I’ve discovered there are three types of students

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Note: This is the first of a two-part commentary from Shorter University professor Randy Douglas on the biblical knowledge of students entering their first year of college.

Closing the Back Door Part 1

How would you answer the following question?

The Bible is…

A. A credible, historical document, accurately depicting its people, places and events.
B. Somewhat credible in that the core story is true, but some parts have been added.
C. Not a credible document, in that it has been added to many times over the years.

Most churched people I have met would probably choose answer A, although they may be hard pressed to defend this answer. Most were raised to believe the Bible is true, and good Christians don’t ask hard questions.

I have found that many churched people would choose answer B; they see the Bible is God’s Word but it is not really a historical document. Rather, it is viewed more as a “religious” document in that the core concepts are true, but not the details of the Bible. They have some doubts about how something that old and hand copied over the years could possibly be viewed as accurate and true.

Many people outside of the church would choose answer C; the Bible is just a religious book with good, moral concepts. Presenting the Bible as a historical document would be ludicrous to them because of its age and supposedly suspect transmission process.

What they do, and don’t know

How would your youth answer this question? I can shed some light on this question. Every semester for the past seven years, I have asked that question (and many more) to my students at Shorter University. Every Shorter student must take Bible classes: Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey. The number of students I have surveyed over the years has been about 1,600.

At the beginning of these courses each student takes a Pretest on the Bible. The Pretest is a 30-question Bible literacy quiz, which shows what the students know (and don’t know!) about the Bible. There are two parts to the Pretest. One part asks questions which are specific to either the Old or New Testament, depending on the course. For example, one question in the New Testament Pretest asks who wrote the Gospels. There is also a second part made up of six apologetic questions that have been carefully woven into both Pretests. The same three questions on the Bible is in both Pretests (one such question is #1 seen above). The other questions are on God and Jesus.

Why do I use a Pretest? There are two reasons:

  1. Entry Level Knowledge – a good teacher desires to know what the student’s knowledge about the subject is as they begin the class. One effective way to discover this is by using a Pretest. A Pretest reveals not only the entry knowledge of the student, but also gaps in their knowledge or even misconceptions. This information guides the teacher in what to cover and address in class.
  2. Exit Level Knowledge – how can we know if a student has truly learned in class? By testing the student’s knowledge about the subject as they finish the class. To accomplish this, I use a Posttest as the last quiz for the class. The Posttest has the same questions as the Pretest. By comparing the student’s Pretest scores and Posttest scores, a teacher can easily see what the student has learned and if the teacher was successful in teaching.

As I have analyzed the Pretests/Posttests over the years, I have made two surprising discoveries:

  1. The Bible knowledge Pretest scores are consistently very low. In fact, the average Pretest class score was 33 out of 100 points, meaning they only got about one-third of the questions right.
  2. Based on these results, I have identified three different groups of students. I classify them as follows:
  • Uncompromising – these students are passionate Christians raised in the church, active Christians while at school, and excited to be in a Bible survey class.
  • Unchurched – these students are passionate pagans who know or care very little for the Bible and did not want to take a Bible class.
  • Unsure – these students were raised in Christianity but are now unsure of their faith. Christianity was their parent’s religion, but now that they were away and on their own, they are not sure the Christian faith is theirs. This group had a lot of questions or doubts about God, Jesus, or the Bible.

Where they land

The groups of students were identified based on five demographic questions that were included in each Pretest:

  1. When you were a child, in what religion were you raised, if any? Options: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, and other/nothing.
  2. Growing up, how many years were you raised in a religion, if any? Options: 0, 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, or 16-18.
  3. What religion do you practice now, if any? Options: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, and other/nothing.
  4. How important is religion in your life currently? Options: very important, important, somewhat important, I’ll get around to it someday, not important, and unsure.
  5. In reference to the Bible, I struggle believing … Options: that it is the Word of God (inspiration), that the Bible does not contain errors (inerrancy), that the story of the creation in Genesis is true, that a man named Jesus actually existed, and nothing.

The students I classified as Uncompromising answered question #1) “raised in Christianity;” question #2) 11-18 years; question #3) “practice Christianity;” and question #4) their Christian religion was “very important” or “important” to their lives currently.

The students I classified as Unchurched answered question #1) “Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism,” or “other/nothing;” question #2) 0-18 years (if raised in a pagan religion); question #3) practice “Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism,” or “nothing;” and question #4) their religion is “not important” to their lives currently.

The students I classified as Unsure answered question #1) “raised in Christianity;” question #2) 11-18 years; question #3) “practice Christianity;” but they answered question #4) their Christian religion is “somewhat important,” “I’ll get around to it someday,” or “unsure” to their lives currently.

So how did each group score on the Pretest? In the next article I will reveal the surprising results. I will also give suggestions as to what parents and the church can do to move their teen from the Unsure group to the Uncompromising.

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