The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy

Biblical illiteracy among Christians is arguably at an all time high, with chilling implications that can hardly be overstated. I know that various things in the church will inevitably change, such as songs and hymns taking on new forms, and that's fine. What isn't fine is for God's people to neglect His Word.

I love young people, and spend a lot of time with them. I coach high school tennis, and spoke earlier this month at Momentum, a conference for students at Good Shepherd Community Church. I see lots of good things happening in the lives of teenagers. However, the fact remains that we are raising a video, computer, gaming, cell phone, and external entertainment generation in which fewer young people love books. Yes, there are many and notable exceptions, but that's the clear trend. As a young Christian I devoured great books, such as A. W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy, J. I. Packer's Knowing God, C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, and Francis Schaeffer's He Is There & He Is Not Silent. These and many other great books are available to young people today, but not many are reading them.

Most importantly, the Bible itself is a book, sixty six books in one. If our young people are not readers, then they will not be readers of God's Word. If they aren't readers of God's Word, their spiritual lives will dead end. The church's future leaders will not know what God has said, and when that happens how can the church function as the body of Christ when it is disconnected from the mind of Christ?

We're already seeing the first wave of biblical illiteracy among many current church leaders. When Scripture says an elder must be "able to teach" this implies much more than communicative skill. It requires an active working knowledge of God's Word. In my opinion, no one should be a church leader—whether an elder or overseer or pastor who anyone who gives direction to the church—unless he is a daily student of God's Word and knows it far better than he knows the contestants on Survivor and American Idol. And he should be far more passionate about Scripture than about television programs, movies, golf, football, NASCAR, politics, blogging, or other interests.

Tragically, Christian adults, including many current church leaders and even some pastors, are so immersed in popular culture and so undisciplined that they do not turn off the television and devote themselves to daily study of God's Word and reading of Christian books centered on God's Word. What kind of role model are we being to the next generation? What are we doing to motivate them and help them unplug the distractions, silence the cell phones and become passionate students of God's Word, listening to the still, small voice of God that will otherwise be drowned out by our incessant cultural noise?

I recently heard a literacy and reading expert quote the statistics on functional illiteracy, including the fact that many young people can't read, and many who CAN read DON'T read. It's alarming. Even Christian children raised in evangelical homes and churches are woefully ignorant of Scripture.

The church I attend would probably be in the 90th percentile when it comes to Bible teaching and knowledge. But ten years ago my wife gave a Bible quiz to a class of sixth graders at our church, nearly all of whom were from Christian homes and attended regularly. It was a large class, but how many of them do you think knew the answer to the question, "Who was King Solomon's father?" A grand total of one, who happened to be a pastor's kid—though many pastor's kids might have missed it.

My point is not that knowing Bible facts makes you godly. Of course, it doesn't. We could raise a generation of little Pharisees who know all the verses but have no heart for God. But children with a heart for God will only sustain it and grow in sanctification if they feed upon God's Word. 

Are we memorizing Scripture? Are we encouraging our children to memorize Scripture, and doing it with them? Do we have a systematic plan of a few hundred verses to memorize and review with our children, covering basic areas of Christian theology? How can we expect our children to cultivate and persevere in a Christian worldview without helping them hide God's Word in their hearts?

I recently said to a pastor at my church that if I had it to do over again, and could help restart our church, I would have an ongoing Bible Survey and Bible Doctrine course and beef up our adult and children's education to make sure we are cultivating an environment in which people are drawn into the text of Scripture, weekly in church and daily in their homes. To daily study, meditate on, discuss and live out the truths of God's Word...this is what we desperately need.

Many people who have grown up in our churches know all the characters in the television programs Lost and 24 by name, but if pressed to name the twelve tribes of Israel (in many cases, even the apostles), they wouldn't get more than a couple. Ask "give two passages that indicate Christ is the only way to God," and you won't have to wonder why people are not sharing their faith in Christ. They don't know what to share. How can you share what you don't know? How can you know if you do not know God's Word?

Bible Study  MagazineGod promises His Word will not return to Him empty, without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it. God's Word, in the hands of His Holy Spirit, has the power to transform lives, to shape them for eternity. But our sanctification, as individuals and families and churches, can only go so far if we are not steadily gazing into God's Word. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy Word is truth."

While I'm on the subject of God's Word, you might check out the May-June issue of Bible Study Magazine, a new publication which is dedicated to providing readers with tools and methods for Bible study. In the article "Real-Life Make-Believe," I talk about how fiction—much like the parables of Jesus—has the power to illustrate biblical principles and spiritual concepts.

Photo: Pixabay

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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