Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public School

The latest issue of TIME magazine has on its cover the provocative statement, "Why We Should Teach The Bible In Public School {But very, very carefully}." This cover story, by TIME's senior religion writer, David Van Biema, tells of a growing number of public schools who are offering Bible literacy courses as part of their electives.

Van Biema talks of the 1963 Supreme Court case (Abington Township School District v. Schempp) which banned prayer and devotion in public school classrooms, and a movement which insists that it is important to teach the Bible in public schools:

It argues that teaching the Bible in schools--as an object of study, not God's received word--is eminently constitutional. The Bible so pervades Western culture, it says, that it's hard to call anyone educated who hasn't at least given thought to its key passages. Finally, it claims that the current civic climate makes it a "now more than ever" proposition. Says Stephen Prothero, chair of the Boston University religion department, whose new book, Religious Literacy (Harper San Francisco), presents a compelling argument for Bible-literacy courses: "In the late '70s, [students] knew nothing about religion, and it didn't matter. But then religion rushed into the public square. What purpose could it possibly serve for citizens to be ignorant of all that?" The "new consensus" for secular Bible study argues that knowledge of it is essential to being a full-fledged, well-rounded citizen.

Please note that it is explicitly stated that the Bible is being treated as an object of study, not at as the Word of God. One of the questions Van Diem asks is why such a course is necessary. According to Prothero's book,

polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible holds the answers to "all or most of life's basic questions," but pollster George Gallup has dubbed us "a nation of biblical illiterates." Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can't name the Bible's first book. The trend extends even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.

I don't view this kind of curriculum as being much different than a course on the Bible as literature that my wife took when she was in college. The Bible was presented as a type of literature, with no weight given to it as being the Word of God. It would seem that at least some of the students taking such courses see some benefit in it, at least judging by the statement of Rachel Williams:

"If somebody is going to carry on a sophisticated conversation with me, I would rather know what they're talking about than look like a moron or fight my way through it," she says.

The TIME article does make pretty clear that the curriculum it profiles (being used in a school in New Braunfels, TX) is designed to be religiously neutral, so as not to infringe on any constitutional boundaries.

I have not read the curriculum being used, although I would like to. From the perspective of a believer in Jesus, I welcome courses like these being taught. Even if they are being taught from a religiously neutral, secular perspective, it seems to me that a student who takes a Bible literacy course IS going to be exposed to the Word of God, which I have to believe is a positive thing.

Do you think the Bible should be taught in public schools? Why or why not?


Anonymous said...

I say yes! God says His word shall not return to Him void but will accomplish that which He sets out for it to do... and that includes drawing people to Himself. Some reading it... even just for a literature class... will be drawn to the person of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

The above comment is why in the title of the article it says "But very, very, carefully"....

Chad said...

How so?

I took the "very, very carefully" in the title to refer to the issue of constitutional neutrality which the article addressed in great detail.

Anonymous said...

To me it is not so much matter of teaching the Bible in public school, which I frankly would not trust most public school teachers in my area (San Francisco) to do "very, very carefully" but rather I would just like to see a sane interpretation of church and state that does not prevent students from gathering at lunch to pray or read the Bible together.