I love teaching the Bible to early childhood development majors for several reasons: (1) It combines two fields I’m deeply passionate about (Bible/theology and child development), (2) ECD students are extremely relational and intuitively understand God’s relational nature, (3) They approach the Bible with humility and a genuine desire to learn, (4) Working with children gives them an entirely different perspective on Scripture, and (5) They’re terrified the first night of class (due to their perceived biblical ignorance), but by the last night, they gladly, willingly, and confidently share their insights.
Many of my students have never actually studied the Bible before and are completely thrown when we start discussing the Three Worlds Model—the guiding model for the course which approaches the Bible from a historical, literary, and contemporary perspective.* They have difficulty grasping that the Bible was written in a very different time period, culture, and intellectual milieu than our own, and that this impacts the writers’ message, the way the text is constructed, and the terminology, images, and stories the authors use to convey their message.
However, my students recognize the importance of context when it comes to child development. They know that a child can’t be understood apart from their family, neighborhood, community, and the larger political and economic policies at play in society. This idea of context is most pronounced in Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory Model (see diagram below).
Last night, as I started discussing the Three Worlds Model, my students’ eyes glazed over. Knowing their familiarity with Bronfenbrenner’s model, and in a Holy Spirit-inspired moment, I attempted to explain the Three Worlds Model using Bronfenbrenner’s multi-system theory. I broke it down as follows:
Child = Bible
Microsystem = Historical context
Mesosystem = Literary context
Exosystem = Contemporary context
(the comparison broke down in the Macrosystem and Chronosystem)
I commented that just like we need to understand a child in his/her context, we must understand the Bible within its historical and literary context, as this gives us a better understanding of its message before applying it to our own lives present day.
Then, in a semi-tangential rant against proof-texting (and in an attempt to help them further understand the literary context), I again reworked Bronfenbrenner’s model.
Child = verses
Microsystem = paragraphs
Mesosystem = chapters
Exosystem = book
Macrosystem = Canon
I commented that in actually reading the text, individual verses have the power to speak to us, however, it’s dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions based purely on one or two sentences, without acknowledging what comes before and after. I further explained that we must situate verses within their bigger contexts (paragraphs, chapters, book, entire Bible) in order to gain a better understanding of what the author was saying to his audience, a fuller picture of the Bible's message for us today.
In the moment, this seemed to elucidate things; however, any long-lasting impact remains to be seen.
*This model is taken from Hauer, Christian E. and William A. Young. An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2011.
**Image taken from http://msnaeemsclass.weebly.com/developmental-theories.html, as adapted from (Rhodes, Theories of child Development, 2013).