Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sunday School Upgrade

I remember as a teen that I was often very frustrated with the material in my Sunday School class.  It was moralistic (no sex, no drugs, no rock and roll!), psychological (believe in yourself!) and simplistic (good friends are important!).  That was enough to do it for me as a teen.  I loved my teachers but I hated those dumb lessons.   Looking back as an adult, I have an even bigger complaint.  The material did nothing to build faith, encourage independent study, or establish the foundational habits that young people need to follow Jesus. 

However I was recently sent a book, by Mrs. Angela Legg (from The Diligent Woman), to review that I found heartening.  To be a Handmaid of the Lord is a  book aimed at girls 11-16.  It's set up to be equally useful as a Bible homeschool curriculum or as a full term of a middle/high school Bible class. The set includes 28 lessons with a student workbook, teacher's manual, quizzes and a final exam. If that makes it sound like the book could be stimulating, we're on the same page!

Although the book covers topics that are particularly applicable to girls like self-image and modesty, it also covers faith/discipline building topics like courage, forgiveness and prayer. Rather than pages of material for the students to read (in flashy formats that mimic the "teen magazine") or talking down to the students, Mrs. Legg's material is basically a series of questions regarding Bible verses.  In email correspondence she told me that in her own classroom the students complete the questions based on their own study during the week, and then the time on Sunday focuses on discussion.  Independent study is emphasized in other ways, including built in essay assignments and topical independent study pages she calls, "study builders."

It only took me a moments to be impressed with the format but after an hour of reading I was more impressed with the depth of the material. Take for example the lesson on forgiveness.  I would have expected a cheery little lesson on the importance of forgiving others, or a formulaic lesson on how one receives the forgiveness Christ has to offer (neither would have been inappropriate). Instead she brought a complex lesson based on the story of Peter asking how often he had to forgive, Jesus' parable about forgiveness in Matthew 18, the power of forgiving BECAUSE we are forgiven, and the kind of attitude necessary in a person God will forgive.  I had to open my Bible a dozen times to answer the questions.  Mrs. Legg's commentary on the material is very limited, leaving the students to reason out the application on their own. In other words, the student comes to the truth that to be forgiven they must be humble, repentant and ready to forgive others through their own study, not through the teacher's finger pointing. 

To be honest the only part of the material where I had any quandary at all was the last 4 lessons. Mrs. Legg focuses the student's attention on the Song of Songs.  I know that lots of parents might object to such adult material for such young students, but I found it tastefully done and far, far less objectionable than say an episode of "The Big Bang Theory.". However she feels strongly that the story that the poem tells is love triangle between Solomon, the Shulamite, and the Shepherd.  I found her opinion persuasive, but I also recognize that even among scholars there are vast disagreements.  Is the book more allegorical or more sensual?  Is it a love triangle, is it a compendium of love poetry, or the story of a Shulamite and her Shepherd (with Solomon as a minor player who happens to be a visiting witness to their love)? Where in the rest of the book she lets the word speak for itself (saying nearly nothing a Bible student could disagree with), in this one section she delves into the realm of opinion.

I'll be taking the book to my oldest daughter's Sunday School teacher to have a look after this review.  I think the material is appropriate, appealing and challenging.  More teenagers need to be learning to study the Bible independently, be covering material directly from the Bible, and be focused on building the faith that they need to overcome Satan.  Whether you are homeschooling or teaching a class of young ladies, I would recommend this book highly for your girls!

If you are interested in buying the book, you can find it here on Amazon. 


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