So you thought the Bible had disappeared from America's public schools? Think again. Our back-to-school coverage reminds us of the importance of the valiant comeback efforts of two organizations to make sure kids in public schools don't grow up ignorant of the world's most widely published book. Both organizations are growing, not shrinking, in their influence.
Yet here is a story within a story. For the two organizations devoted to raising the Bible's profile in America's public schools have distinctly different approaches. Both enlist as their backers some very big names in evangelicalism-but among those big names are some strongly divided opinions. Indeed, good friends of WORLD magazine are on both sides of the divide.
The very nature of the battlefield requires both groups to take a sort of detached and objective stance. The law of the land, or at least the law as interpreted in a whole variety of Supreme Court decisions on the subject, requires such distance and impartiality.
But having noted how the two approaches are alike, it may be more significant to note how they differ.
The Bible in History and Literature, published by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, is clearly the more conservative of the two curricula-and the more evangelical in the tone of its backers. Endorsing NCBCPS are D. James Kennedy, Charles Stanley, David Barton, Anne Graham Lotz, and Ted Baehr-among many others.
The Bible and Its Influence, meanwhile, produced by the Bible Literacy Project, is distinctly more ecumenical. BLP's list of endorsers includes evangelicals like Os Guinness, Peter Lillback, Leland Ryken, and Frederica Mathewes-Green-but also some fairly well-known theological liberals.
BLP's textbook provides a remarkable wealth of information. It is significantly more colorful and reader-friendly than NCBCPS's-which NCBCPS people would say is just the way they want it. They say they want their focus to be on the Bible itself, and not on what experts say about the Bible. In a very real sense, they want students to confront the living Word of God, and not just dissect it as if they were in a laboratory-which is, they charge bluntly, the weakness of the BLP approach.
At the same time, NCBCPS folk understand that they have to be careful with "Word of God" terminology. They know that in this context they must be teachers rather than preachers, that they are there to "educate" and not to "indoctrinate." Some would even claim that an unbelieving non-Christian could effectively and appropriately teach the NCBCPS curriculum.
Part of me wants to cast my lot with the NCBCPS crowd. I like their boldness, their brashness, and their tough confidence in the Bible to win a following on its own terms. I like their refusal to be too careful and overly fastidious. And if they get in trouble with a liberal judge somewhere who thinks they've crossed the line, I say more power to them.
And frankly, I'm skeptical of BLP's recurring implication to students that it is their prerogative to pass judgment on the Bible-rather than the other way around. After reviewing the creation account and then the fall of Adam and Eve, the BLP text asks coyly: "Do you think Adam and Eve received a fair deal as described in Genesis?" I definitely don't want a non-believer teaching that section to any kids I know; I don't even want a believing teacher to ask the question that impertinently.
Indeed, in the end, the BLP approach may tend to be more of an indoctrinator than is NCBCPS's. BLP does its preaching with quiet but loaded questions rather than with straightforward assertions-and in such contexts, the teacher in charge has a lot to say about where the students' minds and hearts end up.
But both approaches are terribly shackled. God's Word is so much more than a cultural icon. To say that you're teaching the Bible only as literature or history, or to help enrich a student's sense of cultural literacy, is to suggest to adolescent students something quite other than the power that historic Christianity has always claimed makes the Bible unique.
Yes, God can and does quicken even faltering messengers. I fully expect He will use both BLP and NCBCPS through the coming school year in many students' lives. I just wish that both groups hadn't felt the obligation to approach their assignment so full of the meekness of Moses.
And incidentally, for all their talk about cultural literacy, you could study both curricula from beginning to end without having been specifically reminded what that "meekness of Moses" figure of speech is all about.