Bible program review
“Bethany students are often spiritually curious and courageous. They understand that engagement with scripture is a conversation and that understanding is best demonstrated in living a life that resonates with the text.”
This observation by Jo-Ann Brandt, professor of Bible and religion at Goshen College and a member of the committee that recently reviewed Bethany’s Bible program, was shared with a group of nearly 50 Goshen-area pastors and spouses who met Feb. 23 for dinner, to hear a report on Bethany’s Bible program, and to watch the school’s musical production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
While Bethany weaves Christian teachings into the entire curriculum, systematic biblical instruction takes place in Bible courses required at each grade level (4-12). Matt Miller, grade 7-8 Bible teacher, summarized the middle school curriculum and highlighted the eighth grade experience of reflecting on who Jesus is and how they should respond to him. Dale Shenk, high school Bible teacher, then shared how the theological framework of biblical study is designed to match students’ development stage at each grade level.
For example, ninth graders are learning to be more independent and hear our surrounding culture’s emphasis on individual freedom to “do what you want.” However, in their study of Old Testament stories, they also learn that with the freedom to choose comes consequences—judgment for poor choices—and grace. Shenk says, “I use the parent image of God a lot. God and your parents love you; when you make a mistake there are consequences, but they still love you, and will give you another chance.”
As sophomores, students increasingly think about ethics and morals and choosing how they want to live their lives. Shenk says, “Jesus can inform that process. Jesus’ saving grace makes a difference in our lives now, not just after we die.” So New Testament students’ understanding of Christology broadens beyond “I believe in Jesus = I go to heaven” to include discipleship, following Jesus daily. They examine the life and teachings of Jesus—looking particularly at his nonresistance, his identification with the poor, and his extension of grace to all people—and how they can apply these teachings to their personal faith.
Junior Church History students broaden their understanding of church from beyond their own congregation to include the global Christian community in both time (the past) and space (geography). To better understand their present-day context, students examine Christian thought and practice throughout its historical periods—the early church, the state church, Reformation, and the Anabaptist-Mennonite story—and across denominations. As juniors begin to think what they will do beyond high school, they are also beginning to think about what kind of church they want to be a part of.
Seniors continue this questioning, but with the pressing decision of deciding what they will do (college, work, or service), they also need to own what they believe. In Christian Faith Journey, they discuss their faith experiences and gifts, reflect on the beliefs of the Christian church, and explore spiritual disciplines and lifestyle. Then, in a public setting, students describe their own response to the teachings of the Christian church at this point in their faith journey.
Rhonda Yoder, parent of former Bethany students and also a Bible review committee member, informally surveyed some recent graduates regarding their Bible class experience at Bethany. She found that graduates appreciated the opportunity to ask questions in a non-threatening environment and Shenk’s ability to listen non-judgmentally to their honest questions.
Brandt, who sees the results of Bethany’s Bible program firsthand in her role as a professor at Goshen College, further observes that most Bethany students coming to Goshen College are comfortable asking questions, but more out of commitment to growing in faith than rebellion to faith. She says, “While their willingness to ask questions that challenge the core convictions of our faith may at times seem like they are poised to reject what they have received, I find something quite different. Their questioning appears to be anchored in the conviction that what they have received is a good and reliable base upon which to build.”
In addition to Brandt, Yoder, and Bible teachers Miller and Shenk, members of the review committee included John Mast, director of special services at Bethany and John Troyer, a pastor at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church and Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference’s representative on Bethany’s Board. To learn more about Bible courses offered at each grade level, see Bible course offerings.