Thursday, May 1, 2014

Biblical Literate or Illiterate?

 Last night, my husband and I watched a very good movie entitled "The Book Thief".  The story revolves around a young girl in 1939 Germany who comes to live with foster parents.  She had been taken from her mother who was a communist and had lost her young brother to illness.  Alone in a strange town with parents she does not yet know, she makes friends with a young neighbor boy named Rudy.  When they attend school together, it becomes apparent that she does not know how to read.  Of course, the children make fun of her, but her foster father shows much compassion when he learns about her inability to read.  Together they study words, spelling and read books.  Before long, she is adept at reading.  However, since the Nazis desire to control what is read, they have a huge book burning event to destroy anything not produced by a German or that does not demonstrate the German outlook.  After this event, the young girl steals a smoldering book not consumed by the fire so strong is her desire to read.
     As the story progresses, she is befriended by the burgermeister's wife who allows her to come and read in her library once a week when she delivers laundry her mother has prepared for them.  Without giving all the story away, I will simply say that eventually she becomes a book thief in the burgermeister's home to help a Jewish hideaway by reading to him daily.  The story is full of intrigue, suspense and reveals what WWII looked like inside a German town.  However, there is a larger point here.
     Reading is the gateway to knowledge.  This concept was instilled in me by my parents and teachers all the way through school.  The idea was that if we can read, we can be educated.  Yet, as time goes on, it is becoming clear that within the church, we have fewer and fewer who are knowledgeable about the Bible.
     In an article by Dr. Albert Mohler, "The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy:  It's Our Problem" (, he writes:  "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." How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it's worse than most could imagine."  The article goes on to point out that many cannot name the four Gospels, and 60 percent of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments.  What's worse is the fact that the Bible cannot be brought into the public schools and groups like the A.C.L.U. are fighting to strip any Christian symbols from our nation as well as any expression of our faith including reading the Bible in public places.  We don't expect secular people to know the Bible but we do expect Christians to know their faith.  Dr. Mohler continues:  "Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation's time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study."  Then he goes on to say this about youth ministry:
"Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people?"  So how do we fix these issues and increase biblical literacy?
     First and foremost, it begins in the home.  We are admonished to train up our children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6).  God expects parents to model and teach the Bible and sound doctrine to their children (Deut. 6:4-9)  A good place to start is with the basic beliefs of the faith as found in the Westminster Catechism.  Have children memorize Bible verses and spend time explaining what they mean.  We cannot lay all the responsibility on the church to do this.
     Secondly, sit under solid preaching of God's Word.  Each week, attend church and go with the intent of taking notes, listening carefully to the preaching, and then, go home and look at the message in light of God's Word.  We must become Bereans (those who listened to Paul preach and then went home to study God's Word to see if it was so...Acts 17:11).
     Another way to become more biblically literate is to join a solid Sunday School class that teaches from God's Word.  Unfortunately, some churches have dropped this time of study, but if the church has a good class, then, we should be there to mine the riches of the Bible together.  In addition, if we belong to a home group, we need to look for material that is based on God's Word and make it a time of deep study...not just a social gathering or fellowship hour.
     Finally (and really this goes without saying), we must be Bible students ourselves.  We need to read the Word daily and study it.  There are many good commentaries out there that we can access online or purchase for our use either on our Kindle or other device.  We live in the information age so we have a good deal at our fingertips.  To further increase our knowledge, we also can sign up for a minimal charge ($9.00 a month) for courses through ministry.  These are excellent Bible study classes where we can interact with others from around the world online.  It is not unlike a seminary for laymen.
     Whatever we do, we must strive to ensure biblically literate children, youth and adults.  No more should Christians ever think that Sodom and Gomorrah are married or that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc as mentioned in Dr. Mohler's article.  A Christian who does not know or understand God's Word is a sitting duck for false teachers, cults, and any other strange doctrine that comes across their path.  The only way that change begins is with each one of us first, individually and then, in our home at large with our children and grandchildren.  Let us begin to reverse this trend for we know as Hebrews 4:12 says:  "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  We have a powerful, unbeatable weapon in God's Word.  Lets use it!  Selah!

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