Friday, September 24, 2010

Freshman and the Bible

I teach at a small liberal arts, Christian college. Most of my work is with graduate students, but this semester I have the privilege of teaching a freshman section of Introduction to the Bible. Rochester is a school affiliated with Churches of Christ, but my guess is that only about 10 of my 50 students are CoC kids. This is a very diverse group, many of them only nominally Christian, and it has been an exciting challenge to get them all into a meaningful conversation about Scripture.

Their first assignment was to write a two-page essay describing their relationship to Scripture to this point in their life. Wow, did I learn a lot.

First, the most common story I heard went something like this: "I attended church when I was younger, not so much when I got to be a teenager. I have very little idea what Christianity is all about, and even less what the Bible is all about." A lot of these kids were Catholic, although it was also reported among Presbyterians, Batpists, and Church of Christ students, etc.

Second, most reported finding the Bible odd, too hard to read and understand, and unrelated to their life. This was true of the Sunday school kids and those who didn't attend.

Third, the single biggest factor in a student having a close relationship with Scripture had to do with its use in the home. It had very little to do with church attendance. If parents dragged their kids to church, but had no relationship with Scripture themselves, their kids were unlikely to as well.

Fourth, the most moving and compelling stories of student relationships with Scripture came from people who'd seen some hard times in life. Prison, drug rehab, divorce, the death of a sibling, a child with a psychosis--these were the people who relied on Scripture in ways that no one else spoke of. Scripture for these students was a daily companion.

There were more than a few students who wrote about how boring church was for them until they found a youth group in a large community church. They still don't know much about Scripture, but these experiences kept the possibility of faith alive. And that's not nothing.

Finally, I've been trying to get them to make some sense of the phenomenon of Scripture on Scripture's own terms. Yesterday, we talked about Galileo and the trouble he got in for having a heliocentric view of things. It wasn't hard to see that the Bible has a geocentric perspective. And it also wasn't hard getting students to agree that Galileo was right. They all raised their hands in the affirmative when asked if they sided with Galileo. The next question I asked was, "is it fair to say then that in some things, like astronomy, you might be willing to say that Galileo is a more trustworthy authority than the Bible?" Some of the Sunday school kids turned pale. But the non-Sunday school students had little problem seeing that the Bible was written within an ancient worldview, but still might be the authority on God. They had no problem affirming that Scripture might not hold up well if we expected it to be a modern science or history book, but could still be a God-inspired book.

I want all of these students to come away with a high view of Scripture. I want them to see my own commitment to the Bible. The things I expose them to are not designed to show them supposed problems with the Bible. Just the opposite. The Bible, taken on its own terms, says some powerful things about God and how he relates to human communities. In fact, it is precisely my contention that a fundamentalist view of Scripture makes it a smaller book, locks it into a narrow interpretative framework that limits its relevance to life in cultures different than first-century Palestine. I want their relationship with the Bible to come on Scripture's own terms so that they can develop a life-long relationship with the God who stands behind the Bible.


Warren Baldwin said...

Very interesting, and it is helpful to see how students this age relate to the Bible. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Batpists? :>}

Mark Love said...

yes, shockingly true of baptists as well