Al Mohler posted this article recently on a call for Biblical literacy. He claims that the reason for illiteracy in the church is that people just don’t read the bible.
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible — but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Researchers tell us that it is worse than most could imagine.
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from one research group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Americans may demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in the courthouse, but they seem unable to remember what exactly they are.
According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better — by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.
One poll indicates that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors reveals that more than 50 percent thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.
On hand I think he is right in saying, “We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.” In sum, folks need to read their bibles. That makes sense.
But I think there is something else at work here, something more foundational. Church goers are not being instructed on WHAT the bible is, other than the glib oft cited description – the word of God. Well it i!. But what does that mean to the person trying to make sense of how these 66 books hang together and how that applies to their life? Are Christians being instructed why this is the word of God? How do we decipher between narrative, poetry/wisdom, history, law? What’s going on with the prophets and how does that relate to the New Testament?
Without this framework, we end up with a bunch of disconnected pieces that may as well be put on a slip of paper and pushed into a folded, crisp cookie – a fortune cookie. When we want something to get us over the hump, get us through we break open the cookie and apply the verse.
Evangelicalism has grown increasingly pragmatic. We gravitate towards whatever works and what makes sense. But I fear that we have treated our bible reading the same way, reducing it down to bit-size pieces and using them as fortune cookies for whatever format, structure, theme or group wants to focus on. Heck, whole platforms have been formulated around one disconnected verse. Prayer of Jabez anyone?
Now, I’m not dismissing the idea that one verse pops up, sticks with us and impacts our heart. This happens to me quite often. The Lord has a way of doing that, placing that verse on our heart to encourage us or make us mindful of needed areas of repentance. But at the same time, placing that verse against the backdrop of the book and how that relates to God’s grand narrative, makes that one verse that much richer. And it fuels a desire to run to the Word.
I’m afraid that is what is missing in Mohler’s treatment of biblical illiteracy – the passion for Bible reading. This is what people need. If we insist that their problem is that they just don’t read the bible, then we’re probably being just as pragmatic as the pragmatism we’re trying to address. Rather, we need to show people the beauty in God’s redemptive story, how he weaved this symphony of his promises, various authors and literary styles to testify of his greatness, sovereignty and love. We need to create passion for the Word not another pragmatic step to accomplish Christianity.
Otherwise, we might as well just stick with the fortune cookie.