I grew up in the church learning all the old Bible stories. I fondly recall hearing, over and over again, Jonah and the whale, Daniel and the Lions Den and so many more. I am forever grateful for what I learned as a child. Yet as I’ve moved into an adult faith, I see some of the problems in this sort of traditional Christian education.
First, the stories are sanitized. Since you are teaching children you cannot go into all the gruesome details. Second, any sort of understanding of the Bible as a grand narrative, a complete story, was missing. Along with this, how all those Bible stories relate to Jesus as the central figure is often absent. So we learn to see David as an example of faithfulness and trusting in God as he fights Goliath as Israel’s representative but do not go into how David points to his greater ancestor who fights the greater battle as humanity’s representative.
The question of how to teach the Bible to children has become more important to me as I now have my own kids. What is the best way to teach them the Bible?
Peter Enns has worked to answer this question. His book Telling God’s Story: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching the Bible serves as an introduction to a new type of curriculum. Basically, Enns argues that we focus solely on Jesus from grades 1-4. Then we get into the rest of the Bible in grades 5-8. Finally, in grades 9-12 we get into some of the problems and issues with the Bible story, the sort of thing scholars argue about.
I’ve long been a fan of Enns and his books have been greatly helpful to me. Last fall I read and enjoyed his book The Bible Tells Me So. In it he makes accessible much scholarly work on the Old Testament, just the sort of things that are not taught in Sunday school. One nagging thought I had as I read was how we teach this to children? My daughter has a bunch of story books about Noah – do we just teach them the story of Noah as kids and then hope when they are older they can accept that maybe the story did not happen exactly as the Bible said? Do we teach that Israel conquered the land and then later hope that when they learn a bit of what archaeologists say they do not just reject faith altogether, but instead just learn to read the story in a new way?
Obviously that book was not written to answer such questions. This book and curriculum, is. Enns’ answer seems to be that such questions will be discussed in high school, when kids have a foundation on what matters, Jesus.
I like it. I hope more churches adopt it.