Promoting Bible Literacy
edited: Friday, December 28, 2007
By Joan K. Snipes
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007
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What steps can you take to help the children you know become biblically literate?
Teaching the Bible to children is an activity that thrills me. Because I enjoy it so much, I devote much of my time to supporting Sunday School teachers, potential teachers, parents, and grandparents. Promoting Bible literacy is one reason I travel around the country giving Bible workshops.
Because the issue of Bible literacy among our youth is near and dear to my heart, I support the work of the Bible Literacy Project. In 2005, this organization, based in Front Royal, Virginia, released a highly regarded national report entitled: "Bible Literacy Report: What do American teens need to know and what do they know?" The report had two parts: a study involving 41 high school English teachers and a nationally representative survey of 1002 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 by the Gallup Organization.
This report, which you can read online at www.bibleliteracy.org, tackles the definition of Bible literacy. Based on input from high school teachers, the report concludes that the components of Bible literacy include: being familiar with common Bible stories and characters, being able to recognize common biblical phrases, knowing the Ten Commandments, and being able to connect biblical knowledge to references in literature.
The good news from the survey is that strong majorities of American teens recognize the basic meaning of widely used Judeo-Christian terms such as Easter, Adam and Eve, Moses, the Golden Rule, and the Good Samaritan.
The report concludes that unfortunately "substantial minorities lack even the most basic working knowledge of the Bible." Fewer than half of teens know what happened at the wedding at Cana (Jesus turned the water into wine.) Two-thirds of teens don't know that the road to Damascus is where Paul was blinded by a vision of Christ.
Given a choice of four quotations from the Bible, 63 percent could not identify "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," as a quotation from the Sermon on the Mount.
The Bible Literacy Project website includes ideas on how the challenge of poor Bible literacy might be met. (One of their suggestions is to focus on teaching the books of Genesis and Matthew, which contain about 50% of the stories that public high school teachers deem basic knowledge.)
Those of us who love the Bible have an obligation to do what we can to help those attending our Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools learn not only the basics but the relevance of the biblical truths to our lives. There are numerous ways to do this. Below are a few examples.
- Encourage young people to attend Sunday School regularly. This might include an offer to drive them.
- Read aloud Bible stories to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and neighbors. (You may read from a variety of English translations or from a Bible story book.)
- Give Bible-related gifts, such as books and CDs, at Christmas and for birthdays.
- Point children to high quality Bible sites on the Internet, such as www.BibleWise.com.
- Send homework assignments to your Sunday School students.
- Take a child to see a Bible-related musical, such as "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
- Help keep Sunday School teachers inspired by rotating the staff, having guest speakers on the Bible, and investing in helpful resource books and Bible reference books.
- Be sure your Sunday School has an adequate lending library, a good Bible time-line or two, and colorful maps of Bible lands.
- Take a child to see a performance of Handel's Messiah.
- Invite children to play Bibleopoly, a great board game, at your home.
- Let others in your church know of Bible-related books, music, games or teaching resources that you have found helpful.
- Volunteer to help at Vacation Bible School.
- Donate money to groups that promote Bible literacy, such as the American Bible Society or www.BibleWise.com.
- Encourage your own children to do their Sunday School assignments, perhaps by working with them.
- Enable the children you love to hear and sing Bible-related songs, including hymns, Christmas carols, African-American spirituals, camp songs, gospel music, and classical oratorios.
- Show a child Bible-related art that you like, including stain glass windows and paintings at an art museum.
- Check with your local high school to see if they have an elective course that includes the Bible as literature.
- Keep up your own study of the Bible. Have you read the Bible straight through? Have you tried reading a favorite psalm or chapter in a different English translation than the one you usually read?
- Attend a dramatic performance of Scripture. Alex Cavalli of Austin, Texas gives two outstanding presentations: "The Gospel According to St. John" and "Paul, Face to Face." Please see www.biblicalvoices.com for more information.
- Create a lending library of high quality picture books that tell Bible stories. Among the excellent authors and illustrators who have retold Bible stories are: Carole Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, Mary Auld, Jean Horton Berg, Pearl Buck, Elsie Egermeier, Wendy Halperin, Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, Warwick Hutton, Reeve Lindbergh, Julia Miner, Jane Ray, Peter Spier, Tasha Tudor, Lisl Weil, Brian Wildsmith, Isabel Wilner, Elizabeth Yates, and Lisbeth Zwerger.