As a Medieval literature teacher, I have a great interest in restoring proper respect for Scripture within classical schools. The Medievals had great respect for Scripture, but little access to it, while Moderns have great access and little interest in Scripture. I believe we begin training disinterest and disrespect for Scripture in our students by allowing and encouraging research papers and theses which rely heavily upon hasty visits to Biblegateway.com. A predictable set of passages can be anticipated in any paper about Christian involvement in sports (Online concordance + “run the race” = theological argument for basketball), although the student who cites 1 Corinthians 9:24 is rarely aware of what 1 Corinthians is about, let alone 1 Corinthians 9:23. Such use of Scripture is not contemplative, submissive, yielding, humble. Rather, Google has made us ad hoc tyrants over Scripture without even really reading it.
The solution to this problem is not necessarily a Bible study, though. Or it is not the Bible study as it is commonly practiced among our students. I should say, before going further, that a young man’s impulse to begin “a Bible study” ought to be treated as nothing less than genuine piety, and were a sophomore to come to me and say, “Me and some guys want to start a Bible study,” I would likely say, “That is wonderful. What is your plan?”
Often enough, the student (or adult) plan for studying the Bible is to read the Bible and then for everyone to say what they think the lately read chapter means. It is worth asking students who have plans to begin a Bible study, “How do you plan on studying the book of Matthew?” The answer is usually something in the neighborhood of, “We are going to read it and talk about it.” If someone claims they are going to lead a Bible study, inquire, “What are your qualifications for leading a study of the Bible?” If the person’s qualification for leading the study of Scripture, and speaking with some perceived authority about Scripture to others, is merely that he is two years older than everyone else, such a person has no real qualification for teaching Scripture. Further, such a student has not received a proper explanation of what a student is, what a teacher is, or what education is. Suffice to say, while the piety of a sophomore who wants to lead a Bible study is not in question, that sophomore’s teachers seem quite suspect. The Bible is a book of staggering power, and like a great wind that can lead a man’s boat quickly home, so can that wind quickly get a man off course. Were my daughter thirteen and asking about attending a Bible study lead by a fifteen year old girl, I would tell her she needed a more venerable teacher. I do not want my children to have an understanding of Paul’s theology shaped by persons not old enough to drive.
So what to tell the pious sophomore in want of a Bible study? I suggest merely removing the problematic portion of the equation. Why not merely gather to read the Scripture, say “Amen” when finished reading, and then everyone go their way? Our students so rarely read the Scriptures, we ought to encourage them to do so as often as possible. Solomon teaches:
Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
Encouraging a sixteen year old boy to assume the power and responsibility of teaching others the meaning of Scripture— especially when that boy is unfamiliar with the Nicene Creed, his own denominational dogmas, the names of all twelve apostles— sends a bizarre message about the authority of the teacher. If anyone can teach, no teacher is needed.
However, it is enough to read the Scriptures aloud, to become familiar with the contours and textures and turns of phrase and loveliness of Scripture. A key element of a classical education is the development of a quiet, yielding, silent spirit in the presence of the sublime, the divine. Our students need to hear without critique— to listen, and not merely wait to speak. The less time everyone gives their opinions, the more time all will have for reading, and it does a body and soul good to lovingly, submissively pronounce the words of God.