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The Art of Teaching the Bible

By Christine Eaton Blair
Geneva. 2001. 138 pp. Pb. $12.95.ISBN ISBN 0-664-50148-6

— reviewed by Margaret Parks Cowan Maryville, Tenn.

Christine Eaton Blair has produced a lively and practical guide for teaching Bible study to adults. She acknowledges the problem of biblical illiteracy and the difficulty of motivating adults to participate in Bible study. While she presents different approaches to the text and theological implications of those approaches, the strength of her book lies in its discussion of insights from adult learning theory and practical strategies for teaching that flow from these insights.

Both experienced and novice teachers will find helpful, innovative ideas for leading Bible study that is both faithful to the text and relevant to adult learners.

Blair suggests that Christians share two fundamental convictions: the Bible is the Word of God and the Bible is authoritative. However, Christians differ in their perceptions of the Bible and the goal of Bible study. Thus, she describes four common models and explains the strengths and weaknesses of each.

While she encourages teachers and learners to use all four models, she does not discuss theological debates surrounding use of the metaphor “Word of God” or questions about the meaning of “biblical authority.” For pastors and Christian educators with seminary training, these issues will be familiar, but lay teachers may need additional resources in order to understand them.

Drawing on contemporary learning theory, Blair identifies four factors that contribute to adult learning. She recognizes the tension between respecting adults as mature persons with valuable knowledge, and challenging them to “unlearn” simplistic understandings and misconceptions acquired as children so they can think critically about what they believe and why. Her model for Bible study builds on existing knowledge before exploring biblical scholarship regarding historical and literary issues. Informed investigation of the text then becomes the foundation for critical reflection, reinterpretation and defining personal and communal responses.

What Blair does not say is that teachers without training in biblical studies will want to supplement their resources with a good introduction to the Old and/or New testaments before attempting this process.

Blair’s book is a valuable tool for church leaders who wish to engage adults in genuine learning about the Bible. While she touches lightly upon some difficult but important issues regarding biblical authority and understandings of the Bible as the Word of God, and seems to assume that her audience is well-versed in biblical scholarship, she offers valuable insight into effective teaching. Her emphasis on critical-analytical reflections as “crucial” (p. 93), and her acknowledgement of the failure of the church properly to train lay persons in the use of critical-analytical tools, are points that need to be taken seriously if problems related to adult illiteracy and/or naivete toward the Bible are to be addressed in the church.