To begin this school year, I would like to revisit the basics of biblical worldview, including assessing how we address choosing Bible curriculum and the teaching methods we practice. I offer the following perspectives and resources as you review your Bible curriculum and teaching practices this year.
Steps to a Reformed Bible Curriculum
Reformed Bible curriculum and teaching practices view the entire Bible as one interrelated story. They portray the big story of God’s faithfulness and saving love throughout the Bible. The plot follows the framework of creation, Fall, redemption, and renewal, and takes seriously Paul’s Romans 8 teaching, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” So while the Bible is unabashedly concerned with the personal salvation of each human being, its story is much deeper and wider than simply personal salvation. The big story is about God inviting humans into a partnership to bring all aspects of creation into its original flourishing fullness of Genesis 1 and 2. One additional note here: God gave humans works to do before the Fall. This invitation to partnership is part of the original order of creation, not a result of sin.
Reformed Bible curriculum and teaching practices always explore how each individual Bible story and passage relates to the entire story of human partnership in the creation, Fall, redemption, and renewal story. When leading biblical study tours in Israel and Palestine, we always take great care to emphasize where we are in the story geographically, chronologically, and theologically. We need to do the same with Bible curriculum and teaching practices.
This is a very different practice from seeking individual moral lessons from each Old Testament narrative or taking New Testament passages from the epistles out of context. For example, the Old Testament story of Joseph is part of a larger narrative of God redeeming a people for his own kingdom work. The Joseph story lends itself to many morality lessons. However, as Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart point out in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, a text cannot mean today what it never meant originally. Or as my friend and colleague Dan Walcott says, “A text out of context is a pretext for trouble.” Another way to say this is, “Reformed Bible teaching always interprets each Bible story in the context of all of scripture.” Be careful and vigilant about your choice of Bible curriculum. There are many publishers of Bible curricula who ignore these important principles.
Reformed Bible curriculum and teaching practices call us all to live as part of God’s kingdom now rather than merely focusing on “going to heaven” later. This call runs counter to much of what we hear from our modern evangelical brothers and sisters, including Christian music radio. The Bible’s big story is not about us; it is about ushering in God’s kingdom rule on this earth. Following along with N.T. Wright’s portrayal of the big story, here are some principles regarding our call to kingdom living that I suggest be manifest in our curriculum and teaching practice.
Believers are called to be co-creators, image-bearing/image-reflecting shalom-bringers.
- Co-creators: Before the Fall, humans were given work to do, so we have the situation of creation being perfect (very good) but not finished. For some reason, God invites humanity into a relationship with him so that humans can participate in the “finishing” of God’s perfection. This is part of the created order before the Fall.
- Image-bearers/image-reflectors: Before the Fall, God proclaims, “Let us make humans in our image” and then tasked humans to take care of the earth. Humans are called to reflect back God’s image to the rest of creation.
- Shalom-bringers: Humans are called to help restore/build creation into what God intended it to be. This is our essential task here on this earth, and it can be accomplished only through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection and via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the vision in Revelation 4-5 should inform all of our Bible teaching. Speaking of Jesus, John writes, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Ultimately, I believe that preparing our students for the role of kingdom priests reigning with Christ is the goal of all of Christian education, including Bible curriculum.
All of the above assumes that we have chosen those curriculum materials that promote only the best educational practices of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. These points are more than academic quibbles. They can have a profound effect on how kids and adults view God, the Bible, and the purpose of their lives.
Resources to Aid the Assessment of Your Bible Curriculum
- The book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart
- The book Reformed: What It Means and Why It Matters by Robert DeMoor
- The confession, Our World Belongs to God
- An hour-long video presentation by N.T. Wright on The Big Picture (or The Big Story)
- A PowerPoint “Big Story” professional development tool to be used in conjunction with the N.T. Wright video.
– Bart Den Boer, worldview specialist