Christ renews minds as well as hearts, and He calls us to use them for His glory. That includes understanding opposing worldviews in light of our distinct Christian worldview. Without such intellectual work we're easily seduced, confused or simply unwittingly affected by anti-Christian thinking. Understanding the Times is a Christian worldview curriculum for older high school students designed to equip them for the struggle against the powers of this world and the foolishness of atheism.
Understanding the Times is based on content from the annual Summit Ministries wordlview conference, and is organized for use over one or two semesters. A series of lectures on 6 DVD-ROMs forms the core material, along with David Noebel's book Understanding the Times. A high school course, we recommend not foisting it on your 9th graders as the level of dialogue is fairly advanced.
The Christian worldview is compared to five prominent modern philosophies: Islam, secular humanism, Marxism, New Age, and postmodernism. Issues include art, apologetics, critical thinking, the problem of evil, pluaralism, biotechnology, cults, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, ecology, etc. Christian and secular ideas are presented simultaneously by some of current Christianity's ablest thinkers—Phillip Johnson, Nancy Pearcey, Leland Ryken, J.P. Moreland, and Gary DeMar to name a few.
Everything you need is included in the set: 6 DVD-ROMs, 2 DVDs, 1 CD-ROM; a consumable student workbook; a hardbound copy of Understanding the Times by David Noebel; and a teacher manual coordinating it all. Each element is essential, so you shouldn't try to cut corners, especially as the set price is much less than the prices of the individual items. The course is designed for homeschools, though it would work in a co-op situation.
The CD-ROM includes printable worksheets, grading pages, unit tests, etc. The DVD documentaries deal with the Evolution-Creation controversy from a literal 6-day Creationist perspective. The DVD-ROMs provide the core material; each one includes Summit conference lectures by leaders in the Christian intellectual community designed to help students think Christianly on a range of topics. Nothing fancy here, just guys standing in front of ornate fireplaces and talking, but the content is superb.
The workbook includes supplemental reading, discussion topics, exercises, help for writing a worldview paper, and more. Noebel's book provides more in-depth coverage of themes introduced in the lectures and workbook, and many of the workbook questions relate directly to this text. The teacher manual offers day-by-day lesson plans, answers to all questions, and extra information for the teacher to draw on when leading discussions or supplementing what has been viewed and read.
Understanding the Times has the potential to be largely self-taught as students read the text, watch the video lectures, complete exercises and write a significant end-of-semester paper. However, due to the intensity of the course and the mature nature of many of the themes and ideas, parental guidance is strongly encouraged. Many adult students will also find the course helpful, and can certainly complete it on their own.
This is probably the best Christian worldview curriculum currently available, certainly the best we've seen. The only real criticism is that secular philosophies are sometimes painted in broad strokes and important specifics are glossed—but this is an introduction for high schoolers, and represents the most in-depth philosophical study many students will ever complete. In that capacity, Understanding the Times is excellent.
If you're looking for a program with a more theological emphasis you might look at Marcia Brim's materials, particularly The Young Historian's Introduction to Worldview. However, if you want your kids to have a head start on the road to actually understanding and therefore being able to point out the flaws in secular systems of thought, Understanding the Times is a great place to begin.
In order to bring costs down and make this package affordable to homeschool families, Summit Ministries has encoded their video lectures in QuickTime format. Of the 8 discs, six are designed to play only on a computer equipped with a DVD-ROM drive. They will not work in a regular DVD player. There are two regular DVDs, Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life, which will work in a normal player. Also note that Summit plans a revision of this course which should be available around September 2014.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.