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Strategies for Moving Students from Faith-based to Academic Biblical Studies
Mary Bader
December 2005

  • As an undergraduate, I would like to comment on Dr. Bader's imaginative and much-desired contribution to pedagogical discussions. Firstly I echo the concerns of Drs. Madden and Dunn in regards to the necessity of "shifting" student positions from "faith-based" to "academic". As I argued in a past contribution to the SBL FORUM ("If you can't take the heat, stay out of the Classroom: Re-evaluating the Student-Teacher Relationship, Classroom Ambiance, and Religion", The SBL FORUM, September 2005 Vol. 3 No. 8,) professors of religion and biblical studies should not seek to "challenge" student views but instead enter into a dialogue where the professor presents material as the "fruits" of academic scholarship, not aimed at "changing" students' beliefs but in inspiring self-reflection and respectful dialogue. Ideally I think, the goal should be that when the student has to answer that essay on redaction and source criticism of Genesis 2, he or she can do so without considering it an affront-to or betrayal-of their faith.

    Another concern of mine (and probably of some of our contributors,) is in regard to definitions. It seems we're all pretty sure what a "faith-based" stance looks line, but what is a "academic" point of view supposed to reflect? Does it mean to not-be "faith-based"? Does it mean to be anti-"faith-based"? This doesn't seem to be the case, since the Society is flooded with a large millieu of scholars who are men and women of faith and yet produce high quality scholarship and insightful discussion on a variety of topics. They are hardly un-"academic".

    I look forward to further dialogue!

    Daniel J. Gaztambide
    Rutgers University
    New Brunswick, NJ

  • First, the title seems problematic to me: It could be read as a depreciation of the faith-based study of the Bible. Of course, that is not what Dr. Bader intends. Her comments make it clear that she is writing from her experience of grappling with teaching Biblical Studies to an extreme variety of students (Evangelical Christian, Goth, atheist, secular Jew, and so forth). Nevertheless, I fear that her title implies some sort of deficiency in the attitude of those students who favor a "faith-based" study of the Bible, while her other students, who do not, need not make the theoretical movement from "faith-based" to "academic."

    Second, I am surprised that Dr. Bader has left herself out of the equation. While she described trying to "co-create" an environment for healthy and safe learning, I could not find anything about her discussing with her students how she personally approached the Bible and biblical study. As Dr. Bader writes, "Regardless of background, no one comes to the study of the Bible as a 'clean slate.' Because of the culture in which we live, everyone brings some preconceived notions about the Bible." Hence, Dr. Bader herself is not an unbiased filter of the material. So, I wonder how she addresses that fact, and lays out her own context before her students.

    Furthermore, if it is only one group of students in particular that is having its worldview challenged, then I think that needs to be addressed. Dr. Bader mentions the issue of source criticism in relation to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. That would certainly challenge her students (e.g., Orthodox Jews, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians), who hold conservative theologies. But, I could not find a similar example of something which might challenge the worldview of her students who hold liberal or progressive viewpoints about the Bible.

    All in all, this is a good article about transferring from a "faith-based" to a secular curriculum in Biblical Studies. Dr. Bader's recommendations about evaluation techniques are most helpful; and, I can see myself integrating them into my own practice.

    Matthew W. I. Dunn
    University of St. Michael's College
    Toronto, Ontario

  • It seems that from the outset the desire is to move folks away from one position to another, obstensibly, it seems, in an effort to negate the one position with no intent to allow the postition the students appeared on campus with to be an academically viable position.

    My contribution to this discussion would be who is the person or persons that we teach our students to question. Courses similar to this have served to cause students to question what they were taught at home or at synagogue/church and to apply critical methodologies to that questioning but not too often have I heard or read of folks being taught to also question to position and conclusion of the professor. I would suspect that in the student's mind the professor turns into an authority figure as powerful as any rabbi or pastor and often times more so to the point that one is taught by that professor to question the rabbi or pastor but not the professor. Is the presentation made in such a way that credence may be given to what was taught at home or at the synagogue or church contra to the position of the academic? Is one of the possible conclusions from such a course that the Bible is indeed what it claims to be or what a rabbi or pastor claims it to be? If yes then I would say that you have a balanced teaching environment but if the answer is no, the home, the synagogue or the church is wrong and is their position is not one of the possible positions from and academic perspective then the course seems to exist merely to denigrate what many of the students bring with them and not to present a balance that recognizes that the professor and some academic views bay be wrong that the synagogue/church/home may be right.

    I have often seen from many academics that only the position that reduces the Bible to a cultural artifact with no more value than fixing someone within their provincial limitations is legitimate, not recognizing that there is a whole group and school of highly qualified and published academics who recognize the Bible for what it purports to be, i.e. the Word of the God who created us and that what it contains has been shown to be able to stand up to academic, historic, and scientific scrutiny.

    I have encountered folks who declared my position (yes, I am conservative in my hermeneutic) as narrow or closed minded. After one such conversation, and after naming the liberal scholars that I had read as part of my academic program at a conservative school, my friend, an MDiv graduate of Princeton, could not name one conservative that he had read. He had to admit that objectively his was the more narrow and closed minded education.

    So too in this discussion. Is the position that the Bible is a trustworthy reflection of the one, true God presented as academically acceptable or is it set up only to be knocked down? Are the weaknesses of the more critical positions questioned or only the weaknesses of the classical-traditional position?

    Shawn C. Madden, Ph.D., Major, USMC (retired)
    Associate Professor of Hebrew & Old Testament
    Director of The Library
    Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
    Wake Forest, NC

  • Great article from Mary Bader,
    I look forward to using this in my teaching.

    Ron Clark, DMin
    Cascade College
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Citation: , " Responses to Bader article," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Nov 2005]. Online:


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