The hardest part of teaching our kids the Bible is often that we don't know it well enough ourselves. It's difficult to keep the details straight, no one ever explained the significance of all the Old Testament laws, and the timelines are confusing. These complaints aren't meant to be disrespectful or to betray a lack of concern for Bible knowledge, they simply illustrate the complexity of God's Word and the lack of quality instruction for adults.
With that in mind, Peter Enns wrote Telling God's Story: A Parents' Guide to Teaching the Bible. The book is intended to help parents understand the basic flow and purpose of the biblical narrative, and provides help for imparting those ideas to their children. It also introduces a projected larger curriculum taking students in grades 1-12 through each stage of the Bible and its major themes.
How Does This Work?
Right now the curriculum only covers first grade. Other books are in the works, and Enns' Parents' Guide offers a brief introduction for each stage of your child's education, but the Telling God's Story Year 1: Meeting Jesus instructor text/teaching guide and the accompanying student guide/activity pages provide instruction for just one year.
In the instructor text, Enns presents 36 fully scripted lessons in eight units covering the life of Jesus and His parables. Important background information is printed in italic; lessons focus on illuminating God's character through the life of Christ. While parents could simply read the text to their kids, it's a better idea to become familiar with the lessons and paraphrasing the material as much as possible.
The student guide is rather inaptly named—it's more for teachers. It includes ideas for games and group activities, reproducible coloring pages, and instructions for multi-sensory crafts kids can complete using pages in the guide and household materials. This book was not written by Enns, and many of the activities don't have a lot of educational or spiritual value, but are fun for young students.
Each lesson in the instructor text is 2-3 pages and simply contains a Bible passage to read, background information for the teacher to know and dispense at will, and text to read aloud to students that explains the Bible passage. Activities include pages to color, watching yeast grow, memorizing the books of the New Testament, making a crown, etc. There are periodic quizzes to test retention.
Telling God's Story: A Parents' Guide to Teaching the Bible offers a basic strategy for Bible education. This isn't doctrinal instruction, and it isn't a book-by-book or character study. The reason so few Christian adults know how to teach the Bible, he argues, is that they don't fully understand its historical, religious or literary context—this guide fills in some of the holes.
He divides Bible instruction in three main phases (roughly based on the grammar-logic-rhetoric Classical education model): elementary students learn the basic facts about Jesus' life, ministry and teaching, middle school students get a big picture of the Bibles themes and narrative arc, and high schoolers learn to understand the Bible in its various contexts.
Enns urges parents to reject the Bible as a kind of "Christian owner's manual," demonstrating that it is an historical text used by God to illustrate His character rather than simply offering moral guidance or disjointed stories. He uses the analogy of Christ—as Jesus was both God and man, the Bible is both a human and divine text, inspired by the Holy Spirit but written by men and reflecting their culture and worldview.
It's important to note that many Christians have boycotted this curriculum (notably Ken Ham), accusing Enns of heresy and his curriculum as an attempt by the Devil to lead Christians astray. These are pretty heavy accusations, and if true, good reason to reject any and all of Enns' Bible-oriented work. Ham says Enns' view of inspiration is unbiblical and destructive, as is his embrace of Evolutionary thought.
Jay Wile (author of the Apologia science books for middle and high school students) has defended Enns, pointing out that his view of biblical inspiration isn't unbiblical or outside the bounds of orthodoxy, it just doesn't happen to agree with Ham's views. If you'd like to follow the Ham/Enns/Wile controversy firsthand, here are some links to their online conversation and positions:
Ken Ham stated that Enns was a compromiser. To which Jay Wile replied on his blog. Ken Ham responded with a warning to all home schoolers. Wile gave this rejoinder.
What have we learned, Charlie Brown? We've learned that Mr. Enns is getting talked about a lot behind his back. To get his position from the source, read his book for yourself: Inspiration & Incarnation.
Our Honest Opinion:
Enns' willingness to abandon a literal interpretation of events handled by the authors of Scripture as historical is disturbing, and colors his views whether we recognize it or not. We also hold exception to his views on inspiration, and because Enns does hold these views and because this curriculum has generated so much controversy, we've decided there's no reason for us to carry it.
Some quotes from the parents' guide should serve to demonstrate the necessity of our decision:
"In the early grades, we should focus on bringing our this full portrait of Jesus. What should not be emphasized is the child's miserable state of sin and the need for a savior." —page 33
"Little in the Bible has remained untouched by these discoveries, and no student of the Bible can afford to be unaware of their significant impact. This is true not only of writings but of virtually anything you can think of from Israel's culture. Temples, priests, sacrifices, prophets, kings: none is completely unique to Israel. All have counterparts in other ancient cultures older than Israel." —page 41
"The Garden narrative is deeply theological and symbolic. Despite the neat talking snake, it is not the type of story that we should toss casually to our young children. When, at a more mature age, children are asked to revisit this story and begin dealing with it in earnest, many can hardly refrain from snickering. ("I outgrew talking animals years ago!")" —page 45
As for the second quote, scholars and theologians have time and again demonstrated the uniqueness of Israel's laws and government. The third belies Enns' refusal to take "mythic" elements in the Bible at face value, and begs the question, "how exactly do you understand these things as an adult?". But it is the first quote which is the most concerning—why should we keep one of the central aspects of the Gospel away from kids? Is it because he views sin and its corollaries as symbolic and therefore too deep for children? The views Enns expresses in Inspiration & Incarnation would suggest this is in fact the case.
There are plenty of good (some excellent, even) Bible curricula available. One that may have a few strong points but overall strays significantly from the bounds of orthodox traditional Protestantism the way Mr. Enns' does isn't the kind we want to promote. We can obtain it on request, but we won't be keeping copies on our shelves.
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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