A Book You Don’t Have to Read?


Every day tens of thousands of schools across our nation welcome more than 50 million elementary and secondary students into their classrooms. And every day these students receive a clear Bible lesson. Now, very few of them receive what students receive at Regents Academy every day: Bible reading, instruction in the Scriptures, hearkening to the written Word of God as the very voice of the Lord of lords.

Rather, the lesson the vast majority of children receive in secular schools with official policies of neutrality and silence is active antipathy toward God. They are being taught to ignore God as they learn about the world; the standard of truth is their own; the world is understandable without knowing that God created it and sustains it. Jesus taught us that there is no place of neutrality anywhere in the universe (including in homes and classrooms): “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matt 12:30). The Apostle John quotes Jesus, who said, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,'” a statement that, if true, is anything but irrelevant. (Rev 1:8). As Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper famously declared, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

The editors of GQ recently published a provocative list that included the Bible as a “foolish” book that need not be read, right alongside works by Hemingway, Twain, and Tolkien. It seems to me that GQ is just bringing out into the open the tacit assumption that secular schools hold and reinforce every day in the minds of countless impressionable minds. But by God’s grace, Christians know that we ignore the Bible at our own peril, indeed, the peril not just of not receiving a true education but of losing our very souls. This week an opinion piece titled “GQ’s foolish anti-Bible click bait missed 4 secular reasons to read Scriptures” appeared in USA Today. Written by Tim Swarens, Opinion Editor of The Indianapolis Star, the article focuses on “secular” reasons for reading the Bible – imminently reasonable reasons for reading the Bible that are certainly a starting point for understanding its value in education. Of course, at Regents Academy we go far beyond these reasons to embrace what Swarens calls “the spiritual value of the Scriptures,” but we read the Bible for the reasons he lists also. They are quite helpful.

Regents parents, you send your children to a school that reads, studies, reveres, and seeks to follow the Bible as the very Word of the Living God. With God’s help, this is something that will never change.

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In the news business, it’s known as click bait, a deliberately provocative, often sensational and always shallow article that’s written solely to attract page views and in turn drive advertising revenue.

As with a drunk at the end of the bar who’s desperate for attention, it’s generally better to ignore the click-baiters’ provocations than to give the loud mouths what they want. But when a once-relevant magazine promotes cultural illiteracy for the sake of cheap clicks, it deserves a response.

Which brings me to GQ magazine’s recent hey-click-this list of “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.” [. . .] The book on the list that’s generated the most media attention and the strongest pushback is the Bible, which author Jesse Ball dismisses, in all of three sentences, as “repetitive” and “foolish.”

Confession time: Ball condescendingly describes folks like me as people “who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it.” Except I have read it, from Genesis to Maps, several times. This year and last, I’ve started most days by reading a New Testament chapter. So, yes, I am biased, but it’s a bias grounded in the fact that the Bible shapes who I am, and shapes who I aspire to be.

Still, let’s meet Ball and others like him where they are. If you reject the idea that God, even if you do believe in a deity, would communicate to humanity through a book, why would reading the Bible be worthwhile?

In the best tradition of click bait, here are four reasons, none of which addresses the spiritual value of the Scriptures:

-To understand Western culture. From Michelangelo’s Pieta to Handel’s Messiah to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, it’s impossible without at least a cursory knowledge of the Bible to appreciate the inspiration behind art that continues to capture the imagination and admiration of millions.

The Bible, far more than any other source, has for centuries shaped Western culture. Just one example: Amazing Grace, a 246-year-old song written by a repentant slave trader, still brings tears to the eyes of millions of people around the world each year. You can’t begin to understand why that is true without a basic grasp of New Testament theology.

-To understand history. Our nation’s founding document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where did those self-evident truths originate? They’re rooted in the biblical concept that all humans are created in God’s image.

I’d argue that the same idea was the inspirational and philosophical bedrock of the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher; to truly understand his work and writing, you have to read the book that most inspired him.

-To understand current events. Why is abortion still a hot-button issue in the United States? Why are the Israelis and the Palestinians still fighting? What motivates Vice President Pence and the voters who keep electing him to high office? Why is Chick-fil-A closed on Sundays?

You can’t really understand much of what is reported in the news, in the United States and around the world, without a basic knowledge of the Bible. You don’t have to accept the Gospels as gospel, but if you don’t read the Bible at least once out of intellectual curiosity, you’ll be lost when many big stories break.

-To understand your neighbors. My pastor on Sunday morning, in a message about parenting, described how he spent a year reading the Bible and making notes in the margins as a gift for each of his daughters. It was a sustained act of love, and one I suspect those soon-to-be women will treasure for the rest of their lives.

What motivates such devotion to an ancient book? The answer is as complex as the Scriptures themselves.

I’ve been amazed by people I’ve met around the world who make incredible sacrifices to help others in distress because they’ve been inspired by the Bible. I’ve also been appalled by people who wrap their anger and biases in that same book. Human behavior is complex and inconsistent, but it sure helps to know something about the ideas that drive so many people to acts of love and of hate.

You don’t have to love your neighbors as yourself to see value in understanding them a bit better. For hundreds of millions of your neighbors around the world, that means taking time to learn what the book that shapes their lives really says.

Because, like it or not, the Bible will continue to influence culture, history, current events and billions of lives around the world. And will do so long after GQ is less than a footnote in history.

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