by Brian L. Fargher
When a missionary thinks about his work teaching in a basic Bible school, he immediately faces the question of which way to take: the easy way or the hard way.
When a missionary thinks about his work teaching in a basic Bible school, he immediately faces the question of which way to take: the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is simply to translate some of the notes you were given when you did your training and, regardless of whether they meet the need, toss them to the class and hope they get something out of them. The hard way is to find the way and the material that will best meet the needs of your students and thus fit them for the work for which they are preparing themselves.
Each Bible teacher will have a different aim in his teaching, but in a basic Bible school program we should be able to agree on one general aim. Within this framework, material suitable for a wide variety of situations can be prepared. The aim I have set before me is to give the student a sound knowledge of the contents of the whole Bible.
Within the time allocated, we have no hope of covering all the material. We must choose; we mint see our work as the first essential step to a more advanced program. Many teachers try to teach their students to run before they can walk; so if the following plan looks a bit radical, at least give it some consideration before you classify it as impractical.
In this approach to material, only the student has been considered. There is plenty of material for teachers, but a real paucity of student-oriented material. Unless we are able to put food material into the hands of our students, then we are really accomplishing very little. They will retain only a very small proportion of the classroom teaching. More than that, they will be given such a large amount of material that unless they have it in some permanent form, they will never be able to use it.
The material I am recommending is specifically planned: (a) to give the student something to study from; and (b) notes from which he can teach and preach later on.
Considering the needs of the work, I have laid down nine points by which to measure material:
1. Unless it is comprehensive, we are doing the student a real disservice. We are leaving huge gaps which he will find impossible to bridge. Our material must cover the whole Bible.
2. When they are given a large amount of material, it is too much to expect them to put it into a form from which they can study it. The material must be studiable.
3. If they are going to study from the material given, then it must be textual; not the teacher’s interpretation of what the text says, but actually what the text says.
4. Seeing that it takes a great deal of time, money and effort to prepare material, it should be adaptable. If my notes on Daniel, however correct I feel they may be, are unacceptable to other teachers, they are not going to use them. The basic form should be fluid enough to provide diversity of interpretation.
5. In view of the above, they should be lastable. If they are prepared for a small group of students in a particular situation, it is likely they will have to be revised in a few years. Why should they when the Text Book (the Bible) has not been changed?
6. I hope that every one of my students will play some part in teaching ministry of his local church. The material which he-has received from school should be practical. It should not be necessary for him to have to sit down and prepare all his own material when he wants to teach from Revelation.
7. As well as being adaptable, the material should be fairly rigid in pattern. Compare, for instance, Wesley’s and Spurgeon’s sermons. The material should be in such a form that when the inexperienced teacher gets to point (d) he doesn’t wonder where to go from there.
8. When we receive new students we should assume that they know nothing about the Bible. The material we present should be suitable for them and at the same time be adaptable for those who are capable of getting more than just the bare facts. Otherwise we will be neglecting one group or the other.
9. Should you pay a surprise visit to one of the local churches after the service has begun, don’t be surprised to find the preacher using your notes for his sermon outline! They will be used for this, so they should be preachable. Let’s try to present our material in a form that the student can use for Sunday services.
Nothing we can prepare is going to be perfect, but if we can get something that has a balanced proportion of these nine points, we can be sure that our time and money are not being wasted. When considering material for possible use in your school, keep these points in mind. They will help you discard a lot of useless stuff.
How we are going to give this material to the students is a good question. Book form is out of the question, unless it were heavily subsidized, because of the prohibitive price. In view of the fact that each teacher will want to add various items to make the material suitable to his situation, I have found that mimeographed sheets in a ring binder have proved most suitable. Additional material can be added without any trouble; if material is revised or some sheets need changing because of expressions and questions that are not clear, no great expense or inconvenience is involved.
When we examine the material available in English, we find that there are seven distinct types. A brief glance at each of these will make it clear why we have to choose one of them. It will help us too, to determine which of them fits the needs we are trying to meet.
1. Survey. A survey is not an introduction. A survey is like a "tourist’s guide" to the area; an introduction like a lecture in geography. The one volume IVF Bible Commentary is an excellent example of survey material. This method skims over the text, providing at the same time a skillful and solid foundation for more detailed studies later on. A fair treatment of all problems is attempted and, if necessary, can be continued in "additional notes." In the written notes, no effort is made to expound or to apply; this is up to the teacher.
2. In-depth Commentary. Most Bible teachers would agree that this is the ideal sort of material. Critical problems are not neglected, nor are they allowed to usurp undue space. The New London Commentary, being published by Eerdmans and Marshall, Morgan & Scott is the best example of this type of material.
3. Sundry Notes. In this class we might put the Jamieson, Fawcett and Brown commentary; Adam Clarke’s, Wesley’s "Notes on the New Testament," etc. They may pass over a number of verses with no comment and then spend half a page on a devotional homily. This is helpful as a reference work, but doesn’t meet the needs of our classroom.
4. Homiletical. Like Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, Maclaren and Campbell Morgan. They hit the high spots in memorable words. They are for and from the pulpit. As time and talent are found, such material should find a place in the literature of every language, but they can never serve as classroom text books for a basic Bible school.
5. Devotional. Exegesis is a secondary concern of most of these books. They are not prepared to deal specifically with the text, i.e. F. B. Myer’s "The Way into the Holiest" is called "an exposition of the Epistle of the Hebrews." Such material is very valuable and has its place, but let’s be careful that all our teaching doesn’t become like this.
6. Analytical. Very attractive to the teacher who is himself a student, but quite useless to our average student. Westcott on "John," Lightfoot on "Galatians" and Vincent Taylor on "Mark" are excellent examples.
7. Medley. A polite term for a muddle! No examples will be given, but not because there is a lack of them. They follow no particular pattern.
If we are going to reach the goal we have set ourselves, that of giving our students "a sound knowledge of the contents of the whole Bible," the only sort of material we can use is the survey type. After many false starts, this has proved to give the results we’re looking for. This is the type of material that I recommend for a basic Bible school.
Now we have to decide upon (a) the method we are going to use in teaching this material, and (b) the principles which are going to guide us in the presentation of the material.
The cry from most educational institutions is, "Teach them to think." This stimulates the obvious question: Think with what? I’m convinced that until a student has the facts he can’t be expected to reach any conclusions; it sounds so obvious that it is almost ridiculous, but it is just here that so many teachers go astray. Instead of spending hard weary hours drumming in the facts of the biblical text, they take the easy path and give something else that is both timeconsuming and superficial, neglecting that basic foundation without which there can be no solid biblical knowledge.
That is why I place the academic before the devotional. The devotional is built upon the academic, and not the other way around. When my students have grasped the facts of the biblical text, I am confident that the other three things will follow. It is not enough to give the students a sheaf of notes and hope that they will refer to them when they need them. We have to drill in the facts, so they can’t forget. This is the hardest and most uninteresting part of any teacher’s work, but is there any alternative?
From the facts the teacher must point out the lessons that God wished, and still wishes, to teach His people. If the first step has been well done, this one is comparatively easy for the student to grasp. Without it, the Bible will remain what it is to most people-an unconnected series of stories.
If the "half of knowledge is knowing where to find knowledge" the other half is knowing how to use it. When we have had our students for say three years, they are going to have a terrific amount of material in their hands. They have studied some of it for exams, but do they know how to use it? If we encourage them to simply repeat off-pat everything they have learned in school, we are falling into the error of Judaistic scribalism. There must be time in our program where we show the students how to take the material and the facts which they have been given, and work them into a sermon which is suitable for their local churches.
Missionaries have studied under teachers and are passing on to others the knowledge thus gained; unless our students do the same, we have worked in vain. We must work for the establishment of the Bible class movement throughout all the churches. In this area of our work, the basic Bible school should make a substantial contribution. Our students need to understand clearly the difference between teaching and preaching, and they need to have some idea of how to go about teaching.
We’ve covered the type of material recommended and the specific aims we have as we enter the classroom. Now let us consider two more things: (a) the various teaching methods available; (b) the actual application of the method chosen.
1. Discussion. This is very difficult to conduct. It depends upon the full cooperation of an intelligent class and a more intelligent teacher. Discussion depends upon students who already have a good knowledge of their subject. Then there must be a willingness to subject their views to criticism, plus a willingness to ask probing, even unorthodox, questions, yet not ridiculous and irrelevant ones.
2. Research. This again calls for a great deal of knowledge and experience from the student body, also for tools with which to do research. To impose this sort of work upon students incapable of it is just to waste their time and the teacher’s.
3. Commentary. This is perhaps the most common method of Bible teaching. To be effective, the teacher needs to have an excellent grasp of well-organized material and the students must be able to take notes. Unless the students are experienced, they will never get their notes into a usable form.
4. Search-question. This method is easy for the teacher, but students who have had little or no previous Bible teaching can not be expected to assemble enough basic facts through their own searching. In the light of the requirements of basis Bible school material, this method seems to be inadequate.
5. Muddle. This is the most common method and the most deplorable. A few facts tied together with some funny stories, spiced with sundry exhortations and to top it all off, an assignment for homework. It usually consists of a conglomeration of notes on the blackboard which the student copies into his note book-which will soon be either lost, or become illegible.
6. The final method, the one we use in the Evangelists’ Training School in Yerga Chaffee, Ethiopia, is the study question method. Questions are prepared from the text of each book of the Bible with the answers also from the text, and the students are expected to learn these answers off by heart. The following example is an extract from page ten of our notes on the Book of Acts:
10:44-48 The result of Peter’s preaching
182. What happened while Peter was still speaking? The Holy Spirit descended upon the listeners. 10:44; 11:15.
183. Why did the other believers who were with Peter become amazed? Because they saw the Holy Spirit descending upon the Gentiles. 10:45; 10:23; 2:33; 2:38.
184. How was it known that the Holy Spirit had descended upon them? Because they praised God in other tongues. 10:46; Mark 16:17.
185. What did Peter do when he saw this sign? Baptized them in the name of Jesus. 10:47-48; 8:36; Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:4; 11:47.
As the questions and answers are based on the text, there is only one answer, and that frown the text of Scripture. The aim of all this is to give the student the facts from the text, and not an interpretation of it. Cross-references are given so that the student may pursue the thought of the question and answer in other parts of the Bible.
The notes are prepared specifically for the student, so the teacher must not be deluded into thinking that they wild eliminate his preparation. A bad workman always blames his tools. Even for the student, these notes are the first step in Bible knowledge, not the final one. In his preparation the teacher should note the heading given to the section and, with that in mind, study the Bible passage carefully and look up all the cross-references; this is particularly essential for inexperienced teachers who do not have a large fund of Bible knowledge. He should note on his own sheets any additional remarks along with the application which he wishes to bring out from the passage. This, incidentally, should be done the day before-not five minutes before class time.
In the classroom we never allow the students to refer to their notes while the teacher is teaching. An introduction to the passage is given, showing how it fits into the theme of the book and tying it up with the preceding material. Every student must have a Bible and the students read the passage aloud after the teacher.
The main ideas of the passage as contained in the questions are pointed out and application of them is made. The students are then encouraged to examine the text in the Bible and ask any questions they may have from the text. Only when the teacher has finished his lesson do the students look at their sheets. Then we make sure that they understand both the question and the answer. Any appropriate additional texts are noted down next to the question. Any point arising from the lesson and not covered by the notes is noted and a fuller explanation given in another place.
In these notes prepared for the students, each paragraph is given a title and the salient points of the paragraph are brought out in five or six questions. Cross-references are given alongside each question. The student is thus provided with an outline for an expository sermon. He must, of course, be taught how to put this material into sermon shape.
Each set of notes has quite a bit of additional work-the amount depending upon the academic ability of the students. Memory verses are given from the book being studied and the students should learn these. We must never forget that we are teaching in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, which is a "foreign" language to many of our students. Unless the students understand the words they read they most certainly can’t grasp the teaching. Thus we have an extensive vocabulary list with each book.
They should also be able to learn a brief outline of the story of the book, not an a, b, c or 1, 2, 3 sort of thing, but a general idea of where the book begins and how it goes and where it ends. Most sets of notes also contain "additional remarks," especially useful to put the book into its historical and revelational setting. These should be used at the end and not the beginning of the course.
If you’re thinking, "This is too easy for my students," keep two things in mind:
(1) The set questions are really only a small part of the material you are teaching. If your students are familiar with and capable of handling this material, begin to question them about some of the additional material available.
(2) You are covering a large amount of material in a very short time. If your students are able to cover this, then it shows that they are ready to build on this material. Don’t be to hasty though. Recently an eleventh grade student from a Christian school saw the notes and said, "This is just what I’ve been looking for to help me study the Bible; for years I’ve floundered in a morass of unconnected facts."
The students’ notes are not prepared for intensive study. If you want to use them for that, then the questions covering as they do the complete teaching of the book, can be made the basis for exposition. Then the additional material can be written elsewhere. It goes without saying that in this way not nearly so much material can be covered.
In the Evangelists’ Training School in Yerga Chaffee, which is a basic Bible school, we have planned a three-year course. Each year consists of six four-week courses, the whole Bible being covered in eighteen courses. Excluding chapel period and one period of Amharic conversation each day, each course consists of 88 hours of classroom teaching. Four books, or parts thereof, are covered in each course.
After the four weeks they have a one-week break and then another four weeks. The study is so intensive that neither students nor teacher can take it in larger doses! Course number 2, for example, consisted of Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Psalms and Habakkuk.
During the four weeks the students read all these books aloud in class; from the 553 study questions given for these five books they wrote six examinations. Any student who misses more than three days must get 75 percent in examinations or rewrite them; others must get 50 percent or rewrite. They study hard and do very well. As the work is quite new to most of them, they are not required to study all the questions for examination purposes.
When the plan was first introduced three years ago, the students’ reactions were as we had expected. The school was boycotted and we only managed to get five students. "Why can’t we have the usual subjects that others have?" was their complaint.
"If you want other subjects, go to Elementary School; that’s what we have it for and you are welcome to enter. The Bible School is to teach the Bible, a book that we can’t adequately cover in three years, and that is all we’re teaching," we explained.
Second term saw thirty in; in the first month of the third year we had an average attendance of fifty. Instead of feeling that they are mediocre students in a bit of everything, they are beginning to feel that they have taken the first step towards being "Bible experts."
As each of the eighteen courses is completely different, the three-year course is arranged in a cycle that greatly cuts down in buildings and teaching staff required. The Ethiopian teacher and I prepare the questions and answers; they are checked and cross references put in. Then he types the stencils on an Amharic typewriter, and we mimeograph the required number of copies.
This means that for the whole program, one Ethiopian teacher and one missionary couple are all the necessary staff. We have found that we average about a stencil a chapter, so after their three-year course our students are going to end up with more than five hundred sheets in their ring binders. This will give them a complete set of notes on the whole Bible.
The question of the effectiveness of our teaching is one we are not afraid to face. To test this, I sprang a one hundred-question exam from Genesis, Exodus and 2 Corinthians-material the students had studied exactly a year before and which they had not reviewed in class since that time. The better students averaged 45 percent while others averaged 26 percent. This showed us beyond any doubt that the combination of the survey type material and the study-question teaching method is producing the results we are looking for.
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