Christian Theology and Ancient Polytheism

Christian Theology and Ancient Polytheism

A Comparative Study for Youth

Marcia Brim identifies a lack of deep theological understanding as the root cause of a poor or nonexistent concept of worldview among Christian young people. Children are taught some basic tenets—the plan of salvation, creationism, etc.—but are not provided a coherent account of the narrative of Biblical theology. This is in large part due to the scientification of theology by systematizing and reducing it to a series of precepts rather than an integrated account of God's work in and among men.

Christian Theology and Ancient Polytheism is an effort to rectify all of these problems. Designed for use in conjunction with the historical novel Secret of the Scribe by Jennifer Johnson Garrity, the book is part study guide, part theology and worldview textbook. Despite the ambition of the project, Brim pulls it off well, producing a text that is readable, informative and fun to use.

How Does This Work?

This is a nine month (one school year) course for students anywhere from middle school to high school. The only elements needed are the text itself and a copy of Secret of the Scribe. Virtually no teacher preparation is required for individual lessons; students and teacher read Secret of the Scribe all the way through and then read the lessons out loud together. There are no supplementary workbooks, test books, etc.

Secret of the Scribe tells the story of a young Sumerian girl forced to make difficult decisions in the face of crisis. It doubles as an adventure story and as an introduction to polytheism and the answers polytheistic societies offer to life's big questions. Since the questions themselves are basic to all human cultures, Brim uses them as a jumping off point to explore the Christian answers, and to compare polytheism to monotheistic Christianity.

For instance, students read the Genesis creation account side by side with the creation story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Later, the Code of Hammurabi is compared to God's Law as found in the Pentateuch. This isn't just hypothetical, disembodied information—examples are supported by solid facts and always seen in comparison with (not necessarily at odds with) Christian belief.

There are 25 lessons in all, with an appendix including text questions and supplementary charts. Each lesson is read aloud by the instructor, and discussion questions are included to facilitate conversation. Those looking for an elaborate curriculum with lots of assignments will need to look elsewhere; the author has chosen to sacrifice glamour for lots of excellent content (though there are several woodcut illustrations throughout).

While ancient polytheism is used as the starting place for discussions of Christian monotheism, this isn't a purely negative approach. Christian theology is presented positively in narrative form, so that students learn to identify stories and concepts not just as unrelated information but as key plot points. Contextualization like this makes somewhat heady material automatically easier to understand and remember.

Our Honest Opinion:

The problems Brim identifies in theological instruction for children seem increasingly rampant in church, home and school education. A lot of this is because elders are no more educated than thosethey serve. This text is an excellent response to fill this need; teachers learn alongside their children, as it were, making the subject less "scary." Many worldview courses begin by presenting opposing views, or by fragmenting Christian doctrine and dealing only with the so-called "important parts." Brim begins in Genesis 1:1, and treats theology both as doctrine and historical narrative. This text is highly recommended.

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.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Summary: A worldview curriculum that actually focuses on Christian doctrine, historically and theologically.

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