The Alarming Level of Biblical Illiteracy: Who Jesus Was, and Was Not

I teach and speak on this topic often. Sure, non-believers don’t know a lot about the Bible.

But, truth be told, neither do the majority of believers. It’s heart-breaking.

While the cursory reader of scripture envisions Jesus merely as a meek guy with great hair tenderly holding a lamb and visiting with children, the gospels tell a story of someone quite different.

In addition to the gospels, themselves, I would urge all to read Philip Yancey’s award-winning book, The Jesus I Never Knew (published 1995). Yancey writes,

“The Jesus I got to know in writing this book is very different from the Jesus I learned about in Sunday School. In some ways he is more comforting; in some ways more terrifying.”

And one more solid quote on this topic I thought you might enjoy:

“In an age in which biblical literacy continues to be on the wane, and there is an almost complete ignorance of Jesus’ words and deeds amongst unbelievers (as well as believers), my experience is that many are often surprised and amazed that Jesus actually said or did the things recorded of him. Now—as then—these stories bring us face-to-face with Jesus,…”

Quote by Paul Weston, “Preaching the Gospel from the Gospels” in Preaching the New Testament (IVP Academic, 2013), eds. Ian Paul and David Wenham, pg. 245

The Decline of the Bible in North America

As a guy who spent 25 years in full-time Youth Ministry, I have a burning question that, with each passing year, weighs heavily on my heart and mind.

But first, a disclaimer:

There’s always debate between which is better: a digital copy of the Bible? Or one with real pages? One may be better for one’s particular learning style. Neither is “right”, nor “wrong”, but merely a matter of preference. I’m for either as long as it’s used.

Now that we have that out of the way and, hopefully, understand my question has nothing to do with what media we ought to use – let’s dive in…

Here’s my burning question:

What is the reason most modern teens have little or no regard for Scripture, and how do we fix it?

Every teen today can download a Bible app.   But, as with all technology it’s a double-edged sword. Reading the Bible has never been easier or more convenient due to digital apps. But, in my experience, less and less are actually reading and studying it.

Most teens can quote entire song lyrics by Drake and Cardi B, but struggle to recite two scriptures from memory.

Why should the Bible be vitally important?

Here’s why…

It’s the sole source for 1) telling us who God is, and (2) telling us what is right and what is wrong. A non-biblical worldview opens the mind up for complete subjectivity, sending us down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Biblical illiteracy among Christian teens and young adults is alarming and heartbreaking.

The problem, in my experience as, both, a youth pastor and adult pastor, is systemic in that a loss of respect and honor for the Bible originates with us, the parents/adults.

My favorite quote on “learning” is this one:

“We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.”

If we, as adults, have no real, consistent devotion to the Word of God then there is little chance our children, as well as the younger generation, will either. If, as parents/guardians, our lifestyle demonstrates a low priority for being a disciplined student of the Bible don’t be surprised when our children have little interest in the Bible when they’re grown. Parents, not church staff, were always designed to be their children’s primary “youth pastors.”

I’ve visited with many grown Christian adults who know little about the Bible. I’m thrilled to help them learn, but taken back at how much they don’t know, given the fact that our very faith is based upon a book so rarely studied.

Ever heard this one?  “The Bible is too heavy and complicated for teens to understand.”

Give me a break.

Have you seen what they’re studying and accomplishing in school?

We grossly underestimate how much they can absorb and learn. Look at how they respond to sports coaches, dance and music instructors, etc.

Granted, we can’t compete with the lightning-speed and entertainment of social media. But, we don’t have to.   We have something better than social media.

Look, when life comes crashing down around us, social media or the latest song to top the Billboard Charts can’t give us hope, peace and truth.

Only the Bible can do that.

I fear if we don’t whet the appetite of this generation, modeling for them a hunger for the great, epic adventure of God in the Bible, allowing them to, with us, wrestle with the Bible’s hard teachings and seeming problematic passages, the words of Judges 2:10 will, once again, apply:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done…”

Please know my heart – there is no shame or guilt intended for anyone here.  Far too many times, I’ve been as poor an example for teens as the next guy.

Fortunately, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb it’s never too late to do the right thing.

I heard a preacher say once, holding his Bible up, “This book will keep me far from sin; and sin will keep me far from this book.”

Parents/adults, join me in putting down our phones for a few minutes and engaging in intelligent dialogue with the younger generation about the Bible and the treasure it holds.

Join me in challenging one another to memorize verses and passages, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our lives through God’s Word.

My friends, may we return to a deep conviction that God holds the answers for our fallen world, and that those answers are found in his living, active, powerful Word.

Sola Scriptura, Nick

 

 

 

 

Every Christian is a Theologian

“Theology” simply means “the study of God.”

That means all believers are theologians – or, at least, should be.  To be clear – and fair – this does not mean that everyone is an academic or scholar i.e. someone who has made a career out of studying the Bible.  But, nonetheless, we’re all biblically commanded to be theologians: a person who studies the Word of God.

I ran across a wonderful article on this topic this past week.  You can access the article here.

From the article:

“Laypeople have no biblical warrant (argument) to leave the duty of doctrine (a set of beliefs) up to pastors and professors alone.”

Besides, pastors being human and flawed, it is completely possible for a Bible teacher to actually misinterpret something and get it flat wrong.    Paul would end up writing a third of the New Testament.  But that hadn’t happened yet.  And the Bereans took no chances:

“…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Finally, it’s simply what we’re commanded to do:

Study and do your best to present yourself to God…accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.”

By the way, it’s vital for us all to remember that Paul’s instruction to Timothy above was a command, not a suggestion. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Teaching Christians to be Thinkers, and Thinkers to be Christians

The title of this blog has been championed by HBU professor, Dr. Jeremiah Johnston. It’s something I believe in deeply.

The biblical illiteracy of North American church culture is at an alarming and embarrassing level. However,…

It’s never too late to read, learn how to understand, and apply your Bible.   The Bible is a virtual treasure trove of truth, wisdom and hope.

It’s God’s love letter to mankind.

Further, someone wisely once said, “The easiest lessons to learn are from the mistakes of others.” The Bible is full of “failures.” Significantly, “failures” are who God chose to use – and that should make people like me feel pretty darn good. 🙂  So, the Bible gives us a storehouse of life-lessons from which to learn.

There’s a reason skeptics/atheists describe Christianity as a backwoods, uneducated mode of thinking: most believers don’t know how to think critically about hard biblical questions and, in turn, can’t dialogue intelligently where Christianity is concerned.

Michael Sherrard offers this stinging paragraph in his editorial, “How the Church’s Anti-Intellectualism Will Be Her Jailer“:

“The pursuit of the knowledge of God is replaced in many with a pursuit of something that merely works. And by works, often what is pursued is a version of Christianity that brings forth the American dream rather than the Kingdom of God.

This prosperity and selfish attitude has caused a slumber, a slumber in the proverbial classroom, and the church is now awakening to an exam for which it is not prepared.

There was a time in American history…when clergy were thought to have answers. And it was not just because people didn’t know any better back then. It was because many men and women of faith were intellectuals.

They knew their bible and their history. They could speak about theology and [science].

Now many believers are ill equipped to speak about anything that does not have a mascot…

And in that regard, society should place us at the kids table.”

Ouch.

Former atheist, Lee Strobel, was the legal editor for the Chicago Tribune and a Yale Law School grad.  Clearly, he’s no intellectual slouch.  The first time I heard him speak in person he said quite boldly and confidently, “Christianity is an intelligent faith.

Jesus commanded his followers to “love the Lord your God with all of your….mind.”

Paul told the Thessalonian believers to “test everything,” to see if it’s true.

Solomon wrote, “Search for [truth and wisdom] like a prospector panning for gold, like an adventurer on a treasure hunt, Believe me, before you know it…you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.”

Join me – and let’s “pan for gold” together,

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

The Discipleship of the Mind

Theology

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment he purposefully made it clear that God was to be loved with the mind as well as the rest of our human faculties. (cf. Matthew 22:37)

In his book, “The Passionate Intellect,” former atheist, Alister McGrath (Oxford; Ph.D., Molecular Biophysics), calls the intellectual pursuit of God “the discipleship of the mind.” To anyone who would dismiss theological study as boring, uninteresting and dry, he offers the following:

“Christian theology is one of the most intellectually stimulating and exciting subjects to study, rich in resources for our lives.”

He continues,

“It has the capacity to excite, inspire and illuminate the human intellect , giving it a new passion and focus.”

I couldn’t agree more.

But, modern day believers (not all, but the vast majority) are, biblically illiterate and intellectually lazy, allowing their minds to be slowly consumed by mind-numbing social media.

C.S. Lewis, former atheist and one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, said,

“God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of being a Christian, I warn you: you are embarking on something that is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”

Writing a blog he titles, “How the Church’s Anti-Intellectualism Will Be Her Jailor,” Michael Sherrard agrees:

[The intellectual laziness that characterizes much of North American Christianity] “has caused a slumber – a slumber in the proverbial classroom, and the church is now awakening to an exam for which it is not prepared… Now many believers are ill equipped to speak about anything that does not have a mascot. And in that regard, society should place us at the kids table.”

Ouch.

Love the Lord you God with all your…mind,

Nick