Bib Lit book adds to course’s influence in the classroom and beyond

Bible as Story authors Marion Bontrager, Michele Hershberger and John Sharp

How do you appropriately celebrate the 30th year of a college course that has significantly shaped the lives and faith of nearly 6,000 students?

A brand new, first-time-ever textbook for the course seems like a great start.

This fall, students in Hesston College’s famous Introduction to Biblical Literature course received copies of the first print run of The Bible as Story: An Introduction to Biblical Literature, co-authored by former and current Hesston College faculty members Marion Bontrager ’57, Michele (Schrock) ’81 Hershberger and John Sharp ’73, as their textbook.

A Bib Lit book had been an aspiration for the faculty authors for several years, but the time needed to make it a reality was difficult to find with already busy teaching, speaking and other writing commitments for each of them.

It was the encouragement from fellow faculty member, published author and owner of the independent Workplay Publishing, André Swartley ’99, that inspired them to move ahead. The fact that it was published in time for the 30th anniversary of the course was coincidence.

“One of my motivations for getting [the authors] together to do the book was as an academic advisor to the international students who have to take Bib Lit to graduate,” said Swartley, who teaches English as a Second Language courses. “Many of them have never even seen a Bible and Bib Lit is difficult for them, so I thought, ‘How can we make a more user-friendly resource for these students, which will, in turn, benefit everyone?’”

Bontrager’s brainchild, Bib Lit was started as a way to ensure students would receive biblical teaching from an Anabaptist perspective as part of their core curriculum. The approach to teaching the Bible is unique when compared to many other Bible classes, and consists of three parts: story, method (inductive study) and hermeneutics (interpretation). It reveals the Bible as a narrative of God and the people of God instead of a compilation of stories.

“Bib Lit is focused on story rather than on book,” said Bontrager, who retired from teaching in May 2014. “It’s not so much about the Bible as the content of the Bible. It provides foundational context. It also builds a foundation for critical thinking and analysis when studying the Bible or in any area of life or academics.”

While the book was created as a teaching tool, the authors are hopeful and expectant that it will have an impact beyond the Hesston College classroom. Both Bontrager and Hershberger have presented the Bib Lit curriculum in congregations across the United States for several years. The advent of the book will make the presentations more convenient and succinct and offer the opportunity for congregations, small groups or individuals to explore the content on their own.

While the many possibilities with the new text remain to be more fully realized, it’s clear that Bib Lit will continue to be foundational and shape the lives and faith journeys of students in the college classroom and beyond.

“It’s so rewarding to see students make new connections with the Bible,” said Bontrager. “If it also contributes to more storytelling in the church, that will be a very nice spin off.”