While reading about the Good Samaritan, the Capistrano Valley Christian Schools students formed hearts in the air with their arms and sang a Bible verse about loving your neighbor as yourself.
“I like how we can use iPads so we can read and see pictures how it was back then,” said Scarlett Vukich, 8, of San Juan Capistrano, about the lesson.
It’s all part of the school’s digital Bible pilot program, which goes beyond teaching the Bible with high-tech tools.
With the help of a $1.5 million grant from two south Orange County families who wish to remain anonymous, Capistrano Valley Christian Schools are creating a web-based program that teaches Christianity using evidence they say can prove the truth of the Bible to better equip students to defend their faith – a discipline known as Christian apologetics.
“Our goal is to revolutionize the way the Bible is taught in Christian schools so kids will be firm in their faith,” said Kim Van Vlear, director of Bible curriculum development at the schools. “We want to show why the Bible is true with proven evidence like science, archeology and history.”
Kihm’s second grade class is one of 13 elementary classes in private schools in San Juan Capistrano, Fullerton and Georgia that are using the DeepRoots Bible Curriculum for Defendable Faith program. The curriculum is being created by a team of 80 people, from archeologists and educators to graphic artists and musicians.
So far, the school has completed programs for grades 1 through 3, which will be available for other schools to purchase in the fall while the team continues to work on curriculum up to 12th grade, about one grade level each year, Van Vlear said.
The program includes slide shows, songs and music videos, online work sheets, crafts and assessment tests. It is divided into 12 topics, including scripture, God, Jesus, salvation, origins of the universe and people, truth and knowledge and heaven and hell.
The Good Samaritan class teaches about showing love and being selfless like Jesus, Van Vlear said.
Older students who study evolution will examine the debate between the Neo-Darwinists, who say the universe is a result of a blind, unguided process, versus the intelligent design thesis, which states the design and purpose of the universe demands a designer, said program editor Catherine Waller.
“The curriculum will give students the opportunity to learn, understand and compare and contrast the claims of Neo-Darwinism and the claims of the intelligent design thesis,” Waller said. “We invite students to follow the evidence where it leads.”
The lessons ultimately will help students with life choices, peer pressure and career choices, said Lisa Swaney, elementary principal at Eastside Christian School in Fullerton, which is using the program in three of its classes.
“We were looking for a curriculum to dig deeper and bring more than stories to the students,” Swaney said.
But some question the idea that what’s in the Bible can be proven.
Aaron James, professor and chair of philosophy at UC Irvine, says apologetics is an idea used by Christians to reassure themselves or give arguments to convince others of the truth of the Bible.
“There is no such thing as proof, except in mathematics and logics,” he said. “It might be a disservice to the students if it (apologetics) is used as a tool of persuasion. One could argue that it would do them better to teach them open critical thinking, like philosophy.”
But the program is in a Christian school, where it is expected that Christianity and faith are already accepted and one reason the students attend the school, he said.
“Teaching a narrow evangelism instead of seeing it as philosophy with open-ended questions seems fair game in a Bible class at a religious school,” he said.
PREPARING STUDENTS TO DEFEND THEIR FAITH
Studies show that Christian teens are disengaging from their faith as they grow older and that tough questions about faith play a central role, school leaders said.
“There are so many kids going to college and having their faith rocked by a secular roommate,” Van Vlear said.
Ronald Sipus, head of schools at Capistrano Valley Christian, started searching about a decade ago for a Bible curriculum with “all the essential components that would lead a young person to develop a strong and vibrant Biblical worldview,” he said.
He and others finally decided that the best program would be one they wrote themselves.
The school team, led by Van Vlear with assistance from Sean McDowell, assistant professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University and a teacher at the San Juan Capistrano school, started doing research in August 2013 and began to develop the program in the spring of 2014.
The online lessons are written from a non-denominational evangelical perspective in chronological order and not in the order the events occurs in the Bible.
“Many adults don't even realize that the Bible jumps around from time to time and era to era, so we want to solidify the order of events in our students’ minds,” Van Vlear said.
San Clemente resident Stacy Fitzsimmons’ second grade daughter Rhyse is studying the new Bible lessons while her fourth grade daughter Ryleigh is still studying the Bible the traditional way, both at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools.
Fitzsimmons said she sees a difference in their learning.
“If you ask Rhyse a question about the (Bible) stories, she can go deeper about the stories and explain details and facts,” she said.
CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY
The flaw of Christian apologetics is that people tend to find evidence that confirms their viewpoint, James said. And conflicting evidence and alternative viewpoints can often be found to oppose the found facts, he added.
But Mike McAteer, head of school at Mission Viejo Christian School, said the new apologetics-based Bible curriulum “is simply a necessary exercise to maintain cultural relevance.”
“There will be no new discoveries or positions created, but merely taking events and attitudes of our day and bringing a fresh way to address the same questions every generation has: Why was I born? What is my purpose in life? Is there a God who exists? And what happens to me when I die?” he said.
Van Vlear said if her curriculum developers find conflicting facts to back up a certain Biblical claim, the curriculum will include both viewpoints.
“We don’t want to lead the kids down the wrong way,” she said. “If we don’t know the truth or find evidence for it, we’ll tell them both ways.”
The program will help students understand why they believe the way they do, Van Vlear said.
“Times may be changing and what people think is acceptable to hear and do, but that doesn’t mean God’s truth changes,” she said.