I was a classroom teacher for 21 years. Most of that was as a literature teacher in classes like American Literature, English 9, Honors English 10 and I loved exploring the ideas, themes, genres, on a daily basis.
I also had the honor of teaching Bible for 8 years. I taught Bible 9, Apologetics, Biblical Principles, and even wrote the curriculum for a class called "Romans and Revelation".
The fact that I taught two different categories of classes in two different schools and two different cities allows for some perspective on the task of teaching Bible, particularly at a Christian school.
My first experience of this difference was in 1992 when I was asked to fill in the 2nd semester for a teacher who had to leave unexpectedly to care for a family emergency. I had a 2nd period American Lit. class and then went to Bible 3rd period.
I was shocked to see the change in those two classes, even though many of the students were the same.
It did not take long to understand that there was a totally different dynamic at work and that teaching Bible was a front line admission to the front line of spiritual warfare.
Don't get me wrong- any teacher discovers that a captive teenage audience can present conflict. I have had those moments while reading Shakespeare to freshman that I think- "these poor kids are being tortured"- due to the blank stares and full fledged battle to stay awake.
But there was an even harsher, sometimes courser, sense of the conflict when the content was Bible.
A HIGH STAKES ENDEAVOR
When John Witherspoon founded Princeton Seminary, he wrote the vision of what a Christian School is seeking to accomplish:
Anyone who understands the task, also understands the IMPOSSIBILITY of this task without God's Holy Spirit. The emphasis on the 'Redeemer's kingdom' instantly sets this agenda at odds with the kingdom of this world.Our aim in this task is to promote the interests of the Redeemer’s kingdom; and to raise up qualified and caring ministers for every aspect of life. We desire to raise up godly men and women who will be useful in all learned professions. We want to produce ornaments of the State and Church. We want an environment where God’s Holy Spirit produces consecrated Christian students with an integrated and thoroughly Biblical world view. Our faith is the grand concern to us all- whatever our calling or profession.
Another instant problem in teaching Bible in a school is that it creates a tension based on presuppositions that faith and scientific inquiry are forever separated. We often tend to think of Bible as God's knowledge and all other subjects as Man's knowledge.
It takes a strong reminder from Christian schools to debunk this default thinking. In fact, spiritual growth and mental growth are dependent on each other.
Archibald Alexander wrote about this in 1812:
Religion without learning or learning without religion are equally injurious.
AN ARENA OF CONTROVERSY
The study of religion and eternity can bring about intense debate and rivalry because we have a huge stake in being right on such issues.
J. Gresham Machen elaborated on this in his introduction to "Christianity and Liberalism":
In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.
And my experience is this: when we fight, we close our minds and clinch our fists. It is very hard to teach in a room where we are unlikely to challenge our personal presuppositions. A student has little room to argue that he knows more chemistry than his professor- but he sometimes dares to presume he is more spiritually knowledgeable than his elder.
Regardless- for a student to excel in Bible- he must assume a yielded position to the Word and eagerly believe God is going to teach him whether he likes the teacher or the topic. We have a hard time getting mature adults to do this- is it easier to ask a 17 year old to do it?
TEACHING BIBLE IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT IN THE PERSONAL LIFE OF THE TEACHER
One thing I noticed immediately when I switched to teaching Bible was an awareness of spiritual warfare within my own personal life. There seemed to be increased conflict in my marriage and home life. I suffered from the 'whisper campaign' that Satan uses to voice doubt and darkness in the inner being. He tries to make you feel like a hypocrite or a fraud. His daggers of accusation are silent but come with a sting.
My only defense in this time was to make sure I was consistent in my personal prayer and devotional life.
TEACHING BIBLE IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT IN THE PERSONAL LIFE OF THE STUDENT
The gospel is GREAT news, but it also is a personal confrontation. Any serious study of the Scripture will find comfort for the afflicted and affliction for the comforted.
Is there a danger in going to a Bible class? I think there is and it is where I have to learn to be very careful. Long term exposure to the gospel with rejection creates a calloused hardening of the heart. When you feel the tug of the spirit or conviction of sin and still rebel.. you get better at suppressing and grieving the Spirit. An injured conscience heals with a head scar.. and too much scar tissue can be very problematic.
This condition is NEVER outside of God's ability to overcome with a powerful and effectual call- but the circumstances needed to do so are often drastic and the consequences are long term. Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life.
AN ACADEMIC ONLY STUDY OF THE BIBLE PRESENTS POTENTIAL FOR ERROR
I want to return to J. Gresham Machen and his book, Christianity and Liberalism for a moment to explore a genesis of heresy. Part of the rise of liberalism was the effort of Christian professors to stay relevant in the academy.
When the attacks came from areas like philosophy, historical revisionism, higher criticism, and Darwinism- some took to fighting in the flesh. It started as small steps- yield a little here to remain credible there. But soon there was an outright rejection of God's truth and even the possibility of the miraculous.
In an eerie sense, the rise of 'enlightened thinking' became a passion play straight out of Romans 1. I can almost see Paul pointing to the liberal professors as he said 'their foolish minds were darkened'. It is not that education became too good for spiritual truth, it was that education declined when it outlawed spiritual truth.
Machen says it much better:
The rejection of Christianity is due to various causes. But a very potent cause is simple ignorance. In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply because men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is. An outstanding fact of recent Church history is the appalling growth of ignorance in the Church. Various causes, no doubt, can be assigned for this lamentable development. The development is due partly to the general decline of education--at least so far as literature and history are concerned. The schools of the present day are being ruined by the absurd notion that education should follow the line of least resistance, and that something can be "drawn out" of the mind before anything is put in. They are also being ruined by an exaggerated emphasis on methodology at the expense of content and on what is materially useful at the expense of the high spiritual heritage of mankind. These lamentable tendencies, moreover, are in danger of being made permanent through the sinister extension of state control. But something more than the general decline in education is needed to account for the special growth of ignorance in the Church. The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity. But whatever be the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied. It must be remedied primarily by the renewal of Christian education in the family, but also by the use of whatever other educational agencies the Church can find. Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every earnest Christian man.The Bible teacher must teach diligently, but always understand that he is teaching more than mere fact...
Hear from Dr Alexander again:
The Bible students should be possessed of sincere and ardent piety. They should be students “taught of God”, “conscious of their own insufficiency, but confident of the help of the Almighty. Those that seek to understand the Scriptures therefore ought not to lean on their own understanding, but by continual and earnest prayer should look unto the Father of Lights from Whom proceedeth every good and every perfect gift; who has promised to give wisdom to those who lack it, and ask for it.”See what an amazing soup of ingredients in brewing in a Bible classroom.
BREAKDOWN OF READING SKILLS
As a lifelong educator and a person totally dependent on the written Word of God as my only rule of faith and practice, it discourages me to see reading skills plummeting in our society. In the end, it may be Satan's best and cruelest attack to remove a love or an ability to read with comprehension. It doesn't matter if we have a sword, if we never use it. Where would I be without a love for reading?
MY BIGGEST MISTAKE AS A BIBLE TEACHER
If I had one thing to do over again, it would be to teach truth with more love and understanding. When you are teaching the Scriptures, you feel this heavy burden to protect it. But I am crazy if I think I can protect it or it needs protecting. The truth has nothing to fear from the truth.
So sometimes in my zeal to defend 'the faith'- (Jude 1:3 I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people.)- I many times was so right I was dead right.
I had a big thick T-bone steak of truth that I slapped my students over the head with too many times.You can kill people with such hard truth.
There were certain individuals where it would have been better to mix the steak with a lotion of love.
If anyone who reads this happens to be one of those former students, where I actually ran you away from the gospel from a cold sternness, please forgive me- I was not dispensing the medicine with a heart full of love.
SOME VICTORIES ALONG THE WAY:
I did some good things as a Bible teacher and I always worked to improve.
Below is an example:
From my journal 2006:
On the last day before Spring Break, my seniors in Biblical Principles class really inspired me. On the rainy and cold day in Nashville, we did something so simple.
I gave them selected verses from the Old Testament, mostly a short passage from each book, a few with more. It ended up being 7 pages of “the best of the Old Testament” and I had them read for 7 minutes with a little music in the background. After some reading, I had them write a short journal response.
I am sitting in a Starbucks at Green Hills and just finished reading the papers. The following are examples of almost every paper:
“ (that passage) is one of my favorites in the Bible. It is a huge comfort for me. In the midst of all this stupid stuff that we get stressed out about during the day, it’s easy to forget that God has provided everything we need…. I am fortunate that I know a Father who is big enough to handle my worries.”
“I really enjoyed reading these verses. I definitely think that it is important to keep the Lords’ word ‘hidden in my heart’….Thank you for these verses, I really needed something like this in my life right now.”
“I can’t honestly remember the last time I read this verse. To me it is cool to think about the awesomeness of God’s glory…. Our worship will one day fill all that is his”
“I love this verse b/c it has stuck with me my whole life.”
“I think about this verse a lot when I think about my future and my husband. I have made a promise and will hold my heart to him”
“This is a humbling verse, Job had everything taken from him. … This reaction is mind blowing to me. We need to learn from Job and to continue thanking and praising God for what we do have, rather than focusing on what we don’t have”
“This passage hit home with me”
“The part that said ______ hit home with me.”
“I liked this verse because it is like Romans 8:28”
“Everything of this earth will disappear: the cars, buildings, shopping stores- everything materialistic will fade…. But it is God’s Word that’s forever true, forever real, and forever living”
“I chose this verse because I remember memorizing it in elementary school.”
“After reading for 7 minutes I chose this verse…. I think this verse is really cool. It’s comforting to know that God is in control.”
“The passage that stuck out the most to me was…. This says that God is faithful and never leaves even in the darkest hour….That is an extraordinary thing when you realize that your path is already known by the One who protects you always”
I could go on and on- there were 54 passages and only Proverbs 3:5,6 and Isaiah 40:8 were chosen by multiple folks.
The Scriptures are true when they say in Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Thank you to all my seniors, you encouraged me so much today!
Here were some other good things I discovered along the way to try and keep the class energetic and engaged:
Professor Skeptic- I played the role of an antagonistic college professor and engage your class- teach them later how to do it correctly.Stump the Chump- let students write questions on note cards dealing with Bible issuesThe Daily Scene- a role play game where you assign stereotypes and have students engage in coffee table conversations. You can set the scene at lunch, at home, hanging out. Debrief after the talk. What do we learn about people’s perceptions, attitudes, and words?Bible Reading and Response- allow students 10 minutes to read in their Bibles and journal to you what they noticed.Prayer requests and Suggestion card- once a week pass out some 3x5 note cards and have students write prayer requests on one side and suggestions for class on the other side- quick formative assessment.Music Journal- Play 2 or 3 Christian songs and provide lyric sheets- have students pick one of them and write an evaluation of the song and journal what they think.You Tube Evaluation- have students pick a You tube to share with class (content supervision a must) and then present a Biblical application to the content.Change the World/ Share the Good News- Have students create ways to get the gospel out.Chapel Talk- Debrief about a recent chapel.Sermon Notes- Get students to share notes/evaluations about a teaching.Surf the Web- Give students websites of Christian content and have them journal about the experience.Invite Pastors to Your Class- Let them teach a little- share a little- Q&A a little.
- WE ALL SHOULD BE BIBLE TEACHERS- AT LEAST IN OUR HOMES
- WE ALL SHOULD PRAY EARNESTLY FOR ANYONE WHO IS TEACHING THE WORD OF GOD- AND THEIR FAMILIES- AND THEIR PRAYER LIFE- AND THEIR PROTECTION!
- EVEN THOUGH IT CAN BE A WAR... IT IS SO WORTH IT!