My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge… (Hosea 4:6 ESV).
“Biblical illiteracy is one of the big problems the church is facing today,” according to Matthew White, a bi-vocational pastor who also writes for AFA Journal. Biblical literacy is the foundation for a biblical worldview that affects families, churches, our nation, and the world.
Unfortunately, that foundation has cracks.
Even if you take a free biblical literacy quiz and do well, facts alone without faith in Christ mean nothing eternally. Second Timothy 3:7 describes this perfectly as “…always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”
Biblical literacy, for the Christian, is the basic knowledge of the Bible that allows us to grow and function as followers of Christ. For the nonbeliever, it is the background knowledge of America’s Judeo-Christian culture built on a biblical worldview.
Here in America only 6% of us now hold a biblical worldview despite 87% of American households having at least one Bible. This seems to indicate why most have a theology an inch deep and a mile wide while failing to understand basics like the importance of Jesus allowing himself to be crucified.
So, what can we do?
First, we recognize the problems. Then we work on our biblical literacy. Then we obey as God allows that transformation through His Living Word. This changes how we interact and live.
Recognizing the problem
The problem apparently has two diverging trend lines according to a video including Paul Caminiti of the Institute of Bible Reading.
One trend line is access to a Bible. The average Christian home has 11 Bibles.
“But the other trend line,” Caminiti said, “the reading trend line, was literally in freefall.” That research shows over 50% of churchgoers admit to reading the Bible occasionally or not at all.
Satan loves those who own but rarely read the Bible. Even if they can defend the Bible, his deception is easier. Why?
Working on biblical literacy
Satan’s deception is easier because the Living Word is not being consumed. Consumed?
When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies (Jeremiah 15:16 NLT).
Charles Spurgeon, in the fourth volume of his autobiography (Curtis & Jennings, 1900, page 268), described devouring God’s Word and its effect on The Pilgrim’s Progress author, John Bunyan, this way:
Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord – not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.
I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading [of] the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress – that sweetest of all prose poems – without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere – his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.
This leads directly to the first solution: find and attend a local church preaching God’s Word where, as 2 Timothy 3:5 warns, people do more than appear godly.
The combination of the local church with Bible study, whether with a group or alone, helps us understand the storyline, the theology, the doctrines, and those in our history who have lived and proclaimed it.
Bert Harper, from American Family Radio’s Exploring the Word says, “Biblical literacy starts in the pulpits. The best choices are to find someone who digs into the passage with textual or expository preaching.” See “On Finding a New Church” for help.
Harper isn’t the only one addressing the power of the pulpit and then personal responsibility here. Steve Lawson recently answered “How can I become more biblically literate?” in a video that deserves watching more than once:
The key, Lawson says, is getting the Bible into your heart and soul.
Is there a way to gain a jump start on this? Is there a quick start for those who already feel behind?
Lawson shares Romans, the gospel of John, and Psalms as the three books to understand for a quicker overview. He shares, “If you could know those three books, you are well ahead to know how the entire rest of the Bible fits together.”
Harper shared five books with John as the one to read first. The remaining four – Genesis, Romans, Exodus, Acts – could be read in no particular order. He added he struggled and wanted to include Psalms, but chose Exodus instead because of the Ten Commandments.
Getting the essence of the Bible to flow from us requires dedication, reading, study, and perseverance.
For hundreds of years after the Reformation in 1517, this was accomplished by instructing children and followers through questions and answers known as catechisms.
The Church of Scotland’s Westminster’s Shorter Catechism of 107 questions is one example. They are organized by number to cover the themes of God as Creator, original sin, Christ as Redeemer, benefits of redemption, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments of baptism and communion, and the Lord’s Prayer.
After the Reformation, the Bible as the anchor of free education grew from the schools of John Calvin in Switzerland. Those ideas traveled with the Puritans across the Atlantic Ocean to lead to Massachusetts' "Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647." Satan, the referenced deluder, desires most of all no biblical knowledge for anyone, and, if not this, then a poor understanding of the Bible to prevent the rescue of souls by Jesus the Redeemer. So they required towns with more than 50 households to establish a common school to teach the Bible to children.
Those roots of America have been poisoned to the point where the Ten Commandments cannot be posted in schools (Stone v. Graham, 1980) and school-sponsored prayer ended (Engel v. Vitale, 1962). The only surviving vestige of the Bible for some places within our public education is found in survey courses.
The precepts and principles from the Bible once infused this land and her legal rulings because more people had biblical literacy. Now, many own Bibles but have little knowledge of them. Just as Hosea 4:6 says, we, as a nation, are being destroyed because of this.
More tragic, though, are the people being lost to hell itself. This is seen as an incomplete understanding of "God is love" with the concurrent belief all good people get to heaven. That view of God is challenged when stating biblical facts joined together like "God provides Jesus as the only Way His love saves us from His holy justice that condemns sinners to hell," (Romans 6:23; John 3:16-17; John 14:6; Matthew 10:28; Revelation 21:8; Matthew 25:41).
There is hope for both souls and the nations where they live.
God's love leads us to His Word to transform us through it (Romans 12:2). His love is not a free pass to do as we please but an invitation to follow His ways. Even nonbelievers benefit from following the precepts and principles of the Bible, and this is seen in America's history when she sought His ways more diligently.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long (Psalm 24:4-5)
What beautiful verses to pray before reading your Bible! May the Lord teach us to call good what He calls good and evil what He calls evil.
It is good to hear and obey God’s Word. John 14:15, 1 John 3:24, and John 14:21 speak of keeping God's commands, but Jesus tells us in the latter:
"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
The knowledge of God is the spark, the inciting incident that can bring us to understanding His ways. His ways will point us to Jesus Christ, the Way. Those who love Him will obey. They will grow in biblical knowledge each day.
Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death (John 8:51).
Biblical literacy's value has as many facets as a well-cut diamond, but let's remember the real value is God and His promise through Jesus to restore our relationship with Him.