Over the past few weeks, I've been involved in a private series of Facebook messages with a friend. I've known this guy for some time but we have only recently reconnected within the last five years. We starting having this exchange because he had, in his words, "a number of issues" with the Bible. In short, he has spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the Bible, reflecting on its words, etc., and he has come to the conclusion that the Bible makes many claims that are irrational and implausible. As a result, he no longer qualifies himself as a Christian believer. However, he was very happy to have a running conversation with me where we could hash out our questions of each other's beliefs in a cordial, civil environment. Although I was unconvinced of his contentions--and he was unconvinced of my assertions--I think we'd both admit the good-natured dialogue was handled very well. In fact, I told him how thankful I was for his engagement, tone, and the way he kept pushing the questions.
There was another thing that I firmly came to believe. I think my friend--though he has landed off the "faith map"--is someone who takes the Bible more seriously than a lot of professing Christians. He has at least studied the Bible, prodded it, tried to make sense of the discrepancies and blind spots he believes are there, and is willing to ask the questions like "Why does the Bible condone these actions? Why does God act this way in this passage but is totally different here? Why do there reports contradict each other?"
Those are his questions, not mine, although I have considered them over the years. For the record, I think there are good, humble reasons for the trustworthiness of the Bible (and hard questions to ask about how much human reason and strict rationalism can be trusted to judge the Bible itself). But I also understand why my friend got from point A to point B. And I'm willing to give him that latitude to express himself. Likewise, he has given me the same space to express why I doggedly hold on to faith even despite the difficulties and hardships of life. Even if I disagree with my friend, I respect him.
And now back to what I said before: that my friend takes the Bible more seriously than most Christians.
I've taught in Christian schools for awhile. I'm in my fifteenth year. I've seen a lot of change as students drink from the postmodern wells around us. I teach Ethics. In short, my professional life is wrapped up in the question of "How do we justify how we make the call on what's right or wrong?"
Sometimes I run into people who contend that there are some issues we shouldn't deal with in class. The students in a Christian school, they say, shouldn't have to be exposed to certain explosive issues. Issues like suicide, abortion, and homosexuality...things that "kids know are wrong anyway."
Okay, before I explode...
First, issues like those mentioned above are much more complex than we can imagine. I'm not saying that Scripture, church tradition, and human reason don't speak to those matters; they do. But beyond the surface understanding, they are much more thorny and complicated. I've had students who have contemplated suicide; I've had those who have considered and possibly had an abortion; and I have had (and likely have) students who are gay. These are not ivory-tower reserved academic matters.
Secondly, and more to the point, students--even professing Christian students--do not automatically know what is right or wrong, nor do they automatically know good reasons for defending their choices.
I realize I might get some serious heat for this, but today was a prime example. I had students rotating the classroom in packs of five, going to different stations where there were several ethical quandary questions waiting for them. One question was: "If you were happily married, but then became convinced you could find deeply passionate, intoxicating love with someone else, would you leave your spouse? What if you had kids?"
No lie. Several students--professing Christian students--did not see the problem with skipping out on the marriage. For some of that subgroup, the presence of kids might give them pause on walking out on the marriage, but that was hardly a comfort. Apparently, following your heart on the spur of the moment is more important than a covenant vow made before God and others. Self-interest (which wavers) trumps the fundamental adherence to someone else (which should never waver).
People, the way to teach Bible/religion in a Christian school has to change. I've been beating this drum for awhile in bits and pieces to others. I'm going public with this one.
You cannot make assumptions that students will be clear thinking or even consider that God's prescription automatically outweighs any entitlement we feel to follow our shifting emotions. You cannot assume students will ask, "What does the Bible, or my faith tradition, require of me?" In some locales, I didn't have to assume it because those institutions didn't require a profession of faith from students or parents. I could put the cookies on the bottom shelf and not assume students knew a lot about God or the Bible.
Memo to Christian school teachers: You still can't assume that, even if you believe a lot of your students are good kids from Christian homes. That means nothing when it comes to having a coherent, biblically-informed worldview. The Biblical illiteracy among the emerging generations--as well as in evangelical churches--is appalling. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance going on. We have to begin with the basics, with true critical thinking, and get people to think about if and why the Bible makes sense. No lip service to it. I don't know fully what kind of shape that new teaching takes. But we can't assume we are here to nurture good kids to polish them off and become better "champions for Christ" (or whatever evangelical tagline one has). We are here to shepherd students through a lot of logical disconnects and loose religious wiring. Jesus' compassion on the crowds who were like "sheep without a shepherd" rings true here.
Rip the old ways down, and build something new in their place. It's a different age with disconnected ways of justifying one's life vision. My friend--no matter that we differ on the Bible--at least knows it's important to be consistent.
I know that's a long ramble, but there you have it. Everything. Must. Change.