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07 Jul '12

Biblical illiteracy and its implications in the evangelical world

Posted by T.J. Addington in personal growth, scripture, The heart, theology
My parents generation knew their Bibles because they actually read it regularly and were taught the major theological terms/themes and their implications. My generation knows about the Bible because we read Christian living books once in a while but basic theology is weak. So what happens with my children's generation and the next? 

Each generation of believers is one generation away from biblical illiteracy and that illiteracy is very real today among evangelicals. As I pointed out in another blog (An essential Biblical vocabulary), many believers, including church leaders cannot even define the most basic theological terms which the Bible uses to define faith, our human condition, God's work on the cross, His work in our lives nor do they understand that God is calling them not only to salvation but to join Him in His work.

This illiteracy problem is also tied to the content of our preaching today which is often so geared to be "practical and relevant" that it becomes more self help and about us than about God who is the source and goal of our  lives. In fact, whenever our teaching and preaching is more focused on us than on God we know that the balance has shifted from Him to us - a subtle but deadly shift. The Scriptures are living water for our souls because the lead us to Him. The more we drink the more satisfied we are.

The result of this is inevitable: A cultural Christianity with a general knowledge about God but not a biblical Christianity with a specific knowledge of God. That is a subtle but deadly shift.

We vastly underestimate the power of God's word to actually bring change to people's live through the work of the Holy Spirit - including our own. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Notice the the integral connection between our understanding of Scripture, its formative work in our lives and our resulting work on behalf of God and His Kingdom. These are all tied together and all related to our interaction with His Word and His Spirit as we read that Word. There is no substitute in our spiritual formation for direct, regular, honest, personal interaction with His Word. 

I would encourage all church leaders to consider these questions:

  1. Do we have an ongoing plan to influence our congregation to be in God's word regularly so that there is no-one who calls themselves a Christ follower who is not regularly in the Book?
  2. Do those in our congregation understand and can they articulate the theological concepts of the Bible? (If they cannot they most likely do not have a Scripturally based understanding of God and man)
  3. Are you raising up a generation of young people who know their Bibles and interact with it regularly? Do they understand the basics of of the faith? Can they articulate them?
  4. Finally, what is the quality of the church leaders' interaction with Scripture and are they theologically literate? If not it starts with you!
We would not settle for illiteracy when it comes to reading. Why do we so easily settle for illiteracy when it comes to God and His Word? Speaking of relevance - there is nothing more relevant than what God wants us to know about Him, to do in response, to understand and to apply to our lives. That is real relevance.