The Bible and the Education of Children: Lessons from Alexander Campbell, RQ article by Samjung Kang-Hamilton

…most of the prior literature has ignored his [AC] understanding of the education of children in the Bible.  This essay will begin to close that gap and suggest ways in which an understanding of Campbell would help strengthen children’s ministry in Churches of Christ today.  The following sections will examine Campbell’s views on (1) the Bible and children, (2) childhood, (3) the nature of education, (4) its purposes; (5) and its methods and  contexts.  his work helps us get past the current practice of treating the Bible as a set of morality tales.

So ends her opening section. Kang-Hamilton lays out a thesis that Campbell’s notions on the education of children offers to the contemporary church a resource for (re)thinking children’s ministry and the teaching of the Bible to and for children.  I’m already favorably impressed, as a researcher who sees many such gaps, as a teacher and a ministry leader in a congregational education ministry, and, not least of all, as a parent.  I will over the next few days post short summaries and excerpt’s from each section of her article. Come back to see what she discovers from AC and what she makes of it for our situation.

Samjung Kang-Hamilton, “The Bible and the Education of Children: Lessons from Alexander Campbell” Restoration Quarterly 52:3 third Quarter 2010, 130-143.  For more about RQ, click here.

The Sayings of the Fathers on reading Scripture

The nature of water is soft, that of a rock is hard. But if a narrow-necked bottle is hung above a stone, drop by drop the water wears away the rock. So it is with the word of God: it is soft and our heart is hard. But when a person hears the word of God, often then his heart is opened to the fear of God.

The Apophthegmata Patrum (the Sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of proverbs and quotes from 4th-5th c. monks.   This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 229.

Word-Alone Doctrine by R. H. Boll: A Voice from 1917


There is a well-defined tendency among Christians to dissociate God from his word. It comes to the point that God himself is not needed or directly involved in the matter of our salvation.  The word is all.  As a writer in a certain paper some years ago illustrated it: “the only way the governor does a condemned criminal any good is by means of a writ of pardon.”  And then with rather a coarse comparison: “The presence of the governor himself would do the prisoner no more good than the presence of a mule.”  This principles leaves us, indeed, with a scheme of salvation, a law, a set of precepts, but God is no longer in it.  The word will do good as the intelligence conveyed in my letter will do my friend good the while I am absent and otherwise occupied, or [207] like a prescription helps the patient the while the doctor is gone.  The final outcome of such a position is a sight of intellectual study, dry discussions, argumentations, hairsplittings, formalism, hypocrisy, and spiritual death.  The word is good, and nothing too great and lofty can be said about it; but the word is not honored by putting it in a false place, making a false claim for it, and attributing virtue to it apart from God.  For whether is greater–the word, or he that backs it and gives it power?  Have ye never yet understood that the word is not an end in itself, but a means to an end–even the means of bringing us into, and keeping is in contact and union with God himself and with Christ, that so we may be in him and he in us?

R. H. Boll, Truth and Grace. F. L. Rowe: Cincinnati, 1917, pages 206-207.

Gregory the Great on reading Scripture

Holy Scripture is presented to the mind’s eye as a kind of mirror so that our inner appearance can be seen in it. In this mirror we recognize both the ugliness and the beauty of our soul. We can tell what progress we are making, or see our utter lack of progress…The virtues of people in the Bible may support our hope, and their faults may clothe us with the protection of humility. The former, through the joy they cause, give our spirits wings; the latter, by causing fear, put a check on our actions. By listening to Scripture the soul learns both the confidence of hope and the humility of fear.

Gregory, a moral theologian, was Bishop of Rome from 590-604. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 229.

Basil of Caesarea on reading Scripture

The best way to discover our duty is to study the divinely inspired Scriptures, for in them we find both instructions about conduct and the lives of blessed men, delivered in writing. They are laid before us like having images of the godly life for the imitation of their good works. When we devote ourselves to the imitation of what is offered there, we find the appropriate medicine for whatever deficiency or illness we feel we have, as from a pharmacy.

Basil was Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia from 370-379. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, pages 228-229.

Origen on reading Scripture

You then, my true son, give primary attention to reading the divine Scriptures. Be attentive: for we must be attentive when reading the things of God, so that we not say or think anything too reckless about them…Being attentive to divine reading, seek correctly and with unwavering faith in God the meaning of the divine Scriptures that is hidden to the many. Never cease knocking and seeking, for prayer is indispensable in understanding divine things.

Origen was a teacher and writer in Alexandria, Egypt ca. 185-250. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 228.

Theonas on reading Scripture

Let no day pass by without reading–at a suitable time–some portion of the sacred lessons, allowing time for meditation.  And never cast off the practice of reading the sacred Scriptures; for nothing feeds the soul and enriches the mind as much as those sacred lessons do.

Theonas was Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt ca. 281-300.  This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 228.

The Story

Not long ago I listened online to my long-time friend Chris Harrell preach about Joseph.  Chris is pinch-hitting for Jimmy Adcox at Southwest Church in Jonesboro, AR.  For a season they are preaching through the biblical narrative from beginning to end.  It appears they are at the same time intentionally tying the stories of life on the ground in Jonesboro to the narrative of Scipture and the narrative Scripture invites us to inhabit.  Here is the website they put together as they work through it.  I find the website a good idea and the materials on it (especially the reference chart) helpful.  I admire their attempt to saturate the congregation with the Biblical story.

thoughts on teaching

Andrew Phillips blogged this a few days ago:

I am preparing to talk to some teachers about Bible teaching at a conference in a few weeks, and I could use some feedback from people in different congregations on these questions. Plus, if you post responses in the comments, it might be helpful to anyone else who would read this (all 4 of us).

1.   What are the biggest challenges for teaching Bible Classes?

2.   What are the things you have seen effective teachers do? What are some teaching strategies that aren’t effective?

3.   If you could say one thing to encourage a group of teachers, what would it be?

I would love some feedback – thanks in advance! I will keep you posted on the presentation, and I will post some of the material in a few weeks.

My reply:

Good questions, Andrew. Here’s my attempt to answer all three questions with one sentence:

The best teachers I have seen in action have all been persons of integrity, who did their homework well, who respected their students’ hearts and minds, and who urged their students to go where the text leads.

My perspective, for what it is worth.

Blog about what you come up with; I’m interested in what you think.

I think my short reply addressed Andrew’s questions, albeit in a roundabout way.  I’m mulling it all over and perhaps I will have a few more comments in the days to come.

Survey Says

While I may have blogged little in the last six weeks, I did think about it.  One of the things I mulled over was the survey on the side-bar to your right.  Here are the results of the latest survey:

In the ‘other’ category three responses were submitted:

1. combination of exegetical with motivational (modern-day application)    
2. If they’re done well, I like and appreciate all of the above.    
3. Postmodern – meaning: screwing up all these categories!
1. What type of teaching (as in Bible classes or Sunday School), as a general rule, best speaks to you?
  answered question 15
  skipped question
60.0% 9
13.3% 2
Doctrinal:   0.0% 0
20.0% 3
13.3% 2
Other (please specify) 3

Interesting. First off, if you participated…thank you.  I appreciate it.   As a one-time paid-minister and now-sometime volunteer teacher I have a stake in this that goes beyond curiosity.  I am curious what best speaks to people, but more than that I take my teaching seriously and any feedback is helpful and welcome.  My own experience in teaching, not to say my personal preference, tracks right along with the results above.  Laura and I, if I can speak for her here, agree with anonymous ‘other’ poster #’s 1 and 2 above.  We appreciate most anything done well, and try to learn from everyone no matter what.  We try, sometimes it is easy, sometimes not.  I try as a teacher to teach well, although these categories aren’t so rigidly separated from each other in any particular class I teach.  For example, Sunday we were in Colossians 1 and looking back over it, my teaching wove together exegesis, exhortation, inspiration, and theology.  Whether I did it well isn’t for me to judge, I’m just making the observation that the categories aren’t always so neat.  Furthermore, if done well, I don’t think that matters.

Anyhow, so far as it goes, thanks for participating in my little survey.  Check the side-bar to your right, a new one is up.  I’ll leave it up a while and I would appreciate your input.