Why Bible classes should cultivate personal knowledge over objective knowledge
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that…” Now finish the sentence. At Westminster, after all, nearly everyone can. Jesus died for our sins and rose again. Obey the Ten Commandments. Pray and read the Bible. But how many students actually mean what they recite? Understand what they have been told to believe?
This is not a measure of morality or godliness. It does, however, reveal the dangers of navigating a Christian education. Students agree that our Bible classes arguably handle theology as any other subject—prioritizing tests, grades, and regurgitation at the expense of hands-on experience, curiosity, personal engagement, and passionate inquiry.
Westminster’s goal is to “effectively help students discover, embrace, and integrate a biblical view of the world into every aspect of their lives.” But strictly memorizing notes that present the Bible and its author as test material does not cultivate a biblical worldview. In fact, it’s perhaps quite the opposite. It represses and discourages the faculties of intellect that not only drive our pursuit and acquisition of knowledge but comprise the foundation of the Christian experience.
Freshman Bible teacher Mr. Burkey acknowledges the challenges of integrating Bible classes into an academic curriculum. Of course biblical literacy is a prerequisite for hands-on learning, but “when the class becomes only facts and information, we miss the message behind the truths we are learning.” He concludes that the foundation of a certain topic, perhaps by note-taking, should fuel upcoming discussions and applications in which students are actively involved.
To “suppress exploration and questions” is arguably to discourage the development of an authentic knowledge of Jesus. As Mr. Burkey says, “we believe when you really study the world around us, Christianity offers meaningful answers”—answers that we believe point to Christ because of our already established commitment to the Christian theology.
Our primary goal, then, should be to present students with the necessary resources and aid so that they may connect the dots themselves. They will only see the world through the Christian lens if they have personally committed to looking through it.
Consider the following scenario: the Bible teacher walks into the classroom and says, “I’m an atheist; explain to me why I shouldn’t be.” It would challenge students to draw not only from external sources and a foundation of biblical knowledge but also from their own personal experiences. To examine their heart and test the foundation of their beliefs. To make their faith their own and choose for themselves which lens from which they view the world.
If the experience of Christ is limited to objective, detached knowledge, we have missed how Jesus makes himself known to us. Personally. Infinitely. And a personal knowledge of God requires us to take responsibility and ownership of our own beliefs, to trust in the ongoing future manifestations of this truth.
Jesus does not ask for a perfect recollection of certain verses—He does not ask for a perfect theological understanding. Christian professor of philosophy Esther Meek writes, “Already converted Christians are still coming to know God. This is an epistemic act in process. The believer’s experience is still, profoundly, ‘not yet’” (186).
It is only then, when a student personally commits to the continuous act of knowing Jesus, that a biblical worldview is cultivated. Not by a measurement of how well the same student accurately recalled certain test material or repeats by habit Christian principles.
By all means hand students a lens. It is up to them whether or not they will choose to see through it.