The Place and Importance of Historical Theology in a Rhetoric-Stage Curriculum

In the Upper School of Providence Classical School, the Bible/Theology scope and sequence is as follows: seventh grade—Bible Study Methods/Hermeneutics; eighth grade—Old Testament Survey; ninth grade—New Testament Survey; tenth grade—History of Theology; eleventh grade—Ethics; and twelfth grade—Apologetics.

Can such a scope and sequence for Bible/Theology be justi ed, in particular, the tenth-grade course offering? Of the myriad possible classes that could be offered, why one in historical theology? And what is historical theology anyway? This workshop will be based on a number of assertions:

Assertion 1: Historical theology is chronically underemphasized—in the church at large, at seminaries and Bible colleges, and in Christian school curricula.

Assertion 2: Most Christians have little understanding even of the overall purview (concepts, content, and methods) of historical theology.

Assertion 3: The reappearance of old heresies with new monikers constitutes proof of Assertion 1.

Assertion 4: Widespread and rancorous sectarianism within Christendom is further evidence that Christians have neglected this pivotal branch of theology.

Following explication of these assertions, the balance of the workshop will provide
1) an outline of historical theology toward the goal of countering the trends that the aforementioned assertions reflect, and also 2) an argument for the necessity of an historical theology course—rather than a course in church history or systematic theology—in the rhetoric-stage curriculum of a classical and Christian school. Historical theology as a discipline is a sine qua non of Christian theological enquiry and discussion, as well as a substrate that promotes and undergirds Christian unity.

Steven Mittwede

Steve Mittwede is an instructor of Earth Science and Theology at Providence Classical School. In 1981, he was graduated from “Their Majesties Royal College” (The College of William and Mary) with a BS in Geology, after which he concurrently worked as a mineral resources geologist for the South Carolina Geological Survey and completed his MS and PhD in Geology at the University of South Carolina; between late 1984 and mid-1987, he was also taking classes in Bible, Theology, and Missions at Columbia International University (CIU). In the midst of all of that, he married Dana, and they were blessed with four sons in close succession—all now grown, married, and raising their own broods. Since the incredibly busy 1980s, he and his family served in Turkey for 23 years, during which Steve was awarded an MA in Intercultural Studies from CIU and an MTh in Modern Evangelical Theology from Wales Evangelical School of Theology (now Union School of Theology). Never one to weary of the academic setting, he recently earned his EdS in Educational Leadership from CIU. Steve and Dana make their home in the thriving metropolis of Tomball, Texas.

Theology in the Lower School Classroom

Lower-School teachers have a unique opportunity to weave theology into all subject areas and to explicitly teach Biblical material. This session will explore both the big picture of what theology can be in the Lower School and propose some specific teaching practices to enhance Bible instruction. In the big picture, we will look at Christian practices in the classroom, the goals of Bible instruction, and the ways in which theology can interface with other subjects. Some of the particulars will include graphic organizers that aid in applying narratives, cultural connections, apologetic resources for young readers, Socratic questioning techniques, and examples of projects that synthesize theology and other subjects.

Nate George

Nate George and his family love living in Richmond, VA, where Veritas and a vibrant church community shape the ways they follow Jesus. His academic background includes degrees in Social Work and Theology, and he continues to delve into philosophy and social science in his spare time. After 11 years of teaching, Nate’s passion for learning and his enjoyment of teaching couldn’t be higher, and he considers it a great privilege to engage children in thoughtful conversations about the connections between the Gospel and the great ideas. He doesn’t blog, but if he did, he’d have a lot to say about philosophical ideas presented in animated lms, with special emphasis on Brad Bird and Hayao Miyazaki.

Being Christian in Public: Lessons from St. Paul in Athens (and elsewhere)

Sociologist Christian Smith has observed that the religious lives of most American teens express what he calls “moralistic therapeutic Deism.” Even many church-going, professing Christians seem incapable of explaining their faith in terms that go beyond an upbeat greeting- card faith. But many critics who lament this sad state of affairs nonetheless assume a minimal religiosity when they enumerate the public consequences of faith. In public, we all have to be Deists. Relying on St. Paul’s sermon in Acts 17, Ken Myers will argue that we can and should be more thoroughly Christian in our public presence, and describe how education can prepare our children for faithful public witness in a deliberately post-Christian society.

Ken Myers

As host of the Mars Hill Audio Journal since 1992, Ken Myers has interviewed hundreds of authors of books that contribute to understanding the challenges faced by Christians in modernity. A frequent speaker at classical Christian schools (and at SCL conferences), Myers has applied the wisdom from those interviews to the challenge of enculturating the next generation of believers. A graduate of the University of Maryland (BA in Communications) and Westminster Theological Seminary (MAR in theological studies), Myers’s early career as an arts and humanities editor at National Public Radio stimulated his lifelong interest in discovering how contemporary culture took the form it now has, and how the consequences of the Gospel require Christians to embody countercultural alternatives.

Would Jesus use a Harkness Table?

The study of classical Christian pedagogy should begin with the Gospels. Jesus is a Master Teacher, whose disciples adopted his teachings and faithfully transmitted them to an ever increasing group of students. As a result, Jesus presents a great model for us as teachers.
In this workshop, we will examine Jesus’ teaching methods, in particular his practice of discipleship, his use of stories and parables, and his skillful deployment of questions. Our study will be both philosophical and practical, for we will consider his approach to teaching and look for specific ways that we can apply his methods to our own classrooms.

John Scholl

Dr. Philip Dow (PhD, Cambridge) has been involved in Christian education for 15 years in both classical and nonclassical schools. He is currently the Superintendent at Rosslyn Academy, a Pre-K–12, international Christian school in Nairobi, Kenya, of 650 students from over 50 di erent nationalities. Phil is also the author of Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development for Students, Teachers and Parents (IVP Academic, 2013).

Integrating the Gospel

All that we do has purpose and meaning, because as believers, we are going somewhere and should want to bring others along on the journey. We will discuss practical ways to help students discern the elements of the gospel across disciplines and specific ideas on how to train students to think redemptively and to put that thinking into action in their daily lives.

Pamela Stanford

Pamela teaches sixth grade humanities at the Westminster School at Oak Mountain. As a part of the school’s community since its founding, she has served as a board member, and although not consecutively, as a teacher there for eight years. She is married to Scotty and has four boys.

How a Theology of Wisdom Undergirds Education

“Wisdom cries aloud in the street; in the squares she thunders!” (Prov 1:20). The figure of speaking Wisdom is more than just an interesting literary device. Jewish and Christian tradition saw in a theology of Wisdom a foundation for what we would call classical education. In this presentation I propose to show how the theology of Wisdom presented in Proverbs and later Jewish and Christian texts presents us with what I call a traditional and transcending pedagogy. This traditional and transcending pedagogy is the antidote to the fragmentation of the modern world of education, specifically to three problems: scientism, technicism and pragmatism. These three -isms share the feature of reductionism, i.e. they reduce the educational endeavor to less than it is. A theology of Wisdom, however, has the power to unite all the dissected ideals of education.

Jason Barney

Jason Barney recently joined the faculty of The Geneva School of Orlando as Upper School Latin and Greek Instructor. This last year he was the Director of Instruction for Languages and Faculty Development at Clapham School, a classical Christian school in Wheaton, IL. He served as Clapham’s Head Latin Instructor for the last six years. In 2012 he was awarded the Henry Salvatori Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Hillsdale College. In May 2014 he completed a MA in Biblical Exegesis at Wheaton College, where he received The Tenney Award in New Testament Studies. Jason’s research interests include: the foundations of classical education in the biblical texts, especially the Theology of Wisdom in Proverbs; the great philosophers of education from the classical era to the present (Aristotle, Quintilian and Aquinas are current favorites); and, in particular, the importance of Charllotte Mason’s philosophy of education for classical schools today.

Teaching Bible and Theology in a Classical School

Teaching Bible and theology in a classical school comes with its own peculiar set of challenges. To what extent should a Bible/theology teacher be sensitive to the diverse that inform her students’ understanding of their faith? What is the best way to address controversial subjects in a Bible/theology classroom? What does it meant to teach the Bible classically? How can a robust Bible/theology curriculum cultivate Christian practice and thought? This session is a panel discussion gathers Bible and theology teachers from classical schools to discuss these questions and more. In addition to the content of the panel discussion, it is hoped that this session will be a catalyst for Bible/theology teachers to meet and discuss their vocation together.

Jim Watkins

Jim Watkins is upper school humanities and theology teacher at Veritas School. He received a PhD in theology from the University of St Andrews, and he is the author of the bookCreativity as Sacri ce: Toward a Theological Model for Creativity in the Arts (Fortress Press, 2015). He lives in Richmond, VA with his lovely wife, four growing boys, and six noisy chickens.

Faith-Learning Integration

Faith-learning integration is a stated goal of classical education that is also Christian (CCE). However, such an aspiration does not guarantee that faith-learning integration actually is or becomes a hallmark of CCE. In some CCE settings, faith-learning integration is impeded because of undue emphasis on the humanities, whereas in other CCE contexts it is waylaid because poor foundations have been laid for study of the sciences. It is suggested that science education in the CCE context can only be fruitful ultimately if the philosophical and theological foundations of science are first well-established and then made manifest throughout the teaching of specific science courses. A full-orbed approach to science education and, in fact, all truth-seeking, dictates that teachers introduce their courses with a clearly established and communicated philosophical and theological framework that both imbibes and revels in the glory of God displayed in the unity and coherency of truth within and across disciplines, and that also recognizes the limits of science due to human finitude and sin.

Steve Mittwede

Steve Mittwede is incredibly privileged to be an instructor of Earth Science and Bible at Providence Classical School in Spring, Texas. In 1981, he was graduated from “Their Majesties Royal College” (The College of William and Mary) with a B.S. in Geology, a er which he concurrently worked as a mineral resources geologist for the South Carolina Geological Survey and completed his M.S. and Ph.D. in Geology at the University of South Carolina; between late 1984 and mid-1987, he was also taking classes in Bible, theology and missions at Columbia International University (CIU). In the midst of all of that, he married Dana, and they were blessed with four sons in close succession – all now grown, married and raising their own broods. Since the incredibly busy 1980s, he and his family served in Turkey for 23 years, during which Steve was awarded an M.A. in Intercultural Studies from CIU and an M.Th. in Modern Evangelical Theology from Wales Evangelical School of Theology. Never one to weary of the academic se ing, he is currently pursuing an Ed.S. in Educational Leadership at CIU. Steve and Dana make their home in the thriving metropolis of Tomball, Texas.

The Socratic Method is Utterly Pagan and It’s a Good Thing Too

Central to authentically classical teaching is Socratic dialogue. It is a major attraction for parents and students considering classical education and a core reason highly motivated and serious intellectuals love working in such institutions. The drudgery, boredom, and ineffectiveness of so many other teaching styles and systems stultifies both teachers and students; classical pedagogy invigorates and inflames them with a passion for learning.

When I ask for definitions of Socratic dialogue, even seasoned teachers who use it are often at a loss. I hear variations of “well, we talk about the reading, and I ask lots of questions instead of lecturing.” We describe the event instead of thinking through why it works. Certainly very few of us run discourses exactly as Socrates did, where someone is led down a garden path by a slightly ironic master spirit only to discover their own ignorance unfolding before them. Such a method can be a hard sell when also discussing tuition payment plans.

But the real hard sell is elsewhere. How many times have we heard, “But wasn’t Socrates a pagan? Why use a ‘Socratic method’ of asking questions, instead of just telling the kids what to think?” Toss in some problematic pagan content (Ovid, anyone?) and you have a serious recruiting and retention problem. As Tertullian asked, what has Athens to say to Jerusalem? Shall the former dare charge tuition to the latter? And would that conversation be a Socratic one?

We would indeed be wise to ask, how Christian or biblical is Socratic discussion, exactly? Did Jesus use it? Did he simply imitate a Greek philosopher who preceded him? Did he claim like Socrates to know only that he knew nothing? Both showed with revelatory efficiency that none of us know what we think we know. And while there are certain parallels between Christ and Socrates, there are far more differences than similarities, including the ultimate difference – namely that, after drinking the hemlock, Socrates remained dead.

So the question must be asked: is education which is Classical, Christian? Why use content and methodology derived, even in part, from darkened minds? This question is beyond the scope of a short article, but one piece of the puzzle is the nature and workings of Socratic dialogue, and it is this which I would like to consider here.

A common defense for Classical Christian education goes rather like this: God is sovereign over all; all truth is God’s truth; even pagan culture functions under God’s rule, including worldviews, belief systems, and cultural tropes; these cultural expressions are all partial, shadowy imitations or reflections of God’s ultimate truth. Thus pagan content and even methodology are worthy of study and of some use to Christians.

It does not take particularly keen observation to recognize this formulation as absolutely Platonic and perhaps a weak apologetic for Classical Christian education. A skeptic would say the premises contain the desired conclusion – that paganism has already infected Classical Christian education at the level of foundational justification. Yet a similar critique could be mounted against this objection, which is built upon an unproven assumption that there is no value in studying the pagan conception of the world. Stalemate.

Which brings me to my thesis: that there is in fact a theological reason why Socratic dialogue is so effective, and why Christians should utilize it in the educational setting.

But first, what exactly is the classical pagan theory behind Socratic dialogue? It did not just suddenly appear fully- formed on the tongue of an annoyingly inquisitive Greek philosopher. Surprisingly, few who use it are familiar with its origins. A brief glance towards a few ancient texts can provide the basic framework. In Cicero’s marvelous little book on aging, De senectute (44BC), we find lodged among manifold Ciceronian gems this nugget: “And a strong argument that men’s knowledge of numerous things antedates their birth is the fact that mere children, in studying difficult subjects, so quickly lay hold upon innumerable things that they seem not to be then learning them for the first time, but to be recalling and remembering them. This, in substance, is Platos’ teaching” (xxi.78). Cicero refers to Plato’s Meno and Phaedo and to a lesser extent the Phaedrus.

This educative “remembering” as opposed to learning something entirely new is called anamnesis. Etymologically it suggests “not-not remembering”, what we could call “not-forgetting” or, better, “remembering”. The Greek and Latin prefixes, a double-negation before the root “remember” (an+a+mnesis) is significant. The word’s form is a roadmap of its function. In the Platonic and Socratic conception, learning is an unforgetting. You knew something; you forgot it; it was brought back into your consciousness. Who brought it back?

A teacher, asking questions.

We see this in narrative form in Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 6. Here Aeneas, legendary founder of Rome, imitates the heroes of antiquity by descending into the underworld to gain advice from his dead father Anchises. He sees many dead Trojans and Greeks (who scatter before their dread enemy) and has a most decidedly awkward encounter with Dido, his ex-lover who committed suicide after he abandoned her. Aeneas wonders at a massive throng of the dead drinking from Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness; souls doomed by Fate to suffer again through bodily human life. But why leave pleasurable Elysium for another round of human tribulations? Anchises explains that souls are continually reincarnated until they reach perfection. After death, souls that were relatively bad go to Tartarus to be purged of evil habits and deeds; relatively good souls enjoy Elysium temporarily but must eventually return to the world to live better and better lives with each incarnation. Anchises then shows Aeneas a long line of souls awaiting rebirth – his Trojan ancestors, waiting to be reborn as his Roman descendants. Aeneas is the link between them; the last Trojan and the first Roman, watching his past becoming his future. Aeneas will be reborn as Marcellus, nephew to Caesar Augustus, who in actual history died shortly before Virgil read the Aeneid at Caesar’s court. (According to Seutonius, Marcellus’s mother Octavia – Caesar’s sister – fainted as Virgil read his heartwrenching passage describing her freshly dead son as the reincarnated Aeneas.)

So why, when a soul is reborn, are we ignorant children – blank slates? The combination of the birth trauma and drinking the waters of Lethe causes us to forget what we have learned. The idea seems to be that excellent character is more habit than rational choice –- a person’s nature is made wholly good, in a Platonic sense. Goodness is the result of bringing to mind the wisdom learned in past lives and the underworld; this is Virgil’s reworking of Plato’s doctrine of recollection. You don’t learn so much as you remember: anamnesis – the not-not forgetting. Socratic teaching is a kind of midwifery delivering up by questions the goodness buried in the soul. This is all very interesting – and very pagan. The book of Hebrews couldn’t be clearer: “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.”

It is now vividly apparent why Christians may rightly look askance at a teaching method of such pagan provenance. But let us put this in theological perspective.

In Romans 1 Paul delineates the primary marker of the human condition – the rejection and suppression of truth:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23 ESV)

As I argue extensively in Meaning at the Movies (Crossway, 2010) this passage is a crucial locus for understanding the origins and nature of human cultural production – not just what we make, but why we make anything at all beyond the bare necessities for survival. Where does culture come from? What is the ultimate source of our ideas, conceptions, values, practices, desires? Paul also addresses this issue indirectly in Acts 17. He quotes — apparently from his well- educated memory — several pagan philosopher-poets in the well-known words of verse 28, asserting that even their own poets know core truths about the invisible and immaterial God. Then he rebukes the Athenians for producing material idols: “Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” Paul knows and quotes the Phaenomena of the Cilician poet Aratus and the Hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes of Assos. Pagans ironically rebuke pagans: the Athenians should know that we are the offspring of God and that he is unknowable through the “art and imagination of man.” This final phrase is worth close examination, and will bring us back to the suppression of truth in Romans 1.

Paul’s phrase in Acts as recorded by Luke is τέχνης καὶ ἐνθυμήσεως – two feminine genitive singular nouns linked by the conjunction ‘kai’ (‘and’). “Technes” is consistently translated as “art” but this is problematic; it is the root of “technique” and “technical” and is more than painting and sculpture. Its sense includes making objects for practical and/or aesthetic use. But it is not merely material. It was used equally in the plastic arts as well as medicine and farming, and even the techniques of ruling a city, as in Plato’s Republic. We could call it “production”, whether material or non-material. The other word, “enthumeseos”, is equally interesting. It is often translated “device”, “thought”, “invention”, or “design”. It is used of “thought” or “thoughts” in Matthew 9:4 and 12:25, and Hebrews 4:12; it is quite rare in classical literature but shows up in Hippocrates, Euripides, Thucydides, and Lucian. There it means thought, imagination, and in some cases, intense desire or drive. I think we need to consider these phrases in Acts in terms of both Romans 1 and another, seemingly unrelated passage: Genesis 4.

In Genesis 4, the origins of two sets of practices are contrasted: the descendants of Cain settle in the “land of Nod, east of Eden” and develop early cultural expression in music and metallurgy. “His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.” This seems to powerfully suggest idolatrous worship. This worship originates, I believe, from what Paul calls enthumeseos in Acts 17 – a pattern of thoughts, an imagining, even an intense desire for meaning, grounding, a workable view of everything — all lost in the Fall. Man now desperately desires to fill that vacuum with cultural production, techne, culture which is made – and which replaces God. The replacement is always a partial imitation of truth, simultaneously accurate (because it knows the truth and acknowledges a need for God) and blasphemous (because it ultimately rejects God as he truly is and suppresses the truth).

The final lines of Genesis 4 complete the picture. Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth, produces Enosh, and then we read “At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” Here is the apparent beginning of some kind of formalized worship of the one true God, clearly set over against the idolatrous “culture” in music and metallurgy of those who can now properly be called “pagans” as they sing and dance around metallic statues -– those who know the truth but have suppressed it.

Romans states that what can be known of God is built into man by God himself. He hardwires this core knowledge about His existence, nature, and workings into all of us; this knowledge is not a salvific understanding or faith, and in any case it is rejected. The primary effect of this knowledge is to remove the possibility of excuse from the unrepentant soul: no one can claim “but I didn’t know about God!” Because humans are by nature lost in sin, the response to this built-in knowledge of God is the act of suppression. Humans are actively, continually “forgetting” the knowledge of God. This brings about an interesting conundrum. How do you deliberately forget something? The act of suppression necessarily brings to mind the very subject being suppressed. In other words – suppression – deliberate forgetting – is doomed to failure, because you have to remember to forget. Since the knowledge of God is unbearable for those who reject Him, the acts of suppression continue, though futile. And this is not all that is suppressed. The act of suppression itself must be forgotten, denied, suppressed. You can’t suppress something successfully if you remember that you did so. The remembrance reverses the forgetting. Suppression requires suppression. We are most decidedly not like Aeneas — who has forgotten what Lethe does to the memory … because he drank from it himself. Aeneas is a mere human fantasy embodying our desperate desire to forget.

And so humans end up in a terrifying loop from which they cannot escape: they are aware of God and His commands; they suppress this knowledge; the suppression is ineffective because they can neither forget their suppression nor entirely escape truth; this set of circumstances is unbearable; the answer is more suppression. Unregenerate humans are trapped in a suppression whirlpool unless released by conversion, in which case the truth is unearthed, accepted, and becomes the transforming agent that sets you free. Until then truth remains rejected, suppressed, and “forgotten.”

If this is in fact an accurate picture of the human condition, then we have a better way to understand the superstructure of ideas supporting the ancient pagan theory and practice of Socratic dialogue. And we are in a better position to strategically utilize this technique and defend its usage from a theological rather than merely practical basis. Christians do not believe in multiple reincarnations leading to perfection via recollected knowledge; we believe that the suppressed Truth about Christ, when brought back to life in a dead heart, will set you free. Since studying human culture in light of Scripture inevitably shows us what we are, such study can, when well-guided, lead to deep self- knowledge. And it starts with questions.

All human culture – even the Socratic/Platonic doctrine of recollection — is a kind of tension between the wistful looking back towards a desired but lost Eden and a violent attempt to suppress the truth about that loss. Wise Christian Socratic teaching actually unpacks suppressed knowledge of God and his world, and of our condition. It reveals the truth about ourselves to ourselves. The fallen heart is cor incurvatus ad se “curved in on itself”; a Christian Socratic teacher gently unbends the heart by reminding it of the truth, which Christ and Scripture may then unfold from within the recesses of even the most resistant heart. Christian Socratics brings forth an unforgetting of the forgotten and suppressed truth. And that is why it works so well. The Greek word for Truth is of course aletheia – “not forgetting.” No Lethe.

“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Proverbs 20:25 (ESV)

We Can’t Teach the Bible and Theology Like We Used To

One of the most exhilarating moments in the learning experience is that moment in which the learner transcends habitual ways of looking at things. A new vision, a new map, a new paradigm – there is little to match such “Aha” moments. Therein, of course, stands the beauty of the classical approach. Whereas progressive models of education take for granted and indeed depend upon a worldview radically rooted in Enlightenment thinking, especially its favorite myth that we Enlightenment folk have finally arrived, most classical educators are aware that the Enlightenment lens is itself a historically conditioned phenomenon and cannot be assigned the Supreme Court status it implicitly presumes. After all, if we as twenty- first century moderns now clearly see all things that those of earlier times only dimly groped after, it does not make much sense to be in conversation with so many long-dead folk. The very fact that classical education lays such great store on the contributions of these same long-dead folk means that modernity does not, in fact, have it all sorted it out, despite its pretensions to the contrary. As Paul Ricoeur put it, “We are born into a conversation,” a conversation that has long preceded us.

Despite this awareness among classical educators, I wonder if even in our best schools we often experience a curious lapse of conviction when it comes to teaching Bible and Theology. In my experience, I find that those who teach philosophy, literature, science, and math in classical schools are fully aware that these subjects are not static entities and that, accordingly, it is not the pedagogue’s main calling to back up the gravel truck of knowledge – beep, beep, beep – with the goal of data dumping. At the same time, when it comes to teaching Bible and/or Theology in these same excellent classical schools, I wonder whether data dumping tends to be more the rule than the exception. I may be wrong, but I suspect that a good many Bible teachers fall into a posture in which they convey the propositional, the factual, and the givenness of their subject with an emphasis that far outweighs that of their colleagues who teach other subjects.

If I am right, I can find at least some good reasons for this. I teach Bible at a conservative, evangelical college; I sit on the board of a confessional classical school. If I stop believing the givenness of God’s self-revelation and one of our teachers at the school does the same, perhaps it is time for both of us to start looking for jobs elsewhere. Those of us who choose to teach at a confessional educational institution do so because we believe that all truth is God’s truth and must ultimately relate back to the Word of the self-revealing God. In the Protestant tradition, at least at its best, we start with the Word of God as the bedrock for our epistemology (theory of knowledge). To teach at a confessional school means certain commitments are non-negotiable. When it comes to contemplating the truthfulness of these commitments, I believe that it is sometimes necessary to say, “These convictions are not on the table; they are our table.” In my judgment, Christian classical education must, in the very nature of the case, stop short of an absolutely free inquiry as if everything were up for grabs. Everything is worth talking about, but everything is not up for grabs. To suggest as much is simply to subscribe without warrant to a thoroughgoing skepticism.

But our pre-commitments hardly explain why Bible and Theology are taught so differently so consistently. One reason that we tend to data dump in teaching Bible and Theology (e.g., “Here’s the Bible, here’s what it says, and here’s what we believe.”) is because we are instinctively uncomfortable with attributing to these hallowed subjects the same dialogical dynamism we ascribe to literature, art, philosophy, etc. As a result, we end up applying the principles of classical education to the liberal arts overall, but we then pull back when it comes to the Bible. Perhaps more simply, we lapse into teaching Bible and Theology this way because this is how most of us have been taught. But the way in which most of us have been taught—either by our parents or at church—may have a lot more to do with the Enlightenment than we are aware.

As an evangelical, I am conscious that one of the major historical influences on modern evangelicalism was the Old Princeton School, not least the stalwart champion of orthodoxy, Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Even if Hodge’s heyday was a good century after the end of the Enlightenment, his approach to theology can be seen as the epitome of an Enlightenment approach. In the opening pages of his Systematic Theology, he compares the study of theology to the study of the hard sciences, except that, in the case of the former, all the facts (the Bible’s propositions) are already there, waiting to be systematized. For Hodge the Bible was the architectonic “product of one mind,” at bottom a compendium of truisms. If Hodge sees the scripture as a static datum, and a sizeable swathe within the western church has followed suit, then it should come as no surprise to find the scripture being taught as a static datum.

Of course, as critics of Hodge would later point out, that is precisely what scripture is not. True, scripture is the product of one mind in the sense that God inspired scripture, but God did so through many writers over a long course of history. So rather than being a repository of static facts, the scriptures are actually the inspired residue of the unfolding events of redemptive-history. That which is contained in the Old in seed form has its full flowering in the New. The first fruits of this flowering will occur at the eschaton when the New Heavens and the New Earth are established, and we come full circle back to Eden, yet an Eden that surpasses the first paradise. Take it from me or, if you prefer, take it from Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin, revelation is progressive and maintains an organic inner unity. In short, scripture is a story complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

So, unless by some strange reasoning, we allow the liberal arts to play on the full playground of intellectual history but force Bible class to sit still in detention the classical movement will do well to consider how it might better teach the Bible as story. By this I do not mean spending more time on such great stories as David and Goliath. What I do mean is laying hold of the story of David and Goliath and discerning its narrative links with the earlier Conquest (Goliath would not even have been an issue if Israel had been faithful in clearing the land in the first place), with the later Davidic covenant (Yahweh’s faithfulness in this scene anticipates the establishment of the kingdom later on), both of which in turn point forward to the coming of Christ’s kingdom and back to creation. To teach the Bible as story simply means to do biblical theology, relating all of scripture to its beginning (creation) and end (Christ).

It is at this point that we need to keep in mind the nature of scripture and our own post-Enlightenment location in intellectual history. The Bible is not a book of doctrine; it is instead quite simply a story, the story of Yahweh’s dealings with Israel which comes to its climax in the coming of Christ. True, we may and should deduce doctrine and propositions from this beautiful story, but let’s keep first things first. The biblical writers did not say to themselves, “Boy, I have so many doctrines to communicate, so maybe I can tell a story – or write an epistle or recount a vision – in order to illustrate those doctrines.” Instead, the biblical writers just saw themselves as telling it like it was, from God’s point of view, of course. Articulation of doctrines and systems, a special penchant of post-Enlightenment society, comes in second. The story remains primary.

If we are uncomfortable with that, it is perhaps because we know that stories can be ambivalent, whereas propositions have the value of being relatively neat and tidy. Here we must keep a balance. In commending our faith to our children, we want to give them every reason to believe in its truthfulness. But we err if we think that we will accomplish this by reducing wholesale the organic and variegated nature of the scriptural story to a system of static facts. To be clear, this is not to object to systematic theology in principle. We in the church need systematic theology now more than ever. This is to say, rather, that systematic theology must have its place even as the story of scripture must have its place. And the place to begin is with the story: creation, fall, and redemption. If we fail to teach the Bible as God’s grand story, we will inevitably put a number of carts before a corresponding number of horses. We will also likely teach students to think of the Bible, at best, as an odd collection of moral stories and teachings, and, at worse, as a boring, lifeless thing. The culture is already telling young people that the Bible is boring and irrelevant. Why should we allow ourselves, against our best intentions, to con rm the point?

If we are to teach Bible as story, I would also argue that the same goes for the teaching of theology, but for different reasons. Truth, more often than not, is a complex affair; it also often takes time to unfold. It might be some source of comfort to think that on the day of Pentecost all believers everywhere had an immediate and full understanding of the natures of Christ and the interrelationship between the members of the Trinity, but this is almost certainly not the case. While some of the very first believers may have been trying to sort out for themselves the nature of Christ (e.g., Is he of like substance with the Father or the same substance?), such issues did not preoccupy the church until later. And when those issues did come to the fore, the church still took until the early fourth century before it decisively se led the ma er. Other theological questions followed, which in turn provoked various positions along the way. Theological questions continue to emerge, and we are still nding our way among them. To understand theology, you have to understand historical theology, in other words, the story.

When it comes to teaching theology, the post- Enlightenment churchman inside of me is tempted to teach my students with such phrases as, “This is the way it is…”. Obviously, there are junctures where you have to say exactly that and with no apology. However, before we back up the gravel truck of theological knowledge too quickly, we should pay more serious attention to teaching theology as historical theology. Today we stand on the shoulders of our spiritual forbearers; we have inherited a vast theological inheritance. Why not let our students in on that richness by bringing them down the hallway of history, along the long elaborate process through which God’s people learned to discern truth from error? Within the classical model, it is not enough to show students the tree of modern knowledge; we need to show them the roots as well.

If we are accustomed to being taught Bible and Theology as a string of cognitive propositions, this does not mean we have to return the favor in our own pedagogy. In fact, I submit that unless we are satisfied with being grossly inconsistent, we have little choice but to teach our faith like other subjects – as story. Of course, in choosing not to teach the Bible as it has been taught to most of us, it means choosing to teach the Bible as it has generally been taught down through history. The Scholastic period of the High Middle Ages notwithstanding, Bible and Theology have always been taught as story. When we do the same, we really are heading ad fontes in the truest sense.