The importance of teaching Sunday school lessons as history

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

Lindsay has a post up about it at Lindsay’s Logic.

She writes:

Those of us who grew up in church have many fond and nostalgic memories of the Bible stories we were taught. We remember David and Goliath, Sampson and Delilah, Noah’s Ark, Jesus and the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Baby Moses in the Bulrushes, Zacchaeus the Wee Little Man, and many others. The problem is, we often have the same fond memories of many other childhood stories like Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Both sets of stories were short, entertaining, and had some moral lesson. They were often surprising or funny. They had kings and miracles. Their heroes did great and marvelous deeds. Unfortunately, we may not have understood that one set of stories was completely made up while the other is entirely true historically.

Now, many of us grew up and learned the difference between truth and fairy tales. We know that the Bible is true. We take it seriously now. But some children grow up and are told (often in school or in college) that the Bible is just a collection of myths. At best, it was a collection of tales passed down for many years and full of wishful thinking and primitive beliefs (or so they are told). And if those people haven’t learned better – if they have not been shown the historical evidence for the truth of the Bible – they often fall prey to this faulty view.

To help prevent this from happening, it is important to teach the Biblical account, not Bible stories. They aren’t “stories,” they’re true. There are several very serious problems with teaching the Biblical account as stories.

This is the one that rang true for me:

3. The Biblical account is not given its proper historical context

A big part of helping children (and others) to understand the historical nature of the Biblical account is including discussion of its historical context. Don’t just emphasize the moral lesson, talk about it as history. When children are taught about George Washington, Nero, Florence Nightingale, Genghis Khan, or any other historical figure, we talk about when they lived, their culture, their motivation, their language. In short, we put them in historical perspective and we talk about them as real people with real lives. Why don’t we do that with Biblical figures?

How often do you hear someone talk about what year the Flood happened? Whether dinosaurs were on the ark? Who Cain married? Why Eve didn’t freak out when a snake talked to her? Where the Garden of Eden was (there’s no way of knowing that, by the way)? Have you ever wondered why Jonathan didn’t hate David? Where the different races came from? Why God instituted animal sacrifice? Why Jesus came when He did? Why the particular 66 books of the Bible are Scripture and other ancient texts aren’t? These and many others are questions that today’s young people wrestle with. And they often are not getting answers.

If we neglect to talk about the Biblical account in realistic terms, we aren’t preparing our youth to answer the questions they will undoubtedly have. If they go long enough with unanswered questions, if they can’t figure out how what the Bible says can possibly make sense, many will start to wonder if it is really true. While we may not be able to answer every question definitively, we can at least have a serious discussion and offer reasonable possibilities for consideration. Without such reasonable discussion, why should they find it reasonable to believe it?

I never went to Sunday school, and that might explain why I never had this problem of outgrowing Christianity the way that kids outgrow fairy tales. Maybe it comes down to who is teaching in the Sunday school? Are the Sunday school teachers being selected because they are rational people with STEM degrees, STEM careers and some sort of practical outlook on life? Or are they very emotional, irrational, and desire-driven? Seems to me that we ought to be placing people who are more interested in the good old divisiveness of truth and facts in the Sunday school, and keeping out the people who are more interested in feelings and community stuff. I’ll never understand why the church seems to lack respect for practicality, and want to put in all these impractical touch-feely people to teach the young instead.

I remember when I was a teen, I served as a volunteer camp counselor with an older Catholic woman who was just starting her second year of college. She was raised in a very devout, sheltered Catholic family, and would not even say swear words like the s-word. She had this Sunday school, fairy tale view of Christianity. And she liked to tell me that God was a “she” and that Hell wasn’t real. After all, if religion is just about making up stories that make you feel good, then you can change it to be whatever you like best. She studied English in college and got into all kinds of radical feminism, anti-war, Marxism, and gay rights material. After a couple of graduate degrees that drove her further to the secular left, she eventually got a job teaching the young in a Catholic school. But her descent into secularism and leftism started with this super-nice, polite, fairy tale view of religion-as-niceness, rather than being about history and fact. She just had never been taught to make connections between the Bible and the real world, so her feelings were constantly allowed to override the truth claims of the Bible.

I think the bottom line is that the more we make Christianity about feelings, the more young people will leave it when they hit college and find out how the world works (not really) from their never-worked-in-the-private-sector liberal arts professors.

I was on vacation last week, and after bingeing on video games for 3 days (hello, Darkest Dungeon), I decided to spend the rest of my time studying JQuery, AngularJS and Bootstrap. I did this learning at the kitchen table, with training videos playing on the laptop, and me entering commands in the NetBeans IDE and seeing what the output was in the browser via the Chrome NetBeans Connector. At times, I would stop the video lecture, call my parents over and show them things that I was trying that were “off the beaten path” to find out how the components really worked. I also messaged JoeCoder with questions, since he is a client-side programmer, and I am primarily a server-side programmer. I was even able to put JQuery to work right away in my ad-blocker (uBlock Origin) which uses JQuery expressions to select elements to block. The point is that I was learning, and learning means being free to experiment and try things out. But always, it is about practice, not feelings. No one cares how you feel about code, they only care what you can use it to accomplish in the real world. The point of it is that teaching is not meant to make you feel good, or make students like you, or make people in think that you are really spiritual after all the drunken sex you had in college, hooking up with atheist guys. The point of teaching is to convey useful, accurate knowledge that can then be put into practice immediately to achieve good results. Sunday school should be more like learning how to program, not about singing, coloring, having fun, feeling good.

10 thoughts on “The importance of teaching Sunday school lessons as history”

  1. You should teach some Sunday school, especially high schoolers and college groups! You would be GREAT at it! And, more importantly, you would be stemming the tide of defections from the Church. You might even meet a future wife – if the church is friendly to apologetics. (No, not a student, but a fellow teacher or coordinator. :-)) A lot more women are becoming interested in apologetics – I met one in her 30’s yesterday on the sidewalk who was asking all sorts of questions and wanted to know more about it. (She’s married – sorry.)

  2. Absolutely! That’s what aggravates me so much when I am in a Sunday school class: Scripture is often discussed as though it happened in a vacuum, a long time ago in a land far away. When I had the opportunity to teach the youth in my church, or even when I fill the pulpit for my pastor, 50% of my discussion is spent establishing the context, presenting maps, discussion of the culture and popular ideas, and the other 50% is spent in exegesis of the text and application. I do everything that I can to make it real to the audience.

  3. I agree, WK, but I’m afraid you’re making a bit of a false dichotomy. The only options are not STEM degree or a feelings-based approach: there are in fact those of us educated in the humanities and social sciences, like ancient history, language, literature, philosophy, etc. who take an evidence based approach. Don’t we need folks like that to provide the resources on historical context, original languages, and the like? If all the Christians go into engineering, who will do the research on ancient history, or learn Greek and Hebrew to understand what Scripture actually says, or write the commentaries and popular works that are necessary to educate the pastors and laity? Those fields take a great deal of work and expertise that would be hard to develop fully unless it were one’s full time study.

    1. That’s a really great point: I’m an engineer and I want no part of what you do – thanks for doing it! Along those lines, how blessed we are by the Jewish scholars throughout history for taking the fields of study you discuss with respect to the Tanach so seriously! It might be argued that OT manuscript reliability is superior to that of the NT, but I am not a scholar in that area, so I do not know that.

  4. I find out recently that there are many different flood stories. You have the one from the bible, the epic of gilamesh (sp) and zeus flooding the world and there are probably others as well.

    Also many probably dont take the bible as historical fact is because
    1. Evidence and facts-people take it more seriously when you add that

    1. There are flood legends all over the world. And they do have some striking similarities. However, this could be (and I believe it is) due to all people groups on earth descending from Noah and his family and thus all cultures having some remembrance of the Flood, corrupted though it may be from being passed down through oral tradition. The Bible, on the other hand, is a written tradition that was carefully copied by strict and meticulous copy methods and which shows good evidence of being an accurate representation of the originals through comparison of different manuscripts from different eras which show little or no change.

      There is also extensive evidence in sedimentary rock layers that there has been a global flood. In fact, the evidence is so blatant that I believe geologists would offer it as a hypothesis except for the fact that it supports the Bible and is thus taboo to mention. They think there might have been a global flood on Mars, which has no liquid water, for goodness’ sake. And they know sedimentary rock is laid down by water and even postulate floods for many of the bone beds and other geologic features they find. They just won’t postulate one big flood, in spite of the fact that so many layers extend for miles upon miles and even across continents, are parallel to one another, with no erosion in between, and contain fossils of animals who drowned or were deposited in water-borne sediments and in many cases must have died and been buried very rapidly in order to show such remarkable preservation. It’s all right there for those with eyes to see.

      So, given the evidence, it is reasonable to take the Bible as accurate history. I know it’s not politically-correct. But if you make an honest evaluation with an open mind, it’s very reasonable and even makes a better explanation of the data than the alternatives.

      1. Lots of the things that are stated in the bible would need evidence to prove that it happened or existed like the ark,the shroud of turin and other things people would want proof of.

        As for noah and his descendants, science states man started in africa and migrated across the world. They can trace this through Mitochondrial dna and it makes more sense logical than adam and eve then they had two sons then cain and abel got married -so where did the wives come from. I also saw a documentary called the secrets of the bible on netflix. I haven’t finished watching it but some of the things they stated does make one wonder and it will require me to do some research on my own time.

        1. I’m well aware of Mitochondrial Eve, but nothing about mitochondrial DNA tells us where this Mitochondrial Eve lived.

          As for Cain’s wife, this has been answered over and over. Adam and Eve had lots more children than just Cain and Abel. It only mentions Cain and Abel and Seth by name, but it says in Genesis 5:4 that Adam had sons and daughters. So obviously there were more children that were not mentioned specifically. In the first several generations, they married close relatives – sisters, cousins, and nieces, etc. This was not a problem since genetic mistakes had not built up in the gene pool yet after a perfect creation and there was no law against it. Even Abraham married his half sister and Jacob married his first cousins. It was common back then. When the law of Moses was given, hundreds of years later, then we had the first prohibition on marrying close relatives because inbreeding was beginning to become a genetic problem. But Cain no doubt married his sister or perhaps a niece.

          1. Well mitochondrial eve came from africa, as for precise country that is unknown just like the location for the garden of eden.

          2. There is no evidence that Mitochondrial Eve was from Africa. The idea that she was from Africa comes from preexisting ideas that humans began in Africa and spread from there. In other words, they already thought humans came from Africa, and thus they conclude that Mitochondrial Eve probably lived in Africa. There’s nothing about the mitochondrial DNA that tells us where the original female ancestor of all of us lived.

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