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September 27, 2006

Biblical Illiteracy

Last night, I participated in a discussion group for a course called "The Biblical in Biblical Worldview." One of the questions T.M. Moore asked at the beginning was whether we agreed that many of the people we know, even in our churches, are woefully ignorant of the Bible (all said "yes"). He then asked the key question, "Why?"

In my experience, the answer to this is simple: I grew up in a mainline denomination where Sunday School teachers taught Bible stories, but with no real understanding of the theology revealed in those stories, and where pastors didn't teach the Bible at all. Oh, they would use the occasional quote to justify some political/moral/sociological point they wanted to make, but the Bible wasn't presented as something authoritative or lasting. It was treated like a book of quotes used only to "adorn a tale" (as Samuel Johnson might say). Consequently, I knew about Adam and Eve, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lion's den, etc. ... but I knew very little about how all that connected to Jesus Christ. I would periodically try to read the Bible on my own to make sense of the whole, only to give up in frustration after a few weeks.

The difference for me came when I left that denomination and found a church where the Bible was not only viewed as God's Word, but where it was taught systematically. Thankfully, for the past 35 years, I've been blessed with a number of pastors who teach the Bible in depth: they pay attention to the historical context in which a given book was written, the original languages, and the themes/doctrines which run throughout the entire book. They teach the stories AND the theology, so our minds are constantly moving back and forth from the abstract to the concrete principles that make up the Christian faith as it is lived out in the here and now. (BTW, great Bible teachers teach us how to think biblically; they don't do our thinking for us .... a sure-fire path to mindless, cookie-cutter Christians!)

From the pastors' standpoint, it's hard work to be committed Bible scholars and teachers when so many other pastoral duties demand their time and attention. I can even understand why so many of them don't even try to move beyond the "three points and a poem" formula they learned in seminary. But if we are to see a resurgence of Biblical literacy in our culture, it needs to start in our churches--with pastors leading the way for Sunday school teachers at all levels. It would be in everyone's best interest if we would free our pastors from many of the extra duties they are currently engaged in so they can spend far more hours each week in concentrated study of the Word and more time preparing in-depth Bible lessons. Then, they would truly be able to fulfill Jesus' command to "feed my sheep."

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Comments

J.P. MORGAN

Part of the problem is that children are not being taught Biblical truths at home. Deuteronomy tells us we must be teaching our children when we walk along the road, sitting with them, eating with them, putting them to bed, getting them up. All the time we can be teach Biblical truths and aboulte truths through everyday circumstances. How many families take the time to have a family Bible study. We are so busy and lazy that we do not take the time. We let all the teaching come from the church when the church and Sunday School and Awana should be a reinforcement of what is being taught at home. As the children geet older, deeper theology is taught.

:mic

Diane, I cannot help but think of a statement made by biblical scholar, Robert Wall: '. . .more threatening than the church's biblical illiteracy is its theological ignorance. . .Sharply put, the pervasive theological ignorance within today's church makes right faith and holy living real impossibilities.'

Wall's statement definitely hits the mark, as I have blogged elsewhere (see link below). The loss of biblical illiteracy goes much deeper than a simple failure to read the text. It includes a profound loss of what that text actually is! That is to say, the reason why so many pastors, churches, denominations and congregations are so ignorant of the message of Scripture is due to the fact that they have no fundamental understanding that it is indeed Scripture.

Perhaps this is also linked to reading Scripture as a way to reinforce our own beliefs rather than approaching it with expectations that it will change us.

http://hereticsanonymous.blogspot.com/2006/07/scratch.html

Phil S

This is a great set of points, and an incredibly important issue. I recently read an article by Josh McDowell in my denomination's pastoral journal, and it was fascinating to learn that a majority of Christian students believe the Bible is true in all it affirms and at the same time hold to wildly unbiblical views about such things as morality and Christ. (enrichmentjournal.ag.org)

What accounts for this cognitive dissonance? One leading candidate has to be that teens are taught that God's Word is true, but not actually taught what is in it.

Lindy

Diane,
You are so 'right on.'
"..my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Hosea
We can not know what we believe without knowing Scripture.

Irene

Thank you for pointing out a fact that resonates with me. Having been raised Catholic, in the North East, I can tell you that Christians, especially Catholic Christians are not taught to read the Bible! Instead, we all knew the rituals, the ceremonies, but how the books of the Bible were woven, we hadn't a clue! It is no wonder I became agnostic by the time I was 21. How can one know God's will if we are not reading His word? Just 2 years ago (I am now 47) after living a life in the flesh, and yet always knowing there is a God and something far more important than my worldly existance, I found a non-denominational church where the Pastor teaches directly from the Bible each week. I am so very blessed as it has greatly encouraged me to dig deep into God's word - I re-dedicated my life to Christ in baptism. It is God's word that has led me to understanding Jesus' life and death and my justification to our heavenly Father. I would not know Him without the word He left for us! All churches must be centered on the Bible so that our lives can be centered on Christ. Thanks for bringing up a critical fundamental to Christian living.

Laurie Jackson

My (fairly conservative) United Methodist church recently had a guest female pastor speak on "women in the pulpit" and I got really up in arms about it, and talked to a number of my very dedicated Christian fellow church members. Because we in our church have not been taught the Word systematically like you mention, most of these Godly people had no clue about what the Bible said about female ministers, nor did it really matter to them. They were content to go with their own opinion or what they had seen done in the past. This really worries me. I can see the long-term results of the Bible not being put in a place of importance in the church. I live in Indiana now, but I grew up in the Bible belt (Texas)where the Bible was taught in churches. Things may, however, be different now. I don't know.

John Nunnikhoven

Diane,

It is more than pastors preaching and SS teachers teaching. Until there is a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, it is only the accumulation of knowledge. But when the hungering and thirsting becomes reality, then knowledge become knowing (John 17:3). And then one can step into their place as a contributing member of the body of Christ, along side of the pastors and teachers and evangelists and ...

So pastors can preach and teachers teach, but until the Holy Spirit ignites, there is no fire. (I know -- mixed my metaphors) I've been on both sides of that chasm. And knowing is better than knowledge.

John E

Diane and others,
Good comments. There is also a another problem related to biblical illiteracy. My associate pastor is leading a discipleship course for elders and other church leaders. At the beginning of the class he asked how many people were ever discipled by someone. Out of 38 people, only 4 raised their hands.

Without some form of DISCIPLESHIP, there is usually no accountability to learn the content of our faith or apply it personally. Most pastors that I'm aware of depend mostly on the sermon, worship service and maybe an informal home small Bible study to disciple people.

The title of Dallas Willard's new book summarizs our problem well, "The Great Omission."
John E.

Billy L

Not only has this been true for me (not learning a complete Christian world-view), but for the young men and women I have seen go off to college only to lose (if it was ever their from the start) their faith. My own experience going to college woke me up to this fact and challenged my faith (and lack of Biblical knowledge)as well. I'm grateful that it caused me to start reading authors such as Chuck Colson, Ravi Zacharias, G.K.Chesterton, and C.S.Lewis. Unfortunately, most churches I have been part of or have visited rarely touch onthe completeness of Jesus' rule over everything, everywhere--at all times. Francis Schaffer was the one who really enlightened me to this. Thank you, Diane.

J. S. Powell

I believe that we are all guilty of forgeting the real value of scripture. I recently heard Tommy Oaks (www.oaksengine.com) speak on the value of scripture. He reminded us that it is should be in a place of highest priority in our lives. He challenged those listening to pledge to set the goal of reading the Bible through at least once a year, every year, for the rest of their lives. I have found that in doing so the Spirit will indeed open our eyes to see a growing amount of what God has already revealed.
J.P. Morgan's comments earlier are right on; it all starts at home. We should be challenging each other to integrate the Bible, and it's truths, into every aspect of our lives.

Owen Scherzer

Four years ago I attended a church for a baby dedication, not one that I would normally attend. The sermon that day was on 2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is God breathed.... The pastor in his message said that means that what it meant to you at that time depended on what the spirit was saying to you at that time. My comment to my nephew later was that if I was in an angry mood, read 'Thou shall not kill', and decided that the spirit was telling me that it did not apply in this situation, would I be justified in the murder?

When moral relativism is being taught from the pulpits of a supposedly Christian church, it is no wonder that there is a dearth of biblical understanding among our young church going people. Looking back on it from four years of study, I now would not be afraid to challenge that pastor.

Patrick Weber

My wife and I are "coaches" in the Junior Bible Quiz program ( Assembly of God) at our church. What we see is, parents will spend hours driving their children from one sports ativity to another, yet not help their children learn the Bible history, literacy and scripture memory that is required for this program ( 15 - 30 minutes per night). If the parents assisted their children with their studies in the program, they, as well as their children, would be discipled and would learn the doctrinal truths such as "what is sanctification?" or "What is justification?" among other important truths. So, even though good programs exist to teach and grow disciples, we all must make the choice to study the Word, fellowship with others and "sharpen" each other through discussing and debating the scriptures, and grow by serving the King of Kings. Our children will watch what we do more than listen to what we say.

Joe Glass

Diane,
Thank you for your analysis of Why we are ignorant of the Truth of the Scriptures. I've attended church my whole life of 67 years, and for the 1st almost 30 years involved in a denomination where the Bible was viewed and taught as a book which contained truths, but was not necessarily the Source of our knowledge of Truth. Only after changing to a Bible-believing church where the Bible was considered to be inerrant as originally written did I come to believe and trust the Bible as truly being God's word to us.

I deeply believe that it is the teaching and preaching of God's word line upon line and precept upon precept by the pastor and Sunday School teacher that provides the proper food for the sheep to eat. The above posted comments by John Nunnikhoven are certainly true, but it must first begin as stated in Romans 10:17 "So faith comes by hearing and Hearing by the Word of God." Sheep will usually eat what they are fed and it is the pastor's and Sunday School teacher's responsibility to provide God's nourishment of His Word to the flock.

In conclusion, here in the U.S. and the parts of the world where the Bible is readily available, each one of us as a believer in Jesus Christ is without excuse in searching out what the Bible says. We do not have to be trained theologians, but simply believers in Christ for the Holy Spirit to teach us as expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, John 14:26 and John 16:13-15. The apostle Paul sums up the Scriptures in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

S Lowman

I think part of this also comes from within the Christian Community. The fact that we don’t want to step on the toes of other Christians.

For this reason large groups like the Billy Graham group and PK stay away from baptism. The reason being Baptism is to controversial so we need to stay away from it. Yet in Acts the message Phillip explains to the Ethiopian is such that the first question he ask is Why should I not be Baptized. This is before he has expressed faith because Phillip responds with If you believe then you can be baptized.

Another area is Creation. ID is code for trying to fit God into evolution. Many Christian groups abandon the biblical foundation of the world for evolution or ID. This goes against what the Bible teaches but we try to look for ways not to be controversial to be of the world rather than in the world. I have seen this with BreakPoint as well. BP has promoted J. Budziszewski and his ministry to college students. So I purchased two of his books. J. Budziszewski promotes strong Christian values but when creation comes up he states it is not important. EXCUSE ME IT IS IMPORTANT! If we do not believe the first few chapters of the bible how can we tie the rest of it together? If we don’t believe John 1:1-5, which ties to Genesis 1 & 2, then how can we believe John 3:16?

Jerald Ainsworth

The problem noted here has (as I'm most of us are aware) far reaching consequences. At a time when interest in spiruality is at perhaps an all time high (at least in my 52 years)the Church is having its least impact. Why is this? Although many theories could be proposed, it is my opinion that in reality Christians are not authentic in the context of Spriture because we do not have the foggiest notion of the true meaning (as noted). How is it that we will truly know who God is and what the attributes and characteristics of our God are if we are not in the Word? As I am sure many recognize, the church is over run with folks who treat God as a grandfather to dole out goodies and make us happy rather than a God to revere, respect, fear (in the biblical sense) and to truly hold in awe. Lately, even I have I to critically ask myself, "Who is God?" I don't ask myself this question out of doubt or unbelief but to cause myself to once again come to better understanding of who God truly is, why He and only He can give meaning to life, and what the Scriptures have to say to me in this regard. For me it by persistent reading and searching out of the Scriptures that I can know God (at least somewhat). The question I must ask myself at the end of the day, is have I allowed the Scripture to transform me so that I am a vessel useful in God's kingdom on earth.

Glynn Roberts

I read your comments with great interest and some of the reactions that followed. I have been leading a Bible Study for almost 10 years now, just using the Bible and some commentary from J. Vernon McGee's "Thru The Bible". There are only a few faithful people in the class. It gets discouraging sometimes but I feel that I'm doing something. I agree that Bible illiteracy is rampant. I was able to help bring a wonderful Bible teaching pastor to our church and he is making some progress but he can't do it alone. Anyway, I'm glad you are helping to make people aware of this huge lack of urgency for knowledge of the Scriptures. Thanks.

Daniel Hedman

Are we talking about a chicken and the egg kind of deal here? I mean which comes first, the worldview or the literacy? Does Biblical literacy lead automatically to a BW? Does having a BW automatically assume Biblical literacy?

I submit for consideration that a person can be Biblically literate and NOT have a Biblical Worldview. The pharisees of our day are steeped in theology just as those were who crucified Christ. There are also many illiterate people who are one with the mind of the Creator, never having read a word of The Word.

I would also submit that the Bible is the Law and points to Reality, but Reality is only found in Christ, not in stories about Him. When Christ said "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life", I think that means the way to live on earth and get to heaven, the truth about all aspects of the universe and the very core of life down to the smallest spark of life found at the cellular level, or the movement of electrons in the smallest DNA. He IS.

Jesus was saying "I am Ultimate Reality, the hard and fast, absolute rules of living in this world and beyond." The Biblical Worldview is therefore a paradigm. Belief that a paradigm exists is not enough. There must be a conscious decision to understand and OBEY; to align your moment to moment decisions with the Ultimate Reality paradigm that determines your course in life, and by extension the course of nations.

There are people who have lived their whole lives in church and know the Bible inside and out who do not grasp the enormity of God's paradigm and how it applies to their second by second choices any more than the most rabid anti-theist. Although illiteracy could lead to poor choices, selective application is not illiteracy, it is disobedience.

Not that I am Mr. Obedience or to imply that it is easy. I once heard Ravi Zacharias say "It is not that Christianity has been tried and found lacking, it's that is has been tried and found difficult." That's where the grace and mercy come in. It is harder to obey than it is to speculate as to why others don't obey. That's where the love comes in.

All that said, there is no question that we should all seek Biblical literacy AND obeying God's paradigm for ourselves and those we love. There is also no question that free will allows each person - literate or illiterate - the choice of obeying God's paradigm in part, in whole...or not at all. Which can be a little frustrating to us mortals. We sometimes have difficulty grasping that He IS the chicken AND the egg and doesn't need us to understand everything, but to trust His paradigm and walk in faith and obedience.

Our job is to "go and tell" about Christ...period...whether people listen and turn their hearts is His job. Shalom all...thanks for the forum...

rs

Where does one find a church where Biblical literacy is taught? I can't find one!

Victor Bitar

09/27/06
Many excellent points were made in the article and the various comments. This country has raised at least three generations that were taught to have nothing to do with God; and to put self and pleasure first "DO YOUR OWN THING" supposedly 'as long as no body gets hurt'.
Mustual consent, or as long as you do not get caught, and it is not blatantly illegal, will cover your track.
Therefore, we have self-centerdness at the helm of our priorities for living; and HOW CAN THAT BE ACCEPTED by a Holy and loving God who creates every human person in His Own Image?
Self accountability for talent, time, and treasure is what God demands of everyone. May HE open our eyes, hearts, and minds; then we'll begin to know the joy that HE alone can give. Vic

Doug L.

I haven't thoroughly read all the comments, so I may be repeating something that someone else has said. If that's the case, I apologize.

One of the other (and very important) factors in this discussion, I think, is the pervasive influence of postmodernism. Specifically, it has a corrosive effect on the notion of truth. Some people will say that they believe in truth; when presented with the claims that Jesus made (and our affirmations of them), the postmodernist will say "that may be true for you, but it's not true for me (or anyone else). We all have to find our own truth."

Diane (if you get this far in the comments section!), did the panel talk about postmodernism at all? If so, can you summarize what the panelists had to say? I'd be interested in hearing their thoughts.

Puzzled

Daniel, Norm Geisler is still an evangelical. He may be the last of the Big Names.

If you are Catholic, Jeff Cavins and Scott Hahn are doing work in this area.

Otherwise, things are tough. Finding a denomination where, consistantly, the Word is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered may be nearly impossible. These are hard times for the Church. But the councils of Hell will -not- prevail end.

Denise G

Recently, I made phone calls to several churches in my area. I specifically chose denominations where I knew the Bible is considered the inspired and infallible word of God. I told them that I was looking for a Bible study. Without exception, I heard the same response - we are currently studying this book or that tape series. I could find no Bible Study where the Bible was being used as the primary source. While I understand that God uses authors to instruct us, I'm convinced that we're being distracted from the true source of Bible literacy - the Bible. I'm currently praying for wisdom about whether or not I should begin a true Bible Study in my area.

Dwight Brown

I have a library full of Bible study helps including commentary sets, topical studies, lexicons, etc. As the years pass and my experiences accumulate, I find myself going back to the Source as my only guide. I would give all my library to some school or institution, but I fear they would become dependant upon these volumes and not seek after the truly simple truths found in the Bible itself. When one actually reads it through a few times God reveals Himself perfectly.

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