For the few years that I taught in the religion department at our local community college, I required students to write personal reflection papers consider how the subject matter might be relevant to their personal lives. I wrote a series of blog posts based on student responses to the prompts I assigned here, here, and here. This semester I’m doing the same thing. But this time I’m teaching primarily Christian students at a Christian institution (Ouachita Baptist University), and I’m teaching the Bible. For this first assignment, I asked them some questions about their familiarity with the Bible. Below are my questions along with my summary of their responses.
Tell me about your experience with the Bible to this point in your life.
About half of the students said that their primary exposure to the Bible was in church. They have heard the stories in sermons and Sunday school. Instead of hearing all the stories of the Bible in church, they tend to hear the same few stories over and over again. So they are fairly familiar with a handful of stories, but most of the Bible is relatively unfamiliar. In fact, many of them said that, for the most part, they have heard summaries of or lessons on the Bible more than they’ve engaged the Bible itself directly.
Nearly all of them acknowledge that they ought to read the Bible devotionally but admit that it’s hard to make Bible reading a part of their daily life.
Have you ever read the Bible from beginning to end? How well would you say you know the stories of the Bible?
Out of 28 students, only one has read the entire Bible from cover to cover. A few said they’d probably read most of the Bible a piece at a time but never straight through. Most students said they know the New Testament better than they know the Old Testament. No surprise there. But a surprising number said that what they know best from the NT are the parables of Jesus.
Nearly all—even those who said they know most of the stories of the Bible—reported that they don’t understand how the stories fit together.
How well do you feel like you understand the Bible?
Here’s where responses got interesting (to me). The vast majority of students said that although they try to read the Bible faithfully, they struggle to understand what it means. Even the few who say that devotional reading is part of their daily routine seem to do it out of duty more than because they comprehend and, therefore, value what they read.
A couple of students offered insightful commentary on ministry: one pointed out that although her church leaders encouraged her and her peers to read the Bible, they never offered any guidance in how to read for comprehension or to truly study the Scriptures. Another said that he didn’t grow up in church and by the time he became a Christian as a young adult, his church leaders assumed he knew the stories of the Bible—so instead of teaching them, they simply referred to them.
What do you most hope to get out of this class?
These students want to learn how to interpret the Bible. It struck me that many of them said they hope to learn enough that they can teach others how to read and understand the Bible. The students who feel like they weren’t properly equipped want to be able to equip others. That’s good news.