The Studied Bible
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
March 11, 2011 - Because they so frequently decry the idea that God has been “kicked out” of the public schools, many American Christians may whole-heartedly embrace efforts to reintroduce the Good Book into public education. Recently, the school board of Chesterfield county Virginia heard from panelists on the prospect and perils of using the Bible for an elective course that would include teaching about the Bible’s impact on history.
Interestingly, this idea was apparently cautiously supported by Kent H. Richards, executive director emeritus of the Society of Biblical Literature. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richards “advised that the Bible be taught as any other academic subject and not as a devotional, that educators teach for awareness and not acceptance, to introduce diverse perspectives and to neither promote nor denigrate the Bible.”
Such Stoic detachment from one’s subject matter is, of course, believed to be the height of erudition. Thus, the educator par excellence is one who transcends the messy business of personal engagement with either value or truth, and teaches his students to do the same.
The foolish minds that think this require a good scouring by the wisdom of Wendell Berry who, on this point, is worth quoting at length. In “The Loss of the University,” Berry writes, “The interesting question here is . . . whether a book [i.e., the Bible] that so directly offers itself to our belief or disbelief can be taught ‘as literature.’ It clearly cannot be so taught except by ignoring ‘whatever else [it] may be,’ which is a very substantial part of it. The question, then, is whether it can be adequately or usefully taught as something less than it is. The fact is that the writers of the Bible did not think that they were writing . . . ‘literature.’ They thought they were writing the truth, which they expected to be believed by some and disbelieved by others. It is conceivable that the Bible could be well taught by a teacher who believes that it is true, by a teacher who believes that it is untrue, or by a teacher who believes that it is partly true. That it could be well taught by a teacher uninterested in the question of its truth is not conceivable.”
The periodic battle to restore biblical education the schools would be better informed by Berry’s insight. To introduce Scripture in an educational context in which matters of truth and falsity are methodologically ignored is a Pyrrhic victory at best. Zeal for reforming public education is best directed toward restoring truth as a desideratum of inquiry. After all, it is the Truth that frees (John 8:32). But a Bible “taught” in a context that renders the discovery of truth impossible is nothing more than the Word of God in chains.