Dulling Down Christian Education
In 2008 I attended the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum hosted by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. One of the keynote speakers was Bart Ehrman, bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus and several other volumes that basically seek to undermine the trustworthiness of the Biblical text. Though Ehrman is a noted atheist who has renounced his faith in God, Christianity, and the Bible, he is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and a noted New Testament lecturer. How ironic.
In his opening comments Ehrman stated,
“I teach at the University of North Carolina and I’m teaching a large undergraduate class this semester on the New Testament. And most of my students are from the South, most of them are raised in good Christian families, and I have found over the years they have far greater commitment to the Bible than knowledge about it.”
Ehrman then went on to share that during the previous semester he started off the first day of class, with 300 students, by asking, “How many would agree with the proposition the Bible is the inspired word of God?” A large amount of hands were raised. “How many have read the DaVinci Code by Dan Brown?” Again, a large response. “How many have read the whole Bible?” Only a scattered amount of hands were raised. Ehrman then stated, “I’m not telling you I think God wrote the Bible; you’re telling me you think God wrote the Bible. I can see why you would want to read a book by Dan Brown, but if God wrote a book wouldn’t you want to see what He had to say?” Ehrman chuckles.
Christian education in the church and home has indeed become laughable. However, the result is no laughing matter. After hours and hours of commitment to church attendance, Sunday School classes, discipleship courses, and camps, most of our students who go on to study in universities enter a severe crisis of faith within five to ten minutes of entering classrooms under the tutelage of a scholar like Bart Ehrman. By the end of the first lecture most of what our students have been taught in Sunday School has been dismantled. By the end of the first semester our precious church kids are practical atheists. They no longer read the Bible, attend church, or hold fast to Christian values. In their minds, men like Ehrman give them good reasons not to.
We know this is a problem. We have known this for decades. Yet what changes have we made in the educational process of raising children in church to answer this crisis? The changes have been non existent to barely noticeable. We are sending our sheep out to the slaughter having been versed in Bible stories, but with no real theological training, no real knowledge of the Biblical text, and no lasting commitment to Christ. We are twenty years away from being nearly gone because we are educating ourselves in such a way that will eventually lead to our extinction.
The survival of the Jew as a people is nothing short of a historically verifiable cultural miracle. Apparently the Mayans have sent word to us that the world will end in December of this year. Do you know any Mayans? They didn’t survive. The Mayans have gone the way of countless civilizations that either disappeared off the face of the earth or were absorbed into more dominant empires. Civilizations do not die by bullets and bombs. Civilizations die by ideas. The Jews have suffered exile, captivity, persecution, and numerous holocausts through the centuries yet they continue to exist. The Jews have been the marked target of culture and race supremacy in almost every crisis they have suffered, yet each of the historical regimes and empires that have attempted to wipe the Jew off the face of the earth are gone and Israel is now a sovereign state. How did they do it? Education.
The intelligentsia that has hijacked American universities and pop-culture have leveled a deliberate assault against the integrity of the Bible and the validity of the Christian faith. Currently we are not under the threat of bullets and persecution. Yet if we do not get serious about educating our students in the church and home, we will be annihilated by ideas.
The example of ancient Jewish education in the home and at the house of God is at the root of the call of the Biblical text for parents and churches to pass on the precepts of our faith to our children. Deuteronomy 6:7 commands the people to teach the word of God diligently to their children. The term “teach diligently” literally means to sharpen. It is the same word used to describe the sharpening of an arrow or a tool for effective, penetrating use. It implies that the lessons of God’s Word will not only be shared, but that they should be shared repeatedly. Each time they are shared the more potent the application of the lesson becomes. By the time Jewish children left the home they were to be effective carriers of the Word of God fully equipped to teach the generation that was to follow them. In this way, no matter the context, whether in exile or under persecution, Israel would not only survive but her people would remain sharp.
Dr. Ron Moseley writes an insightful article about the process of ancient Jewish education. Moseley states, “The goals of Jewish education may be broadly summed up: (1) to transmit knowledge and skills from generation to generation; (2) to increase knowledge and skills; and (3) to concretize cultural values into accepted behavior.” The end result was an education in the Scriptures that led to Scriptural living. The seriousness of the course is seen in the expectation for education at various stages of a child’s life. At age 5 one was considered ready to study the Scriptures. At age 5, children were taught first from the Book of Leviticus so that they may understand how to remain ritually pure in their approach to God. After Leviticus children were led to the Psalms so that they could begin to understand the nature of God. At age 10 children were educated in the Law and expected to obey it. Moseley goes on to lay out the ancient Jewish system and uses it as the historical context for understanding the New Testament instructions concerning Christian education.
“At the age of fifteen one was ready to study of the sages, at the age of eighteen, for marriage, and at the age of twenty, for pursuing a vocation. Yeshua (Jesus) is called both the son of Joseph the carpenter and Yeshua the carpenter (Book of Mark). Obviously, Joseph had followed this pattern and taught his son his vocation. At the age of thirty one entered the full vigor of his ministry. It was at this point in Yeshua’s life that we see Him entering the full ministry. At age forty one reached a place where he had understanding, and at age fifty the individual was worthy to counsel others. It is in this setting that the Biblical injunction for the older (age fifty) men to counsel the younger men and the older women to counsel the younger.”
When describing the current state of Christian education in the home and the church the “sharp” is not the word that immediately comes to mind. If anything we could say, it is that we have become dull. How can we possibly call adequate the process currently taking place in the home and the church if our students are arriving to universities saying they believe the Bible is the Word of God, but never having been challenged to actually read it all the way through? Yet reading the Bible all the way through would be a nice improvement, but it is hardly a worthy goal. The goal should be for our students to have such a thorough knowledge of the Word of God that it literally becomes a “working knowledge”, one that is applied to life, vocation, and culture. This was the goal of ancient Jewish education. One has not learned what one cannot apply.
Ehrman is right in what he insinuated in his opening comments. If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should not only be committed to it, but we should be committed to knowing all we can about it. The current approach to Christian education is dull. It is not working. Our students are being dismantled in secular culture instead of penetrating it. Like the Jews, we should seek to integrate a thorough Biblical education into every aspect of life and vocational training. We should want more than just kids who attended Sunday School and church education programs, we should want our children to be sharpened by the experience. We need a better way.
More to come . . .