Bible: The Center of Education
"No," the home school specialist told me. "That’s usually Dad"s job whenever he gets home. They fit it into family devotions." Hmmm.
I had asked her whether home school parents teach Bible. Her answer gave me pause to think, and I’m still thinking. Don’t misunderstand me; it’s good and right for Dad to lead family devotions and teach the Bible to his children. What concerns me is the impression that many home school families leave Bible education out of their regular curriculum.
As Meir Sternberg writes, "biblical study is not a discipline by any stretch of the term but the intersection of the humanities par excellence."1 Leaving it out of education is like cutting the hub out of a wheel. The best churches cannot teach as much as children should learn, partly because of the amount to be learned and partly because church programs are simply not designed to integrate Bible with the rest of human knowledge.
Bible should be part of the curriculum, but Bible is not a suitable subordinate to or substitute for any other discipline. The Bible is historical, but it isn’t technically history; it is literary, but more than literature; it is scientific, yet not intended for science; it is the basis of social studies, but is not sociology; it is logical, but our categories of logic do not encompass its mosaic of truth.
Consequently, Bible must be a subject unto itself, but it must also be tightly woven into the fabric of all education. Parents can set a strategy for teaching Bible that enhances their children’s learning in every area and prepares them to live life enjoying and glorifying God. Such a strategy arises naturally from what we may call the two-two-one diagram: two possible approaches for teaching Bible, two steps in learning how to understand the Bible, and one indispensable technique to flavor Bible study at every level.
First, there are two approaches to teaching Bible: content-based teaching and need-based teaching. Content-based teaching starts with the Bible and makes appropriate applications as they appear. Working systematically through a book or section of the Bible is usually content-based teaching. Need-based teaching recognizes a particular need in a child’s life, locates an appropriate part of the Bible, and then teaches that part in order to meet the need. For example, if you realize that your child has a faulty view of romance and marriage, you might plan a topical study on love and family in the Bible.
Both approaches to teaching are legitimate. A mixture of them is best. Age and circumstances change a child’s needs. Generally speaking, younger children should receive more content-based Bible teaching, and older children more need-based teaching, but at no stage in life can either be divorced from the other.
BJU Press offers a different set of materials on the high school level for each approach. The BIBLE TRUTHS series teaches through the Old and New Testaments twice in five years, from seventh through eleventh grades. On the other hand, units in the Bible Modular Series address certain needs, such as the need to understand missions, worship, or the origin of the Bible.
Along with two approaches to teaching, there are two steps in learning how to understand the Bible. The first seems simple but is widely under-appreciated. It is simply to read the Bible. Bible study is nothing more or less than critical reading. Critical reading is reading intelligently, actively, as one would read a biography, novel, newspaper, textbook, tax code, or an owner’s manual. Reading the Bible is not divination. Particular verses taken out of context do not reliably guide a Christian through life. The Holy Spirit has not designed the Bible to work by luck or whim, but as literature—as a book. Therefore, teach your children to read the Bible according to its innate divisions, to read and analyze books as wholes, to read shorter books in single sittings, to consider context and author’s intent; above all, to think about what it says as they read it.
Although every part of BIBLE TRUTHS and the Bible Modular Series encourages critical reading, two examples can serve to illustrate its importance. Beyond the Sun leads students through a study of Ecclesiastes, a book difficult to decipher but directed squarely at young people whose whole lives lie before them. A completely consecrated life is also the subject of Martyrdom: The Final Triumph of Faith, a challenge to live wholeheartedly for God.
The second step in learning to understand the Bible comes on the heels of critical reading, for it is painstakingly acquiring the skill of applying the Bible to life. Both Christian and secular educators tout the values of critical thinking. The highest level of critical thinking is evaluation, comparing a proposition to some standard and judging it to be accurate or not. Because the Bible provides a standard relevant to everything in the world, we must know the Bible in order to truly think critically. Bible application is virtually equivalent to critical thinking.
It is insufficient to always tell children what a passage means. They must learn to interpret for themselves. Application is a learned skill. Like any other skill, it takes time and effort to develop. The process is sometimes frustrating. You will make errors along the way, and you will never be as good at it as you could be. However, as the skill is sharpened, you and your child will "grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). Therefore, teach your children to apply Scripture by your personal example and by giving them chances to interpret passages themselves. The Way of the Word, a unit in the Bible Modular Series, is dedicated to teaching students to read the Scripture, interpret it, and obey its teaching themselves.
The indispensable technique in Bible education is reverse integration, or connecting the Bible to other subjects. Take every opportunity to make parallels between the Bible and history. Ancient history from Egypt through the Roman Empire is even more fascinating when used to illuminate the cultural background of the Bible. Likewise, have your child analyze Bible passages with the same techniques he learns in literature courses. Distinguish genres in Scripture, such as poetry, narrative, and epistle. Look for characterization, plot structure, drama, and rhetorical devices such as gapping (purposefully withholding information from the reader) and suspense. Point out the Bible’s underlying scientific assumptions: the physical universe is knowable and predictable, studying and utilizing the world is a proper endeavor, and human beings are both body and soul.
Why the Bible Matters, another unit in the Modular Series, explores the relationship of the Bible to other academic areas and explains how the unity of knowledge means the Bible is necessary to understanding life and making life-shaping decisions. Likewise, In God’s Presence uses a literary method to teach a practical point; the student text is written in the form of historical fiction, but the application to worship and the use of music in worship is fully relevant to the present day.
Rightly executed, a Bible course is not only an important part of a child’s education but also the center of its diverse elements. Bible unifies the mass of information flooding our modern age and provides the framework for evaluating it and utilizing it for God’s glory. Both approaches to teaching Bible, both steps in understanding the Bible, and the overall technique of Bible integration will make your Bible courses interesting, edifying, and as beneficial to you as they are to your child.