Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Not Just Younger Generations That Are “Embarrassingly Ignorant” of Their Faith
In recent years I’ve often said that one of the most challenging dynamics for churches to overcome is biblical illiteracy. Presently it seems to me that there is an abundance of biblical illiteracy in the church among both lay-people and leaders alike. That being the case it is easy to see how the church has lost much of its power, influence, and cultural relevance.
The church has experienced loss in a broad range of areas – numbers, giving, baptisms – over the last decade and a half as it simultaneously faces unprecedented persecution from government. Prominent pastors have publicly endorsed and embraced heretical doctrines (think Rob Bell’s “no hell” doctrine), while others have publicly endorsed sin (such as homosexuality). Constant in-fighting over non-essentials (alcohol, tribulation, carpet color) has also served to disillusion younger generations that see a lack of authenticity.
For me, personally, nothing is as pressing and critical as the issue of biblical literacy. This is far more than the ability to read the Bible and understand it; this is about being able to rightly govern one’s life through the filter of grace, redemption, and sanctification. What’s missing currently is a biblical worldview that shapes and informs every aspect of life to the place that sanctification becomes evident.
For evidence of the problem of biblical illiteracy in our churches today, think back to the last time you had a conversation with a Christian in which he or she discussed a belief in karma, luck, or chance. It happens regularly. Well-meaning Christians talk about doing good deeds in order to have good karma, or about their luck in life; seemingly oblivious to the doctrine of sovereignty that should reign in the mind and heart of every believer.
For others it’s the topic of ghosts. I can’t tell how many conversations I’ve had with Christians that are convinced ghosts are real, or they’ve seen the ghost of a dead relative, or that Christians can be possessed. All of this runs counter to the biblical doctrine of angels and demons and the Bible’s clear teaching on the subject.
Recently, highly respected Christian professor, theologian, and author Darrell Bock contributed to a book project aimed at tackling the problem of biblical illiteracy. Bock said that many young people are “embarrassingly ignorant” of their faith and is seeking to educate them on some of the tenets of biblical faith. An article on Bock’s new project, “Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World” said of the project:
“The central goal of ‘Truth Matters’ is to help young Christians in particular understand and defend their faith by examining some common critiques of God and the Bible…Bock and his co-authors believe that many young people have been ill-prepared to deal with the scrutiny and tough questions they are sure to face — and that a shallow faith hasn’t enabled them to think deeply about Christianity’s more intricate elements…Ignorance often leads to doubt, which led Bock to describe why so many young people simply aren’t prepared to handle these ideological and theological battles.”
This very true statement highlights a key factor: years of entertaining kids has led to shallow faith that has ultimately died when faced with hardship or difficult questions. Many well-meaning youth programs wanted to create a fun place where students would want to come and bring their friends. In doing so they inadvertently created social clubs that were not much different than the ones created by high-schools. And, just like high-school, when it was time to move to the next phase in life many of these students left their faith behind.
It’s no wonder that Millennials have been found to be the most religiously unaffiliated group in America today.
What is interesting in light of the issue of biblical illiteracy is that Millennials have also been reported to be most active evangelistically. A recent article states:
“While most of the research surrounding young people has been negative of late, new data from the Barna Group, a firm that measures issues pertaining to faith, found that Millennials are actually the most active of any generation when it comes to evangelism and sharing their faith…When compared to their generational counterparts, evangelical Millennials are the only cohort that has actually increased in its evangelistic activity, going from 56 percent self-reporting faith sharing in 2010 to 65 percent in 2013.”
For me, this further highlights the need to correct the biblical illiteracy issue. It can be viewed as only detrimental that many Christians not adhering to a biblical worldview are actively evangelizing. It’s not that a person needs a seminary degree to evangelize; the Apostle Paul certainly didn’t have one. Rather, without proper discipleship and a solid biblical training the errors currently causing division in the church will only grow.
Like many who came face to face with Jesus only to turn around and tell others immediately, sharing one’s personal story of faith should be encouraged. But becoming a theology teacher, or mentor to others without having first been discipled in basic tenets of Christianity is dangerous.
Here is where two issues collide.
It is entirely plausible that this is a self-made problem the church has created for itself. First we created really awesome, fun-filled youth and children’s programs that caused exponential growth. And we were really excited to see kids and students and families get saved and come to church.
But, we forgot to emphasize and encourage serious discipleship for all ages in the process. The result is a large number of people that have fond memories and cool stories about “youth group’ but lack any serious commitment to their faith. While they can articulate some things from the Bible and perhaps even their own salvation story, they don’t have much else. Consequently, when life is hard and difficult circumstances arise, or even when questions about justice, equity, and society are presented, doubt creeps in and chokes any faith that existed.
I’ll be the first to say that I want my kids to grow up in children’s ministries and youth programs that are fun, groups they enjoy and look forward to attending. But if all they ever do is have fun I am fearful for their future. Discipleship should be more than a buzz word or a good idea; discipleship should be a main focus for every church for every age group. It’s through discipleship that a foundation is built on which a person’s faith can rest when life gets tough and questions get hard.
It’s not hard to see that biblical illiteracy is an epidemic problem in our churches today. The question we should all be asking is how we will combat it. Will we continue to ignore the problem and risk the future of the church and the souls of those we are charged with serving?
If at any time we find our focus distracted as an individual or the church as a whole, we need only to look to the words of Jesus: