By Dave Jenkins, Crosswalk.com
One subject that isn’t getting enough coverage in contemporary Christian books and Christian media is the significant issue of biblical illiteracy. Two researchers, who have looked into this problem in the Church, George Gallup and Jim Castelli, write, “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” At this point, you may think both George and Jim have overstated their case, but they haven’t… and it’s worse than you could ever imagine.
Alarming Statistics about Biblical Illiteracy
George Barna (The State of the Bible: Six Trends for 2014) has dedicated his life to researching trends in the Church. His research is eye-opening when he tells us the following:
- Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospel accounts.
- Many Christians cannot identify two or three of the disciples.
- 60% of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments.
“No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are.” Barna’s statement is a sharp indictment of the problem of biblical illiteracy and ought to open our eyes. He concludes, “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”
Several surveys further illuminate the problem of biblical illiteracy to help us understand how real this problem is:
- 82% of Americans believe that “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse.
- Even among “born-again Christians,” 81% believe that the Bible teaches the primary purpose in life is to take care of one’s family.
- 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
- Over 50% of graduating high school seniors thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
In a recent LifeWay Research study, we learned the following about our Bible reading habits among church attendees:
- 19% - Everyday
- 26% - A few times a week
- 14% - Once a week
- 22% - At least once a month
- 18% - Rarely or never.
There are a couple of interesting takeaways from this study. Almost 60% of churchgoers open our Bibles at home during the week at least once. And for every person who is reading his/her Bible every day (19%), someone isn’t… at all (18%).
Personal and Corporate Bible Reading
In my new book, The Word Explored, I aim to help address biblical illiteracy by helping people learn to read the Bible personally and corporately by delighting in God who delights over His people and His Word. By helping people understand the connection between God’s delight over His people and His Word, I aim to help readers grab hold at the heart level of the truth of what God wants to do in their lives personally and corporately through Scripture.
The Lord loves His people, His Word, and His Church. These three things are all things that the Lord delights in. Born-again Christians should delight in what God delights in and aim the trajectory of their lives towards that goal. Therefore, Christians shouldn’t view personal or corporate Bible reading as something they do to check-off their spiritual check-list, but rather engage in them to delight more in God and grow in Christ personally and with God’s people.
Personal Bible reading includes reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and applying the Word. Corporate Bible reading includes hearing Bible-based sermons on Sunday, small groups, and engaging in the local church's life under God's Word. By taking what I call a “delightful duty” approach to the Bible, what Christians should do is see this not as another activity in their lives to engage in, but to have the right understanding of the means of grace in their lives.
The Means of Grace and Christian Growth
To encourage biblical literacy in the local church, we need to understand that biblical illiteracy is a discipleship issue. To be a disciple is to be a learner of Jesus. Since the Scriptures are the way Christians learn about God's revealed character, the gospel, and much more, there is no other way to grow in Christ than by engaging in personal and corporate Bible reading.
The Church needs to take a whole-person approach to biblical illiteracy. The local church's ministry is to be grounded in Scripture in every sphere of its ministry. The primary purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-15) by helping them learn to rightly handle the Word (2 Timothy 2:15) and to apply it to their lives (James 1:22-25).
In The Word Explored, I’m aiming not only to help Christians grow in their personal reading and handling of God’s Word, but in doing life with God’s people. This approach has a biblical aim, which theologically we call the means of grace – those spiritual disciplines that aim to help Christians grow to be like Christ personally and with one another in the local church (Romans 8:28; 2 Peter 1:3-10).
Encouragement to Read Scripture
Perhaps today you are struggling with reading or making time to read your Bible. Let me encourage you to spend time reading the biblical book your pastor is preaching or going through. If you are struggling with reading Scripture, please consider listening to the Bible using the You Version app available for free on Android and Apple devices. I encourage you, whether you are reading or listening, to start spending five to ten minutes each day in God’s Word, getting to know the God who delights over you as His child.
Remember, the goal of Bible reading isn’t to check it off your day’s list of activities. The goal of Bible reading is to keep reading and doing life with God’s people so you can grow in Christ. Every Christian should long to make a difference in the life of others. It’s by engaging in the means of grace through personal and corporate Bible reading that God by the Holy Spirit, will help grow you as a child of God into the image and likeness of Jesus (John 14-17).
If you are struggling with your Bible reading or understanding a particular Bible verse, please don’t struggle alone. Please keep reading the Bible. There are many hard parts of Scripture, which is why God gives us pastors and teachers in our local churches. They are there in your local church to wrestle with you through those hard portions of God’s Word and help you grow in your biblical knowledge and handling of Scripture.
Biblical Illiteracy Is a Solvable Problem
Biblical illiteracy is a big problem today, but it is a completely solvable problem. In The Word Explored, what you’ll find is not only more material like I’ve written in this article, but very practical encouragement to address some of the various struggles in your personal and corporate Bible reading. Along the way, you’ll find encouragement to do life with God’s people. See, God doesn’t save us to abandon the local church, but saves His people to be a part of the Church with God’s people.
The local church is the hope of the world because Jesus bled and died for the Church (Ephesians 5). As a Christian, God calls you to do life with other Christians because He calls you to gather together with God’s people on the Lord’s Day and then scatter for His glory to your families and vocation during the week. In the local church, we grow together with God’s people to be sent out to display Christ in the world, make disciples, and witness to and for His glory.
Today I encourage you to pick up your Bible and read it along with my book and discover that the problem of biblical illiteracy is not a problem that’s unsolvable, but truly is solvable. Dear Christian, the problem of biblical illiteracy starts with you. Please grow in the grace of God and delight over His Word and in doing life with God’s people.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/B-C-Designs
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon.