Thursday, January 31, 2019

One Pastor's Thoughts On Teaching The Bible In Public Schools

I’m an evangelical pastor. I taught in a Christian school for twenty years, and I have taught an introductory Bible class for a Christian college for the past several years. I love the Bible, and I love the literary aspects of the Bible. It may seem odd, then, that I am uncomfortable with the idea of a Bible class being taught as literature in public schools. I will give you my reasons; I welcome your feedback and discussion.

First, I think that presenting the Bible merely as literature reduces it to just another book. England has taught the Bible in public schools for years. Meanwhile, the percentage of people claiming to be Christian has plummeted, especially among those under thirty. Here's the dilemma: teaching the Bible as literature is entirely different than teaching that the Bible as revelation. There is a reason atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens advocated for the Bible being taught in schools. They weren’t concerned at all about it having a religious influence, because they knew who would control the context. Just to get  feel for where this would go in the United States, check out this article from The Telegraph: “WANTED: Atheist to teach religion. Knowledge of the Bible not necessary but experience of asylum seekers an advantage.” 

Second, whoever writes the curriculum is going to have a HUGE influence on how the students absorb what they are presented. I think we can all agree it’s not going to be a curriculum from David C. Cooke or Zondervan. It’s going to be from someone like Harcourt-Brace (they make great resources for teaching literature, btw. I used their stuff for years). If David C. Cooke were to make a curriculum about Islam, do you think their bias would creep in? Of course it would, and that's not an insult. It's inevitable. There will be a position taken about the subject matter by whoever makes the curriculum, and that position will influence how teachers and students process the information.

Third, asking someone who is ambivalent or even directly opposed to the messages of the Bible to teach the Bible would be like asking me to teach a class on Scientology. Yeah, it’s never going to get the benefit of the doubt. When I taught an Introduction To The Bible class for a Christian college, I used a Christian curriculum and still supplemented like crazy with resources like The Bible Project. I did this because I had the freedom to seek to make the Bible compelling; I could go into the highways and byways and compel people to come in. This is not what is being proposed in a public school Bible class, and rightly so. A Bible class now is a Quran class later.  In my opinion, this is not a can of worms we want to open. [1]

Fourth, this is going to be difficult for Christian students. Envision a class that claims the book of Exodus chronicles God-ordained genocide. How many middle or high school students can offer John Walton’s or Paul Copan’s arguments against that reading? Old Testament Law? Oh boy. Apocalyptic literature? An understanding of covenants, and why animal sacrifice was important to the ANE? Any concept of cultural context that adds soooooo much explanation to so many confusing things? How the Household Codes of the Romans are echoed and improved in Paul’s writing? Would they be assigned Sarah Rudan’s Paul Among The People or Matthew Rueger’s Sexual Morality In A Christless World before engaging Paul's teachings on sex, slavery, and the role of women in the family and church?

My sense is that this kind of environment will do more to dissuade Christian students from their faith than it will to persuade non-Christian students toward the faith. Until churches all across the United States have a rigorous training program in place for children teaching them to understand and defend their faith, I fear that a class like this will do more harm than good to the enterprise of the gospel.

It is the job of the church and Christian educational institutions to make the gospel message of the Bible compelling. The government’s job is to protect our freedom to do that. If we are deeply unhappy with what our local school is teaching or not teaching to our kids, maybe it’s time to reconsider our educational choices.


[1] And I guarantee, that can will open. Consider that would happen if a public time of prayer were returned to public schools. The Regent's Prayer will only happen if prayers from any and all other traditions, religious and non-religious, are welcome. I believe there is an assumption that returning prayer to schools will return the Judeo-Christian God to school. That's too shortsighted. It will return every god to school.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Toxic Men, Toxic Women, And The Toxic Cultures That Nourish Them

Gillette, in an oddly incongruous act of virtue signaling [1] - or, more generously, cause marketing -  has recently released a controversial ad about what has been called "toxic masculinity."  You can watch the video above; here is an (imperfect) script based on my notes from watching the video:
"Bullying, the #metoo movement, violence, pornography, sexual harassment... Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can't hide from it. It has been going on far too long. We can't laugh it off. Making the same old excuses (group of men: "Boys will be boys..."). But something finally changed (female news anchor: "Allegations involving sexual assault and sexual harassment..."). And there will be no going back. Because we ... We believe in the best in men (Terry Crews: "Men need to hold other men accountable." Two other clips show guys stopping other guys from harassing/catcalling a woman).  To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. (Clips of men playing with daughters, connecting across racial lines, and stopping bullying). But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."
There are a number of things worth addressing in this cultural moment, so here we go.


I think we have to in order to even have this discussion.  The Atlantic quotes a bunch of studies that  think so:
“In a 2008 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a group of international researchers compared data on gender and personality across 55 nations. Throughout the world, women tend to be more nurturing, risk averse and emotionally expressive, while men are usually more competitive, risk taking, and emotionally flat. But the most fascinating finding is this: Personality differences between men and women are the largest and most robust in the more prosperous, egalitarian, and educated societies. According to the authors, ‘Higher levels of human development—including long and healthy life, equal access to knowledge and education, and economic wealth—were the main nation-level predictors of sex difference variation across cultures.’" 
In other words, men and women are different. [2] This does not mean all men or women fit neatly into a particular mold. My wife and I are exhibits A and B of this. It's simply an acknowledgment of generally correlative characteristics that emerge in men and women. I know this is a hotly debated topic, but we can't even talk about something that is uniquely, toxically masculine (or feminine) without at least have some kind of foundation that acknowledges gendered differences. As a friend and fellow pastor/blogger noted:
"In order for us to rail against toxic masculinity we have to admit there is such a thing as healthy masculinity. Any bad is dependent upon the good. Any evil is a deprivation of the good or a violation of a good purpose. You must have a good purpose before you can violate it. Yes, masculinity exists, or else it couldn’t turn toxic."


There is no universally accepted definition, but the explanations I found follow a general theme.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Jerry, Jeffress and Jesus

On January 1, Joe Heim published an interview with Jerry Falwell entitled“Jerry Falwell Jr. can’t imagine Trump ‘doing anything that’s not good for the country.’” Last week, Robert Jeffress made headlines for defending President Trump’s wall by comparing it to Heaven’s wall. 

I am offering a response if for no other reason than to let those outside evangelical circles know that these two men do not speak for all of us, and that their application of biblical principles is suspect at best and deeply problematic at worst.

I am not eager to step into this mess. I just can’t not say anything.