The Urgent Need for Biblical Literacy

At the turn of the 21st century, I studied the whole Bible over nine months.  It was the most dramatic and faith building event in my life up to that point.

Studying the Bible before studying any formal theology was a life-saver.  I have found that most (99%) theological colleges assume a certain amount of biblical literacy.  This is a monumental mistake.

Our advanced post-modern cultural situation is revealing that biblical literacy is at an all time low, whether a person is Christian or not.  This includes men and women going into Christian ministry.  Aside from the problems this inevitably creates among the ‘called’, it affects evangelism, in that, we can take nothing for granted in what people know of the Christian story.

We can’t assume anything, unlike a generation ago when there was a mental framework of sorts, at least some kind of rickety scaffhold people had with which to engage in Christian discussion or debate.

This creates a two-fold problem in our churches.  For if the minister/preacher isn’t at least high average competent in the entire story-line of the whole Bible, and if those listening to sermons are biblically illiterate post-moderns, the dumbing down, the milky wishy washy sermonising, the infantilizing, the cliche driven pop-culture rhetoric will become the dominant paradigm for how the church understands itself.

Thus, the Bible becomes a kind of Sunday School cartoon book with pictures to colour in.  I have never found a Sunday School that has taught the kids, for example, Job or Revelation.  But boy-o-boy have they done Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions den, oh, and Noah and the flood – what a sweet story that is!

I won’t even mention the cherry-picking of Jesus stories in the Gospels!

I really do think it is that serious.  In a sad addition, we must also acknowledge the rampant immaturity in many churches, and that among the long-term, Christianese speaking, pillars of the community, who often show more passion over what type of music is played than whether heresy is being preached from the pulpit.

There are no short-cuts to speed our journey.  No gimmicks that will rescue us.  No silver bullet that will cure us.  There is no way round the simple fact that God’s people must know God’s word.  And to do that we need to read it; and read it again, and then some more and keep going.

It’s living and active – how can we tire of it?

How can we assume we’ve read all there is in it?

At what point do we think we are the finished product, schooled to perfection in the Bible, no longer needing it?

For the church not to be so easily derided by our critics: new atheism, secular society, suburban mediocrity, infantile fanatics, petty media, etc, we must be in the Word.

And by being in the Word, we are better able to confront Pharoah, Caesar, Empire.  Being in the Word, we are more likely to be confronted ourselves.  Confronted by a loving and holy God, perfect in beauty and awesome in majesty.  Being in the Word helps us, enables us, forces us to take the ruddy great plank out of our own eyes first.  Being in the word is being transformed.

By being in the Word, we are able to be biblically faithful and biblically prophetic as we give answer for the hope that we have.  It is prophetic, timely, mature, loving and relational.

There are no short-cuts.  We need feeding, God’s precious people need feeding, the world needs feeding.

Go on.  Pick up your Bible and read.


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