Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. A nationwide poll found that 60 percent of Americans could not identify even five of the Ten Commandments, and another survey revealed that 39 percent of Millennials never read the Bible. To address America's increasing biblical illiteracy, Christians such as Steve Green, CEO of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store chain, are working to incorporate the Bible into public school classrooms. Yet a dedicated Bible curriculum, such as Mr. Green is offering to Oklahoma classrooms, isn't the only way to bring the Bible into local schools. In fact, students can and should be reading the Bible as part of a robust literature curriculum that emphasizes great literature and literary non-fiction.
Indeed, as part of new educational standards that have been adopted by most states, schools should be refocusing their literature curriculum on precisely this kind of reading, including Christian scripture. Extensive research indicates that students must continually increase the complexity of the texts they read to be better prepared for college and work. The Common Core literacy standards prepare students to engage in analytic discussions of complex text by requiring them to cite strong textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly and to determine the meaning of words and phrases in text, including figurative and connotative meaning. Additionally, many literary works that feature a Judeo-Christian ethos have had an undeniable and vast influence on Western culture, and for this reason Christian scriptures are a natural primary source to examine when interpreting themes of the literary greats, such as Shakespeare.
As a Christian by faith and an English professor by training, I know biblical literacy is essential for a meaningful life of faith, and has innumerable ancillary benefits, both academic and personal. Like most Christians, I testify that the Bible has been "a rock and a fortress" for me in times of difficulty, and a "lamp unto my feet" to guide me as a father, husband and teacher. In addition, because I was grounded in biblical study as a young man, the lens of Scripture clarified innumerable biblical allusions I have encountered in my academic career, helping me draw out deep truths from diverse materials. From the transcendent truths etched on stone tablets carried down from Mount Sinai to Martin Luther's translation of the Bible for the masses, which went "viral" via the printing press, Christians have always deeply valued literacy, including biblical literacy.
The Bible offers essential knowledge for Christian living, but it is also helpful to students in a broad range of disciplines, from classical literature to anthropology to sociology and many others. And since more than 90 percent of U.S. students attend public schools, incorporating the Bible into English Language Arts curriculum is a powerful way to help these students develop biblical literacy alongside their literacy skills.
As classrooms are aligning to Core Standards, and districts are making curriculum choices, I encourage parents to ensure that the Bible is incorporated into their schools' ELA and History curriculum. Christian scripture can and should be included in classrooms, and new educational standards provide strong support for the study of sacred texts within literature and history lessons. To be clear, we are not contending for the state to impose Christian values on all American students; faith is rightly nurtured in the home and through our many church traditions. Yet, as one of the most highly influential complex texts available for the classroom, it's time for students to once again discover the Bible's unique content, acknowledge its world-changing historical impact, and appreciate its culture-shaping history.