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27 August 2015

Should the Bible be taught in schools

Should the Bible be taught in schools

Our British values survey shows that 48 per cent believe a good knowledge of the Bible should be taught in all schools. But does it surprise you that evangelicals seem to think this is less important than teaching loyalty to the queen, which 52 per cent agreed with? Here, two experts give us their views on the importance of a biblical education for all. A no perspective from Lisa Adams and a yes perspective from Brian Howell....


NO, a good knowledge of the Bible doesn’t need to be taught to all children, argues Lisa Adams, a former RE teacher. Instead, it’s important to look at ethical issues and what a range of holy texts say on these.

“Religious Education is a subject enjoyed in schools because it deals with the big questions that young people grapple with. It allows them a safe environment to question their beliefs and values. I worked in a multi-faith school for eight years and would argue that it is important to teach a range of texts, rather than just the Bible.

Children from other faiths really appreciate a fair representation of their religion and are keen to compare their beliefs to Christianity. For example, when considering how religious believers deal with the problem of evil and suffering, it is useful to study the account of Job found in the Torah, Bible and Qur’an. Young people find it fascinating that God and Satan discuss Job’s fate.

Rather than spending time teaching Bible passages that may be considered irrelevant, we can deal with ethical issues and refer back to what the Bible says about the sanctity of life. When teaching the issue of abortion, the first question to debate is when life begins. I firstly use texts from the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikhism): “In the first watch of the night O my merchant friend you were cast into the womb, by the Lord’s Command…Upside-down, within the womb… you prayed to your Lord and Master.” (16 Sriraag Guru Nanak Dev). This passage sparks an interest that God is the one who commanded life to begin and that a relationship with Him can start even before birth. We then compare this to Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” These texts are inspiring for every student, regardless of their beliefs, because it shows that their lives are planned and valuable.

Forgiveness is a topic that sparks a lot of interest in lessons: when Christianity is taught alongside other religions, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are shocking events. There are martyrs in other traditions, but the concepts of God’s own son being put to death for the forgiveness of wrong doing, and resurrected for the promise of eternal life, are in stark contrast to other religious doctrine. It becomes obvious that religion is man striving to get to God, to engage in activities that please Him, but following Jesus is accepting that He has done it all for us and paid the ultimate price.
I had a group of students who were really keen to meet up regularly to discuss some of the topics we covered in our lessons. We called the club ‘Interact’ and advertised it as an inter-faith discussion group.

I think it is important for children to make their up their own minds about what to believe and to feel respected. By teaching texts from a variety of holy books I am demonstrating a sound knowledge of religious beliefs, and yet the students are aware that I have chosen to follow Jesus. Knowing that I value their beliefs helps to build a strong relationship, so they feel comfortable asking me questions about God.”

YES, a good knowledge of the Bible should be taught in all schools, to help children learn more about their history and modern society, argues Brian Howell, dean of studies and research at Bible Society.

“Get together two academics – one Muslim, the other Christian; a Jewish Rabbi; a Humanist; and a former head teacher of an Accelerated Christian Education school; and you might expect a disagreement on whether the Bible and other sacred texts should be taught in schools.

But when Bible Society assembled just such a panel for a debate in Parliament last November there was, in fact broad agreement. Of course, each had different reasons for wanting to see this happen, but primarily, they were motivated by a desire to understand each other and to be understood and for our society to be more aware of the traditions, which inform our increasingly inter-connected world. 

So why do less than half of evangelical think a good knowledge of the Bible should be taught in all schools?

So, if Christians don’t seem too concerned about Bible teaching in schools, it is worth asking what role, if any, the Bible should play in our schools. After all, they are largely secular environments and the Bible is just one among many religious texts. Shouldn’t Christians who wish to engage their children with the Bible do so at home and in church? And what is gained by encountering the Bible in the classroom?

Bible Society is currently sponsoring a project with the University of Exeter, which uses an artist to help children engage with the Bible, and look at how different people encounter the same Bible passage.

In doing so, they begin to appreciate the depth and breadth of meaning in the Bible, rather than relying on others to tell them what
it means. This is one example of how students in the classroom are introduced to other interpretations of the Scriptures, which often form part of Christian traditions different from their own. This can be critical for their own faith development in ‘making it their own’ faith, rather than that of their parents.

Secondly, allowing students to encounter the Bible for themselves is vital in a world where Christianity is often misunderstood and negative impressions of the Bible are propagated by New Atheists and certain sections of the media. Allowing students to encounter the text for themselves better equips them to make up their own minds. I would argue that, crucially, without the Bible, students cannot get a full understanding of their own culture. Whether in art, music, architecture, or even English language expressions such as ‘the apple of my eye, or ‘the skin of my teeth’, the Bible’s influence can be felt.

And without knowledge of the Bible, students find it harder to study authors like T.S. Eliot, Blake and Milton, not to mention entry into the philosophical debates of Hume, Locke, Kant, and the linguistic philosophies of Ricouer, Gadamer, Searle and Derrida. The Bible has
also been a major contributor to the approach and understanding of the foundational concepts in British history and politics.

Finally, good teaching is not simply the dissemination of information, but an engagement with the pupil with texts and ideas, often including open-ended discussion of issues. The presentation of the Bible in schools provides students with a prime opportunity to share their own experience of Christianity and the Bible, and to offer an alternative to some of those who assume that Christians hate everything from science, to homosexuals and the environment.”

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