Why Do We Need a Sunday School Reformation? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 2, we looked at how we might teach the contents of the Bible in a systematic way by looking at how colleges and universities teach their students. But there are specialized schools that teach the Bible, seminaries.

How do seminaries teach the Bible to their students? When I was attending Southern Evangelical Seminary, we took four classes that covered the entire Bible: two Old Testament classes and two New Testament classes.

These classes moved systematically through each book of the Bible, covering authorship, theological themes, major actors, major events, dating of the events, and literary structure. Now, the books in the Bible, as they are currently arranged, are not all in chronological order, but my seminary professors made sure we understood how all of the books chronologically fit together.

Do any of the Sunday school curricula that are commonly offered in churches use this concept of moving chronologically through the historical narratives of the Bible? None that I’ve ever seen. Instead, what is most often used is a topical curriculum.

A topical curriculum is structured around singular doctrines or applications of the contents of the Bible. For example, there may be a series of lessons on how to apply the Bible’s teachings to the issue of human sexuality. The curriculum will jump around the Bible, picking verses here and there that talk about sexuality.

Or maybe there will be a series on a single doctrine, such as atonement for sins. In this case, the curriculum will, again, jump around the entire Bible, highlighting verses that talk about the atonement.

These topical curricula are not systematic. They are not chronological. They leave the SSG members without a grounding in the overarching historical narrative of the Bible.

Imagine studying the events of World War II. Instead of moving chronologically through the events of WWII, what if the curriculum started with a series of lessons on the bravery of the men who attacked the Axis powers around the world? And then moved to a series on the resistance movements that formed in all the different countries occupied by Japan and Germany. And then moved to a series on how to apply the efficiency of American artillery factories to your own factory or business. And so forth and so forth.

Would each of these lessons be interesting, in and of themselves? Sure. We could learn something from each of these lesson series. But here is the key question: after these lessons, how well would we understand why WWII started in the first place, who the major players were during the war, how events unfolded once the war started, what the major battles were during the war, and how the war was brought to an end?

We might know bits and pieces about the overarching history of WWII, but we certainly would not be experts on WWII. We couldn’t teach others about WWII. We couldn’t explain the reasons WWII happened. We couldn’t explain the major players in the war. We would have a bunch of disjointed facts about the war, and that’s all. In no way would any college, university, or school agree that we had been taught WWII adequately. We would flunk any exam we were given on the facts of WWII.

Now let me be clear. Are topical curricula necessarily bad? No. If your SSG members are well grounded in the historical narrative of the entire Bible, then topical curricula can be wonderful, because now you’re building on a firm foundation of biblical knowledge. But before that foundation is there, the topical curriculum is ineffective.

But this is where we are with SSG members. They know disjointed bits and pieces about the Bible, but most of them (youth and adults) have no idea how it all connects. They don’t know the major components of the overarching biblical narrative. They don’t know the Word of God. We need a reformation because our students are flunking their exams.