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Summer 2009 | Volume 32, Number 2 | Campus

Toward Biblical Literacy

New grant supports groundbreaking initiative for students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni

Biblical Literacy
Research by The Gallup Organization shows that “Americans, both churched and unchurched, remain biblical illiterates,” says George Gallup Jr.

A majority of Seattle Pacific University students declare themselves to be Christians. A significant number of them arrive on campus believing they “know the Bible.” Like other Christian teens, what they typically know, says SPU Associate Professor of New Testament Studies David Nienhuis, is a handful of isolated verses quoted out of context. These quotations, he explains, are often utilized in the service of personal or theological concerns foreign to the biblical text itself: “Some of our students know how to ‘use Bible verses’ toward their own ends, but that is a far cry from knowing the Bible, from being captured by the story it tells, the questions it asks, and ultimately the God it reveals.”

What these students represent is the widespread deficit in biblical literacy and theological understanding that several recent studies have revealed — not only among Americans as a whole, but also among American Christians, and American Christian teenagers in particular.

A three-year, $600,000 grant awarded in May by the Murdock Charitable Trust will allow Seattle Pacific to pursue its signature commitment to biblical and theological education in innovative curricular and extra-curricular ways. The grant came in support of a new Center for Biblical and Theological Education (CBTE) and a robust program of careful study — delivered via SPU’s website — designed to guide the campus community through the entire biblical text over four years.

Nienhuis, who chairs the University’s biblical and theological education initiative, says the Bible study program will be designed for others in addition to students. Many SPU faculty and staff members lament a lack of biblical and theological education in their lives, he notes, and can participate in the program. “Parents will also be invited to join their students in growing in biblical literacy,” says Nienhuis. “And alums, regardless of where they live, will be invited to join in this vital part of the life of our community — as will be anyone else with an interest in increasing their knowledge of the Bible.”

All who participate in the study program will receive a weekly e-newsletter with the appointed Scripture texts and a guided commentary by a theology faculty member, with links to the CBTE website for further study. Such a lectionary would synch with the quarterly chapel themes, and residence hall student ministry coordinators will be trained to lead residence hall Bible studies on the texts.

In addition to the guided Bible study program and supporting website, the Center’s work will provide new educational opportunities for the biblical and theological education of faculty and staff; yearly conferences for church leaders, laypersons, parents, alumni, and other interested individuals; and research grants to enable faculty and staff to address the biblical and theological needs of specific academic disciplines, and those of the church and community.

The results could have far-reaching effects, says SPU President Philip Eaton. “This grant and the work of our faculty in the School of Theology will truly place Seattle Pacific on the cutting edge in the effort to increase biblical literacy and theological understanding.

I believe we will become a world resource for biblical and theological education.”

—Photo by Nick Onken

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Department Highlights

Toward Biblical Literacy
SPU receives a $600,000 grant to pursue its signature commitment to biblical and theological education.

Tuition Increase at All-Time Low
SPU increases financial aid and holds the tuition increase to 3.75 percent for 2009–10.

GospelFest Mass Choir
A 500-voice gospel choir rocked Brougham Pavilion in front of a crowd of 1,200.

Perkins Welcomes Students to Mississippi
Students travel to the Perkins Foundation; he gives SPU's 2009 Commencement Address.

Conference Spotlights Issue
The 2009 Microfinance Conference fostered creative ways to solve global poverty.

SPU’s New Generation of Scientists
A family of three young alums go from science programs to medical and research careers.