Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Another Word Concerning Stephen Prothero

Monday, April 30, 2007

Another Word Concerning Stephen Prothero

If you are a regular reader of The Beast's Lair then you probably read my article on the latest book from Stephen Prothero entitled, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't"

My friend Dr. Mike Ruffin has also published his own article on Prothero which was in turn posted on EthicsDaily.com. Ruffin addresses Prothero's views on the religious education, or the apparent lack thereof, and his plea for religion, presumably all major world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, to be taught in both our public and private colleges in order to increase religious literacy that will in turn yield solid, contributing citizens who can respond rationally to the issues of the nation and the world. The hermeneutic built upon here is the reality that so many of our world issues center around religious themes. Because of that fact, the religious illiterate will struggle to not only understand the issues, but will be incapable to contribute to them in a healthy and productive manner.

Ruffin goes to on to reflect how he becomes "nervous" about a similar proposal to require the same informational teaching of religion in our middle and high schools.

"First, where will middle and high schools find teachers who are qualified to lead such courses but who will not cross the line into proselytizing? Second, and this concern is related to the first, will just as much if not more damage be done to American biblical literacy if courses on the Bible are badly taught as if they are not taught at all?"

I agree with Ruffin here, but perhaps for different reasons. First, allow me to add a couple of comments. 1) I suppose you find qualified teachers for Bible courses as you would for any other course, each of which needs qualified instructors. The problem here, to which I think Ruffin is addressing, is that persons who study and are qualified to teach the Bible will more often than not possess a desire to present the material in manner that transcends just "information." That is an interesting dilemma to the issue, one I will address below. 2) It seems we can ask the same question for Ruffin's second concern for any particular course of study in our middle and high schools. Is history, science, etc, going to do more damage for our future historians and scientists if taught by uneducated instructors? Why, if we are discussing just informational content here, does the bible hold a higher standard than any other discipline to be taught. Therefore, I do agree with Ruffin's approach here, but more for the reason which causes me to shudder at what is being taught in SS classes across the country, that is, people saying stupid things about God and the Bible.

The second interesting issue in Ruffin's article stems from this quote:

"Let's not forget that while the Bible contains much information, its main purpose is not fulfilled when that information is learned. Eugene Peterson has said that the Bible is meant to be read not as information but for the sake of formation; as we read with the intention of being formed into the persons that God means for us to be we are reading correctly.

Teaching the Bible in schools with an eye toward the sharing of information may help us to produce better citizens.

Reading the Bible in our homes and in our congregations with an eye toward the forming of Christian persons will help us to be the people that our God means for us to be."

This sounds right on to me. What I would like to address, especially in relation to the last two paragraphs, is our need to be aware that a clean, clear line of separation between the two will never exist. By "the two" I refer to the teaching of the bible as information to produce better citizens, and then secondly, the teaching of the bible as the very words of God that changes and transforms lives. Overlap is inevitable. For this reason, a sincerely qualified person who is passionate about the bible will find it difficult to just teach information. Also is the reality that students will experience tremendous overlap between the two. Perhaps that is for the better, nevertheless it will happen.

Finally, an admittedly creepy feeling comes over me when I think of the bible being used to "create better citizens" without any interest in the truth of the message it was written to convey. Obviously, the bible was not brought together by God to change people based on good, solid information. Our confidence, then, must be placed in God, for Him to draw people to Himself through the reading of the Word even when that reading is not meant to accomplish such a feat.

I agree with Ruffin and Prothero that religious literacy is a valued possession. Nevertheless, I do so with the caveat of understanding the true purpose and message of the bible to be one of repentance and growing in righteousness.


Anonymous Paul, in Bethel Park said...

The Lord comes to us through the Word. We then have a choice to believe or not believe.

If we have faith that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, then we are saved...for He died on the cross, was buried, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins.

If we choose not to believe, then we are damned, period.

I am passionate about my faith and could not teach it in a dispassionate manner in a school.

The apostles died for their belief and, even though ours is a more educated and supposedly more civil society, we should follow suit.

Now is not a time for hesitation. We live to serve our King.

April 30, 2007 7:20 PM  

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