curricula to better accomplish our goals.
1) We need to trust the power of the Bible.
This year, my wife and I have been using the book The One-Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids to help us pray for our children each night. Reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Nancy Guthrie discusses what it means for the word of God to continue to work after it has been shared:
“What does it mean to believe the Word of God is what accomplishes the work of God in the lives of our children? Certainly it means that we do our part to expose our children to the Word of God. But it also means that we trust the Word of God to do its work in them. We trust the Word to convict, convince, and challenge them. It may not happen in our preferred time frame or in our preferred way, but we trust it to work” (283).
While Guthrie is writing about the children in our homes, her point also applies to our schools. Are we trusting the Word to do the work? Or are we leaning on something else?
2) We need to trust that the Bible is for our students.
There is a big difference between a class about the Bible and a class of the Bible. Let me give an example. We all know that there is a canyon-sized gap between a class about playing guitar and a class of playing guitar. In the first class, the teacher might hold a guitar and point some things out to the students. The teacher might even play the students a song. In the second class, students have guitars of their own. They are making noise… and sometimes music. The second class is much more messy and loud. But it is also the one that will lead to students knowing how to play.
Teachers rightly have the desire to make every lesson organized, clear, and assessable. But the Bible is not always so clean and clear. It is not a systematic theology book. We might have a concordance, but the Book wasn’t written with an index. But the fact that the Bible is not systematic does not mean that it is flawed. God perfectly gave us what He wanted us to have. And He gave it to us in the way that He wanted us to have it.
Though it can be easier and simpler to teach about the Bible, we must do the hard, messy work of teaching the Bible itself. We can explain. We can share context. But we must be careful not to replace the Bible itself with teaching about the Bible. Students won’t be able to play guitar if we don’t put guitars in their hands. Students won’t be able to read the Bible if we don’t put the Bible in their hands.
This does not mean that we give them the whole thing all at once without any developmentally-appropriate framing. We still need to use wisdom. We are not going to give the details of David and Bathsheba to first graders.
Think of it like this: Learning ukulele can help students learn guitar. You can give a plastic baby-fork to a young child. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Even with the ukulele, the student is still making music. Even with a dull plastic fork, the toddler is using utensils. They are in it. Really in it. In an appropriate, healthy way.
In the best possible ways, we should give our students real Bible. They need classes where they are in it. Might younger students need to live in the Gospels for a while? Maybe. Should we save Song of Solomon for later in the sequence? That makes sense. There is nothing wrong with playing ukulele if it is what they need to prepare for the full guitar. But if the students are just getting material about the Bible (or with sprinkles/nuggets of Bible), we are showing that we might not trust that the Bible is for them. We know that we trust that the Bible is for our kids when we actively, expectantly give it to them. They need to be in it. Even when it is messy and challenging.
3) We need to trust that the Bible forms worldview.
We do not need to choose between teaching the Bible and the biblical worldview. When we teach the Bible, a biblical worldview follows. When Josiah read the Bible, idols were destroyed. Ingesting the Word affected his worldview. This still happens. It is God’s plan for changing us.
Let’s get practical! How can Christian schools enact this? The simplest, easiest idea might be to employ a Bible curriculum that is text driven. These do exist. However, there is another option: use the Bible as the textbook for Bible classes. This might be wise because students can learn to study the Bible without workbooks and other study-resources that they will likely not employ after graduation. If we use the Bible as the textbook for a reading-focused Bible class, students can build habits that will translate beyond the classroom. They can keep going long after they leave out classrooms. Here are some basic starting points:
- High school. Read-the-Bible-in-Four-Years Plan. Devotional plans to read the Bible in one year abound for personal use. They take about 12 minutes per day on average for proficient readers. So what if we allotted 15 minutes per day in a high school setting over four years? We could read the text, do an inductive study, consider worldview implications and applications, and pray from the text each day. Over 440 days, students would graduate having considered the entire Bible and built serious Bible-study muscles. In addition, there would be room for 280 days of assessments, discussion, projects, and focused worldview conversations.
- Middle school. Read-the-New-Testament-in-Two-Years-Plan. Proficient readers can read the New Testament by reading six minutes per day for 180 days. Middle schoolers might not be there yet. So what if they read for 10 minutes per day for 200 days? They could read the entire New Testament in two years and still have 160 days for assessments, discussions, projects, etc.
- Middle or high school. Read-the-New-Testament-in-One-Year-Plan. 20 minutes per day would do it with room for lots of conversation and assessment.
- Elementary. Bible-story-time. For younger students, the teacher can read the Gospels and Acts to students in 800 minutes. This could be a great time to choose an easy-to-understand translation and read for 5 minutes per day. In one year, these books would be covered. For older elementary students, the learners could do the reading for themselves (or read along with the teacher).
But what if a Christian school is already committed to a worldview curriculum in Bible class? It is still possible to simply devote a few minutes per day of Bible reading. For example, if a school uses something like Summit’s curriculum in high school, they could still devote 12 minutes per day to Bible reading. This would at least allow those students to have direct contact with Scripture itself in Bible class. While this might not be ideal, it might be a step in the right direction.