Enhancer of Joy
Lesson Developed by
The Bible and he Newspaper
Tips to Prepare
Facilitator should gather a wide variety of recent newspapers (ideally from that day) from local and national sources, as well as multiple Bibles and resources that can help students locate stories and themes in the Bible easily (concordances, Bible dictionary, maps of the region during Biblical times, etc.). If leader does not have enough adult volunteers to spread out to each table, the small groups can guide themselves with worksheets, included here.
- Variety of print newspapers
- Bibles (enough for each group)
- Bible dictionary
- Bible Concordance
- Scissors (pair for each group)
- Colored pencils
- Pens or pencils
Setting the Atmosphere
Room should be set up in tables for groups of 3-5 students. The newspaper sections should be separated and several different kinds of sections (news, opinion, ads, comics, arts, sports, etc.) should be on each table, along with the Bibles, worksheets, and other materials. Music can be played in the background while groups are working.
Proverbs 2:9-10 –Then you will understand righteousness and justice, as well as integrity, every good course. Wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will fill you with delight.
Injustice, even when one is not experiencing its effects directly, is an inhibitor of joy, preventing us from experiencing God’s JustPeace in the world. This lesson encourages young people to deepen both their understanding of current examples of injustice and of the ways God may be working in the world in the midst of these injustices. By practicing both social analysis and Biblical interpretation, participants can develop skills as critically conscious, justice-seeking Christians empowered to act in the world now.
In this session, youth will use current news articles, Bibles, and Bible resources to practice theological reflection on injustice currently happening in the world. In so doing, they will be “doing theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” a phrase often attributed to 20th century theologian Karl Barth.
For further learning in how to do theological reflection:
Patricia O’Connell Killen and John de Beer. The Art of Theological Reflection (1994)
For an overview of social analysis:
Joe Holland and Peter Henriot, S.J., Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice (2000)
Introduction for Leaders
One goal for this lesson is to help young people learn how to access more information about the Bible and become familiar with tools such as concordances, Bible dictionaries, and maps that illustrate the topography of the regions described in scripture. These tools can help them understand the larger context in which Biblical stories were written and deepen their understanding of the meaning of these stories. Leaders who want to prepare for this lesson should take time learning these tools as well. A good study bible, with good introductions and notations is also recommended.
The Common English Bible Study Bible
The Common English Bible: Bible Dictionary
The Common English Bible Concise Concordance
The Common English Bible: Bible Map Guide
HarperCollins Study Bible
HarperCollins Bible Dictionary
The Concise Concordance to the New Revised Standard Version
Gather: (5 minutes)
- The leader should welcome participants and encourage them to spread out to different tables so that there are groups of 3-5 at each table. If there are additional adults in the room, encourage them to spread out and sit at different tables as well.
- Center the group with an opening prayer that asks for God’s presence in our work together.
Engage: (40 minutes)
Activity 1: Introduction of Session
The leader can introduce the session by explaining that the group will be engaged in doing theology, something that we sometimes assume only professionals can do, but that we can all do if we want to take up the challenge. Today, we are going to explore where and how we see God in the world—perhaps in surprising ways.
Activity 2: In the one hand: The Newspaper (10-15 minutes)
Students should look through newspapers and identify a headline, photo, or ad that points to suffering or harm that they feel is unreasonable or unjust. The table group should agree on one to focus on together. Cut out this piece from the paper to have separately, and return the rest of the newspapers in case others need it.
Using Worksheet #1, group should identify as specifically as possible the details of this example of suffering. One person should be a scribe and write it down for the group. The group should try to answer questions based on the information in the article or image, and their own prior knowledge of the situation. Assure participants that it is fine if they can’t answer all the questions—where the group doesn’t know the answer, members should take note of what information they would need to gather using additional research. Any adult facilitators should encourage the youth to draw on what they might have learned from school, personal experience, or other sources before offering their own expertise. If an adult also doesn’t have all the information, it is good practice to model admitting that they do not know, and brainstorm with the participants where they might go to learn more. Because the time is short, the group should not spend too much time looking up answers on their phones, although they can do this to gather quick facts.
Activity 3: In the other hand: The Bible (10-15 minutes)
Group then brainstorms stories from the Bible in which a group or individual experiences unnecessary or unjust suffering or harm. Use the Bible, concordance, Bible dictionary, biblegateway.com, etc. as resources to locate stories. The goal is not to find a direct Bible story that relates to the newspaper story, but rather to find a story that is a rich resource for thinking about suffering and harm. Let the participants lead, but if a group seems stuck, the leader can suggest some stories, such as the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, the suffering of Job, Cain & Abel, the Rape of Dinah and her brothers’ revenge, Noah’s Flood, the massacre of the Infants in Matthew, those individuals suffering from ailments that Jesus healed, the suffering of Jesus, Paul’s suffering, arrest and execution of Stephen in Acts, or the riot in Ephesus in Acts 19:21ff. Group members should choose something they feel is particularly compelling to explore. Once the story is chosen, the group should and read it together. Using Worksheet #2, the group should then answer the questions. Leader should encourage participants to use a Bible dictionary, maps of the Holy Land, or other resources, and to examine the passages around the story in order to answer the questions. As with the newspaper article, they should take note of what information the group does not have and would need to research further.
Activity 4: Doing theology with both hands (10 minutes)
Groups should now turn to the questions on Worksheet #3 (or the leader can write or post these questions on a board) which encourage the groups to compare and contrast the two stories:
- Where do you see similarities in the two stories?
- Where do you see differences?
- What do these two stories tell us understand about the nature of suffering or injustice?
- If we named the causing of unnecessary suffering or harm as demonstrated in these two stories as “sin,” how does this challenge, deepen or confirm our understanding of the doctrine of “sin”?
- Returning to the newspaper story, where do we think God is involved?
- How should Christians respond to what is going on in this newspaper story?
Reflect: (10 minutes)
Activity 5: Large Group Discussion
The leader should bring the focus back to the large group and invite people to share from their small group discussions.
- What article from the newspaper did you choose?
- What bible story did you choose?
- What information do you feel like you still need to gather to be able to understand either the news story or the biblical story better? How might you go about gathering this information?
- What insights did you gain about the nature of “sin”?
- What insights did you gain about God and God’s work in the world?
- What do you think God may calling us to do in response to what we know is happening in the world?
Send Forth: (5 minutes)
Activity 6: Closing thoughts and Prayer
The leader can offer this final thought as a way to encourage participants that doing public theology is important work that they have been doing, and are therefore capable of doing now, as young people of faith with a stake in shaping their communities now:
- The famous theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) said that Christians should do theology with the Bible in one hand and the Newspaper in the other, and we have done exactly that. This is what it means to be a “public theologian.” We can look at the world differently through the lens of scripture, and we can understand scripture differently when we compare it to our experiences in the world. This can bring our personal faith together with our responsibilities as people who live in community, and help us discern how we can embody our faith in the world.
- Congratulations! You all are now public theologians!
- End with a prayer that acknowledges the suffering or injustice named in the conversation and affirms God’s presence within the group and with those whose stories have been part of the conversation.