Today is the first day of yet another school year. If not for my gap year between high school and college, and I guess my semester off between sophomore and junior years, this would be my 27th straight school year. Instead I guess I’m on a 14 year streak (ignoring that gap semester since I just did my year of school from Feb-Aug instead of Aug-May). Since it’s my 6th year teaching at ICS, it is easily my longest tenure at a school (besides homeschool).
At this point, I feel pretty settled in, but every year presents its own unique challenges. I’m usually on the optimistic side at this point in the school year, you know, before any classes have actually happened (although when you read this, I’ll be either several periods into the day or already done). I feel more prepared for this year than usual, but that might be because it’s my 5th year teaching Bible here, and I’ve done my fair share of tweaking along the way.
Prepared or not, after having an entire graduating class start to finish in Bible, I’m more and more aware of the challenges of reaching this young generation. I spoke on this at the school retreat four years ago, but there is always the threat of incipient moral therapeutic deism (MTD). The tenets of MTD, in case you’ve forgotten or never heard the term, are as follows:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth
- God wants people to be good nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem
- Good people go to heaven when they die
You can find these tenets in a variety of places but I’m quoting from a book I’m working through, Pursuing Moral Faithfulness: Ethics and Christian Discipleship (132-133). The author, Gary Tyra, relies on the research of Christian Smith, who first described the concept in his study of the religious lives of American teenagers. Tyra goes on to unpack the effects of MTD, which basically describes the general issues I deal with teaching Bible in a private Christian setting in a city that is somewhat post-Christian anyway. In general, American teens tend to (137-139)
- Lack theological fluency
- Lack theological understanding
- Lack a teachable spirit
- Seem unable or unwilling to conceive of objective truth
- Be profoundly reluctant to judge
- Not contend for the historic Christian faith
While this is certainly not true of each and every American teen, much less each every one of my students, they are general trends that hold up. Most of what I’m trying to do is deal with each of these in the small corner of influence I have. We touch on these in freshman Bible, but for the most part, junior and senior Bible is where we really dig in. Much of the design of those classes targets learning the logic of theology, and how to live faithfully as a Christian. Senior Bible is where it hopefully all comes together.
And speaking of senior Bible, as I’m typing, my classroom is filling up with seniors on their last first day of high school. We’re about to start a review of the entire Bible (some might call it a section on biblical theology). I bought them donuts because I’m the best (and also facetious). I’m looking forward to the rest of the year, and hope they are as well (the donuts probably don’t hurt that chance).