My ministerial students are delightful people and I am energized by their desire to serve humanity. I believe I am at my best when teaching and I know how important good teachers are in this world. That said, teaching the Bible is a challenge.
We are wrapping up our Bible study section and, as usual, I have learned some fascinating things. It is truly a powerful book, not just because of the stories and the ethical inspiration but mostly because there is so much history of our western civilization involved.
Neither of my two excellent students had much experience with the Bible. One was a Catholic in her childhood and the other has only attended non-traditional churches and spiritual groups. That is fairly typical in these times.
Twenty-three years ago, when I taught my first Bible class, several of my students knew much more about the content of the Bible than I did. They were older and they had grown up in Protestant churches. They could sing the old hymns and quote chapter and verse.
Like my current students, I had little familiarity with the actual book. I had a Catholic childhood also and we didn’t get much Bible in Catechism classes. In college, I was supposed to write a poem based on Genesis but I used a Children’s Bible for research.
My one New Thought Bible class was metaphysical interpretations. As a new minister and teacher, I quickly found that my students expected me to know the content of the Bible stories and they weren’t convinced by my metaphysical interpretations when I knew so little about my subject.
It is humiliating to have your students know more than you do so I set out to learn about the Bible. I plunged into a mysterious world of theology, history and scholarship that was fascinating but extremely complicated. The first thing I discerned was that the experts didn’t agree on much. Their opinions seemed to depend on the background of the scholar. There seemed to be a big split between the academic and theological authorities.
As a Religious Science minister, I should not have been surprised that the culture and training of the expert created a filter that influenced his or her conclusions about the facts. We know that everything begins with consciousness, don’t we? So why was I surprised to discover that many Bible colleges still taught the world was created in six days?
During the next few years, I learned quite a bit about Bible scholarship and actually wrote a new second year class for Religious Science International. I had a writing background and was able to distill material for the basic class based on established scholarly authorities.
The text we used, Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism, was a best seller by an Episcopalian bishop, John Spong. I also included a summary of Bible history and basic information. Rather than interpreting meaning, that class is all about the facts. The information is correct but it was just the tip of the iceberg. The study of the Bible is a lifelong project for many people in this world then and now. The Good Book is still a best seller every publishing year.
What I learned about the Bible helped me make fewer mistakes in my talks. I stopped receiving little notes telling me that the expression, “In the beginning was the word,” came from the Gospel of John rather than Genesis.
I got very cautious about quoting from the Bible. Since then, Rev. Margo Ruark published her excellent book, Where’d He Get That? And it turns out that even Dr. Holmes made mistakes on Bible quotes fairly often. Of course, the Bible was very important to Ernest Holmes because he grew up reading it.
The Bible was very important to all the early founders of New Thought. It developed in the late 1800’s as people began to understand that most of the Bible stories could not be literally true. Up until then, most people thought Moses wrote the Old Testament and Jesus or the Disciples wrote the New Testament. The more science discovered, the more complicated and varied the reactions and beliefs became.
All over the Western world, people and church leaders took positions on the schism between science and religion. Those positions ranged from the fundamentalist churches that insisted the Bible was inerrant to the traditional churches that insisted the Bible contained great truth but was not accurate about dates and times. In New Thought, our ministers vary a great deal in their use of the Bible but they depend on metaphysical principles.
My goal as a teacher is to help my students know a bit about Bible content and history. I know they will make their own choices about how much to use the stories as illustrations of New Thought principles.
I also want my students to understand about the Bible in relation to their work. First, the people who are attracted to their centers come with very different histories and Bible experiences. Some have no religious experience at all. Those may have little interest in the Bible or they may have a lot of curiosity.
Most people who attend our centers grow up in a traditional Protestant or Catholic teaching and then left them in order to find a deeper truth. Some of these people may have a fondness for Bible stories. Others may be completely turned off by the Bible. Quite a few people will expect to hear the familiar references in talks – especially around the holidays.
I also want my students to understand that many current events are related to the Bible. Issues such as women’s rights, same sex marriage and capital punishment are Bible based. I want my students to know that the Bible is filled with contradictions. Statements such as, “The Bible says,” are not enough.
Very soon, my students will be ministers. They will be free to use the Bible or not. Everything I know and love about New Thought begins and ends with choice. For me, this is a religion of self-reliance and personal choice.
My choices have changed over the years. They are different from two of my good ministerial friends. One never opens the Bible. The second never gives a talk without at least a reference to one or more stories from the Good Book. They are both very successful.
I know my students will also be successful. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
What part did the Bible play in my childhood?
Have I ever read any part of the Bible?
Do I want to know more about that good book?
Do I believe the Bible should be in a New Thought Sunday talk? Never? Sometimes? Often? Always?