Occasionally, I will meet a Bible class teacher of children or teens who is having his or her students read a secular book in their Bible class. There are some secular books that could enhance a spiritual discussion. If you aren’t careful though, your Bible class can gradually become an English literature class.
If you are considering using a secular book in your Bible class in some way, here are some important things to consider.
- Use non-fiction books whenever possible, especially with children. Children are still sorting out what is real from what isn’t. Introducing a fiction book in the middle of a class based on the Bible, can add to the confusion. Students in their teens should be able to understand the difference between the Bible and fictional literature. To avoid confusion though, make it abundantly clear to students the differences between the Bible and any other book – Christian, fiction or non -fiction – you intend to use.
- Have a couple of critical goals in mind. Reading a secular book just because it’s great literature or popular won’t help your students grow spiritually. You want to find a book that illustrates some principle from the Bible you believe your students will better understand in a modern setting. Or stories that clearly show the earthly consequences of disobeying God.
- Make sure you know all of the themes in the book. If you Google “themes in name of book” you will find plenty of information. Reading a book in class is an implied endorsement. If you are only using a section, your students may finish reading the book without adult guidance. Authors are also great at writing in their biases and world views in ways that influence without being obvious. It’s important to understand all of the messages your students may get in addition to the one you intended.
- Compare and contrast the material in the book to scripture as much as possible. If you spend several weeks on a book and barely mention the Bible, some students will begin to think all books – including the Bible – have equal value for our lives. The Bible should always be the central text for your class – even if you are also using another book.
- Research the author and if necessary, explain what you found to students. This goes for any author of material you may use. Some authors write a couple of good books and use the reputation from those to sell some edgier material, that may be for a much older audience. Once introduced to an author they enjoy, some students will read everything the person ever wrote. You need to be aware of what you may be unknowingly exposing students to later. In other cases a Christian author may have written a great book, but since then become enmeshed in sin so public even your students are aware of it. If you can’t find a better book, teens can handle a discussion of why you believe the book still has helpful information in it.
- Inform parents and provide additional helpful resources for them, including free copies of the book for those who can’t afford it. This will potentially save you time and frustration. Parents will wonder why their children are being exposed to a book other than a Bible. They need to understand why you are introducing the additional material as well as ways they can continue the discussions with their kids at home.
- Don’t make the lessons dry and boring. Bible classes should be hands-on, experiential, meaningful and memorable. If a Bible student suddenly walks into what appears to be a boring literature class at school, that can negatively impact how they feel about Bible class.
- Make sure questions and activities revolve around the spiritual aspects of the book and not the topics normally discussed in a literature class. Unless your ministry is providing faith based tutoring, your questions should reflect your spiritual goals for reading the book. Don’t get distracted and start asking questions that are designed for literature classes, but don’t help you reach your goals. English teachers need to be especially careful about this, because the more secular discussions have become a habit for you.
- Instead of using the books during class time, suggest families read and discuss them at home. The books can be read individually by family members or read aloud to the entire family. Be sure to provide learning goals and questions for them to use in their discussions. You may also want to suggest a couple of activities that build on the connection between the Bible, the book and real life.
Secular books can add a new dimension to your Bible classes. You just need to be careful to make sure the impact on the spiritual lives of your students will be positive and not negative. Using the tips above can help you make best use of sources outside of the Bible with your students.