Mandatory Bible curriculum…

The Fort Worth Star Telegram carried a story this morning about a bill before the Texas legislature concerning the introduction of mandatory Bible curriculum in public classrooms. Late yesterday afternoon, I was asked for a comment. Below is the full text of my comment:

“While I am sympathetic with the desire to familiarize public school students with the history and literature of the sacred texts, and while I concur that Western Civilization owes much of its political and cultural heritage to the influence of Christian beliefs and practices, I am dubious about the possibility that sacred texts can be taught in public schools without sectarian indoctrination on the one hand, or secular indifference on the other.

It is true that a basic knowledge of biblical themes and backgrounds can only deepen a student’s appreciation for the many disciplines of learning that are touched by the Christian faith, but I resist the assumption that often undergirds efforts to introduce such instruction in the public schools: namely, that “putting the Bible back in the classroom” is going to solve America’s social ills.

In short, I agree with the diagnosis that Americans are shamefully ignorant of the sacred texts and traditions that have informed and influenced Western Civilization. I cannot agree, however, with a prescription that thrusts the handling of those texts upon teachers who will be, in many circumstances, as biblically illiterate as the students they purport to teach. If a good dose of biblical knowledge will cure what ails us, I would prefer that it was administered in a venue more suited to explore those complex themes by educators better equipped to explore them.

Pardon me if I’m not excited about the prospects of football coaches teaching the Torah to varsity cheerleaders.”

8 thoughts on “Mandatory Bible curriculum…

  1. My full response to an article in Time magazine a couple of weeks ago, about Bible courses and Biblical literacy taught in public schools can be found at

    In short, I don’t think this is a bad thing. While it is not instruction in the principles and teachings of the scripture from a wholly Christian point of view, and it appears the courses are going to be historical and literary academics, don’t underestimate the power of the scripture to transform. This will get the Bible into the hands of a whole generation of students, the vast majority of whom aren’t familiar with it at all. Those words will speak to many of them. Granted, it isn’t going to be an ideal Bible teaching situation. But it is better than no Bible teaching situration. I also believe the Holy Spirit will be at work there as well.

    Think about it. The public school system, if this floats, will be distributing Bibles to all of its students at some point in their academic career, and requiring them to read portions of it for credit and a grade.

  2. Brother Ben,

    I would have no problem at all with UGA’s Richt teaching the Bible, or for that fact, what would be wrong with Rick Gage teaching Bible?


  3. Amen Ben,
    We had better leave the teaching of Sacred book to those who are known to be regenerated, and only then able to truly understand and teach it. There is real danger in teaching God’s word, which demands a reaction; simply as literature or history, which does not demand that reaction. Mainline denominations have been built on such ideas, to their detriment, and to the detriment of our society.

  4. You are going to receive a good deal of criticism from fellow Christians who see this as one of the reasons so many churches are in decline: “a Baptist preacher no less, who is against teaching the Bible! This is a strike against the very roots of our Christian nation!” But the simple fact is, you are right. While Christian thought and the Judao-Christian heritage was instrumental in much (but not all) of the early settlement of America, we were founded as a secular nation in which government was not to interfere with the free exercise of religion. Indeed, the only religion which government is able to “establish” (though not in a strict legal sense) is civil religion, which may speak of God and use words which sound vaguely Christian, but in actuality is weak and watered down to the point that it has no ultimate meaning, other than possibly serving the state. Baptists were the very ones who insisted on a “Bill of Rights” to insure freedom of religion–and the freedom from governmental interference in religion–and we did it because in Colonial America, it was Baptists who were a persecuted minority. Unfortunantly, we have became a victim of our “own” success, and far too many Baptists today are ignorant of this part of our heritage. Is it even possible that this bill would pass constitutional muster? And if it does, wouldn’t other religions insist on the equal treatment? Even worse than the prospect of a football coach teaching Torah to cheerleaders is the thought of a track coach teaching the Koran to a bunch of geeks.

  5. I thought I was the only wacko who thought like this. Except I’m a lot less quotable than you are. I say I don’t want da gummint messin’ with my kids faith in any way, ever. I don’t even want prayer in schools (albeit Reagan’s Secretary of Education once said that taking it out led to a decline in respect, overall).

    I’m for bible teaching and prayers in home and churches.

  6. The alternative has been to leave virtually anything about the Bible, Christianity or the church completely out of public education, and the result of that has been a flood of statistics from sources like Barna which tell us that, in addition to the general abandonment of the church by the majority of people under 50, we are losing 80% of those we already have by the time they are a couple of years out of high school. We don’t have to look beyond our own denomination to see how that is transpiring. I’d really rather not have that continue either. I’m not at all sure that requiring the Bible to be taught as a literature or history course in public school is the answer to that, in fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t, but I’m not completely convinced that it won’t make any difference at all. There is some evidence, in fact, that suggests it might have some positive results.,9171,1601845,00.htm

    If the leaders of our denomination are going to remain bent on excluding churches that are having success in reaching generations that the majority of our churches aren’t reaching (such as Roger Moran and his opposition to The Journey) this might be one of the only viable alternatives.

    There was a time when I would have been completely opposed to anything like this at all. And trust me, I don’t like the idea of someone who is biblically illiterate trying to teach the Bible within the limits of both avoiding sectarian bias and the constitutional establishment clause. But like most other things that are out of my control, I’m going to look for the opportunities in this, because I think there will be some.

  7. Good stuff. I remember when my biology teacher in high school once tried to teach various views of evolution, which included her own “Catholic” understanding of the creation account. Not good.

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