Stories,  Trending

Closed Bibles? The Epidemic of Biblical Illiteracy in the 21st Century

Written by Eliza Lee  

If one decided to start a diet solely on Taco Bell and McDonalds, it would not take long before they ballooned up and died, or at least became seriously ill. No matter how good those quesadillas and fries taste in the moment, they were never made to satisfy. In fact, instead of satisfying, they actually end up doing a lot of damage.

What if the same thing is happening in our souls?

 Instead of filling our souls with the rich Word of God, we fill it with Instagram posts, funny memes, YouTube videos and episodes of “The Bachelor.” Essentially, these things are the digitized equivalent of quesadillas and fries. If these things are all we engage with or what we engage with the most, then our lives will never be filled. While those things are good in the moment, they will never fulfill one’s desires entirely.  In Ecclesiastes 1:9, Solomon writes, “There is nothing new under the sun,” essentially saying that all things on earth will not lead to eternal satisfaction. We, as people created in the image of an eternal God, are drawn towards eternity. The only thing that can satisfy our eternal longings is an eternal God. And in order to engage with the eternal God of the universe, we need to read His Word. 

The problem in our churches is one of a lack of spiritual nutrition. We are not reading His Word, but we need to. 

Aaron Burden

It is not that there are not enough Bibles. According to the American Bible Society, about 9 out of 10 households (87 percent) own a Bible. Not only that, but most households do not just own one Bible, but the average household actually has three. Further, with the rise of technology, the Bible now exists at people’s fingertips. But what is the point of having a Bible if we are not reading it? 

The problem is also not a lack of time, despite people’s objections. The most common response to not reading your Bible is a lack of time. But here’s the thing. There are 24 hours in a day and what we fill it with depends entirely on our choices, needs, and desires. We may say we do not have time, but ultimately we do not have time because we are  filling our days with other things we deem more valuable than the Bible. But if the Bible- the literal Word of God-is the most valuable thing there is, then shouldn’t it be at the top of our to-do list? 

Biblical literacy advocate Jen Wilkin said, “Ultimately, we give time to the thing that we love.” In other words, we are not reading the Bible because we do not love the Word, at least, we do not love the Word more than Instagram, Netflix, school, work or whatever else is filling our days. 

 As Christians, we are called to love God first and foremost, but how can we love him if we do not read His Word? Our attention and our time is the greatest gift one can give. Where one spends their time and gives their attention reveals what they love most. 

It is not that Christians, or people in general, have a poor overall outlook on the Bible. 

According to a  2017 Lifeway Research Study, over half of Americans (52%) say the Bible is a good source for morals. While certainly the Bible is more than just a book for morals, at least people are not vehemently opposed to it and are actually viewing it in a positive light. In fact, according to the same study, only 14% say the Bible is outdated, only 7% say it is harmful, and a mere 8% say it is bigoted. 

If the problem is not one of time, access, or outlook, it must be then, a lack of recognition of the truth of the Bible and its application for our daily lives. 

While there seems to be a high regard for the Scriptures, there seems to be little recognition that the Bible is the infallible and inerrant word of God. Maybe people affirm the importance of Scripture in their head, but have not allowed that truth to sink down to their heart. There is no need to be Pharisaical, however the simple fact of the matter is people will read the Word of God if in fact they believe it is the Word of God. In fact, according to the same Lifeway study, only 35 to 36% of Amercians affirm the Bible is true and life changing. So, people recognize that the Bible is an important book and will pull out a few verses here and there, but there seems to be less and less daily and systematic reading of the Bible. This needs to change.

Alexander Michl

This problem is seen across our churches today. Years ago, there used to be many Christians who were steeped in God’s Word, and continually hungry for more. Across church history, there has been Luther in the 16th century, with Calvin quickly following after him, and John Wesley coming a couple centuries later. There are even some Christian groups today that are hungry for the Word of God. For instance, the church in China is biblically hungry and literate, despite the fact that Chrisitanity is banned. In fact, since 1987, there have been 68 million Chinese Bibles printed and shipped to churches across the country. To coincide with this surge of Bibles, there are increasing biblical literacy classes springing up all over China. Keep in mind that Christianity is banned in China, so any act of faith is extraordinarily risky. But despite their persecution, Chinese Christians recognize the importance of God’s Word and consider it authoritative even in the midst of totalitarian rule. Ultimately, Christianity offers them a message of hope in the midst of their suffering, and they bathe in that sweet Gospel truth as a remedy to all their earthly tribulations. Unlike our Christian brothers and sisters in China, we are not under persecution; however, we can still learn from their commitment to reading and meditating on Scripture and implement those practices into our lives. 

Unfortunately, even Biola and other Christian universities are not immune to this epidemic either. In one of his classes, Dr. Kenneth Berding, Professor of Biblical Studies at Biola University, reports that he has encountered students who thought that Joshua was the “son of a nun” and that King Saul of the Old Testament was the same as Saul/Paul in the New Testament. In addition, he reports that in one of his classes, only 15% of students had read through the entire prophets. This would also mean that at least 15% of his students in that class had read through the entire Bible. If Berding’s reports are true, and they are, then even Biola (The Biblical Institute of Los Angeles) is in need of a revival of reading and studying the Bible. 

There are serious theological implications as a result of a lack of knowledge and understanding of basic biblical truths. For instance, in an Influence article by Ed Stetzer, 64% of Americans affirm that God accepts the worship of other religions, 52% affirm that Jesus is God’s first created being, and 56% affirm that the Holy Spirit is a “force” but not a “personal being.” Our lack of bible engagement is affecting what we think and believe about God. Something needs to change.

 In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, prominent theologian A.W. Tozer says, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What we think about him determines what we believe about him, so if we are thinking the wrong things, then we are believing the wrong things. In order to think and believe the right things, careful, diligent, and daily engagement with the Word is necessary. 

It is clear that the world needs to see a revival in the daily reading of the Scriptures. In the Bible, God continually called his people to remembrance of what he had done for them. He knows that we are prone to forget, so he gave us His Word as a source of all truth. In Joshua 1:8, the Lord commands Joshua to “meditate on [the Word] day and night” and remember him as they enter Canaan. Like Joshua and the Israelites, our minds are prone to wander and forget, so we need the Word as a source and guide for our lives. We need the Word of God to remember and reflect on who God is and on all He has done for us. Actions precede words though. Berding suggests that in order to get other people to read the Bible, we first need to be the ones reading. We ought to, in complete humility and submission to God, be models of obedient Bible reading, meditation, and memorization. It is the domino effect. When one person starts reading, another might join, and then another, until before you know it, their entire church and community is involved in a revival of studying the Bible. 

Josh Applegate

This is (and should) not be a solo exercise either. While there is certainly a place for private Bible study, Christians should read the Word in community. In Christinanity Today, Ed Stetzer suggests that small groups are an effective tool in promoting biblical literacy. In a study conducted by him and Eric Geiger, he found that people are more likely to read the Bible when connected to a small group or to a community of other disciples of Jesus who are also committed to studying the Bible. On one level, reading the Bible with another person keeps you accountable to actually do the reading, but on another level, it is a model of what a true Christan community should look like. In Acts 17, Paul encountered Berean Jews who “received the Word with all eagerness,” who studied “the Scripture daily to see if these things were so.” 

And lastly, we need to teach the Bible. When we teach, we need to remember to teach from the Bible, the right things about the Bible. It is clear that the church and world today is biblically illiterate, meaning they lack the adequate knowledge and skills in reading, understanding, and applying the Bible. The only way to combat this lack of knowledge is by teaching and introducing biblical knowledge back into the minds and hearts of the people. This does not need to be a boring endeavor but can actually be super engaging. One of the ways this can be done in an engaging manner is through song. In fact, Kenneth Berding has created several stimulating songs, all rooted in biblical truth, in order to instill biblical knowledge and understanding back into the minds of Christians. Also, the Bible Project has created videos that in a similar way help people understand Biblical truth. 

We need to read the Bible, yes, but we also need to read the Bible the right way. The importance of reading the Bible cannot be further emphasized, not just for one’s own sake, but also for the sake of the people around them. In her iconic 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee writes, “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of [another].” The Bible is the ultimate guide and authority for us as Christians, but only if we take the whole canonical context into account. If we are only pulling out verses here and there for our amusement, then we are not really reading the Bible. This is not only dangerous for one’s own spiritual health, but for the spiritual health of those around you. When Christians proclaim the name of Christ, but neglect to read the Bible, the pivotal story that has Christ at its center, they become hypocrites, and in some cases, bigots. We cannot truly represent Christ to the world if we do not have a full picture of who he was, which we get from reading the Bible. But if we begin to see the Bible, the whole Bible, as the inspired Word of God, and apply it to our lives, then we will see a revival in reading the Bible. And as a result, people will notice. This will take time and effort, that I have no doubt, but we do not have to go at it alone. This can, and should, be done together. So what are you waiting for? There is no time to wait to read your Bible. In fact, this time we are living in right now, fraught with fear and anxiety over the coronavirus epidemic, is the perfect time to read our Bibles. So go ahead. Open it right now and read the word of all truth and goodness. The world is waiting. After all, we have the time. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *