Biblical Pedagogy, Part 1: Goals

In rolling out the first phase of the first phase of the Four Volumes project, I have been constrained to take time to pull back and consider the merits of the methodology. One of the aims I have for this project is to rethink our approach to Biblical education and to do so not just by tinkering around the edges. The epidemic of Biblical illiteracy will not remedied by continuing to do basically what we have been doing but expecting different results. Rather, it’s time that we back up and consider our pedagogy from the ground up.

The way I have framed the issue in the previous paragraph isn’t quite right, though. Our vision and methodology for Biblical education shouldn’t be driven from a desire to remedy a dire situation but rather an outgrowth of a desire to follow God with all our hearts, to know Him and His instruction, and to lead our children in doing the same. The fact that we are trying to remedy a mess is a symptom of the fact that something about how we teach our kids Bible isn’t right. A proper pedagogy properly executed will keep us from getting into the mess in the first place. The goal of this post is not simply to convince you that the Four Volumes project moves us in the right direction methodologically (though I hope this happens!) but rather to discuss what a philosophy of Biblical education (a pedagogy) ought to look like if we truly are people of the book, especially with regard to our goals in education.

Goals of Biblical Pedagogy

The most obvious statement we can make about a pedagogy is that it envisions certain goals. In envisioning outcomes we are hoping to achieve a certain ideal. And while ideals are rarely attained in this world, we need to consider what they are, the red dot of the target, so that we can know what we’re actually shooting at. So concerning education of the Bible, what do we reasonably expect that Christians know about the Bible? What is the baseline skill with Scripture that we hope all Christians attain? How able do we want all Christians to be in applying the truth of God’s word to all of life all throughout their lives? How discerning should all Christians be when confronted with truth claims out there in the world? What sort of culture do we want to develop and nurture within our churches regarding our conversation about and edification from the Bible? And these questions, I believe, are particularly relevant when we ask them concerning the children of our homes since the Biblical moulding and education can start from the very beginning.

A – Goals about knowledge of Scripture facts

Of course, the answers to questions about our goals are relative to a lot of things (like availability and skill of teachers or ability of students), but certain baselines might be established for comfortable functioning in a church culture. Too many Christians, even those raised as Christians, live in perpetual dependence and instability because a lack of basic Biblical knowledge. And when we consider that we have our children for eighteen or so years, we see that it is very possible (and necessary) to raise the bar. In the realm of the facts themselves, why not expect that our kids be conversant in all the stories of the Bible? Why not hope that they be able to outline from memory the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John? Why not expect that they be able to discuss the messages of the minor prophets? Why not hope that they know what story the book of Revelation actually tells—even if we don’t know exactly what it all means? The first step in establishing goals is to determine the low-level facts about the Bible that we want our kids to know.

B – Goals about detecting Scripture’s overall narrative

And then it would be very reasonable to have goals concerning their ability to put the facts together, to trace the overall progression of the Biblical story, to discuss themes, types, and motifs that recur throughout, to detect and make inferences from the “literary” qualities of the text. It goes without saying that these skills are impossible without a thorough knowledge and ready memory of what the Bible says itself. These discussions are really fun, and many pedagogies jump right to this. But I suggest that jumping to these discussions in a way that is unattached to an expectation of a raw knowledge of the facts breeds an over-dependence on the schemes, emphases, and teachings of certain teachers. But I believe that the skill exercised by the Bereans demonstrated a skill in dealing with the text of Scripture and a certain type of independence from even one of the greatest Bible teachers of all time. Teachers are very important, but part of their goal should be to replicate reliable skill with the text.

C – Goals about skills in applying Scripture

Additionally, in laying out goals for a Biblical education of covenant children, it would be sensible to envision developing the skills of application. Take apologetics, for example: they could be expected to work through tough texts, discuss the various understandings of them, and defend their truthfulness against accusation of error. We might also envision other skills of application, like systematic theology, ethics, and “worldview” questions. Again, these goals cannot be achieved without a careful knowledge of the text both microscopically (A) and macroscopically (B).

Carefully Considered Goals

All these goals would be attainable if we actually had them as goals and strove to achieve them with a methodology that progressed students to that end. My sad observation is that for whatever reason (and there are plenty of cautions!) we don’t even make these our goals. In the end, our kids might turn out to be loyal to our theology but not be equipped Biblically to support it. And from my observation, the fault lies in a lack of knowledge of the content of the Bible, especially its particular details (A). Jumping to catechism without knowing the surrounding details of the prooftexts develops a certain type of legalism, believing and doing things because that’s what I’m told but not because I can skillfully defend them to be faithful to the teachings of Scripture.

My question is, what goals do we have for our Biblical education? Do we want simply that our kids continue in our own denominational tradition or that they are fiercely loyal to the teaching of Scripture. There is a place for teaching our particular ecclesiastical traditions, but they should never be divorced from or afraid of any detail of Scripture. If we avoid, explain away, or downplay any Scripture, then most likely there is something wrong with our tradition (or our understanding of it). That’s why we should start with Scripture, so that our applications, our traditions, and our defenses can take into account the comprehensiveness of its revelation.

Whether we think about it or not, our pedagogical methods do work toward certain ends. I contend that we ought to consider those ends and then construct educational methods that will realistically achieve them for all our covenant children.

The next post will discuss the fact that pedagogies nurture certain affections in the students. Stay tuned!

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