Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bible in Public Schools

The Tennessean has an article today discussing the fact that the Bible is taught in a few history or literature courses in public high schools in Tennessee. Although the usually reliable first amendment scholar Charles Haynes says that the practice is inappropriate, there really should be nothing controversial about teaching the Bible in such a manner. Whatever one's views of the Christian religion, the Bible is a text that has had tremendous influence over western civilization and western culture, and a basic understanding of it is a legitimate public school enterprise for that reason.

That being said, I doubt that very many public school teachers are qualified to teach such a course, which would require both an understanding of ancient middle eastern culture and the ability to read the Bible from a historical/literary approach -- an approach that is also used, by the way, by the best of evangelical theologians and pastors (that is, not very many). However, the teacher who is referenced in the article, Mike Brown, appears to be handling the course appropriately and competently.

Mr. Haynes counters that some Christians may be offended to learn that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible. As a Christian, as long as the text is treated with an appropriate academic demeanor, I say, "Who cares?" There are multiple interpretations of most, if not all, aspects of history and of literary texts. If we are to have that level of sensitivity, then we will have to eliminate all course work. The study of the Bible is an academic subject, and not just a devotional one.

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