Christian Education and How Children Read
The following is an article by Margaret Murray, a member of our Teacher Parent Council.
At the tender age of seventeen, exhausted by the processes and attitudes of school, I sat in an introductory lecture for the English Literature course at the University of Glasgow. The lecturer made some procedural intimations, he made numerous jokes, and then he gave us a serious recommendation that cut right across my expectations. He recommended that we each read the Bible from cover to cover, and, if we didn’t feel we could, to then read at least Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, and Revelation. Why? Because our culture, literature and language is, quite literally, rooted in the Bible. Although I had noticed some links in more obvious passages in school, this compelling invitation to read the Bible into every item of literature opened up a new world of reading to me. I chased the Biblical intertextuality in Blake, Shakespeare and Joyce and realised that no matter the intentions, worldview or script of the author, the Bible was there. My understanding of what reading was and could be exploded. God was everywhere.
As Christians, we are more or less all aware that what we read matters. It matters primarily that we read God’s Word, and then that we read other stimulating and edifying and enjoyable books. We may not be quite so aware that how we read also matters. It matters that we read intentionally, fairly, thoroughly. It matters that we discern the writer’s message, and that we know how to hold that message up to God’s message in His Word. The process of reading is actually very complex. Pastor John Piper points out that ‘reading is no simple thing: it includes recognising the ideas that attach to symbols. It includes understanding how those ideas fit together in an author’s mind to make a message. It includes thinking about whether that message is true or not. Learning how to read never stops. There is always room for improvement in how we read.’
Not only does it matter how and what we read, it matters how and what we teach our children to read. And they are our responsibility. If we are handing this task over to someone else – namely, their class teacher – it matters that they are equipped and willing to teach our child to fully read. The content, purpose, perspectives and connections made in this process of learning to read matter – and a Christian worldview changes all four.
It matters that the Bible is read and understood more than any other book that your children read. It matters that the content of any other books your children read are edifying and challenging. The language, characterisation, depictions and worldview all matter.
A clear sense of purpose is essential to all deep learning, and therefore applies to reading. If we see no point in reading, we won’t do it. Over and above the (multiple!!) functional purposes of reading, the Christian worldview reveals that the ultimate purpose of reading is to meet, engage and communicate with God Himself. Every tool we have for interpretation and analysis can be taken to His word to understand it more fully, and through it we see Him. This is reading’s highest calling.
Just as God has purpose in every word in His Word, so too human authors are creating and layering meaning constantly. Not only does the Christian reader need to understand the author’s perspective, they need to understand how that perspective fits in with God’s Reality. Who wrote this? What are they trying to say? What does God have to say about this? Only a full answer to all three questions can enable the Christian reader to thoroughly appreciate and contextualise the perspectives of a text.
Any process of deep learning requires connections to be made. If you want your children to really engage with their Bible, and to really engage with their other literature, they need to be equipped to make the connection between what their book says and what the Bible says, and to know that there is always a link. Sometimes it is as obvious as a word for word quotation! Similarly they need to make the connection between what their minister does (or should be doing) in the sermon each Sunday, and how their teacher teaches books, how their parents lead in family worship, and how they read when they read by themselves. They need to understand that their minister is just reading – the context, the words, the worldview, the meaning of a passage – aloud to the congregation, and realise that they can do that too because they too know how to read.
A true Christian education will transform reading for our children, as it will for us. It will reveal that ‘..the Bible will be the sun in the solar system of all that we teach our children. It will not be one among many books. It will be the central book, the all-permeating book. The other books are dark planets; the Bible is the light-giving sun. All other books will be read in the light of this book. All books will be judged by this book. All books will find meaning in the worldview built by this book.’ Christian education will allow the Bible to define what reading means to our children.
John Piper, February 1996, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/raising-children-who-are-confident-in-god, accessed September 2015