Theology 101

The Church’s Secret: Biblical Illiteracy in the 21st Century

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Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalm 119:105 (KJV)


Motivational speaker Charles “Tremendous” Jones once quipped,

You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.

If this is true, then for Christians at least, which book is the most important? Which book has the most transformative power?  Most of us would undoubtedly answer, “the Bible.”

Yet, how important is God’s word in your everyday life? How often does it affect your decision-making process? Maybe a more important question is, do you really know what it says and do you believe it?

The Bible in Everyday Life

While most evangelical Christians agree that the Bible is their guide for faith and practice, we have to wonder why so many of us are getting lost? If the Bible is the powerful, life-giving, life-transforming, mind-renewing source of God and his revelation, why are God’s people becoming more and more biblically illiterate?

A 2013 LifeWay Research study asked regular protestant church attenders how often they read the Bible outside of church. While 19 percent answered “every day,” 18 percent said rarely/never. A quarter indicate they read the Bible a few times a week, and the rest answered “occasionally.” Interestingly, 90 percent of this same group said, “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all that I do.”

The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians,

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Eph. 5:15-17).

The original Greek text says, “walk circumspectly.” Circumspectly here means accurately, living our lives purposefully, carefully, according to God’s Word.

Again, Paul speaks to this idea in his letter to Timothy:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God and fit him fully for all branches of his work (2 Tim. 3:16-17, J.B. Phillips New Testament).

Yet, this is where the struggle for many believers begins. More often than not, the world, our feelings, and/or our emotions direct us one way and God’s word another. What our culture deems acceptable and what God says is acceptable often conflict. So why would we abandon the most important tool God has given us to understand how to live out our lives?

While the answer to this question is complicated, let’s look at two important, connected factors: a significant increase in biblical illiteracy and a loss of biblical authority.

Biblical Illiteracy and Biblical Authority

While there are many surveys like the one mentioned earlier that demonstrate that, as a church, we are reading the Bible less, the bigger problem is that we do not see the broader context of what we are reading. We read one story here, a passage somewhere else, without understanding how all the different stories fit together into a unified whole.

It’s not just that we don’t know our Bible but that we have so fragmented, dissected, and compartmentalized the Bible that we have lost sight of its great overarching story. As a result, bits and pieces of the Bible are absorbed into the prevailing cultural story, which then supplants the authority of the Bible in shaping our lives.

Only the unified biblical narrative has the authority to help us withstand the countervailing humanist narrative currently shaping our culture. As Dr. Michael Goheen writes:

A fragmented Bible, then, can lead to a church that is unfaithful, syncretistically accommodated to the idolatry of its cultural story. Or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, a church without a comprehensive story to withstand the power of the cultural story will be ‘conformed to the world’ (Rom. 12:1-2).

This is exactly the trend we see in our churches today.

A unified approach to reading the Bible is essential if it is to have a positive impact on our lives. We don’t want to be the same people five years from now as a result of a disjointed read. Our goal is to be transformed.

God gave us his revealed word so that we might live and work in this world based on his design and desire in a way that glorifies him, serves the common good, and furthers his kingdom.

We need to use it…

Editor’s note: Check out one of IFWE’s small booklets All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel, which specifically addresses the concerns raised by this blog.  

Help reach more people with important biblical content like this blog! Donate to IFWE today. 

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