Christ renews not only hearts but minds as well, and He expects us to use them to His glory. Part of that is understanding opposing worldviews and analyzing them in light of our own distinct Christian worldview. Without such intellectual work we're liable to be seduced, confused or simply unwittingly affected by secular and anti-Christian thinking. Understanding the Times is a Christian worldview curriculum for older high school students designed to equip and prepare them for the struggle against the powers of this world and the foolishness of godlessness.
Understanding the Times is based on content provided at the annual Summit Ministries wordlview conference for students, and is organized for use over the course of one or two semesters. A series of lectures on 6 DVD-ROMs covering everything from ecology to abortion to Islam and Marxism 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 consistently compared to five philosophies prominent in our modern world: Islam, Secular Humanism, Marxism, New Age ideology, and Postmodernism. Issues explored include the arts, apologetics, critical thinking, the problem of evil, pluaralism, biotechnology, cults, abortion and euthanasia, homosexuality, radical environmentalism, etc. Students are introduced to Christian and secular ideas 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: a set of 6 DVD-ROMs, 2 DVDs, and 1 CD-ROM; a consumable student workbook; a hardbound copy of Understanding the Times by David Noebel; and a teacher manual coordinating all the other elements. Each element is necessary, so it's not in your best interest to try to cut corners, especially as the set price is much less than the prices of the individual items. The course is designed for homeschool use, though it would be possible to use in a co-op situation.
The CD-ROM includes printable assignment worksheets, grading pages, unit tests, etc. The DVDs are documentaries both approaching the Evolution/Creation controversy from a staunchly literal 6-day Creationist perspective. But it's the DVD-ROMs that provide the core of the material; each one includes a number of lectures given at the Summit conference by leaders within the Christian intellectual community designed to get students to 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 readings, conversation topics, exercises, guidance 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 a largely self-taught program as students read the text, watch the video lectures and complete exercises and 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 introduced, parental guidance and participation is strongly encouraged. At the same time, many adult students will find this course very helpful, and they 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 at times non-Christian philosophies are painted with broad strokes and important specifics are glossed—yet 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 more of a theological emphasis you might want to investigate Marcia Brim's materials, particularly The Young Historian's Introduction to Worldview. However, if you want your kids to have a good 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 help bring the costs down and make this package affordable to home school families, Summit Ministries has encoded their video lectures in QuickTime format. Of the eight discs, six are designed to play only in 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.