Life on Purpose
intersect, where the bible meets life
Teaching the Bible in a
Post-Christian Culture, Part One
Texts, Apps, and “Glowing Rectangles”
Scripture. Church. Teachers.
The Lord gifts kingdom people
to build up His Church through
caring, nurturing, cut-to-the-
chase teaching. When I think of
my opportunities to teach the Bible
through the years, a flood of gratitude
wells up to God, my teachers, and
From Jack’s Class to Siberia
My first teaching gig came courtesy of Jack Nicholson, a Sunday School teacher at my home church. He asked me, at the tender age of 14, to teach his class of senior saints. I’ve forgotten the lesson, but not those heroes of faith who patiently endured the 20 minutes that seemed an eternity to me. Mr. Nicholson took a risk when he asked, but he was saying he believed in me.
Since then, I have taught toddlers, junior boys, middle-schoolers, teens, and adults. Lessons came at camps, in school auditoriums, at retreat centers, during conferences, in hospitals and health-care facilities, in living rooms, at a church basement in Siberia, in undergraduate and graduate college classrooms, by the beach, and perched on mountains. And every occasion, every lesson, had this in common: the subject was Scripture.
Where Does Teaching Fit?
But now, I’m a bit worried. Teaching the Bible seems less and less a priority in some congregations. Music, media, management, multi-ministries—all are good things in their proper place. But have we given up or shoved to the margins intentional efforts to nurture disciples who, like Apollos in Acts, would be “mighty in the Scriptures”? Where does teaching the Bible fit into the life of the local faith community?
Many are calling this a “post-Christian” era in the West, especially in the United States and Europe. In many places, fewer people attend church. More discount or reject the Bible. The public square has shoved Christianity to the fringes of the culture. It’s okay to be a Christian; just don’t say much about it or try to bring its influence into the public arena where everything must be secular and non-religious. This is not the time to marginalize Bible teaching, but to mainstream it.
First of Seven Strategies
With this current climate in both church and culture, here are seven strategies for teaching the Bible in a culture given more to expression than education, more to self than Scripture.
1. Be a See-Through Teacher.
I mean this in two ways. First, be transparent. Parker Palmer says we teach who we are. Live your life with God at the center. Cultivate your relationship with Christ and consistently engage the spiritual disciplines. Give priority to expressing who you are rather than impressing with what you say.
Then, as author David McCullough says to teachers, “show your students what you love.”
Teaching techniques are important, no doubt. We must improve and grow in our methods. But, as Palmer observes, technique is what you use until the teacher shows up! In this sense, then, an objective one, we must be “see-through,” transparent, vulnerable, one “with” those we teach.
Yet there is another way to be a “see-through” teacher, a more subjective way. We must “see through” to a mastery of the content we teach. Be persistent in studying your subject. Know your stuff! A good educator is like a detective: inquisitive, wanting to know more, tracking down leads, asking questions, investigating every angle of content.
In many circles today, the teacher is expected to be more of a facilitator than an expert. She participates with her students in constructing meaning, in discussing the subject to find its relevance and application to her students. No experts allowed!
But you don’t have to choose. Be both! Yes, engage the learner in meaningful collaboration, but don’t slight content. Study the text of Scripture. Don’t downplay or neglect exegesis and careful analysis of the biblical materials. The rabbis taught that to study is to worship. Yes, as Jay Parini claims, great teachers love their students—but they also love their subjects!
Next issue: Texts, Apps, and “Glowing Rectangles”—Teaching the Bible in a Post-Christian Culture, Part Two.
Intersect: Where the Bible Meets Life is a regular column written by Dr. Garnett Reid, a member of the Bible faculty at Welch College. Visit his blog: www.garnettreid.com.