IN THEORY: Taking the Bible into class

The Texas State Board of Education on July 18 approved a measure allowing school districts to offer an elective Bible course in public high schools beginning in 2009. However, the board will leave it up to local school districts to design curriculum content for the classes. If you were putting the curriculum together, what would its contents include?

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If I were compiling a religious curriculum for a public school class, I would focus primarily on the historical relevance of Biblical figures and their impact on the world. I would also include generic religious teachings and universal moral codes that can be understood and accepted by members of all spiritual affiliations — and even those with no religious convictions at all.

My objective would be to give the students an intriguing starting point that would encourage them to explore further and delve into their own religious doctrines during non-school hours.

Even though the overwhelming majority of Americans are associated with a Judeo-Christian belief system, it is very important to recognize that within that system there is a wide range of ideas.

When designing courses for our public school system, it is essential that we implement a curriculum that is sufficiently generic to include everyone, yet compelling enough to prompt good discussion and promote further study.

I feel that this measure in Texas represents a positive development for our public schools.

As long as the class offers a broad, inclusive message — and it remains elective rather than mandatory — then this is a welcome step.

Biblical knowledge will have a positive influence on our youth and will help counterbalance the many negative influences in our society.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad Jewish Center

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In my first year of junior high school in Syracuse, I was offered an elective mythology course pertaining to ancient Greek and Roman gods. The literature was culturally enriching and it fed my interest regarding mankind's religious beliefs, even if they were only legendary.

Nobody tried to convert me to worship Apollo, but it was fascinating that our last astronaut to walk on the moon that year was traveling in a spacecraft named for him.

If we can study ancient religion, why not study the most significant one of Western civilization?

Millions abide its truth and live by it as though God himself speaks through its millennia-old pages.

How many historic writings can claim this, and how much of who we are as Americans is owed to these 66 books combined into the single tome called The Holy Bible?

Certainly Bible should be taught, but respectfully. Remember, our country began with such curriculum as the McGuffy Reader, replete with biblical illustrations and allusions.

Today, I can only hope the Bible would be given the benefit of the doubt. In our current climate, where atheists unite to destroy biblical anything, I've seen classes that were little more than bible bashing sessions under the guise of Bible-as-literature. I would rather students remain ignorant than be so negatively indoctrinated.

Some may worry that teaching may become preaching, but this doesn't have to be.

Teach the major biblical stories; the significant events that give us our holidays, our phrases, and our morality.

Show the cultural connections and inform about structure and composition, translations, competing perspectives, and biblical contributions to history. Present pertinent archaeology, include some sessions with guest clergymen, and show a Hollywood biblical epic. Do this, and leave it to students to pursue or ignore the Bible's spiritual dimensions. I'll teach it.

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Montrose Community Church

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I would take a factual approach that clearly teaches the contents of the Bible and what its self-stated purpose is. Undoubtedly some would take offence, but you can impartially teach what the Bible claims even if you disagree with it. Unfortunately, many people have formed opinions about the Bible, but most today really don't know what's actually in it.

The course would essentially be a survey of both Old and New Testaments. I would teach the general contents of the Old Testament with an overview of Israel's history.

The theme of this part of Scripture is God's holiness (a divine attribute of which many self-proclaimed Christians today are ignorant). Next I would survey the New Testament and first-century Church history.

This completion of the Scriptures emphasizes God's holiness satisfied in Jesus' sacrificial death for us. Or, as John the Apostle wrote: “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”

The course would conclude by emphasizing the Bible's main thesis.

All books of the Bible taken together are “the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

PASTOR JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church

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As a former teacher of Old and New Testaments at a private school not in California, I would urge the teacher to look for textbooks that took an historical perspective. Each student would of course need a Bible, and virtually any English translation would be acceptable.

The Revised Standard Version is fine, and so is the New RSV; if some students preferred to use the King James Version, fine.

What the teacher must try to do is not bring any pre-conceived notions about Scripture to class. Admittedly, such a goal is a lofty one, because each of us has his own prejudices, even if we try hard not to have them. As somebody once said, “Nobody reads the Gospels for the first time.”

What that wise statement is getting at is that each of us, Protestant, Catholic, or Jew, brings with us ideas we already have about religion, religious people, houses of worship, etc. I as an American Protestant already have ideas about Catholicism and Judaism even if I have never come in contact with a Catholic or a Jew.

So a rigorous effort on the part of the teacher must be made to try to reduce the religious bias that he or she already has without knowing it. That's a start. In addition to the Bible and the chosen textbook, I would also have some Biblical commentaries on hand in order to show the students that centuries of thought have gone into what various Scripture passages mean, and the discussions and disagreements continue to this day.

THE REV. C. L.

“SKIP” LINDEMAN

La Cañada Congregational Church


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