Every semester at Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts
college in Santa Barbara, Calif., Dr. Tremper Longman, an Old
Testament professor, hands out a pre-test on Bible basics to assess
where his students are.
“It’s (the test) pretty empty when it comes back,” the professor
said. “They are pretty illiterate about it, especially the Old
Testament. The church is not doing a particularly good job of it,
Longman recognizes that if Bible literacy among his mostly churched
students is low, secular students and schools would likely test even
Longman’s experience doesn’t surprise Chuck Stetson, co-author of
“The Bible and its Influence,” a new high school textbook designed
to be used in public schools as part of a Bible elective course.
In an era when Christian groups appear to be in endless battles with
the American Civil Liberties Union over the intended definition of
“church and state,” the new text is making a bold entry, garnering
mostly favorable national headlines.
“The Bible is a document that belongs to the world, not just the
church,” Professor Longman said. “It’s something that even if you
reject its message you should still study it so you can understand
The logistics of accomplishing that have been daunting.
Stetson, chairman of the Fairfax, Va.-based Bible Literacy Project,
has spent more than years bringing the concept to print. It was
funded by the John Templeton Foundation and has earned key
endorsements from the National Association of Evangelicals and the
American Jewish Congress.
“They’ve been plugging along for five years,” Sheila Weber, vice
president of communications, said in a phone interview.
Although the ACLU has yet to weigh in on the textbook, other civil
liberties groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and People
for the American Way, have not opposed the text and have said the
material is an acceptable product for public schools.
“This is the only product that is recommended by the First Amendment
Center,” Weber said.
It also appeared to impress the Associated Press news service, which
cited “The Bible and Its Influence” as one of the top "notable books
on religion for 2005 ... for its distinctiveness and potential
In keeping with its vision to create a text that celebrates the
Bible’s content, its influence on language, literature, history,
politics and culture—but not belief—Stetson and co-author Cullen
Schippe tapped 41 national scholars who specialize in religion and
Among them was Longman, chairman of the religious studies department
at Westmont. He said he was pleased with the approach.
“It was a very fair presentation of the biblical materials,” he
“Knowing the Bible is crucial for understanding our culture. This is
their attempt to improve Bible literacy among our citizens.
“They are being very careful that it’s not being used as a tool of
Research report released
According to officials at the Bible Literacy Project, research from
the highly respected Gallup Poll, helped forge Stetson’s desire to
combat Bible illiteracy. The study, compiled into a 55-page report
document called “Bible Literacy Report,” was released last year.
The report revealed that 40 to the 41 teachers interviewed agreed
that Bible literacy is a significant educational advantage. In
addition the majority of high school English teachers estimated that
fewer than a fourth of their current students were biblically
The educators also added that they believed the loss of Bible
knowledge was harming students’ ability to literature, art, music,
history and culture.
Among the numbers that stunned Stetson:
* A spring 2004 survey found that 98 percent of high school English
teachers surveyed believe Bible literacy gives distinct academic
* 90 percent of English teachers said knowing the Bible was
“crucial” to a good education.
* 8 percent of public school teens said their campus offered a Bible
“He (Stetson) saw that was huge differential,” Weber said.
In addition, Stetson said he believed that as a written historical
text that is also the most sold work in the world, the Bible
deserves its own place in the public classroom.
“‘The Bible and Its Influence’ was written to provide a legal
resource that will give more public schools greater confidence in
offering Bible electives in English or Social Studies, while
treating the faith perspective with respect and preserving the
ability of families and congregations to teach their view of the
Bible," Stetson said in a news release.
The textbook, Weber said, demonstrates that it is possible to
present knowledge about the Bible without instilling belief or
Pilot schools have reported that students liked the textbook as it
meshes out facts and details about poetry, speeches, art, history,
and literature of British and American origins.
“This book not only teaches students what they know about the text,
but also shows them how the Bible has so richly influenced British
and American history,” Weber said.
For instance, according to the Bible Literacy Project, there are
more than 1,300 biblical references in the works of Shakespeare, and
more than 60 percent of allusions for one AP literature exam prep
course are biblical phrases. Even the Gettysburg Address and the
U.S. Constitution were heavily influenced by the Bible’s contents.
Even so, Weber admits that teachers tend to be skittish about what’s
acceptable when using the Bible in the classroom, but said the text,
and its companion teacher’s guide, gives instructors clear
guidelines on what’s acceptable.
“It keeps the teachers on task, on track so the teacher can’t
venture off,” Weber said.
The text’s makers have also established an online University-based
teacher training program have helped to alleviate most concerns.
“It’s a full package that makes all educators comfortable,” she
“We really want to convince educators who are a hard lot to
convince. We’ve been hailed as a solution to the ever-present
problem of the Bible in schools.
“We built the textbook to meet the national court-defined
So far, more than 800 schools nationwide are reviewing the book and
Weber estimates between 15,000 and 20,000 books will be sold before
“We’ve made a strong case of why this is an important part of a
strong education,” the vice president said.
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Published by Keener Communications Group, May 2006 / Copyright ©