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21 Jan '11

The illiteracy epidemic

Posted by T.J. Addington in church health, gospel, preaching, spiritual formation, theology
The recent report by the Barna Group on megatrends in the American church should give rise to significant concern. The first has to do with biblical literacy: “The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate. What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans–especially young adults.”

This should not surprise us given the growing secularization of our society but it does raise both questions and challenges for the evangelical church. The questions have to do with our own culpability in many corners for preaching pragmatic life principles from Scripture but not a systematic teaching of the whole council of God. Certainly the Scriptures are full of wonderful life principles that if followed make our lives healthier and better. But the Bible is neither a self help manual nor is it pop psychology.  It is God’s character, plan, and invitation to join his family and his work. It is first about Him and then about us.

In our desire to be relevant, we often fall into the trap in our preaching and teaching of making the Scriptures first about us and then about Him – the very opposite of Scriptures emphasis. And in the process, we miss the foundation of the Christian life – Christ. Paul was unabashed in declaring that “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17). Scriptures are first a message of the gospel and its call and implications on our life. That is the foundation!

I believe many pastors today have a fear that if they simply preach the text, the church will not be seen as relevant. Here is the irony. People are hungry for real truth, not the stuff that can be bought on the self help shelves of Barnes and Nobles. Not only can we take it but we need it and it is out of God’s clear and unvarnished truth that we find a foundation for our lives.

Contrast what is often heard from pulpits today with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Why? Because “all Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

If there is biblical illiteracy in our own churches, we must own that challenge and do everything we can to combat it. Biblical illiteracy leads to a diminished life and a followership of convenience rather than the life God intends for us and a whole hearted devotion. The Old Testament prophets were hard on the spiritual leaders of the day for not faithfully teaching God’s word. We must be wary of falling into that same trap today.