Is Biblical Illiteracy the Church’s Biggest Problem?

"Second, we can strive to use the Sunday school hour fully for Bible teaching. In many adult classes announcements, prayer time, and discussion of community events takes up much of the teaching time. Third, we can emphasize Bible reading plans." - SBC Voices

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

So many ministries continue to emphasize the dangers of knowledge without love while most Christians there know almost nothing. Hosea 4:6 comes to mind...

      My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; 
      because you have rejected knowledge, 
      I reject you from being a priest to me. 
                  And since you have forgotten the law of your God, 
      I also will forget your children. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

My wife has often lamented that through all of Sunday School, the kids really cycle through....about the same pattern of Bible stories, never really learning the depth and breadth of Scripture.  We might infer that yes, we have a lack of Bible knowledge, and it's largely because our churches....model it as their standard of excellence.

Hand in hand with this is the question of whether we know how to interpret the Scripture.  When we infer a principle from passage A, for example, do we know how to test and harmonize it with the testimonies of passages B, C, D, etc..  What I see among many is a heavy dependence upon prooftexting that often appears virtually impervious to counter-examples.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

The article says:

In many adult classes announcements, prayer time, and discussion of community events takes up much of the teaching time.

I've never seen this before. It's always just been bible study, in my experience.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

TylerR wrote:

The article says:

In many adult classes announcements, prayer time, and discussion of community events takes up much of the teaching time.

I've never seen this before. It's always just been bible study, in my experience.

That's because you attend "good" churches Tyler. You should get out more. Even the Bible study time in several churches I've seen the last few years is not Bible study. It is "what I think about this verse." No context. No study of commentaries or the broader meaning. Just what I think. No attempt to understand the ancient culture. No attempt to really understand Jewish thinking.  Every OT verse is about Jesus. Etc...

Bert Perry's picture

Mark's right.  The one place where I might differ with him a bit is that in certain high context cultures--e.g. India--a lot of that personal time is very important in setting up the setting for the teaching.  You don't just "get down to business" in some places.  For that matter, we might find that a bit higher context on our part might be good--we might grow together better in Christ.

And....armed with a personal bond, we might learn better.  A book I've been reading on learning by Barbara Oakley notes that a key portion of learning can be the communal portion.  Oakley is a woman who failed algebra in high school and went on to become an engineering professor, and who used her experience to research exactly how she'd made that journey.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Even KJVO churches I used to attend just did bible study during Sunday School, nothing else. How terrible!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Tyler, here's a very interesting article by Anthony Bradley where he suggests that large portions of American evangelicalism, and even portions of fundamentalism, are in effect matrilineal.  Now compare that thought with what Mark said about "what I think about this verse".  Think of how Bradley defines "matrilineal"--as the women being the ones who pass down culture.

If your church is built around a matrilineal basis, you're going to have your "Bible" studies actually passing down culture instead--and the times when Scripture ought to contront our culture will be muted, to put it mildly.

The article notes that some fundamentalists make other mistakes, which may be along the lines of what you observed.  I remember a wannabe KJVO pastor actively discouraging discussion by putting the chairs in two close rows--you could see a person in front of you and slightly to either side, but normal discussion among the group simply wasn't there.  He then proceeded, if I remember right, to lecture us from a Chick tract.

Different churches, different problems.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Churches have different personalities/subcultures. I don't see anything wrong with that, per se, or with their being passed down matrilineally etc.

The church culture reflects/shapes it's values, so in some churches, fellowship--as they define it--matters more than anything else, and you'll see that in how time is used. Others are teaching churches, and even if the doctrine isn't good, they'll spend the bulk of their time teaching.

If they highly value feeling feelings, that's going to be evident as well, and there will be very little energy and time going into knowledge of objective truth vs. experiences.

I grew up in teachy churches with solid (if not very comprehensive) doctrine, and I'm so grateful for that. I didn't realize until many years later how rare that is. (Of course, I believe it's how church ought to be. Just my bias? Well count the references to 'teach' and 'instruct' and similar terms in the epistles.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

T Howard's picture

I don't think biblical illiteracy is the church's biggest problem. Its biggest problem---at least in America---is that it has stopped making more and better disciples. Yes, teaching is a vital part of that, but what is most troubling is that the church fails to obey James 1:22. We've become hearers but not doers of the Word.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

T Howard wrote:

I don't think biblical illiteracy is the church's biggest problem. Its biggest problem---at least in America---is that it has stopped making more and better disciples. Yes, teaching is a vital part of that, but what is most troubling is that the church fails to obey James 1:22. We've become hearers but not doers of the Word.

This is really the same thing, in my view. There is no "making better disciples" without sound and thorough teaching. A disciple is a learner. So disciple-making is part of the process of building biblical literacy. It's true, though, that "literacy" doesn't cover the affections/values/"heart" adequately, as a term. It's knowledge focused. And disciple-making is the whole thing, not just the knowledge.

Still, the knowledge is indispensable. I might even say it's primary. You can't even begin to be a disciple--believe the gospel--until you know the gospel. So I'm inclined to say knowledge is always first.    ... but that oversimplifies. There is no "knowing" until God opens the heart of the potential knower. But our part is to give the potential knower information, then God does, or does not, extend His mercy to that person by opening their eyes.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron's note reminds me of the poll Ed (?) posted a few weeks back about what books of the Bible get neglected, and how some (rightly IMO) commented that a lot of books are neglected because it's difficult to figure out an application from that passage.

Conversely, that means that, at least on an unspoken level, we have an implicit assumption that the pastor's main responsibility in the pulpit is to arrive at a conclusion indicating a level of action for the congregation.  I have to wonder if at some level, this is impeding sanctification, because too many are thinking they must spell things out instead of letting the Holy Spirit work through the principles that come from the text.

Are we causing problems by inordinate spoon feeding?  I think it's at least distinctly possible.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.