Cultural Coinage

June 1940: Hitler's armies are poised to destroy the cornered British Army, stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk. As the British people anxiously await word of their fate, a three-word message is transmitted from the besieged army: "And if not . . ." The British public instantly recognizes the message: It's a reference to the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing before King Nebuchadnezzer's fiery furnace. "Our God is able to save us . . . and if not, we will remain faithful to him anyway." The message galvanized the British people, and thousands crossed the English Channel in small boats to rescue their army. Fast forward sixty-one years to January 22, 2001: President Bush delivers his Inaugural Address. Afterward, Dick Meyer of CBS News confesses "there were a few phrases in the speech I just didn't get. One was, 'When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.'" "I hope there's not a quiz," Meyer concludes. What a difference a generation makes. For centuries, biblical references were the common coinage of Western speech. As Dunkirk demonstrates, people were so steeped in the Scriptures they immediately recognized a cryptic biblical allusion. But today that memory has been erased. This kind of spiritual illiteracy represents a sobering predicament for the Church: How do we evangelize neighbors who no longer recognize, let alone think, in Christian terms? We can begin by reintroducing our nation's children to the Bible -- in the public school classroom. Yes, it's legal -- if we go about it the right way. The courts have consistently upheld the study of the Bible within the classroom -- so long as it's done in an academic manner. For example, students can focus on the Bible as a literary text, learning the major narratives and characters of the Bible. They can also learn how profoundly Biblical teachings have influenced Shakespeare and Milton, and permeate classics like Uncle Tom's Cabin. Students may also study the Bible in history class. They can learn how Americans invoke Scripture in debates ranging from abolition and temperance to civil rights and abortion. Teaching about the Bible this way will not be easy. To help schools navigate through legal minefields, the Bible Literacy Project has developed a Bible curriculum for use in public schools -- one that passes constitutional muster. To insure balance, nineteen religious and educational groups reviewed the content. And to encourage local school boards, the lawyers of the Becket Fund have offered to defend, gratis, any school district that is sued. Educating the culture in this way is what Francis Schaeffer called pre-evangelism. Christians can then take the next step, explaining why the Scriptures have had such a deep impact on our society; that indeed it is the word of God that moves citizens to action. I hope you'll look into having your local schools consider this exciting new curriculum. The website,, explains how to go about introducing the program into schools, and answers concerns parents may have. You and I need to seize the chance to help our society return to the cultural gold standard -- one that's been shared by centuries of citizens: The Word of God itself.  


Chuck Colson


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