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Biblical Literacy
June 13, 2006

Calvin College English professor John Netland was one of dozens of professors at the nation's top colleges and universities to take part in a recent study on what educated people need to know about the Bible.

The study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, is entitled Bible Literacy Report II: What University Professors Say Incoming Students Need to Know.

The results were released June 1 by the Bible Literacy Project at an academic symposium on the Bible at Baylor University.

The Bible Literacy Project believes the Bible should be studied in public schools and created the first student textbook for public high schools: The Bible and Its Influence, which can be used with the Bible itself as core text in English or Social Studies electives.

The recent Bible Literacy Report II surveyed 39 English professors at 34 top U.S. colleges and universities. Their conclusion: knowledge of the Bible is a deeply important part of a good education.

All but one of the professors said knowledge of the Bible was important for students in their classes and 18 of the professors surveyed said students know less about the Bible now than when the professors began teaching.

"The virtual unanimity and depth of their responses on this question were striking," says Dr. Marie Wachlin, researcher and author of the Bible Literacy Report II. "The Bible is not only a sacred scripture to millions of Americans, it is also arguably, as one professor put it, the most influential text in all of Western culture."

Netland agrees. He says knowledge of the Bible impacts students' ability to understand both modern and ancient literature.

"The findings of this study," he says, "confirm what those of us who teach in church-related institutions have long believed -- that Biblical literacy is an invaluable benefit for a rich, well-rounded liberal arts education. But there are also some sobering reminders in this study that we as a culture, and I would include our Christian communities as well, are less familiar with the Bible than previous generations were."

The founder of the Bible Literacy Project, Chuck Stetson, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the purpose of his organization and the new report has to do with education, not religion.

Stetson believes that fear of violating laws regarding the separation of church and state mistakenly has led public schools to delete the Bible from the curriculum.

He told the Chronicle that he was not in favor of teaching the Bible for devotional purposes in public schools.