New textbook set to revolutionise bible study in schools

Richard Franklin reports for the Bible Society that a new textbook is set to revolutionise the way Bible is studied in schools.

_main_image_The-First-Covenant-God-and-Noah-(high-res)The Art of Bible Reading features paintings by Devon-based visual artist Brian J Turner who is in the process of painting 3,000 artworks that will cover all the stories in the Bible. Eight of these have been incorporated into the book which has been written by academics at the University of Exeter and produced in partnership with Bible Society.

It invites pupils to explore and interpret the meaning of biblical stories in a new way looking at individual Bible stories, like Noah and the flood and Jesus turning water into wine, and at the overarching story of God’s Salvation, which runs through the Bible as whole.

Art is used throughout the textbook as a stimulus to get both secondary school teachers and pupils to see how the artist has interpreted the selected biblical stories. Brian Turner’s colourful and quirky images provide a stimulus for pupils to think about how they and other people, both within and outside the Christian community, read, interpret and respond to the Biblical stories upon which the images are based.

The textbook also looks at how the church has been shaped by the Bible’s story and shapes how Christians interpret biblical stories. It also explores the personal life-stories of pupils, including their communities, traditions and cultures, whether Christian or not, and how these influence, and are influenced by, their reading of Bible stories.

Dr Rob Freathy from the University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education says: ‘The stylised art work by Brian J Turner is capable of stimulating some profound thinking about the meaning of biblical texts.

‘It will open up pupils to new ways of engaging with the Bible and enable them to reflect on how their life-stories influence their interpretation of the biblical stories and how the biblical stories in turn influence their understanding of the world.’

Matthew Van Duyvenbode, Bible Society’s Head of Campaigns Advocacy and Media says ‘We’re passionate that every child should have the opportunity to experience the Bible in rich and diverse ways, so Bible Society has been delighted to partner with the University of Exeter in developing this resource.

‘At one of the pilot experiences for local schools, it was fascinating to hear the ways in which providing a visual stimulus helped students explore deep biblical themes and how these themes relate to their own experiences. I’d strongly recommend The Art of Bible Reading as an innovative and engaging resource.’

The Art of Bible Reading is available for purchase from Kevin Mayhew  either as a student textbook or as a teacher textbook with an accompanying CD-Rom containing electronic versions of the books, copies of Brian J. Turner’s painting and interviews with the artist.

Some other ways Bible Society is helping pupils and students experience Bible stories in schools and colleges

Open The Book – Open the Book volunteers from local churches tell Bible stories to children in schools.

Empty Hanger – Run by Bible Society this is an interactive presentation developed at the London College of Fashion designed to get children thinking about design, fashion and faith using characters from the Bible.

Crossref-it – Bible Society has invested in a one-stop resource providing high quality, easy-to-use resources for AS and A-Level students.

There’s no such thing as an atheist baby

Andrew Brown discusses Richard Dawkins’ implication that babies have a default theological position of atheism for The Guardian online.baby

Some Muslims will never speak of “converts” but only “reverts” because they believe that everyone is born a Muslim, even if some babies have this truth hidden from them by their parents who tell them they’re Christians or atheists. And there’s a style of atheist rhetoric that makes exactly the same point. To take two random examples from my recent Twitter stream: Joan Smith wrote: “I’m not convinced there are Muslim or Christian children. They have religious parents, but should be able to decide when they grow up.” And Richard Dawkins wrote: “When you say X is the fastest growing religion, all you mean is that X people have babies at the fastest rate. But babies have no religion.”

But there are no atheist babies, and certainly no agnostic ones. This is for two reasons. The first is that if we’re going to be consistent, and to demand that babies only be ascribed identities that they themselves embrace, there are no German, British or Chinese children either. There are simply the children of German and English and Chinese parents, who will in due course learn the habits and the rules of the cultures around them and grow into their parents’ language, nationality, food habits – and religious opinions. The way in which they express these will become more subtle and more interesting as they grow up – or at least we can hope it will – but the fact remains that babies are entirely anchored in the world by their parents.

But you don’t get Dawkins and Smith complaining because people talk about “Chinese babies”. They think religion is different. Well, it is. For one thing, and despite the existence of loathsome and barbaric laws against apostasy, in most of the world it’s much easier to change your religion than your language or nationality. It is generally accepted that changing your religion is a human right, but changing your nationality is not. The big difference is that religions usually make it hard to leave and nationalities usually make it hard to enter. But in neither case does an individual get to choose as if no one else were involved. To imply that babies have a default theological position of atheism is as silly as assuming that they have a default language or nationality.

Of course, in an environment where religion is regarded as weird and old-fashioned, children grow up atheist because that’s what their parents are. They don’t think about it. They may have profoundly superstitious and unscientific beliefs, but they will think of these as rational and atheist because that’s what – they know – all decent people are.

This is a perfectly sensible piece of conformist time-saving – life’s too short to live without prejudice – but it isn’t a reasoned rejection of belief after serious consideration of its possible truth.

There is another reason why babies can’t be atheists or agnostics. Everything we know from science shows that supernaturalism comes naturally to children. It is not just that they believe much of what their parents and the surrounding societies tell them: they show a preference for remembering and transmitting stories that defy scientific rationality. So do we all, unless we train ourselves out of it.

To reach the state where you can really reflect critically on your own beliefs – rather than simply understanding that your parents are deluded old fools – takes a long time if it ever happens at all. As Bertrand Russell observed, many people would rather die than think and most of them do. And that is why no one can really be called an atheist or an agnostic until they have grown up.

Poll Reveals Concern Over Faith School Funding

childlearningChristian Today reports that a new poll has revealed that more than half of voters have concerns about faith schools.

The poll by Opinium found that 58 per cent had some kind of objection, with over a third (35 per cent) saying they should not receive state funding.

More than half (56 per cent) said faith schools should stick to the national curriculum, with only 11 per cent agreeing they should have some discretion beyond the core subjects.

Nearly a quarter of people (23 per cent) said there should be no faith schools at all.

Opinion was split over who should be responsible for tackling extremism in schools, with a third saying the Home Office and police, just slightly more than the 31 per cent who felt it should be dealt with by teachers and governors.

The poll examined the views of over a thousand UK adults from 12 to 13 June and took place in the wake of allegations about a “Trojan Horse” plot by Islamic fundamentalists to take over schools in Birmingham.

Just under three quarters (74 per cent) said there was a serious risk of some faith schools encouraging extremist views among pupils, while over half (55 per cent) believed some predominantly Muslim schools were fostering extremist views among pupils.

Private Education is “un-Christian”?

highereducation2In this article from Christian Today,  Carey Lodge reports that playwright Alan Bennett has hit out against public schools, claiming that to allow some young people a privileged education, while others make do without, is “not Christian”.

In a lecture given at Cambridge University this week, Bennett – who perhaps most famously penned ‘The History Boys’, a play set in a Sheffield grammar school that documents the struggles of eight bright, working-class teenage boys as they apply to Oxbridge – shared his own experience of taking the entrance exam for the University of Cambridge in his youth.

It was here, Bennett noted, that he first began to see the differences between private and state education, and indeed those that attended such institutions.

“They [public school boys] were loud, self-confident and all seemed to know one another, shouting down the table to prove it while also being shockingly greedy. Public school they might be, but they were louts,” he said, adding that it was the first time he himself was “conscious of having a Northern accent”.

“Private education is not fair. Those who provide it know it. Those who pay for it know it. Those who have to sacrifice in order to purchase it know it,” Bennett declared.

“And those who receive it know it, or should. And if their education ends without it dawning on them, then that education has been wasted.

“I would also suggest – hesitantly, as I am not adept enough to follow the ethical arguments involved – that if it is not fair, then maybe it’s not Christian either,” he continued.

“Souls, after all, are equal in the sight of God and thus deserving of what these days is called a level playing field.”

Bennett went on to insist that the education system must be transformed if we are to offer young British teenagers an equal start in life.

As a grammar school pupil, he said the odds were “stacked against” him, but had hoped that the situation would at least begin to change in time. “It was only when, as time passed this didn’t happen, that what in my case had begun as a selfish and even plaintive grievance, hardened to take in not just entrance to Oxford and Cambridge, but access to higher education in general,” he said.

“And to say that nothing is fair is not an answer,” he continued. “Governments, even this one, exist to make the nation’s circumstances more fair, but no government, whatever its complexion, has dared to tackle private education.”

Bennett suggested that “gradual reform”, whereupon state and public schools merge together for sixth-form “ought to be feasible and hardly revolutionary”.

“Isn’t it time we made a proper start? Unlike today’s ideologues, whom I would call single-minded if mind came into it at all, I have no fear of the state,” he concluded.

“I was educated at the expense of the state, both at school and university. My father’s life was saved by the state as, on one occasion, was my own. This would be the nanny state, a sneering appellation that gets short shrift with me. Without the state, I would not be standing here today.”

In response to Bennett’s assertions, however, Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, told the Daily Mail: “Independent schools are very keen to widen access and are committed to improving social mobility. Over a third of pupils at our schools receive some fee assistance with ISC independent schools providing £660 million this year.

“The best solution is that pursued by all recent governments: learn from the best schools, whatever sector they are in, and pass the lessons on to all schools.”

Parents – We Can’t Save Our Kids

Jamie Ivey writes for the Verge Network and tweets regularly on religious matters for Children and Youth @jamieivey JamieIvey

I grew up scared into saying a prayer of salvation. I definitely didn’t want to go to hell, so I accepted an invitation to follow Jesus instead. I mean, who wouldn’t choose that? I was a part of the crowd that listened with trembling fear about what might happen if you were to die in a car wreck tonight on your way home from this event and you hadn’t trusted in Jesus as your Savior. Any sane person would raise their hand in response to that.

I walked down the aisle at the age of ten. But because of my fear, at each youth event I secretly prayed again to receive Jesus as my savior.  I mean, what if the first seven times didn’t really work? I was scared of my motives not being real and Jesus not believing me and sending me to hell. It’s a terrifying roller coaster that God never intended for his children to be on. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I truly understood that it wasn’t about my decision to follow Jesus, but that it was God’s calling on my life to change me, mold me, and make me desire to look more like him.

Finding Comfort in God’s Sovereignty
As a parent, I sometimes fall into that trap of scaring my children into salvation. I mean, what parent doesn’t want their children to follow Jesus?  We all do, and if we’re honest we would save them if we could. But we can’t. As much as I want to make my children good disciples of Jesus, the truth is that I can’t. Only God can call their names. I can’t get them on the guest list, or have them say enough of the right words, or even have them pray a prayer that will get them salvation. It’s out of my hands.

As much as I want to make my children disciples of Jesus, only God can call their names. @jamie_iveyWhen I first realized that it brought me so much comfort in my parenting. I do a lot of stuff right with my kids, but I also do a lot of things wrong. The thing is I can’t give them salvation and I can’t take it away. Parents, rest in that today. Let that truth sink in. We are given the role to guide them, share with them, and even show them the right way, but, parents, we can not save our kids.

Let The Holy Spirit Do His Job
A few years ago, our oldest son brought home a Mormon bible that one of his best friends had shared with him. I was immediately impressed with his friend’s thoughtfulness and boldness towards my son. My next thought was, “He can not read that, because it’s not truth.” I then realized that I do want my kids to journey towards their faith, and I don’t want to scare them into anything or scare them away from anything. I believe that God calls his children to him in spite of their parents, their surroundings, their culture, or whatever. He is in charge of their souls.

As my son sat there reading his friend’s bible my husband and I took the time to look at it with him. We encouraged him to get his Bible and see what the differences were. We showed him verses that claim that God’s word is truth (Psalm 19). We showed him verses that declare that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). We then asked him open-ended questions that allowed his brain to work and figure things out without us giving him the right answer. Of course we guided him in the right direction, that’s what we are supposed to do. But we didn’t force anything on him. We didn’t forbid him from reading his friend’s Mormon bible, or from being friends with him like I think so many of our parents generation would have done for us. We simply pointed him towards the truth and then let the Holy Spirit do his job, which we are confident he will.

Parents, there is no need to scare your kids into salvation. Give them resources, guide them, parent them to the best of your ability, and allow God to draw them to him. He’s a much better representation of the gospel that we could ever give them. Love them. Share the truth. Leave the rest to God.

How to Encourage Kids to Read the Bible at Home

kids-reading-bibleMimi Bullock writes for Ministry-To Children: Inspiring kids to hone their bible-studying skills is a dream we all have, isn’t it?

My kids are pretty good about showing up to church with a bible (I do offer incentives) but I notice that sometimes the books don’t make it home. That tells me that during the week, kids aren’t opening the bible at all. That’s not good. You know me–I’ve developed a plan to encourage kids to read the bible at home! I’m implementing and sharing with you these pointers in hopes that we can correct that.

1. Hide a bookmark. I printed and laminated bookmarks with each child’s name on it. As they came in to show me their bibles (and receive bible bucks) I gave each child a bookmark. I placed the bookmark at the chapter and verse where we would be reading that day. This way, kids could read along easily during the verse reading.

2. Pop in a few sticky notes. When you can, open the child’s bible to John 10 and put a sticky note on the page. Draw a little picture of a sheep and write, “You are God’s little sheep.” Personal notes make kids feel special and if they have to hunt for it, it adds a little bit more fun! Put a new note in each week.

3. Suggest a kid-friendly version to parents. As much as I love the KJV, I realize that this texting generation may not have the patience or skills to struggle through all those thees and thous. Would you want to read a book you don’t understand? Me either! Give parents a list of Bible version suggestions in your bulletin or mention it to them personally.

4. Give copies of bible pages and share highlighters. I do highlight in my bible but not all parents like this practice. Print bible pages from your teaching before the class and hand out highlighters. Tell kids to highlight the sentences as you read them. Putting action with reading helps kids comprehend what they just read a little better.

5. Teach children to respect God’s Word. Lastly, I think we need to remember that our kids do watch us. If we show respect for God’s word by handling it gently, taking it with us when we leave church and reading from it, we teach them to respect it too. It really is do what I do, not do what I say.

If we can get kids to fall in love God’s ancient book, the bible, we will give them a skill that will help them for a lifetime!

Read more from Mimi by visiting her blog at Tools for Kids Church.