The shocking rapidity in the rise of our post-Christian culture was born in the Biblical illiteracy of our own churches. Shifting the emphasis from foundational theological truths to feel-good, motivational messages worthy of Tony Robbins, the church jettisoned its' anchor of truth and set adrift with the changing tides of the culture. Afraid of "offending", the church largely abandoned objective truth and for the most part, "idiotized" itself.
Biblical literacy within the church is directly proportional to the effectiveness of its' witness. A church with strong, solid Biblical literacy is a light in the darkness and a catalyst for positive change in the surrounding culture. But a church saturated with Biblical illiteracy will inevitably succumb to the surrounding culture. How ironic that in an era where the common man has unparalleled access to Scripture (printed, digital, and online), the appalling biblical illiteracy worsens day-by-day.
Our own Biblical illiteracy is directly impacting not only our own worldview, but the surrounding culture. Dr. Woodrow Kroll, President Back to the Bible International recently observed,
"I don't believe Bible illiteracy is a problem in the church; I believe it is the problem in the church. Failure to read God's Word is impacting our view of the world around us. This year saw increases in the proportions of people who believe that cohabitation (60%), adultery (42%), sexual relations between homosexuals (30%), abortion (45%), pornography (38%), the use of profanity (36%) and gambling (61%) are morally acceptable behaviors."
Several years ago professor Gary Burge from Wheaton College reported the results of a Bible literacy test his Christian college gave to incoming freshmen. The results were shocking because most of these students grew up in "strong" evangelical churches. One-third of those students didn’t know that Paul’s missionary journeys were recorded in the book of Acts. They didn’t know where in Scripture the birth of Christ is found. He asked 45 seniors who were in an advanced class to paraphrase, from memory, the Ten Commandments. Only one student could do it. The problem, according to Burge is the trend towards a therapeutic emphasis in preaching. He said, “There’s not an educational dimension any longer. We’re all about the experience, not the facts.”
Statistic after statistic and survey after survey all affirm the burgeoning problem of biblical illiteracy in the church today. Secular unbelievers are not expected to know Biblical truth. But when a study of conservative Protestant churches reveals,
“About half of their teens say that many religions may be true; more than one-third say it is okay to practice multiple religions; more than one-third believe people should not try to evangelize others; more than one-third say it is okay to pick and choose one’s religious beliefs and not accept the teachings of one’s faith as a whole, and nearly two-thirds say a person can be truly religious and spiritual without being involved in a church.”
... the bells are tolling.
Dr. Duffy Robbins, Professor of Youth Ministry at Eastern University, St Davids, PA is a 35 year veteran of youth ministry who is widely respected as one of the leading voices in youth and family ministry. Reflecting on the possible causes of the appalling Biblical illiteracy among evangelical youth, he says:
“The church in general, and youth ministry in particular, has demonstrated more of an appetite for goose bumps than for God’s truth, more interest in how our young people feel than how they think. … But where are Christian teenagers learning basic tenets of the Christian faith? And if they don’t understand those basic truths or doctrines … then how does that impact their long-term faith? I’m concerned that too much of our teaching is reduced to what can … be communicated by a worship band illuminated by stage lighting and well-placed candles.”
We're now reaping the fruit of decades of widespread Biblical illiteracy with all manner of heterodox, unorthodox and even heretical teaching rampaging through the church. When congregants of a Texas megachurch can be suckered into believing their pastor heard the Holy Spirit say "tell your special partners who have special transportation needs and their obedience will release favor for their needs and desires" for a “breakthrough favor” within 52 days or 52 weeks, for the low, low price of $52 ...... the bells are tolling.
When the overwhelming majority of "mature" Christians I encounter can't give a simple orthodox definition of the Trinity, can't provide a rudimentary explanation of what it means to be justified by faith, have never even heard the term "propitiation", have no idea how sanctification works, can't explain in simple terms the Atonement that happened on the cross, cannot elaborate on how Jesus is both God and man .... the bells are tolling.
Dr. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and one of the greatest living apologists today for Christianity, finished his doctorate in theology at the University of Munich under the famed theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg. With his doctoral dissertation already approved, all that remained was to pass the oral examination in theology (ominously called the Rigorosum) under Pannenberg himself. Convinced he was prepared, he was devastated when he hopelessly failed the oral examination and was denied his doctorate. Craig spent the next entire year preparing again for the Rigorosum. The second time he passed with flying colors and Pannenberg awarded him a Doctor of Theology, Magna Cum Laude. Reflecting on his experience, he offers some hard-earned wisdom:
"I discovered a sobering truth. Like so many other American students, I had been woefully trained in seminary in the history of Christian doctrine. The training in systematic theology that American evangelical seminaries generally give their students is but a pale shadow of what German university students in theology receive. Is it therefore any wonder that skeptical German theology leads the world? How can we ever hope that evangelical theology will become a leading model unless we begin to train our students with the same rigor and thoroughness that characterize German theological instruction? I can say without hesitation that during that year of intense study I learned more about systematic theology than I did during my entire seminary training. So although I would never want to relive my experience, I can honestly say that I’m glad I failed. It was for the best, because as a result of that failure I became theologically equipped for the Lord’s service in a way that would never have been possible if I had passed."
God doesn't want us to be theological idiots.
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-17 [ESV]