An interfaith group released a new textbook Thursday aimed at
teaching public high school students about the Bible while avoiding
legal and religious disputes.
The nonprofit Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va., spent five
years and $2 million developing "The Bible and Its Influence." The
textbook, introduced at a Washington news conference, won initial
endorsements from experts in literature, religion and church-state
American Jewish Congress attorney Marc Stern, an adviser on the
effort, said despite concern over growing tensions among U.S.
religious groups, "this book is proof that the despair is premature,
that it is possible to acknowledge and respect deep religious
differences and yet still find common ground."
Another adviser, evangelical literature scholar Leland Ryken of
Wheaton College, called the textbook "a triumph of scholarship and a
major publishing event."
The colorful book ($50 school pricing, $74.95 retail) and forthcoming
Teacher's Edition, covering both
Old and New Testaments, are planned for semester-long or full-year
courses starting next year.
The editors are Cullen Schippe, a retired vice president at textbook
publisher Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and Chuck Stetson, a venture
capitalist who chairs Bible Literacy. The 41 contributors include
prominent evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern
Orthodox, Jewish and secular experts.
Religious lobbies and federal courts have long struggled over Bible
course content. To avoid problems, Bible Literacy's editors
accommodated Jewish sensitivities about the New Testament,
attributed reports about miracles to the source rather than simply
calling them historical facts and generally downplayed scholarly
theories -- about authorship and dates, for example -- that offend
Educators know biblical knowledge is valuable -- 60 percent of
allusions in one English Advanced Placement prep course came from
the Bible -- and that polls show teens don't know much about
Scripture. Yet few public schools offer such coursework, partly due
to demands for other elective classes, partly over legal worries.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 decision barring schoolroom Bible
recitations said that "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary
and historic qualities" if "presented objectively as part of a
secular program of education."
The textbook follows detailed principles in a 1999 accord, "The
Bible and Public Schools," brokered by Bible Literacy and the First
Amendment Center, a nonpartisan program of the Freedom Forum devoted
to constitutional liberties. That accord is endorsed by seven major
educational organizations and Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups.
Stetson said "the important thing was not to compromise on peoples'
beliefs. They are what they are." To Schippe, the key to effective
education is respect for the biblical text, constitutional law,
scholarship, various faith traditions and divergent interpretations.
The new textbook was tested in two high schools. Bible Literacy will
offer online teacher training through Concordia University in
The First Amendment Center's Charles Haynes told the news conference
that public schools constantly ask him for advice on what Bible
course material to use but he's had nothing he could recommend --
"nothing, that is, until now."
Haynes says the only previous textbook, decades old, was inadequate
because it treated the Bible only as literature, slighting its
Another program, favored by evangelical groups and used in hundreds
of schools, comes from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in
Public Schools of Greensboro, N.C. It provides a teacher's outline
with the Bible itself as the textbook.