Christian education must be Christian. That means the educator works from a Christian perspective by conviction. Everything the Christian teacher considers true must have a biblical foundation.
Christianity is both biblically based and historically developed. What we know and believe as Christians depends on both. For centuries Christians have thought about the doctrines of Scripture and applied them to each generation. All modern Christians in one way or another depend on the work of those who went before. The creeds and confessions, catechisms, Bible study curricula, and myriads of sermons have a contribution to make in formulating Christian understanding.
In light of that, it is helpful for Christian educators to understand the particular distinctives of their denominations or other Christian affiliations. Thus, for example, there are distinctive emphases of Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Catholics. The concern of this book, however, is more ideological than denominational. It is written convictionally from a conservative, Evangelical perspective.
While the denominational perspective of the Christian educator is important, having a truly biblical perspective is more so. This means that the Bible stands at the core of Christian education. The primary concern of the Christian educator is to be informed by Scripture and to measure all content by the limits Scripture imposes. The Bible is primary; other materials are secondary.
For this reason, it is imperative that Christian teachers understand their core authority. The Bible must be more than a springboard into a separate discussion. Teaching the Bible requires that the teacher understand the nature of the Bible as well as the extent of its authority. This has become even more crucial in modern times. Adults are better informed and better educated than at any other time in history. Most have expertise in areas other than theology, and their commitment to their disciplines may subtly shift the locus of authority from the Bible to their own preferences.
Books have been written on the subject. This book is not about how to integrate the truth, nor is it a textbook of theology. Nevertheless, a book on teaching the Bible must address some of the issues that concern both adult teachers and students. We believe God has spoken to us. He may speak in many ways and through many persons and events, but primarily He has spoken in the Bible.
In addition to understanding the nature of the Bible, it is helpful to understand a few other matters related to the Bible. For example, why are there multiple translations of the Bible, and what is their value? How do we study correctly so that we are confident we teach what the Bible says and not what we want it to say? How do we apply the Bible to cultural issues that were unknown when it was written? Both teachers and students have questions in these areas. In the course of this book, we will provide some basic guidelines that will help teachers as they prepare to teach other adults.
The Bible is revelation. Revelation by definition is a disclosure of what is otherwise unknown. Common misunderstandings of the Bible, many prevalent today, suggest that the Bible is simply a record of human attempts to define truth. According to that, the Bible is placed on the same moral level as the religious and moral writings of other spiritual movements. Most Christians would agree that the Bible contains more and qualitatively different spiritual and moral truth. But that is not enough. The Bible is unique. Its uniqueness begins with the fact that it is a unique revelation from God.
God chose to reveal Himself in two primary ways: general and special revelation. The first is sometimes called natural revelation. General revelation is truth that is available to all normal people by virtue of their humanness. It is God's way of bringing moral and spiritual truth to every person alive. General revelation accounts for the fact that people of all cultures, and all ages, have some understanding of the truth, though the truth may be obscured by harmful cultural, spiritual, and moral practices. General revelation is generally understood as available through two primary vehicles.
CREATION General revelation comes through creation. As people view the created world, they view God's handiwork. They are able to draw correct conclusions from their observations, though they are equally likely to draw incorrect conclusions. For example, many remark that they feel closer to God in nature than in church. However, the closeness they feel to God in nature usually means they enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. They enjoy being in "God's creation."
Yet nature reveals more than peace. Nature has a hard side, a side not often identified with God. Animals eat other animals, sometimes subjecting them to painful and slow torture before death. Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, famine, and drought cause pain and suffering. This, too, is nature, but few speak of being close to God while witnessing a lion attack a young wildebeest. Often hunters express a closeness they feel to God while hunting out "in nature," though ironically, they may somewhat disrupt its serenity.
Even in its ambivalence, creation does reveal God. It is God's handiwork, and people are responsible to draw logical spiritual conclusions from observing nature. Nature reveals that God exists and that He is eternally powerful (Rom 1:20ff). Knowing these basic truths about the God, we should deduce that we have a responsibility to worship the God who created all things. On the other hand, our observations of nature should also include that nature's serenity is disturbed by sin, the hard side of nature. Something is wrong even in the best of natural environments.
In other words, observing nature should bring a true theology. The apostle Paul spoke to our responsibility in observing nature in an extended passage of Scripture. In Rom 1:18 and following he described our responsibilities along with what happens when people fail to keep them. First, creation reveals the presence of God the creator. The order observed in nature's rituals, seasons, and eras point to the order of a creator. The varieties of plant, animal, and marine life point to God as being greater than His creatures. Second, creation reveals that God is eternally powerful. With all the discoveries of modern science, the forces of nature remain untamed. The power of the sea, wind, and fire point us beyond ourselves to One more powerful than these natural forces. The cycles of nature, including life and death, reveal One who survives these cycles, who is somehow above them, and whose existence is not confined to them. All of these observations should lead us to worship and praise. Some people observe creation and arrive at legitimate conclusions about God. Others fail to do so and end in error. Thus there is a need for something beyond creation to enlighten the mind and put things in proper perspective by correcting nature's mixed message.
One of the fascinating aspects of modern life is the unprecedented capacity to observe nature. It is true that people spend less time in the out-of-doors because of the conveniences of modern life. Even so, more knowledge is available to understand "natural processes" through modern science and technology. Movies, documentaries, and even entire cable channels now describe how nature functions. With this knowledge available to us in our homes, we have no excuse. Now we do not have to be in nature to observe nature. Commentators, narrators, and scientists give us the benefit of their extensive studies and observations. Their commentary may not always be consistent with a biblical perspective on the origins and operations of natural processes, but the accumulation of materials they present should encourage people to think about God, and in their thoughts to worship Him.