Christians have been voicing their surprise and delight over a recent cover story featured in one of the nation's leading magazines that supports the teaching of the Bible in public school.
The author of last week's Time magazine cover story, who favors the introduction of the Bible into classrooms, gave fresh hope that the Bible could really be included among public instruction.
"At first glance, you might think the wrong magazine had landed on the rack in the grocery store check-out line next to Newsweek and People magazine," commented Chuck Colson during his radio talk show Breakpoint this week. "The cover features a picture of a black-and-yellow CliffsNotes version of the Bible. What is this, you think—the annual Easter-season bashing of Christians?
"But then you read the title of this cover story: 'Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public School.'"
Propositions for teaching the Bible in schools have consistently been a hot topic, and many have strongly opposed it, noting a need for the separation of church and state. Yet, many Christian and non-Christians have argued that a non-biased look at the Bible is not only advantageous but also constitutional.
"Whoda thought? And this is from the same Time magazine that 40 years ago provocatively featured the cover story 'Is God Dead?'!" expressed Jane Dratz, Project Coordinator at Dare2Share, on the youth ministry's website. "Well, God is alive and well. And so is the Bible!"
Noting the major significance that the Bible has had in American and world culture, "The Case for Teaching the Bible," written by Time magazine's senior religion writer David Van Biema, explained that a background in religion is a helpful tool for people of today, because it has so many implications in today's society; the Bible's major impact should not be ignored.
"Simply put, the Bible is the most influential book ever written," defended the writer in his piece. "Not only is the Bible the best-selling book of all time, it is the best-selling book of the year every year."
At the beginning of his argument, Van Biema wrote about how teaching the Bible as an object of study and not the Word of God is within reason. According to some groups, students should be exposed to its teachings because "the Bible so pervades Western culture … that it's hard to call anyone educated who hasn't at least given thought to its key passages."
The intention to teach scriptures in public institutions is also supported from a wide base of groups, some of which are non-Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and so on. Still, many groups are worried, however, that the book will not be looked at with neutrality. And others are worried that singling out Christian classes and not teaching it alongside other religions will promote Christianity instead.
Stephen Prothero, Boston University religion professor and author of Religious Literacy, does not believe that teaching the Bible in school is a bad idea, stating in the Time article, "I think the academic study of religion provides a kind of middle space between those two ways of talking. It takes the biblical truth claims seriously and yet brackets them for purposes of classroom discussion…. It works in a way that feels safe to both the believer and the unbeliever in the room."
Van Biema noted that schools do not have to make the class mandatory, even creating alternative world religion classes to balance the studies. Public institutions can also do a test trial to see if it is successful.
In his article, the religion writer also made note of The Bible and Its Influence - written by Cullen Schippe, former vice president at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and Chuck Stetson, Founder and Chairman of the Bible Literacy Project - which has stirred up debates within and outside Christian circles.
Van Biema suggested the book be used as a companion textbook to public school Bible courses, describing it as largely non-biased.
Several Christians and non-Christians have disagreed with the use of this book, however, citing a number of reasons.
Secular challengers opposed to the textbook feel that it is still "written as if I am a Protestant Christian teaching Protestant Christians," according to Jennifer Kendrick, one of the first Bible-literacy teachers in the nation, in the Time article.
They also argue that even if the book is impartial, the person that teaches it may not be.
Meanwhile, some Christians have also voiced disapproval of the book, including radio talk show co-host Nancy Manno of the In Great Company, who said it "uses the Bible to advance a secular humanist agenda and a one world, pluralistic religion."
Despite all the controversy, Van Biema concludes his piece by again emphasizing the large impact of the Bible, and why it is a must read in America.
"Sure, there will be bumps along the way. But in the end, what is required in teaching about the Bible in our public schools is patriotism: a belief that we live in a nation that understands the wisdom of its Constitution clearly enough to allow the most important book in its history to remain vibrantly accessible for everyone."
On the web: full Time article at time.com.
Correction: Monday, April 2, 2007:
An article on Friday, Mar. 30, 2007, about Christian reactions to a Time magazine cover story that supported teaching the Bible in public schools incorrectly reported that "The Bible and Its Influence," a possible textbook for the class, was written by Freedom Forum First Amendment Center Senior Scholar Charles Haynes. The text was actually written by Cullen Schippe, former vice president at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and Chuck Stetson, Founder and Chairman of the Bible Literacy Project. Haynes was one of 40 scholars, educators, and legal experts who reviewed the textbook.