This very brief and fragmentary outline of methods and possibilities of Old Testament study is not an impossible dream. In colleges and in a few Bible schools it is already being tried with the gratifying results that might be anticipated. To put it at once into force in most of our Sunday-schools would be absolutely impracticable. It is presented simply as a suggestion of a definite and practical goal toward which to work. With careful adjustment, these courses, adapted to different ages, could be arranged so that at least the intermediate grades in the Sunday-school would be studying in the same field at the same time. This plan provides for no graduation from the school of the Bible. It assumes that the Christian world is at last awakening to the real significance of religious education and to a recognition of the fact that the ultimate solution of our gravest national and social problems is to be found only in the inculcation of the true ethical ideals in the mind of the individual. It also assumes the fundamental principle that no worthy ends can be attained without real work, enthusiastic devotion, systematic methods, and above all a definite and worthy goal. It rests on the belief that the sense of gradual conquest and the attainment of practical results will alone inspire permanent devotion and evoke faithful work, and in the end prepare the individual scholar for the intelligent and loyal service of God.
[Sidenote: The overwhelming responsibility of the Sunday-schools]
Frank confessions are good for a cause as well as for the soul. We must admit that most of our Sunday-schools, with their vast resources in opportunity, in financial support, and in the devotion of the teachers and officers, do not permanently hold their scholars, and in the great majority of cases do not give them a thorough or systematic knowledge, even of the most vital teachings of the Bible. The ignorance of its literature and history on the part of even, the more intelligent students who enter college, is almost past belief, as many of us can testify from personal observation. The limitations in time and equipment of the Sunday-schools are undoubtedly great in comparison with those of the secular schools; and yet the responsibility now thrown upon the Bible schools is even greater than upon the latter. Parents have ceased to instruct their children in spelling and the multiplication-table because they have found that the teachers can do this better. Without justification, but by analogy and because they are themselves often unacquainted with the Bible, or uncertain regarding its interpretation, they are more and more leaving the religious education of their sons and daughters to the Church and the Sunday-school.
[Sidenote: The transcendent importance of religious education]
It is safe to say, and this without reservation, the most fundamental problem in England and America to-day is the problem of religious education, because this lies at the roots of all else -- political, social, and theological. When the Christian world awakens to its profound significance, and when its ideals and methods are raised, even to a level with those of the public schools, the other grave problems will be near their solution. If the individual is thoroughly taught during the impressionable years of childhood and youth, the fundamental principles of ethics and religion, society and the state will have no difficulty in meeting their problems; but if not, these will perforce continue to remain unsolved.
[Sidenote: Important that the Old Testament be taught in the public schools]
It is a time for all earnest men of every denomination or creed to unite in meeting this need. In the Old Testament, Jew and Christian, Catholic and Protestant, stand on common ground. The modern inductive historical methods of study have prepared the way for union; for they aim to support no denominational interpretation, but simply to attain the truth. The last reasons, therefore, why the literature, history, geography, and ethical teachings of the Old Testament should not be taught in our public schools are rapidly disappearing, and the hundreds of reasons why any system of secular education is incomplete without it are coming to the front. With this fundamental basis of knowledge and instruction, the work of the Sunday-schools could also at once be placed on a far more effective plane. It is a consummation for which every intelligent citizen should earnestly work.
[Sidenote: The task of the Church in the present century]
The achievement of the last century was to complete the work of the Protestant Reformation and rediscover the Bible. The task of the present century is to instil its essential teachings, thus revealed, into the mind of the individual, so that they will become controlling factors in human life. Here lies the great responsibility and opportunity of the Christian Church. If it is to renew its hold on modern men, it will be through the mind as well as the heart, and its most efficient method will be -- as it always has in reality been -- religious education. Horace Bushnell proclaimed the watchword of the Church triumphant: "Christian culture."
[Sidenote: The examples of the prophets and Jesus]
His, however, was no new discovery. The Hebrew prophets, priests, and sages were not primarily preachers, but teachers. The prophetic messages which fell on deaf ears, instilled into the minds of a few humble disciples, in time won acceptance from the nation. Jesus himself was not so much the preacher as the Great Teacher. His earliest public preaching was but the net cast to catch the few faithful disciples. When these had been secured, he turned his back upon a popular preaching ministry, and devoted the best part of his brief public work to instructing a little group of disciples. History completely vindicates the wisdom of his method. Only by following closely on his footsteps can the Church hope to realize its true mission, especially in this age, when the heart and will must be reached through the mind. In this respect, it must also be confessed that the Catholic are far in advance of the Protestant churches and Sunday-schools, where the preaching still overshadows the teaching.
[Sidenote: The call for a teaching ministry]
To inspire and direct thorough religious instruction, carefully trained leaders are needed. The demand to-day is for a teaching as well as a preaching ministry, with an apostolic sense of a mission and a message. Men with natural gifts and the most thorough preparation are wanted to raise the standards and to organize and transform, as they alone can, by personal contact, the teaching corps of our Sunday-schools into effective forces. Such men and women certainly can be found. It is a conviction, based on a wide experience, that many of the ablest students in our colleges and universities, who for many valid reasons do not feel the call to a preaching mission, would gladly and enthusiastically devote themselves to the work of religious instruction, could they be sure of a field, when their preparation was complete. Our universities and seminaries already have the facilities and could readily assume this important responsibility. As soon as our large city churches and the federated churches in our smaller towns, demand a teaching pastor as the permanent director of their Sunday-schools, and of the religious educational work under their charge, they will enter upon a new career of permanent conquest. The needs are undoubtedly great, the volunteers are at hand, thorough preparation can be assured; but the call must come from the Church, united and awake to its supreme opportunity and responsibility.
[Sidenote: The antiquated methods of our Sunday-schools]
It must also be confessed that our religious systems -- if such they may be called -- are still in the experimental stage. They are far inferior in every respect, except in the self-sacrificing devotion of the teachers and officers, to those of the secular schools. What is most vital to our national and individual life is most neglected. Instead of the latest and best pedagogical methods, the most antiquated largely prevail. Saddest of all, the Bible which is being taught in the majority of our schools is the Bible of later Judaism and the Middle Ages, not the Book of Books which stands forth in the light of God's latest revelation, as a message of beauty and life to the present age. It is not strange that there is a growing distrust of the Sunday-school among many intelligent people, and an appalling apathy or distaste for Bible study in the mind of the rising generation.
[Sidenote: The crying need for improved courses of study]
If we shut our eyes to these facts, they will remain; but if we frankly face them, a decade of intelligent and devoted work will effect a great transformation. The first step is obviously along the line of improved courses and methods of study. Many different courses are at present in the field. All have their merits, and to those who have developed them highest praise and credit is due. Some have been prepared to meet immediate and practical needs, but ignore the larger unities and the historical background, and in general neglect the results of modern educational and biblical knowledge. Some have been worked out in the study and have a strong academic flavor, but do not meet the needs of the average scholar or teacher. Others are models of pedagogical perfection, but lack content. Progressive Sunday-schools are trying one system after another, and meantime the note of discontent is rapidly rising. The crisis is too serious to admit of personal rivalries or prejudices.
[Sidenote: How to meet this need]
The moral of the situation is simple: that which will fully meet the needs of the present must be a combination of all that is good in existing courses, and embody what is best in the scholarship and methods of to-day. Like the most effective systems in the past, it must be wrought out in the laboratory of practical experience. It must be planned from the point of view of actual needs and conditions. It must also have a worthy and definite goal and a high ideal. It should emphasize the importance of fundamental religious instruction, as well as preaching. All that is practical and permanent in modern educational methods should be utilized. It should preserve the existing superb Sunday-school organization, and, as far as possible, the unity of the splendid system now under the direction of the International Committee. Finally, it should incorporate the positive and illuminating results of modern constructive biblical research. The task cannot be accomplished in a moment, nor by one man nor a small group of men. It is certainly important enough to command the best experience, the ripest scholarship, and the most unselfish devotion.
[Sidenote: The advent of a new era in the history of the kingdom of God]
When this task has been thoroughly performed, and the ablest of our educated men and women have been enlisted in our Bible schools, the cause of religious education will command the respect of the world, not merely because of the fundamental need which it aims to meet, but also because it is effectually meeting it. The Christian Church will also find itself in sympathy and touch with that which is best and most significant in modern life and thought. Religious teachers and scientific investigators will work shoulder to shoulder in a common study and interpretation of God's many-sided revelation. Pastors will feel the solid foundations of historical truth beneath their feet. Leaving behind the din and distractions of the transitional period, the disciples of the Great Teacher will go forth with fresh zeal to make the eternal truths of the Bible regnant in the lives of men, and the kingdom of God a reality in human history.