Spring 2014

The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy

Christians used to memorize and meditate on the Bible. We don’t do that anymore, and in a sense we’re starving ourselves to death. A look at the problem, how we got here and what needs to change.

By Kenneth Berding

By Kenneth Berding

Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death.

I’ve heard people call it a famine. A famine of knowing the Bible. During a famine people waste away for lack of sustenance. Some people die. Those who remain need nourishment; they need to be revived. And if they have any hope of remaining alive over time, their life situation has to change in conspicuous ways.

During normal famines people don’t have access to the food they need. But Stacey Irvine could have eaten anything she wanted. She had resources, opportunity and presumably all the encouragement she needed to eat well. Can you imagine what would happen if all of us decided to follow her example and discontinued eating all but non-nutritious foodstuff? If we happened to beat the odds and live, we undoubtedly would suffer in the long run from nutrition-related chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

Like Stacey Irvine, we’re killing ourselves. It’s surely not for lack of resources; nevertheless, we are in fact starving ourselves to death.

Christians used to be known as “people of one book.” Sure, they read, studied and shared other books. But the book they cared about more than all others combined was the Bible. They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.

A Famine Of Bible Knowledge

Does this sound overly alarmist to you? People who have studied the trends don’t think so.

Wheaton College professor Timothy Larsen comments that “it has been demonstrated that biblical literacy has continued to decline. … Gallup polls have tracked this descent to a current ‘record low.’”

In “The 9 Most Important Issues Facing the Evangelical Church,” theologian Michael Vlach cites “Biblical Illiteracy in the Church” as his final concern. He agrees with George Barna’s assessment that “the Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy.”

New Testament scholar David Nienhuis summarizes his understanding of the situation in an article titled “The Problem of Evangelical Biblical Illiteracy: A View from the Classroom”:

For well over twenty years now, Christian leaders have been lamenting the loss of general biblical literacy in America. … Some among us may be tempted to seek odd solace in the recognition that our culture is increasingly post-Christian. … Much to our embarrassment, however, it has become increasingly clear that the situation is really no better among confessing Christians, even those who claim to hold the Bible in high regard.

If I sound alarmist, I’m not alone.

These days many of us don’t even know basic facts about the Bible. I remember a student — not a new believer — who asked a question after class about Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. She wanted to know whether this was the same Saul who was king over Israel. No. King Saul’s story is found in the Old Testament; the Saul of Acts — also known as Paul — is found in the New Testament.

I can’t imagine such a thing happening to a group of German Lutherans in the 16th century, or to English Puritans in the 17th century, or to Wesleyans in the 18th century, or to modern Chinese-mainland Christians even if they only have access to a few Bibles in their house church. Or even to our believing great-grandparents in the United States. My paternal grandfather, who never came into personal relationship with Jesus Christ, read his Bible regularly and had many passages committed to memory.

When I was teaching at a college in New York, I assigned each student to write a biographical sketch of an Old Testament character. I came across the following line in a paper about the Old Testament figure Joshua: “Joshua was the son of a nun.” This student clearly didn’t know that Nun was the name of Joshua’s father, nor apparently did he realize that Catholic nuns weren’t around during the time of the Old Testament. But I’m sure it created quite a stir at the convent!

Meditating Day And Night

In the book of Amos, people who experienced a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord” are portrayed as undergoing divine judgment. Amos paints a picture of people without access to God’s revelation searching for a message from God like desperate people — hungry and dehydrated — in search of food and water (Amos 8:11–12). In Amos they want it, but are not permitted it. In our case, although we have unlimited access, we often don’t want it.

The irony is intense. Who would deliberately and knowingly put himself under God’s judgment? Would someone move his family to a land that was soon to suffer drought if he knew ahead of time that God was going to send a judgment of drought to that land (Amos 8:13)? Are we somehow positioning ourselves in the domain of God’s judgment when we spiritually starve ourselves by not “hearing the words of God” (Amos 8:11–12)? Is this what happens when we severely limit our engagement with the Word of God?

When God commissioned Joshua (the son of Nun), he charged him with these words: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:8). How often should you meditate on it? Day and night. Why? So that you do what is in it.

The Old Testament book of Psalms leads off with these words:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Ps. 1:1–3)

And in another psalm: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Have you ever wondered how it could be his meditation all the day? The psalmist didn’t have the Bible on his smart phone. Did he carry around a big scroll under his arm? No, he had memorized the passages he was meditating on and was thinking about them. He had committed large sections of the Bible to memory.

The easiest way to memorize the Bible is to divide it into chunks and then read one 10- or 15-minute portion over and over again aloud until you know the entire passage. This method of memorizing is painless, edifying and only requires a bit of consistent time. I know precious few who memorize any Bible verses at all, much less large chunks of the Bible, and yet it’s not as hard as most people make it out to be. And it can change your life.

Are you aware that the New Testament authors included in their writings more than 300 direct quotations from the Old Testament writers — not counting hundreds of other allusions and echoes of Old Testament language? There is no evidence that any of these authors actually looked up the references as they wrote. They simply knew their Bibles — that is, the parts of the Bible that had already been written. How did they come to know it so well? They worked on it “day and night.” They saturated themselves in it.

How Did We Get Here?

So how is it that we find ourselves in the middle of a famine?

1. Distractions

Every time I teach a class called Biblical Interpretation & Spiritual Formation, I ask my students why it is that so few people in this generation are really zealous about the things of God. I can’t remember a time when I’ve asked that question when someone hasn’t mentioned distractions. Social networking, texting, television, video games and places dedicated to amusement (“amusement” parks, for example) pull our attention away from God’s Word. These fun and interesting activities occupy time that we could spend reading, studying and memorizing the Bible and they distract our thoughts during time we could spend meditating on God’s Word throughout the day. When we walk from one meeting to another, are our thoughts naturally moving to Scripture and prayer? As we leave a college class session, are we thinking on the things of God that we have learned from the Bible? Or do we immediately check to see whether someone has messaged us?

In 1986, Neil Postman published an influential cultural essay titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” He argued that personal freedoms would disappear not when a totalitarian government imposed oppression from the outside (like George Orwell pictured in his book 1984), but rather when people came “to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think” (like Aldous Huxley depicted in Brave New World). Postman wrote:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley noted in a later book (mentioned by Postman), we have “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

We shouldn’t assume that these distractions have no effect on our perceptions of God. One of my college-aged daughters was working at a Christian summer day camp. On one occasion she was talking with a group of elementary kids about what God is like. One girl in her group responded, “I believe that there are lots of different gods, like we saw in Hercules. Some are good and some are bad.” She was referring to the Disney movie Hercules, which she had watched that morning at the camp. This child’s understanding of God was, at least to some degree, shaped by the polytheism displayed in the movie she had been shown at a Christian day camp.

Might it be that our commitment to fun has resulted in famine, our laughter has yielded loss, and our distractions are ultimately leading to our destruction?

2. Misplaced Priorities

Priorities are not as simple as “God first, family second and church third.” What does that expression mean anyway? Every time I have to choose between reading my Bible and spending time with my children, should I read my Bible? No. Priorities aren’t based upon a simple hierarchy; they require the proper balance of activities in relationship to one another. But it is a fitting question to ask: For a person who is working full time, what is the appropriate quantity of time that should be spent (on average) with one’s spouse or children, in house or yard work, exercising and resting? How much time should you devote to building relationships with unbelieving neighbors or serving in your church?

Let’s grant for the sake of discussion that the exact balance of priorities will vary somewhat from person to person. Does this mean that we can weight our priorities any way we want? Absolutely not. “Meditating day and night” on God’s Word is something that everyone must do. It is basic to the Christian life. It seems to me, then, that in any weighting of priorities the following scenarios are out of bounds:

  • More time watching television than reading/studying/memorizing God’s Word
  • More time on social networking sites than reading God’s Word
  • More time playing video games than reading God’s Word

Almost everyone I know spends more time on one of these activities than they do reading, studying and memorizing the Bible. Shall we call this anything other than what it is? We don’t like to talk about sin, but this is sin. James says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). We need a revival of the Bible. And many of us need to repent of our misplaced priorities.

3. Unwarranted Overconfidence

Of all the diverse comments I have heard from Christians over the years, the one that disturbs me perhaps more than any other is, “We already know more of the Bible than we put into practice anyway.” This comment betrays far more about the speaker than it does about reality. First, it demonstrates that the one who said it isn’t trying very hard to learn the Bible. Second, it reveals that the speaker is passive about applying it. And third, it confirms that the speaker assumes everyone shares the same passive attitude about the Bible.

To what end? Should we stop studying the Bible until we have perfectly put into practice what we already know? The assumptions behind this statement are not only misplaced; they are patently false. We actually don’t know enough about the Bible, we aren’t putting enough effort into learning it, and everyone doesn’t agree about this.

My sense is that comments like these are most often made by people who have grown up in the church but who have never personally committed themselves to learning the Word. So let’s get honest for a moment. How many of us who grew up in the church learned more than a few disconnected Bible stories simply because we attended Sunday schools and youth groups? Unless we decided at some point to begin to read and learn the Bible on our own, we never even learned how to find anything in the Bible, not even the stories. (Example: In what book of the Bible is the story of King Saul whom we mentioned earlier? Answer: 1 Samuel.) We learned precious little about biblical theology. (Example: How are the Old Testament sacrifices related to the coming of Christ?) We didn’t learn why we believe what we claim to believe. (Example: How do we know that the Bible is true in what it claims?)

In short, the sense that we know a lot about the Bible because we grew up going to church is misguided. Someone who comes to know Christ later in life and devotes himself to reading and learning God’s Word will quickly surpass the person who relies upon the passive “learning” that he thinks he acquired from hanging around the church when he was young.

4. The Pretext Of Being Too Busy

I want to be careful about this one. Some people are dreadfully busy and have no easy way of getting out of their plight. I think of single moms who have to work full time just to make ends meet, who spend every evening — all evening long — attending to the needs of their children (food, laundry, schoolwork), falling exhausted into bed at night. Some people are simply busier than others, and some of those who are excessively busy cannot easily change their lot in life.

But on this one point we really shouldn’t budge: Reading and learning the Bible is such a fundamental priority for all who want to call themselves “Christians” that even a person in the category described above is not exempt. Does she sleep at all at night? Then let her cut into some of that sleep and read her Bible. Does she drive to work? Then she should listen to God’s Word as she drives to and from work. (By the way, before printing presses, most people learned God’s Word orally. It is an underrated but very useful way to learn and memorize the Scriptures.) Does she eat dinner with her children or tuck them into their beds? Then she can take out her Bible and read a paragraph or two to them during one of those times.

Maxine Gowing is a woman in my church who came to the Lord at the age of 34. She was working two jobs and raising three children on her own at the time. If anyone had the right to be excused from engaging with the Bible, she did. But the woman who spiritually mentored Maxine strongly emphasized from Day One how important it was to read and memorize the Bible. So Maxine set to it. She read through the Bible cover to cover every year. She memorized seven verses a week for 15 weeks out of the year. Then she reviewed those verses during the summer. As a result, she committed to memory such incredible books as Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews and 1 John. She told me, “During those difficult years, I always had a verse somewhere in my mind to fall back on. When my hot water heater broke, I was reminded that God cared for me in my need because I knew it from his Word.” She also told me how she grew in confidence about sharing the good news of Christ with people at her work because she knew the Scriptures.

We need more people like Maxine because we’re in the middle of a famine, a famine of “hearing” the Word of God.


Kenneth Berding (M.A. ’96) is a professor of New Testament at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology. He holds a Ph.D. in hermeneutics and biblical interpretation from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. This article is adapted from his most recent book, Bible Revival: Recommitting Ourselves to One Book.

 

Online Extra

Read Kenneth Berding’s advice on The Easiest Way to Memorize the Bible.

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  • Andy Fralick June 5, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    The biggest cause of this is Pastors who preach that we don't need to waste time with "doctrine" or other teachings. We just "love Jesus" and do good things and everything will be great. God will reveal to us those things we need to know. Sunday School isn't cool because...well it's "SCHOOL" and who wanted to go to school? Bible STUDY...ick...study is work too!

  • Lynne Toombs June 7, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    Oh thank you for your article. I am so in agreement and as much Bible Study as I do and even teach, I am increasingly aware that I must be even more diligent to know God's Word. The verses that I have been blessed to have in my memory the Holy Spirit brings to light during times of crisis and just as encouragement to persevere and not give up. God's Word empowered by His Holy Spirit is the key to my existence. We have to put it in in order to give it out and He is faithful to bring to mind portions of scripture when we are being asked "to give a reason for the Hope that is within us." That hope, of course, is Jesus Christ and the great salvation He has brought to us.

  • John June 9, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Excellent blog. Under the reasons section I would add that a loss of confidence in the Bible as The Word of God has contributed to our illiteracy. Why bother if it's just a collection of some men's ideas.

  • Adam IV Thropay June 9, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    Great insights. I would also add that a great number of churches are lacking a systematic teaching of the biblical narrative.

  • bob June 10, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Talk about reducing your capacity to think... reading the bible and believing in its nonsense would be a major culprit

  • Gladys Bonnema June 10, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Thank you, Dr. Berding. I recently had a friend of mine tell me that she has become distant because I have different views on things than she does, and these different views come down to a difference in the authority of scripture in our lives. I'm grateful to live in a community that is majority Christian, but unfortunately they are nice people because it's 'the right thing to do", not because God has a better way for us to live and calls us to living as a reflection of that. I am not perfect, but I've experienced this "crisis" in my own community, and it's left me feeling incredibly alone in a Christian community.

  • David June 10, 2014 at 6:04 PM

    Thank you for the great article. It has been very convicting for me myself. I never before looked at my priorities in the way you listed our measure of time spent on the Word in point #2. I pray that I would have the love and diligence to dwell in the word far more than I do other things.

  • Jim June 10, 2014 at 6:43 PM

    This is a greatly needed article. I was recently flabbergasted when the three children of a "pastor" came under my care. They were, respectively, 11, 12 and 18 years of age, and did not even know how to find their places in the Bible. The seemed to basically be Biblically illiterate.

    As long as they were n my home (abut none months) we had a time of Bible reading and discussion around the table every night after dinner, and I pray that the importance of the practice soaked in.

    By contrast when I was a child, my mother required me to not only memorize Bible verses, she made me memorize Bible chapters. And as a young parent, it was my practice to spent 15 to thirty minutes over the scriptures alone twice a day, and read the Bible to my children every night.

  • Sheri Winterowd June 11, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    Well said! Thank you for your clear and concise call to biblical literacy! I agree 100% and am further motivated to keep working on this with my three children as well as the children of our church, with whom I am blessed to work. Songs are another great way to help everyone memorize Scripture and I personally have several Bible passages committed to memory thanks to learning them in song form in my childhood.

  • Ben June 12, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Interesting article. Berding identifies the problem and some of its causes, although a few of his positions are unwarranted. Frankly, the problem is not solvable en masse. Most churches that try will be small and likely produce legalist followers. It's likely that if we do find a church that appears to succeed at it, a close look at the hard data will not support the claims of higher biblical literacy or it will be that the congregation's spiritual maturity when measured carefully, apples-to-apples, with other churches will not be dramatically different.

    Unlike the ancient world, Americans do not live in close-knit communities. They have less free time to learn the Bible and must learn a vastly greater amount of information and skills to make it in this world. For many, the level of stress is heightened by the possibility of "getting ahead" (there were advantages to having a fixed station in life). Americans have become increasingly pragmatic, but unlike the America of the past, the society as a whole is not saturated with echoes of Scripture. And since we are evangelicals now, not close-minded fundamentalists, we consider the value of contrary viewpoints, which lowers our feelings of certitude about our faith. All of these, in addition to the excellent points by Berding, contribute to biblical illiteracy and explain why biblical literacy developed fairly organically in earlier times. Today, it requires sheer determination. That said, churches could do more to increase biblical literacy for those who value it.

    BTW--Being familiar with biblical history or basic theology does not mean that people know how to accurately apply biblical passages. The failure, in general, of our evangelical seminary graduates and pastors to do that from most genres and literary forms of the Bible is case and point.

  • Bruce Alan Wilson June 12, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Lutherans have it over nonliturgical Christian traditions in that we hear lots of Scripture at every service. Not only do we have between two and four Scripture readings organized so that the most important parts of the Bible are read out to the Congregation during a year's worth of Sundays, but we also have prayers, anthems, responses, etc. that are either quotations from Scripture or close paraphrases thereof.

  • GMH June 13, 2014 at 12:27 AM

    According to the Bible, the Word of God was made flesh. Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is a testament to God written by men who were inspired by God. To call the Bible the Word of God is arguable idolatry. Perhaps the Bible is the single biggest idol in the history of the faith. "But Lord, didn't we spend more time reading your Word than we did on facebook, hanging out with our neighbors, or relaxing with television after a long day at the office?" The answer: "I was hungry, and you were reading your Bible. I was naked, and you were reading your Bible. I was at the bar waiting for someone to be my friend and buy me a drink, and you were hoping to get 20 out of 20 on the Biblical literacy quiz. Depart from me, I never knew you."

  • trudy June 13, 2014 at 12:44 AM

    Why is it that with so much talk of Biblical literacy Spiritual Formation classes are taught? Spiritual Formation as taught at Biola University and Talbot is mysticism with Christian verbage.
    I am tired of hearing those claim that they are teaching Biblical truth but teaching heresy. So sad that Biola has come so far from where it started.

  • Les June 13, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    Perhaps another reason for the illiteracy is the fact that most teachers and pastors today teach their people that there are so many versions of the Bible they can read and study plus, only the original was truly inspired. Therefore the reasoning of man leads to, "If I don't really have the inspired words of God then why would I waste my time on the words men translate (from their own reasoning) as the Word of God?" "How can I trust them and know that their version is accurate?"
    I know there will be those who say that is not happening. I would hope they are right, but after observing and being involved in teaching and pastoring for more than 75 years I have only seen the increased downward spiral into this illiteracy; especially since the proliferation of the many Bible versions.

  • Spencer June 14, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    Great article!
    Although,
    Maybe the problem consists in assuming that people are Christians when they really aren't.

    Christians want to read the Bible.
    Non-Christians don't want to read the Bible.
    People have stopped reading the Bible.
    Therefore the people are probably not Christians.

    Again, people are identified by their fruits. I think the solution is to preach the Gospel and expect the people to repent and get saved, and then, naturally, they will find time to read the Bible.

    "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV)

    Thanks for speaking up!

  • Casper June 14, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    For me, I didn't stop memorizing scripture for any of the four reasons stated in the article. Raised in a christian home during the 60's & 70"s, I memorized hundreds of scriptures in the King James Version. Later, I attended a bible college and developed a high view of scripture and fell in love with the Bible. BUT, that college used the NASB. I tried memorizing in the NASB for awhile, but with the arrival of the NIV, and a whole lot of other translations/paraphrases, I just felt like any work I did to memorize was rendered obsolete everytime a new version hit the market. I still read and study the various Bible versions with anticipation, but why should I memorize word-for-word if the words keep changing? That, I gave up.

  • Phil Weingart June 15, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    This is not a famine of the Word of God; it's a failure of ordinary education. The instances you produced in your article are not failures to know the scriptures, but ignorance of world history; both students showed an interest and basic knowledge of the scriptures, but knew nothing about world history. You are correct when you say that German Lutherans would not have had similar problems, but that's because they would have had a more thorough knowledge of history.

    The girl who asked about Saul had no concept of the time line of world history, so she had no way to place either the Old Testament or the New Testament against other events in world history. The Bible does not have the time line of history in it; that's exterior knowledge.

    Likewise, the student who did not know that the ancient Hebrews had no nuns did not fail to know the Bible; his problem was ignorance about anything that happened before modern times, so he could not distinguish between ancient Israel and the European Middle Ages.

    Non-religious students are having the same problems. American schools have completely failed to educate their students properly concerning the past. Americans generally are woefully ignorant about other times, places, and cultures.

    The problem will not be solved when people become more interested in the Bible. More and more, churches will have to help its adherents achieve basic literacy if they want them to understand the scriptures properly. The failure is a failure of American education generally.

  • J McMonagle June 17, 2014 at 8:00 AM

    Very interesting article and commentary.

    Coming from a Roman Catholic background, and later being Episcopalian (not anymore) I have to take issue with the earlier comment that those from liturgical traditions have the advantage of hearing scripture every Sunday along with worship. Those traditions are valuable, but they dont necessarily promote Biblical literacy. When I was growing up RC, there was very little context as to what the readings meant or how the old and new testaments were connected. There was also no BIble study encouraged, as we were supposed to ask the priest if we had a question, In Catholic school, people of my generation were told it was more important to memorize catechism, learn dogma and doctrine, and have just enough preparation to be defenders of the faith. It may be different today, but somehow from my discussions with young Catholics, I dont think so.

    As an adult I left the RC church and was a faithful Episcopalian for many years. You know, the church that encourages study and questions and doesnt expect you to "check your brains at the door". Well, Bible study often was led by the rector or a priest, not laity, and it often had to be relevant to a current political question. That's study, but it's an illusion of actual Bible study.

    I now am active in a Methodist church here in the south, where there is real commitment to Bible study and BIble based preaching. It's been an eye opener. I dont have to depend on the clergy to feed me, because the congregation has made the commitment to study - and I joined up with a group of people who are much older than me who have been studying their whole lives - and wow. Just wow. What have I been missing! We study, we pray, we discuss, we argue, we ask questions, we keep it going.

    Guess I needed people who are faithful to "old time religion" that everyone else in my background turns their noses up at.

    Its entirely possible to be Biblically illiterate yet seem to know a lot about the Bible. Picture someone who is a big fan of the writer Steven King, yet is functionally illiterate. Such a person would never have read King classics like "The Shining" or "The Stand" or "Salems Lot" but they would know those stories intimately from having seen movies or participated in discussions with others who have read those books.

    When our approach to the BIble is "the stories" and a few well chosen quotes here and there, we are like the person who is functionally illiterate and never reads but knows all the stories from TV, movies, and conversations with others.

  • Lou June 17, 2014 at 8:32 AM

    There is a crisis but it isn't biblical illiteracy it's us. There are thousands upon thousands of denominations that all preach a different gospel in one degree or another. I'll bet most of us here can't even agree what Grace is and what the purpose of the Law is let alone anything else. Travel down one major road and you'll see multiple congregations from different sects and I'll wager none of them have talked to their "brethren" down the road.
    You're addressing a symptom not the root. Most churches exhibit little life if any few exceptions. They preach the "ministry of death" and wonder why we have the problems we have. Here's some bible literacy for you. Read The Acts of the Apostles and tell me if that is commonplace today? Then preach what they preached and see what happens. Watch the reaction to this statement. We'll have many differing comments on why we don't see what they saw regularly today. Bible illiteracy is the fault of those complaining about it. The world is dying for a manifestation of the sons of God but we're busy lamenting over symptoms instead of the root cause. Most congregations preach their own version of the Gospel and a lot of it is Bad News not the God News the Apostles preached and demonstrated.

    "Brethren, our preaching will bear its legitimate fruits. If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree. If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it."

    ---Charles G. Finney, December 4, 1873

  • HM June 17, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    All those, who claim to be “Christians”, who do not intend at strictly following what is commonly called the “Bible”, but better known as “The Word of GOD” or the “Scriptures”, are called “hypocrites” by the LORD of that same Volume. BTW. . .it was Jesus who taught us the necessary veneration and correct use of the Scriptures . . .And He was no idolater. SEE His Temptation in the wilderness. "It IS Written". . .was His standard of living; so is it for all who have come to HIM.

    Anyone who is honest enough to peruse its pages in its entirety, with a genuine spirit of candor, will, without fail, come to this conclusion. The fact that the masses of religionists of today have stolen the Family name and claim to be related; but REFUSE to Repent of their UnBiblical practices, stirs me to the point of wanting to make a whip and drive them out of the Father’s House and overthrow their ill gotten gains (The Loving JESUS did that!). But then, adding to this insult, THEY have given the wicked of the world, the basis of their excuse to continue in their sins, for, alas. . .”the Christians do it. . .too.”.

    It is painfully obvious, that the True Christians are so few in this Country, that a child could number them; and that the hypocrites have grown fat and wealthy teaching their fellow wolves to make and mend their “sheep’s clothing”. They have eaten and devoured the few Sheep that remained in the House and taken over the whole estate . .In the LORD’s Name. I fear that there is nothing left for this wicked land and World but Judgement; for ALL are REPROBATE from Pulpit to Pew, from shop-keeper to lawyer. . .all are given over to wicked practices and their wantonness; and none, it seems, are able to hear. . .let alone be rebuked by THE Truth any longer. As the LORD has said, “Shall I not visit for these things? saith the LORD: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”Jeremiah 5:9 [read the whole chapter]; “AMEN. Even so, Come, LORD Jesus.” Rev. 22:20b

  • JR June 17, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Dr. Berding- Thank you for sharing your concerns about the crisis in biblical literacy. While you divide the perceived causes of scriptural illiteracy into several categories, it seems to me that there is one significant common element--the idolatry of self. With each of your concerns you can find man placing himself first and God second. Perhaps if we stopped focusing upon our selves and instead turned our focus to God and others we could begin to understand the importance of Christ's admonition that we should love others as God has loved us. In reaching out to the world rather than demanding that the world reach us, perhaps we can find a way to feed the spiritual hunger that has gripped the world.

  • Melinda June 18, 2014 at 12:02 AM

    I love this article because I can relate to it. I read the Bible a lot and recently when I go to sleep at night, I will find the Bible on audio on Youtube and play it as I fall asleep.

    But if anyone had told me this would be my life just 6 years ago, I would probably have laughed.

    I grew up in church and even taught classes, worked several years with the youth group, sang on the praise & worship team & even directed the dramas at my church & yet I look back at all that time & realize I was not in as personal relationship with Jesus.

    It wasn't until I decided to try & make sense of the "Holy War" gong on in the Middle East with Israel that I started reading my Bible. I ended up running across a few Muslims on Youtube in my quest to understand and they all seemed to want to prove to me that Christianity was not correct. They would challenge me with scriptures and other things and this caused me to start having to read the Bible in order to refute their claims and because of this, I fell in love with the Word.

    And the more I read, the more I wanted to talk about it with my Christian friends and what I found is that most of them really didn't want to talk about it. I thought this was odd since these people were suppose to be my fellow brothers and sister in Christ and they were not even interested in discussing Biblical things?

    It didn't take me long to realize I needed to find a new church where people DID want to discuss the Bible and put it into practice. I even had a lady from my church say to me "I'm just worried about you-that you might get mixed up in something weird". I found that to be a statement that solidified why I needed to leave and she was one of the people that I had formerly looked up to. If discussing the Lord and the Bible often made me "weird" so be it.

    Just last week, my oldest son who is now 18, just came in the living room and asked me if I'd do a spontaneous Bible study with him. He had no preference in what he wanted to read so we read Galatians for 2 hours and cross referenced ans discussed it. That is one of the most meaningful moments in my life-that my decision 6 years ago to really turn my life around and repent and start living my faith has had a huge impact on my kids.

    What if I had never changed? What if I had never answered the call to read his word more? My boys could be completely different people. Instead, I am passing on a legacy by putting a priority on scripture.

    It is concerning to me that most of my son's friends from school who attend church, have no idea what the Bible says at all and only apply the things they want to apply and not the whole word. They even misquote scriptures and Biblical principle to justify their actions and words.

    I am grateful that God called my name and I answered. Sometimes I think about what my life would be like if I was still bumbling along just doing church activities and volunteering without any desire to draw closer to Him. Pretty sad......

  • ST June 18, 2014 at 6:09 AM

    God said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." One commenter made a point that one can read the Bible too much, by spending so much time READING it with no time left for LIVING it. That is possible, but probably seldom happens. Truth is, how can one know how to live without reading it? God said, "Let your moderation be known to all men." That would leave time for implementing what's read. Many passages refer to our daily WALK. To be pleasing to God, it takes both. We must "study to show thyself approved" and "walk in the light as He is in the light."

  • Ronald June 18, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    For traditional or evangelical Christian denominations biblical illiteracy is a recurring crisis. There's really nothing really new about this. The root cause is that Christianity in its early days consciously separated itself from Torah and Judaism. Only a culture of Torah — i.e. a culture of obeying the dvine commandments — has the power to draw people to a serious study of the Scriptures. If you are involved in the project of observing Kashrut, Shabbat, biblical holidays, then inevitably you have to study the Scriptures for obvious and practical reasons. There is so much to learn about these things. But normative Christianity has no things which you have to learn and to immerse yourself in deeper and deeper in an ever ongoing process. So why study the Bible?

  • Sharon June 18, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    I so appreciate this article. But I think that the lack of Bible literacy goes even deeper than the reasons given in the article.

    I find the main emphasis in today’s modern church is “just get’em saved.” With this mentality, as long as they get their salvation ticket “punched,” they are a “saved” and nothing else seems to matter. (This is not verbally admitted, but is lived out in practicality.) Today’s Christian sees no reason to go any deeper with God if they are saved. Salvation is not seen as a relationship with the One that we are supposed to love with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It is seen as--as long asI am saved, I don’t need more.

    In a recent Sunday School class, the attendants didn’t believe that Christians will have to face God’s judgment. They all claimed the judgment was for the unsaved. When it was pointed out that “Judgment begins in the household of God and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” and as Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or evil.” People didn’t want to believe it, so today’s Christian wants no responsibility or accountability. You see, if they read the Bible they would see things they don’t want to believe and obey.

    Those that do want to know what is in the Bible take canned Bible studies so they let someone else interpret what the Bible says and in so doing, their faith is based upon the presuppositions of the teacher. This is today’s “cliffs notes.” This replaces Bible reading.

    Christianity today has been reduced to seeking for excuses, compromises and loopholes. Christians will believe anything as long as it waters down their obligation to God. I believe the seminaries and pulpits have watered down the gospel message in order to get the numbers and dollars. The bottom line is that many people have been led to believe they have a saving relationship with God and they don’t have a clue what it means to “know” God. So why would this person want to read the Bible if their ticket is punched!

  • Mikehorn June 18, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    I was raised Roman Catholic, now atheist. The single biggest step in my loss of faith was reading and studying the Bible. This is common among first generation atheists. To be fair, the Catechism and studying Canon Law had their negative effects, too. Since Catholics consider the Bible Canon and not Dogma, we placed a lesser emphasis on the details, but as a story it really opened my eyes about how awful the basis for Christianity was.

    So, yes, please study the Bible, extensively and in detail. It is the surest route to atheism I know.

  • LaurenLL June 18, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    Read the Bible until I was 19; afterwards rejected the whole concept of some invisible person "out there" who was watching everything I was doing and actually had any influence on anything on this planet or anywhere else. What I discovered was that the more I expanded my reading repertoire, the more I questioned the absoluteness of the Bible. It was written for Bronze age people and I don't live in the Bronze age. Sure, I find bits of wisdom just like I do in anything I read. Childish beliefs such as this are going by the wayside and the more it becomes clear, the harder supernatural believers will fight it. Clear religion? It doesn't exist.

  • RAZOR June 18, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    This is perhaps the most self-righteous article I have ever read. You could read the bible from now until doomsday and not understand a single truth of True Christianity. You see, Christianity is a Supernatural religion. Therefore unless the Holy Spirit reveals truth to you there is no possible way to arrive at truth, including reading the bible. The author must really think highly of himself what with all of his bible reading! The beauty of this is God gets what God wants and is in total control of His universe. So keep reading that bible and earning your way to heaven...LOL. If you have read the bible them surely you know God chose the saved from before the foundation of the world and causes all things to happen according to His plan. So quit guilt-tripping people about reading the bible.

  • guest123 June 18, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    The reason is secular mythology. Every culture possesses a mythology of its people and past. The One Book held us together as a people. But in modern secular society, we literally have every book, movie and musical piece at our fingertips. America's modern cultural mythology is contained in movies/tv shows/music. We idolize actors and musicians. They are our heroes and their story telling is "the story of our people". We've replaced Christianity as our "sacred mythology" with this new humanist mythology. (I use the word mythology in the non-pejorative sense."

  • Mikehorn June 18, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    Guest123,
    There is some truth there. Americans created a new sense of self in many ways. Older myths like Paul Revere, Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed. Newer myths like the Batman or Superman, XMen or Maverick and Goose. The celebrity gossip hasn't changed much, just replacing royalty with modern celebrity.

  • Joe Monte June 18, 2014 at 6:42 PM

    Did you notice that the people who have the highest degree of certainty about their convictions are the most biblicaly illiterate? Did you notice that according to a recent Pew survey atheists and agnostics score higher than Mormons, Jews, evangelicals and Catholics ? It sems to me that if you want people to go to church DON'T encourage them to read the Bible!

  • Forgiven Sinner June 18, 2014 at 7:21 PM

    Biblical truth and the authority of Scripture has been questioned, undermined and ignored from the pulpit of churches all over America. And they are leading their congregations straight to Hell.

  • incoblack June 18, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    Those who foolishly choose to believe 2000-3000 year old writings by unknown people with unknown motives and qualifications and not question their validity are foolish indeed! God does not write books and science has revealed that the earth is a lot older than 6000 years. Any book that has as many contradictions, absurdities and atrocities as the bible deserves no respect from thinking, modern adults. Read it and you'll be convinced!

  • Diana June 19, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    WORDS mean things and I believe we need to be careful how we talk about the Bible.

    Early in this piece the author writes: "When I was teaching at a college in New York, I assigned each student to write a biographical sketch of an Old Testament character." That word "character" - it implies that these people were not real people but instead just an invention of the writer.

    We seem to have lost the truth that the Bible is the WORD OF GOD - it is not just literature. This is where the Bible receives its authority.

    This piece talks about Bible "stories" - again, this communicates the events in the Bible are not real.

    We have leaders in the church who dismiss the historical narrative of the creation account in Genesis - where God is VERY CLEARLY stating he created the earth in six literal days - and are telling those in their congregations they cannot trust the Bible from the very first VERSE!

    Why then would we think that the generations of kids coming out of these churches think that the Bible would be something of importance? Why would it be any different than any other old book?

    When you tell people you can't trust the Bible over here, in the beginning, that God does not mean what he said, then WHY would you expect them to trust the Bible over here in the New Testament?

    The seeds of destruction in Biblical authority are being sown in our very own churches.

  • David Whitsell June 19, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    I respectfully disagree w/ Dr. Berding on this point:

    "There is no evidence that any of these authors actually looked up the references as they wrote."

    There is evidence to suggest that the biblical authors themselves and the scribes who copied what they wrote looked up portions of scripture. How about references in The Prophets of other books some in the Bible and some not? How about identical quotes in the OT without attributing/referencing any source? How about where it mentions in the text someone reading from scripture? As far as text criticism goes, we can sometimes tell what manuscript family a scribe was coping from.

    Admittedly, many ancient Jews had a high command of scripture. Indeed, in the first century the only culture/country where Jesus could come and quote from a book and people on the street could understand him (even challenge him) was Israel. Dr. Berding's main point is true. Professing Christians are so biblically ignorant it is scary.

  • Andrew Cochran June 21, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    It's very simple guys... Read it, Study it & then Obey it. If the Word of God is not within our lives on a daily basis, then don't expect spiritual growth. We have so many malnourished People in the Church today.

  • martin June 22, 2014 at 8:09 PM

    Like Claude Rains in Casablanca, we are all "shocked, shocked" to find out that Evangelicals are biblically illiterate. But why should we expect literacy of any sort from them? Evangelicals may be the least literate people of all in America. If you doubt this, read Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. And why, indeed, should Evangelicals read anything? To learn? But isn't that what TV is for? And TV is much more interesting than ... reading. And after all, book-learnin' can make you turn liberal ... or gay! Evangelical disdain learning and reading of any sort, and worship entertainment instead. A group of people who follow Fox News and Glenn Beck, Left Behind and the Rapture, Liberty University, Creationism and televangelists ... these are not readers of The Great Books, including the Bible. They are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Television. Put the Bible on TV; then they'll learn it!

  • Grace Pagan June 22, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    Jesus said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'" Matt 4: 4. Bread (Chicken Nuggets) alone does not sustain life;
    ultimately God is the One who sustains all life. Therefore it is our responsibility to trust God and remain in His will.

  • Dennis Preston June 23, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    This is a GREAT article, thank you. I especially appreciate the tone; it was not one like berating a puppy as you train him. I would also like to suggest a question - what about the Bible would make them declare it was their delight,and their meditation all day long? Something inherent in the Word would make it so to them, through the Holy Spirit. Certainly not the language of duty, although discipline is a beginning place. Thank you Dr. Berding.

  • John June 23, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    Did you know that a young person who attends an Awana Club, from 3rd grade through high school will have recited over 900 verses of scripture? (And memorized many of them). Imagine that. Learning God's word and having fun!

  • Benjamin Iwuagwu June 24, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    Thanks for this article. We really need to remind ourselves that we cannot really get to know God as much, if we do not read His word frequently. The nation and its authorities also need to be reminded that it was built on the trust of God. Therefore our children need to be allowed to discuss God, His words, and His principles both in school and with friends. The idea of not allowing the discussion of God, who created all things including us is meaningless to me and a lot of other people. There should be a rise against this because it is affecting our children and us too negatively.

  • Ginny B June 24, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    Thank you for this important article. Really studying God's' Word: 'The Holy Bible", is essential for those of us who are just truly hungry to 'know God better', along with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, then all the rest of the story and men & women within those pages, regardless of the 'Translasion', we must read it with fervent prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit for the correct interpretation and always before we read, stop for a moment and just simply ask our Heavenly Father for 'understanding', discernment and Godly wisdom. He loves us, therefore He blesses us with an abundance of understanding if we're asking with right motives for His Glory and Honor - and to better equip us with His 'Inspired, inerrant Word, to apply to our lives and to be a blessing to others. I know from experience. It just saddens me greatly that I waited so long to truly be 'HUNGRY TO KNOW HIM AND HIS WORD'. Blessings to each one of you who are seeking to serve Him and to be made into the Likeness of Christ Jesus.

  • lee abbacan June 26, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Very busy at work, but i always find time to read my bible or listen to it by using audio bible, i just pluck in my headset to my mobile phone, and guess what? Inspired always, never get tired from my work.

  • John Poelstra September 2, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    This article is far too simplistic and examples of this "epidemic" are far from convincing. Memorization is not a magic bullet and the author deciding what is sin for everyone based on a simple prooftext lacks the rigor Biola prides itself in.

    See untanglingchristianity.com/54

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