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What this test reveals about biblical literacy and college freshmen

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ROME — The test consists of only 30 questions, and it waits on every student walking into Randy Douglass' survey class for the first time.

Before Douglass joined Shorter University's staff in 2012, he had long since developed an interest in apologetics. That included co-writing two books with the late Norman Geisler – called the "Dean of Apologetics. Those works are "Bringing Your Faith to Work: Answers for Breakroom Skeptics" (2005) and "Integrity at Work" (2007).

Prior to arriving in Georgia, though, it was during his time teaching at Charleston Southern University while working with church planters that Douglass began to drill down into the biblical literacy of students.

“Most people do not realize that to graduate from Shorter, a student must take two classes: Old Testament and New Testament Survey,” he explained. “I love to teach the survey classes because they are always filled with a variety of students.”

Like Charleston Southern, Shorter is a Christian university. However, a test Douglass has used over the years exhibits the lack of biblical literacy many students carry with them to campus. The findings are something to consider: it’s one thing for a student ill-prepared spiritually to step onto a Christian campus; the stakes go up considerably when that campus is secular.

The New Testament was originally written in:
A. Hebrew
B. Greek
C. English

Each semester, Douglass usually teaches three Bible survey courses (Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey). Those classes are typically filled to capacity, he told The Index, with 85-100 students.

A pre-test asks basic questions about the Bible. Before those, however, Douglass asks five questions to gauge the student’s spiritual background. They include what faith was practiced in their home growing up, the importance of religion in one’s life, and questions the student may have about God. The answers give Douglass a baseline for his class’s spiritual makeup.

“I put them into three categories. The Unashamed students are active Christians and excited about taking a Bible class. Those I call Unchurched are active pagans and not interested in Christianity. The third group are called the Unsure. These students have been raised in Christian homes and good evangelical churches. But now as young adults living on their own, are unsure of whether Christianity is their faith or just that of their parents.”

Douglass has written two columns for The Index on the tests, here and here.

When was the New Testament written?
A. A.D. 50s-80s
B. A.D. 80-150
C. A.D. 200-300

“I begin my survey courses by discussing the ‘elephant in the room’ question,” said Douglass. “For the Old Testament, I begin with ‘Is the Old Testament a true and credible historical document?’ and ‘Is there a God?’ For the New Testament, I begin with ‘Is the New Testament a true and credible document?’ and ‘Was Jesus a myth or historical person?’”

Despite the questions being multiple choice, Douglass said most students do poorly on them.

“It is never surprising that the Unchurched don’t score well on these questions. But, it is surprising that even the Unashamed students can’t answer basic questions about the Bible. Because of this, my mission is for each student leaving my classroom to know three things:

  • The Bible is a true and credible document.
  • God really exists.
  • Jesus really did walk the earth.

“Then I ask them, what are they doing to do with this knowledge?”

The story of the growth of the Church is found in:
A. Gospel of John
B. Book of Acts
C. 1 Corinthians
D. Book of Revelation

How poorly students do on the pre-test does not affect their standing in the class, he added.

“I tell the students the it is not the accuracy of their answers I grade, just the completion of the quiz. It wouldn’t be fair to a student who had never touched a Bible to have this quiz grade count against them at the beginning of the course. So, I give them all 100s for completing it. But, I record their actual grades because they take the same test at the end of the semester as a post-test.”

Douglass is planning a third column on the subject, geared toward helping parents and ministry leaders better prepare students for college.

“My heart in all of this isn’t to assign blame,” he stressed. “It’s to identify, and then to help.”

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