Biblical Illiteracy Among Christians

“An old preacher used to say, ‘the Word has mighty free course among many nowadays, for it goes in at one of their ears and out at the other; so it seems to be with some readers–they can read a very great deal, because they do not read anything.  They eye glances but the mind never rests.  The soul does not light upon the truth and stay there.  Such reading is not reading at all.'” – Charles Spurgeon

I often wonder how we can claim to know and love that which we do not pursue?    When my wife and I were dating, one of the most exciting things about our relationship was discovering who we were.  We talked for hours, we relived our childhood, we discussed our dreams, and mulled over the things we liked and disliked.  Our relationship grew because we began sharing our lives with one another.  People would find it strange indeed if I asked a girl to marry me that I didn’t know or had only briefly heard about from someone else.  Stranger still would be for me to profess my love and desire for her, but refuse to live with her, talk to her, learn anything else about her, or even allow her to be a part of my life.  That would not only be dysfunction with a capital D, we might consider it a bit psychotic or abusive.  So why don’t we find it strange that many Christians today enter into a “relationship” with Jesus and claim to love and desire him and yet spend so little time reading the word?  I believe it to be a strange thing that you can find some of the most biblically illiterate people standing in the church singing songs like, “Standing on the promises of God”.

Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College wrote an article entitled “The Greatest Story Never Read: Recovering biblical literacy in the church” in Christianity Today.  He claims “Christian faith is not being built on the firm foundation of hard-won thoughts, ideas, history, or theology. Spirituality is being built on private emotional attachments.”  Thus claiming that Christians base their religion not on their understanding of the Bible but on the emotions they experience centering around the religion itself.  Can we really call this true Christianity?

Researcher George Barna, in his book “Boiling Point”, reports that “The average born-again, baptized, churchgoing person has embraced elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, Unitarianism and Christian Science—without any idea they have just created their own faith.”  Therefore he says, “we cannot really call the faith of American Christians a Bible-based faith. It is a synthetic, syncretic faith.”  Biblical illiteracy has led American Christians down the dangerous path of accepting and combining many different ideas from other religions and worldviews and thus creating their own religion.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that American believers actually pick up their Bibles and read it to discover if their beliefs match up with the truth found in the Word of God.  The Bible is filled with knowledge and wisdom from God.  We read about God and how He relates to humanity.  If the wealth of information never gets from the pages of your Bible into your mind, it is of no value.  We cannot simply rely on listening to sermons and Bible studies.  It’s not sufficient to simply attend church, listen to Christian music, and take notes during the messages.  This type of Christianity is not a good example of “meditating on God’s law day and night” (Psalms 1:2; 119:15, 48; Joshua 1:8).

Psalm chapter 19 declares that God’s instruction is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, reliable, and righteous.  It also says that it revives the soul, makes us wise, makes the heart glad, and teaches us how to live.  The Word of God is an invaluable treasure greater than gold and honey.  Yeah, the Bible is more valuable than money and food…two of the most sought after items of all time.  Think about what people do for money!  Steal, cheat, kill, and even go on reality TV to eat some nasty 100 year old rotten egg to attempt to win cold hard cash.  Yet, in the end money will be gone and it’s value will be altogether worthless.

Would Christians go so far as to do crazy things for Jesus?  Here is an unpopular question: Which would influence you more?  If I asked you to read two chapters out of the Bible everyday for a year because it is the most valuable book in human history would you be motivated to do it?  What if I told you that I would monitor your progress and if you actually read the Bible everyday for a year then I’ll give you $1,000,000.  Would your motivation change?  In the end I believe more church goers would be willing to read their Bibles more if they were getting paid for it.  Why is that?  Isn’t it because there are many evangelical Christians who don’t really believe that the Bible is more valuable than all the gold in the world?  Yet the Bible claims, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul.”  – Matt 16:26.

Think about the advice of Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” The American Christian might say, ‘surely that isn’t literal.’  I would venture to say this is the type of foolish, lazy reasoning that accentuates our problem.  Many Jews have taken this to be quite literal and have bound boxes containing the word upon their arm and forehead or attached it to their doorposts.  While I may not go as far as to say that we should all get Deuteronomy 6:4-5 tattooed on our arms and foreheads (though I am not entirely opposed to this), I would say that we should go so far as to making the Word of God a part of our everyday life so much so that it becomes permanently attached to all that we do and all that we are.  Grudem points out that “The nature of opposites in these verses (sit/walk, lie down/rise) suggest any and every time, place, and activity.”  The Word of God should, quite literally, become our greatest and most prominent priority and therefore it should interrupt our everyday lives as it might if we were literally wearing it on our foreheads.