Book Review: Understanding Bible By Design

Understanding Bible By Design, by G. Brooke Lester with Jane S. Webster and Christopher M. Jones

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Fortress Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book is a curious case of a work that purports to educate and inspire the reading audience to adopt a certain approach to teaching by design but that fails to demonstrate that the people writing the book understand the Bible or understand the purpose of biblical education in helping to encourage a whole biblical worldview and not a lot of fashionable and often erroneous ideas about the Bible that spring from critical theory [1].  Ultimately, this book fails from two separate directions.  On the one hand, the authors seek to present themselves and educate/indoctrinate their students to be critics and judges of the biblical text rather than better equipped to stand at the dock where God will be judging them for their beliefs and practices.  This fundamental error is compounded by the fact that the readers appear to view Learning by Design as an authority that can be usefully applied from pedagogy to androgogy, without ever acknowledging a discontinuity between methods for teaching children and teaching adults.  Given the sorry state of the pedagogy of the United States and its utter failure in educating children, one would think that people like the authors of this book would have a great deal of humility in trying to draw insights.  If the authors of this book had reversed their positions on the truth value of Learning By Design and the Bible, the book would have been greatly improved.

This short book of about 150 pages or so consists of six essays and an appendix.  The book begins with some puffery from readers who liked the book, and almost immediately becomes a sales pitch for the Learning by Design approach.  The first essay sets the problem of presenting the importance of beginning with the objectives one has in mind in a course and then working backwards from there and avoiding the belief that simply because one has covered an area that those who are listening understand it, itself a rather sensible point as far as it goes.  The next essay goes fully into the sales pitch of promoting understanding by design by comparing it to the way that we plan trips with certain ends in mind and then work our way backwards.  Again, this is fine as far as it goes.  The authors then spend three essays looking at the course design for various situations:  the Old Testament in seminary, putting a class online, and designing a class for the New Testament in a secular university.  Honestly, there seemed to be very little difference between the approach between the seminary and the secular university, demonstrating that these authors have little ambition to raise up people capable of defending the Bible against its enemies and preaching a whole biblical worldview that might lead to an arresting of the moral decline of our civilization, a moral decline that these authors appear to endorse.  The book ends with a look at preaching outside the Bible with a reference to various works of religious fiction like the Gospel of Thomas and the Acts of Paul and Thecla before an appendix closes the book.

One wonders how much better this book would have been had it gotten things the right way around, and put first things first.  A great book could have been made looking at the way that the timeless truths of the Bible could be taught using an approach that many readers would likely be unfamiliar with.  Unfortunately, the authors did not take the correct approach, and instead judged the timeless truths of the Bible that speak authoritatively to us regardless of our time and context as being a literary masterpiece like Shakespeare or Milton that is enjoyed by many but that which is nothing authoritative to us, and defending as a dogmatic authority a fad of education that will likely fade in a few years time to be replaced by some other fad from our failing education system, just after it has been applied with a passion by some well-meaning but not very biblically sound liberal minded seminaries like those the authors teach at, which crank out hordes of critical scholars whose doubts about the Bible render them unfit for any proper pulpit.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: Understanding Bible By Design

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